Re-reading Ursula Le Guin

Cinders Editor Méabh McDonnell can list five books that changed her life, Ursula Le Guin’s Very Far Away from Anywhere Else is one of them. To mark  Ursula K. Le Guin’s death earlier this year, she talks about how her books affected her. 

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Those are the words of the late, great, Ursula K. Le Guin, a writer of fantasy, science fiction, brilliant short stories, and one of my favourite books of all time.  She wrote more than 20 novels, over 100 short stories, collections of poetry and was an all-round literary master. She was a wife, a mother, a feminist and a very wise person. She died in January at the age of 88 and is someone who will be remembered for a long time. I’m not going to eulogise Le Guin here because there are many people who have done the job better and more articulately than I can. Since I never knew her, I can’t say that I will miss her, but what I will miss is knowing that she’s somewhere out there in the world.

And I’ll miss knowing that there are new places for the worlds she has written to go.

I first discovered Ursula Le Guin’s writing when I was about 14 and read The Wizard of Earthsea, the first in her novels about fictional land of Earthsea,  where wizards wield incredible power both for good and ill. I was fresh from Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and going through what I now refer to as my ‘High Fantasy phase’. If it had a poorly painted figure glowing on the cover, and was over 300 pages long, then I was all over it. Le Guin’s wizard Sparrowhawk – whose true name is Ged – was one of the first of those I encountered. Reading her books – although aimed at teenagers – felt like reading something ‘for adults’.

Le Guin doesn’t talk down to her readers or treat them like they aren’t smart enough to understand her writing. She trusts, and delves into the depths of story with us. Just like Ged has to delve deep to discover his talent as a wizard, so have we. I continued them with the Tombs of Atuan and Tehanu (which are both excellent).

Reading this tiny book – just barely longer than a short story – changed me. It changed my outlook on life and my perspective on where I wanted to be in the world, and how my own feelings might be too much for me to understand right now. 

Earthsea gave me a fantasy that was rich but was also filled with flawed people. Ged and Tenar are by no means perfect, they struggle with doing the right thing and they both commit atrocities because of the power that is given over to them. But Le Guin shows us that this is how we learn. Earthsea places great power on education and learning from mistakes.

Earthsea was a story that woke me up to what great fantasy could be, and gave me an interest in fantasy that is clever and complex has stayed with me ever since. I returned to Le Guin with her fantasy series The Annals of the Western Shore, Gifts, and in it found a wonderful story about power, restricting oneself from power, and the tragedy of not living up to our parents expectations. The series continues with Voices and Powers, two stories which examine religion, power and it’s place in society and is one I’ve found wandering back into my reading list over the years.

But, despite thinking that and finding other people difficult, Owen and Natalie somehow manage to figure each other out. They become friends, and then Owen wants to be more and Natalie doesn’t – or rather she doesn’t want to rush into the intensity of a relationship. Owen then goes off the rails – because he’s a teenager and that’s what they’re want to do when they don’t understand how they feel. Owen’s reaction is by no means a good one – but it feels like a realistic one.

Owen and Natalie find themselves going back and forth between each other because even though they don’t know how to deal with anything else in their lives – they know how to deal with each other. And it gives us one of my very favourite lines in all of literature to prove this:

“See, I don’t understand how you play the piano. But when you play it, I hear the music.”

I was on the high mountain with a friend. There is nothing, there is nothing that beats that. If it never happens again in my life, still I can say I was there once.”

Le Guin doesn’t talk down to Owen and Natalie, she treats what they are going through as something legitimate and real.  I have never identified with characters so much. As a teenager I felt like I didn’t know anyone like me – but thanks to books like Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, I knew those people were out there. I just hadn’t met them yet. It’s  88 pages of hope and it is still one of my very favourite novels. I’ll always be grateful for that.

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Thanks to Ursula Le Guin I felt a little less lonely on bad days. And that means so much more now that I’m not lonely anymore.

“I was on the high mountain with a friend. There is nothing, there is nothing that beats that. If it never happens again in my life, still I can say I was there once.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Photographs Copyright © by Marian Wood Kolisch and  Euan Monaghan/Structo

 

Rocking the World – An Interview with Siobhán Parkinson

First published in Cinders Volume Two, Issue Two

Women of Irish history don’t usually get a large amount of pages in school history books. Rocking the System is a book that wants to change that. Written by Siobhán Parkinson, Rocking the System from Little Island Books, opens a window into the histories of 20 Irish trailblazers. Méabh McDonnell spoke to Siobhán about the empowering figures that made up the book. 

