When I discovered Niamh’s blog, I became captivated by her poems inspired by Magpie Tale picture prompts. Niamh and I sometimes commiserated about the querying process. When she’d found an agent and then publisher (Penguin Ireland), I was thrilled for her. The Herbalist has been my most anticipated read of 2013.
It didn’t disappoint. Here’s my review on Goodreads.
Today Niamh’s talks about her journey to publication.
Thanks for visiting my blog, Niamh.
Hi Theresa, and thanks for having me over!
Did you start off as a poet or a novelist?
I started with short stories in 2008 after attending a local creative writing workshop. I was juggling very young children, a teenager and a part time job back then so the brevity of the form suited me. It fitted naturally into the tiny pockets of time I had available to write. And it was portable, all I needed was a notebook- so I began to carry one in my bag and write whenever I could - parked in front of the school, in bed at night, in waiting rooms... And maybe it was because of my age, (I was thirty seven) but there were dozens of stories just dying to get out as if they had been building up for years. I wrote one after another, very quickly. I found that time very exciting creatively. I suppose I initially wrote in forms that fitted in well with my life style, short stories, flash fiction and poems.
Can you tell us a little about your writing journey from novice to published novelist?
After that initial workshop I wrote around a ten stories before I started to send them out to magazines - and keep twenty-four hour watch on my inbox! My first published story was called ‘Wild Cat’s Buffet’ and was quite gothic (think female ghosts fighting over a man!) It was published by a fantastic Irish magazine called Crannog. I think you always have a soft spot for those responsible for your first publication.
Then a story of mine then was shortlisted for the Hennessy XO Literary Award. That encouraged me to carve out more time for my writing. Being nominated for that award made it clear to me, that though a ‘room of your own’, a desk, or a fancy laptop are desirable, good work can be created without them. So I stopped waiting till I had these working conditions to consider what I did my work. The story that was nominated was written at a chaotic breakfast table while my middle son ran in and out of the room to tug my arm and tell me about transformers. I think the intensity with which it was written couldn’t have been duplicated in a ‘room of my own.’ I suppose I’m saying to other mothers out there, write whatever your environment, don’t wait!
When my youngest started school I thought about a novel, but I knew it had to be an idea with the strength to sustain my interest over a long period. There were several false starts at novels that petered out at 10,000 words. I harvested stories from some of them. It didn’t bother me too much, these poor fledgling novels that went nowhere. I went back to writing stories, and when the character of the herbalist appeared in one of them I thought nothing of it. When he appeared in another, and then another, I realized if I were to write a novel, it would have to be about him.
The first draft was written in 2009 fairly quickly and put away to cool off. Now I’m not forgetful or anything but, because another novel (as yet unpublished) called Ghost Estate demanded to be written, and because I went ahead and wrote it, I didn’t get back to The Herbalist till 2012. That was when I decided to enter it into The Irish Writers Centre’s Novel Fair Competition. I opened the manuscript and started work on the second draft after three years. There was an upside to the gap in time, I found it fascinating to read, almost as if someone else had written it! Luckily I won a place at the novel fair, and that was where I met my agent Ger Nichols and afterwards signed with Penguin Ireland.
Your writing has a lyrical quality. How has poetry influenced your writing?
Oh, that’s a hard one! I don’t know if I know! Well, I enjoy writing poetry, and reading it too, and perhaps that has nurtured my love of language - I relish startling images, good clean writing, and understatement.
When I write poetry I look closer at the world, zoom in on the details, so perhaps that practice has played its part. I think I use the same energy to create images on the page that I once used to create images on canvas. So perhaps both visual art and poetry have exerted some influence on my writing.
How is your writing journey similar to
or different from Niamh Boyce’s?