Q&A with Molly McCloskey, Director of our Non-Fiction & Memoir Workshop

Molly McCloskey was born in Philadelphia and grew up in North Carolina and Oregon. In 1989, she moved to Ireland, spending ten years on the west coast before moving to Dublin, where she now lives. She is the author of two short story collections, Solomon’s Seal and The Beautiful Changes, and a novel, Protection. Her first work of non-fiction, Circles Around the Sun: In Search of a Lost Brother, appeared in 2011, and tells the story of her brother Mike’s descent into schizophrenia. Mary is also a journalist, essayist and reviewer and a regular contributor to the Irish Times and the Dublin Review.  She has taught creative writing in universities in both the US and Ireland and has served as Writer Fellow at Trinity College Dublin and Writer-in-Residence at University College Dublin. She is currently the Jenny McKean Moore Fellow at George Washington University in Washington, DC. She has also worked in the field of international aid in the UN’s Kenya-based Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Somalia.

Molly McCloskey PhotoQ.  What motivates you to write?

A. The knowledge that there are few things as likely to bring joy as the construction of a fine sentence. I’m not terribly interested in making stuff up, in plotting and all that. But I love making sentences, tweaking them, trying to take them to a higher level. That, for me, is a fun day. It’s also a privilege to be able to spend big chunks of my day thinking about things I care about or am fascinated by. Writing is hard and uncertain, but so are lots of other jobs, and I don’t like hearing writers complain. Nobody asked you to do it, and if you can make even part of a living at it, you are very, very lucky to be doing something you love.

Q. Were you interested in writing at a young age?

A. Around nine I guess I knew I wanted to write. But I didn’t do much about it, bar school essays and such, until after university, when I went to work at daily paper in Portland, Oregon. I wasn’t one of those people who was reading Tolstoy at twelve. I liked Nancy Drew. Maybe that slowed my development.

Q. What is it about writing Memoir that you particularly enjoy? What are its challenges?

A. For someone who isn’t so interested in making stuff up, but who loves making sentences, nonfiction is the ideal. You’re given the raw materials; your job is to do justice to the story, to whatever unfolded, to those people involved, to try to create something beautiful out of facts. There’s a quote I shared with some nonfiction students recently. It’s from a book review in the New York Times, written by Jennifer McDonald: ‘To create art out of fact, to be flexible and canny enough to elicit something sublime from an inconvenient detail, is itself an art.’

Q. Do you have a daily work schedule?

A. Like most writers, for me the best time is first thing in the morning. Nothing else has got into your head yet – no people, no news, no other jobs.

Q. Do you have a favourite writer? Who and why?

A. I tend to have favourite books rather than favourite writers. Recent nonfiction I’ve loved or admired: Emmanuel Carrere’s Lives Other Than My Own, David Finkel’s Thank You for Your Service, some of Janet Malcolm’s work, Renata Adler’s ‘novels’ – Speedboat and Pitch Dark. If I’m teaching nonfiction, I almost always use something by Joan Didion, and I use Primo Levi’s If This is a Man.

Q. What, for you, are the highlights of Listowel Writers’ Week?

A. Seeing friends. And of course the people I meet in the workshops, and seeing how generous they are with one another over the course of those 3 days. I find that generosity very inspiring.

Q. Briefly, what will you be covering in the Non Fiction and Memoir Workshop?

A. Memoir & literary nonfiction are among the most exciting forms of writing out there now, because they’re so elastic, and they are still inventing themselves. There is really nothing, in theory, that you can’t include in a work of nonfiction, or take as its basis –  it accommodates digressions wonderfully, and you can get away with so much in terms of form because you essentially dispense with the issue of plausibility. So what I try to convey is this sense of the form’s possibility.

For more information or to book the Non-Fiction & Memoir Workshop please click here

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