Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Story Behind The Herbalist




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?




44 comments:

  1. Shortlisted for that award was very cool.
    I think poets do have an advantage when writing prose. You understand flow better.
    Congratulations, Niamh!

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    1. it was cool :) & an encouraging boost just when I neeeded it -thanks Alex!

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  2. thanks for having me over Theresa :)

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  3. Congratulations! I enjoyed reading about how you fit your writing into the pockets of time you had available. That makes sense, instead of stressing out, trying to force it into a busy schedule.

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    1. Thanks Shelly, I have to admitt that I did stress sometimes- especially when I'd read about other writers and their schedules and writing desks etc... but in retrospect I can see my schedule at the time (if I could even call it that) had its own chemistry and magic! I used to want long hours alone to write, and still do sometimes, but a life time of writing time wouldnt be living would it ? :)

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  4. I'll read your review at Goodreads when I finish lovely Niamh's book - don't want any spoilers! LOL!!!!!

    Yay for Niamh!! Am so BEYOND chuffed for her!!! And yes I can totally testify to her use of "startling images" in her poetry having read some on her blog!!! Amazing woman! Take care
    x

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    1. Old Kitty, I was super careful to keep my review spoiler free. But I know what you mean! I get scared to read reviews before I read a book too.

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  5. Thanks Old Kitty - glad your liking the book, looking forward to dropping over to you soon:)

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  6. I always like reading these interviews; it's interesting to read about the writing process from other perspectives. And congratulations to Niamh on the new book! I wish I was good at writing poetry, but I still don't understand all the rules/forms. I should study it more, though.

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    1. Thanks NW, I'm the same, love reading about other writers processes, its a bit of an addiction :)

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  7. Awesome. I love that she wrote in a chaotic environment, since that's all I have access to. This is a book I'm seriously looking forward to reading too, soon, hopefully. =)

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    1. Good luck with your own writing Crystal, and they say chaos is creative :)

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  8. An excellent story about you, Niamh! All success. Love the cover. Will have to add your book to my list. Short listed for an award is wonderful. It seems like things come along to keep us going if we look for them [there's a lot to tell us to stop that we should ignore :) }

    Waving at Theresa.

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  9. Glad you like the cover M Pax, they do come along, we just have to ignore all the rest!As Lennon said - Whatever gets you through the night is all right!

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  10. I'm so impressed you can write with distractions around you! And congratulations!!!! I've seen this book all over Facebook. Now, I'm going to have to get a copy :)

    Thanks, Theresa, for posting this interview, it was fun to read.

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  11. I hope you enjoy it when you do TWC! (though I've much less distractions nowadays as my kids are older and in school:)

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  12. Hi Theresa, Great interview, I linked to it and quoted a small part in my post on The Herbalist.
    http://loveforbeginnersmaryoregan.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/have-you-met-herbalist.html

    As someone who, like Niamh, grew up in Ireland (I was born in a rural village) I think that Niamh's knowledge of the Irish landscape, the culture, the way some things go unsaid and the interaction between people, were the factors that helped flesh out the character of the herbalist and all the townspeople.

    Keep up your great blogging Theresa,
    Mary

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    1. Thanks for linking my post, Mary. I love the excerpt you chose.

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  13. I wish I could write poetry, but all my poetry stinks. I guess I'll just have to be content to read what others write.

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    1. if you read enough your own poetry will cease to stink, if it does at all! :)

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  14. I love how Niamh mentioned the connection between visual art and poetry. On a related note, maybe that's why Pinterest is so helpful as a writing tool to many people... I know it helps me visualize my world better and the words flow much more easily! Thank you both for the interview!

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    1. thanks Julie, and what you say is so true - I use a real life version of pin interest in that I collect a notice board of images for every story I'm working on, there's a v strong connection:)

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  15. Thank you, Theresa, for introducing us to Niamh! Niamh, I love how you encourage busy parents to write whether an ideal environment is available or not. Your book cover is beautiful and your words inspiring!

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    1. Thankyou for saying that Dawn, really glad you liked the cover:) And ironically I'm at last (temporarily) in the ideal environment! I'm on a writing retreat in the countryside for a few days- so sneaking online to reply to the comments here:)

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  16. Congratulations, Niamh!

    I like the sense of rhythm that I get in poetry. I try to translate that into my prose. Also, the idea of using as few words as possible to say as much as I can, that a poetic quality that I try to instill in my prose.

    Jai

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    1. thanks Jai! yes its the rhythm for me too, its very importent, I like the sound of what youre aiming for in your prose:)

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  17. I'm adding the book to my wish list.

    Several of my favorite authors are also poets. I can think of Atwood, Jong, and Plath (albeit she only had one novel) to name a few. I love the quality of their writing.

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    1. Thankyou Madeia! I've managed to reply to your comment in the wrong box, need new glasses :)

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  18. I love Atwood & Plath, I havent read Jong in years, I'd like to revisit her. I liked writers who write across genres, who arent constrained by one tag or another, and thanks for adding The Herbalist to your wishlist:)

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  19. I like Niamh's voice here. She does sound like a poet.

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  20. I loved reading about Niamh's writing journey. Lovely.

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  21. Congratulations, Niamh, on all your writing success. I need to add The Herbalist to my reading list. Thanks, Theresa!

    I have 5 children and did much writing in short bursts. Bravo for Niamh for writing her award winning story while her son ran around. With five children, there was always someone interrupting me about something.

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    1. Thank you Victoria & well done to you on getting any writing done with five children!

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  22. great interview! Lovely to meet Niamh. What a unique name--and an intriguing story too!
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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    1. Thanks Nutschell! Pretty unique name yourself:)

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  23. Great interview. Congratulations, Niamh, on all your writing success. I need to add The Herbalist to my reading list.

    Thanks, Theresa!

    Nas

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    1. I hope you enjoy it if you do!- and thanks for your congrats & comment :)

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  24. I love writing with a lyrical quality. I will have to check this out.

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    1. Thankyou MP, I hope you enjoy it if you do :)

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  25. I have been wanting to read The Herbalist since I first saw a review of it on a blog this summer. I love the cover and the review was glowing. It was such fun to read about Niamh's journey to publication. I thought her advice about not waiting to write was excellent. So often we want to wait until we have the right conditions.

    Thanks for sharing this inspirational post. :)

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    1. So glad you liked the post, and thanks for your lovely comment, hope you enjoy The Herbalist when you get to read it - delighted you liked the cover too -!

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