Q&A with Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Director of our Short Fiction Workshop

Nuala Ní Chonchúir is an award-winning short story writer, novelist and poet. Her awards include the Jane Geske Award (USA), the Francis MacManus Award, the Cúirt New Writing Prize, the inaugural Jonathan Swift Award and the Cecil Day Lewis Award. She was also shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature. Nuala’s second novel, The Closet of Savage Mementos, will be published by New Island in April 2014 and her third novel, Miss Emily, which is about Emily Dickenson and her Irish maid will be published by Penguin USA and Penguin Canada.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir  2013 photo Emilia Krysztofiak (2)Q. Did you know from a young age that you would be a writer?

A. I was writing from a young age but I thought that writers were hallowed people with some inside knowledge of how to be a writer and get published and that I didn’t have that. I wanted to be a writer but didn’t think it was possible for ordinary people like me. My love of writing grew from my love of reading. I was reading from the age of three; my parents are book-lovers. Books were more important to me than anything as a kid. Coming second in a national poetry competition at the age of nine (with a poem in Irish about Travellers) gave me the confidence to keep writing. But I was in my late twenties before I knuckled down and got very serious about it all.

Q. Who were your early influences?

A. Well I read the usual truckload of Enid Blyton, Eilís Dillon, Walter Macken etc. as a kid. I moved on then to Maugham, Waugh, the Brontes, Austen, Frank O’Connor, Edna O’Brien, John McGahern etc. People who influenced me when I began to take writing seriously were Anne Enright, Mary Morrissy, Michele Roberts, Eilís Ní Dhuibhne etc. – I loved their honesty, wit and sensuality around the whole mucky business of human relationships, particularly from a woman’s POV.

Q. Do you have a favourite short story writer? Who would that be and why?

A. I have dozens of favourites and I enjoy different things in all of them (and learn different things from them). I enjoy Claire Keegan’s mastery of pace; Anne Enright’s honesty and humour; John McGahern’s pathos; Tania Hersman’s surrealness and brevity; Valerie Trueblood’s sweeping vision coupled with precision. If I was on a desert island, though, I would like a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s stories with me: her work is violent, funny, honest and brilliant.

Q. Describe your daily schedule.

A. I have three kids: one in third level, one in primary and one in Naíonra, so I write when they are out of the house in the mornings, from 9am to 12pm. The last few years I have been working on novels as well as stories, so I always have something in hand. I try to do the practical stuff (updating my literary blog, reviewing, sending out subs, mentoring) in the afternoon, when it doesn’t matter too much if I am interrupted. I’m writing full-time ten years this year, so I have my routine down pat. I love it!

Q. Have you been to Listowel Writers’ Week before?

A. No. I’m a Writers’ Week virgin, which is pretty shameful. But there always seems to be some other event on that particular weekend for me. I am so looking forward to being in Listowel and seeing what the festival is like for myself. I have heard so many good things about it and know that I have been missing out hugely.

Q. Briefly, what will you be covering in the Short Fiction Workshop?

 A. Using story samples, quotes and examples, my workshop will show participants how to get their short stories working from start to finish. I will help writers make their short story shine to editors, competition judges and publishers. We will cover all elements from presentation, spelling, title, beginnings, language, story, character, POV, dialogue to endings. There will be a daily handout and in-class exercises. We will also have an opportunity to discuss writing competitions, publishing opportunities, agents etc. And we’ll have fun while doing it all.

For more information, or to book the Short Fiction Workshop please click here

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