Eimear McBride talks about A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing and the Writing Life
Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing gathered dust for almost a decade after it was rejected by numerous publishers for being too experimental. Eventually picked up by Galley Beggar Press, it took the literary world by storm when it went on to win the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize for fiction in 2013, established to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form. It was also shortlisted for the Folio Prize and is currently shortlisted for both the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 and the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award 2014. A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing tells, with shocking detail and astonishing insight the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a disturbed and isolated young woman. Born in Liverpool to Northern Irish parents, Eimear’s childhood was mostly spent in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo. She currently lives in Norwich with her husband and daughter and is working on her second novel.
JG Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a writer?
EMcB Well, I started writing at a very early age and the plan to write was always there but, originally, I wanted to be an actress and I thought writing would go on alongside of that. It was only in my early twenties I realised writing was going to have to come first.
JG Who were your literary influences growing up?
EMcB In my teens I was fairly obsessed with Russian literature in all forms but Dostoyevsky particularly and the ‘Silver Age’ poets Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetayeva. Edna O’Brien was also an important early influence and the plays of Tennessee Williams.
JG Shortly after returning from London where you studied Drama, your older brother, Donagh, died. You have dedicated A Girl is a Half-formed Thing to him. Was it a difficult book to write and did you find the process cathartic?
EMcB It was very difficult to write on a number of fronts. Using aspects of personal experience as a springboard for a work of fiction is tricky because of the awareness that readers may assume it’s autobiographical and so the temptation to self-censor is strong. I wouldn’t say it was cathartic in the way that writing a memoir is supposed to be, but there was a pleasure in placing certain moments from my life in someone else’s.
JG Why did you decide to write the book in this style?
EMcB Firstly I was interested in Joyce and the Modernist tradition. It seemed to me to have been somewhat prematurely consigned to the annals of literary history and I was keen to see if there was still room left there for exploration. And secondly, I wanted to try to offer the reader a completely different kind of reading experience, something that would knock down the walls between them and the protagonist and align them with the characters’ internal and physical experience of the world in a much closer, more intimate way.
JG I think it takes a lot for readers to be shocked these days. But this book is shocking in places. Do you think this is partly due to the style in which it is written? Is that what you set out to do?
EMcB I didn’t set out to shock but I did set out to give the reader a more visceral reading experience. If they find the book shocking as a result then perhaps that means the technique worked. In terms of the subject matter, it’s a good sign if people can still be shocked by sexual violence. It is very shocking and gets treated lightly far too often.
JG Do you have a favourite writing time and space? Do you write in longhand or straight onto the screen?
EMcB Nowadays my favourite writing time is any I get. When I have the choice, I prefer to work in the morning and always at my desk. I can’t work in cafes, libraries or anywhere public. I don’t write in longhand anymore. It’s too difficult to keep copies and, since having a notebook stolen, I’m paranoid about accidently losing work.
JG Who are your favourite contemporary writers? What are you currently reading?
EMcB I actually don’t read an awful lot of contemporary fiction but I have recently fallen in love with Elizabeth Harrower, who is finally being re-published after many years in the wilderness. At the moment I’m reading The Bone People by Keri Hulme. I’ll be discussing it on a panel at the Auckland Writers Festival in May which is a great excuse to make up for my shameful lack of knowledge of New Zealand writers.
JG What are you currently working on? Can you tell us something about it?
EMcB I’m working on my second novel and have been for the last few years. I won’t say too much because it’s important not to talk things away but I think of it as the inside out of Girl, so similar, but very different too.
JG Is this your first time to visit Listowel Writers’ Week?
EMcB Yes and I’ve heard so many good things about it I’m really looking forward to it.
JG What advice would you give to emerging writers?
EMcB I think it’ll be same advice every writer gives: Just get on with it. If you sit around waiting for inspiration, you’ll be waiting ‘til the end of days.
Eimear McBride will be appearing alongside Paul Lynch on Thursday 29th May at 1.30pm at The Seanchaí Centre. For more information and/or to book please click here