Nuala O’Connor (aka Nuala Ní Chonchúir) was born in Dublin and now lives in East Galway. Her fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter was published by New Island in 2017; her story ‘Consolata’ from that collection was shortlisted for Short Story of the Year at the 2017 Irish Book Awards. Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid was shortlisted for the Eason Book Club Novel of the Year 2015 and longlisted for the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, will be published in August 2018.
Hi Nuala. Big congrats on receiving a literature residency for Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris next year. Can you tell us more about the residency programme and what it involves?
Thanks a million, Megan. I am taking up a month-long residency at the centre, to work on a novel that is partially set in Paris. I always like to walk the setting of a novel once I have a first draft and I hope to be near the end of this novel-in-progress by the time I’m in Paris. It will be such a boon to be able to do on-the-ground research. I’ll also give a reading and/or writing workshop while I’m there, which are things I really enjoy.
Your novel Becoming Belle is a feminist novel about passion and marriage, based on a true story of an unstoppable woman ahead of her time in Victorian London. It’s been described as “luminous” by Sebastian Barry. What did you enjoy most about researching for this novel?
I adore research, I get sucked very willingly down that rabbit hole. Victorian London is very easy to recreate – everything you might want to know, from freak shows to underwear, has been written about, so the resources are endless and brilliant. For me, piecing together Belle Bilton’s story, from the fragments available, was the most enjoyable part. The novel centres around a court case so I spent hours reading newspaper reports and trying to tease out the facts around the biases. I also love researching the clothing and the food – my characters usually have fine clothes and hearty appetites.
Congrats also on having your flash fiction extract featured in The Creative Process Exhibition. Can you tell us more about your piece and the exhibition itself?
The exhibition is a large, hand-embellished, loose-leaf folio edition of interviews with writers, and extracts from their works, that was launched at the Sorbonne and is travelling to forty universities around the world. My piece is an extract from a flash, first published at New Flash Fiction Review, called ‘Birdie’ about a woman in a doomed relationship who plays piano as escapism. I wrote it after a stint at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre – one of my fellow residents there played Schumann for us one night and it was really powerful. My story was sparked by that.
You recently visited Cáceres in Spain to teach some creative writing classes at the University of Extramadura, and to talk about your story ‘Storks’, which is set in Cáceres, and your novel Miss Emily. Can you tell us about your inspiration for ‘Storks’ and Miss Emily and what you enjoyed most about teaching the CW classes?
‘Storks’ grew from my last visit to Cacéres, in 2013, for an Irish Studies Conference. I was utterly fascinated by the nesting storks all around the city. The story also arose from my personal fertility battles – the story is about a woman who has had multiple miscarriages; her husband brings her to Spain to recuperate.
Miss Emily is my novel that appeared in 2015 – it is about the American poet Emily Dickinson and her friendship with her Irish maid.
As regards teaching writing, I love to see students’ understanding and appreciation of fiction widening before my eyes. I like nothing better than spending a few hours talking about the mechanics of fiction with fellow enthusiasts.
You will be giving a reading at Cúirt this year, at the ROPES 2018 launch. The theme of ROPES this year is Sparks. Can you tell us about your piece?
My piece ‘Pearl’ is flash fiction and very typical of me in that it centres on a melancholic woman who is by the sea, contemplating her collapsing relationship. Anyone who has read my work will know that these are things I am more or less obsessed with. Language is also key – I am a very language-driven writer; I was writing poetry before I turned to fiction and that clings to me.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Please look out for my novel Becoming Belle this August in your local bookshop. I’ll be launching it in Dublin and in Ballinasloe, County Galway (where Belle lived until her death in 1906). All are welcome to the launches – details will be on my Twitter and Facebook pages anon.
Thanks so much for taking the time out to speak with us, Nuala. Enjoy Cúirt!
Thanks a million, Megan, I hope to bump into you at the Cúirt Festival.