In 2009, her pamphlet, Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car was one of the four finalists in the prestigious UK Templar Poetry Pamphlet competition. To say that Nuala is a writer who is going places, in a literary sense, is something of a understatement: her short story collection, Nude (2009), is currently shortlisted for the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story Prize - results due this week - so fingers crossed for Nuala!
I'm delighted to have you on the blog again for some scones and morning tea - milk or lemon? - and the scones are, of course, freshly baked - there's some freshly potted strawberry jam too. Congratulations on the publication of your first novel, 'You'. It's a riveting read!
Oh milk for me, Barbara, and a brown scone, thanks; with dollops of jam, mmmm. Thanks for having me over to Dundalk.
I’m glad you were riveted to You; it’s amazingly nice when someone says they like something you’ve written.
Firstly, I'd like to ask you how you came to the decision to use the second person. In reading the book, I found that voice deeply compelling; it seems to speak to an inner child in me in a way, as well as getting across the girl's angle, so was this a deeply concious decision or one that you came to more quickly/intuitively?
I have an unnatural grá for the second person voice, really. When I start to write a story, it often emerges in the second person (it’s like my head thinks it’s the first person). I find it a very comfortable voice to work in and I’ve written several short stories in it. So doing the novel in the second person was a very instinctive thing for me. It’s not a conscious act at all – I just love it, as both writer and reader. I like its peculiarity, its distance and, paradoxically, its intimacy.
This sort of leads me into the next question: telling the story from the point of view of the child allows for a slower reveal than if we'd seen it from an omniscient narrator's point of view; we've got to work a little harder as readers to put together the pieces (which is appreciated from this reader's pov). How much thought do you put into how the reader will perceive the story?
You know, I never think about the reader per se. When I edit, I obviously aim for clarity for the reader’s sake but she is not in my head as I write. So how the story is perceived doesn’t come into my writing equation. I don’t workshop my fiction so usually the first inkling I get of whether something has worked or not is from an editor’s perspective. And I prefer it that way.
The child’s voice is a device, like any other literary device, and I like its limitations. There’s only so much a child will understand and as the writer you have to be aware of that. And tread carefully.
There's something about the fact that the girl's name is avoided, which reminded me of the narrator of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca (although your narrator is much more feisty!), who is never named, but takes other people's names (i.e her husband's name but not her own - Mrs de Winter). How important are names in your creation's worlds?
Names are huge for me and not openly naming the novel’s narrator was deliberate – she has nicknames instead e.g. Little Miss Prim. (I know her real name, though!)
I find naming one of the most joyous aspects of creating characters and often their entire personality will hinge on their name. I am like a blackbird, foraging for names all the time: in newspapers, in TV credits, in spam etc. My husband brought home a new cookbook the other night and the author’s name was so quirky and cute, I’ve stolen it for my list of character names. I like odd and memorable names. I love the way Dickens used names in his fiction, and Annie Proulx is a consummate namer.Barbara, thanks a million for hosting me today and for the delicious home-baking; it’s been lovely chatting to you. Next week my virtual tour brings me to England to the home of short story writer and novelist Elizabeth Baines. I'd love if some of your readers would join me there.
It's been a real pleasure, Nuala. To readers out there who haven't managed to get/read You just yet, it is stocked in all good bookshops in Ireland, or can be ordered directly from New Island - postage is included if you live in Ireland!