When we look back on 2017 and 2018, I don’t know everything we’ll remember about the year, but I know that it will stick out in my mind as a year of revolution. Of women making noise, standing up for one another and calling for an end to unjust systems. One hundred years after some -but not all- of us were granted the right to vote, it seems right that the revolution should carry on in a new way, in a different way. We have shouted, screamed and made new noise.

And we are not done. Part of that revolutionary spirit has boiled over into many different areas including publishing, both for children and young adults. We’ve seen this through the upsurge of stories about rebellious women throughout history. We are telling women’s stories of the past and they are affecting us today, inspiring us to reach higher and keep on telling our own stories to the world.

Siobhán Parkinson and Grainne Clear of Little Island Books were inspired by this idea and wanted to create a book, highlighting some of the trailblazing women of Irish history. “We went to the book fair in Bologna and we saw that lots of different countries were doing this and we thought, ‘wounldn’t it be great to do this for Ireland?’ because we have some amazing women in Ireland and many of them wouldn’t be known outside of Ireland’. We also were thinking about the centenary of votes for women coming up and we wanted to do something for that,” said Siobhán.

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Putting together a who’s who of significant Irish women was always going to be a challenge, how to narrow down what is a long list of remarkable people. This was something that Siobhán and the team who were researching the women had to face early on, “Some of them were activists, some of them were actively involved in the votes for women campaign, particularly Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and then of course, Countess Markievicz who actually stood for election in that first election where women were allowed to vote,  won a seat in Westminster, (which she didn’t take) and then went on to be Minister for Labour in the Dáil.

“So you couldn’t leave those people out, first because they were important to the suffrage movement along with being very big names.”

There is no doubt that female activists have changed the political landscape in Ireland in the last 100 years, but the wonderful thing about Rocking the System, is that it’s a book that reflects all the wonderful roles women have contributed to Ireland. This is something Siobhan is particularly proud of.

I think these women had to fight to become their own woman, to overcome all of the pressures and prohibitions that were on women.

“But we didn’t want it to be just political activists, so we also wanted to feature people who had made a difference, made history, people who had changed the landscape. They could be people like Eileen Gray, who was a wonderful designer. After her, design changed. She was inventing wonderful things, she was a woman who changed the way things were done. We wanted people who had done things that had mattered whether it was in the political sphere, the social sphere or in the artistic sphere,”she said.

“Every single one of these women, whether they would think of themselves as feminists or not, they were all their own woman. That’s the message that I want to give. When young girls read this book, I want them to think, ‘They’re their own woman, I want to be my own woman.’

“It doesn’t matter what your area is, you can be your own person, and make your mark. Now, today it’s true girls do have many more opportunities to become their own women, there are much more subtle and hidden pressures on women now than there were. I think these women had to fight to become their own woman, to overcome all of the pressures and prohibitions that were on women, in spite of these obstacles they were able to become their own person. They couldn’t vote, they couldn’t go to university. If you go back as far as Anna Parnell, she came from a very privileged, upperclass background, but she was out fighting for tenant farmers rights like her brother Charles, but she had much more constraints on her than he had. It was much more difficult for her to do what she did. Yet she achieved so much and afterwards she was sidelined. Most people haven’t even heard of Anna Parnell,” Siobhán pointed out.

Women of history have had incredible lives in order to overcome this terrible misogyny. In researching their lives new details come to light that make these ideas even more incredible. That’s the great joy of historical research. Siobhán learned this with Anne Devlin.

“The one that surprised me the most was Anne Devlin. This woman was always  associated with Robert Emmet and the Rising. She was ‘his housekeeper’. That was all we knew about her. But  when you read the story of Anne Devlin, she was a poor woman who came from a humble background. She was tortured because of her association with Emmet, she was half-hanged, and she was sent to jail along with her whole family. Her youngest brother who was only seven was arrested and sent to jail. He died as a result of his stay in jail. So that, to me was an absolute revelation. She was known because of a recent film made about her but she passed me by. But when the research was done and I looked into her she was a complete revelation to me.”

She might seem unusual feminist, a woman who wrote a love poem, but when you read into who she was and what she did you see that she was unconventional, but by god was she her own woman!

“Dervla Murphy who is a travel writer was another unusual inclusion. You don’t usually think of a travel writer as being an amazing feminist achievement but actually, she was such a brave, fearless, woman. In fact I think it may have been from Dervla that we got the word fearless for the title! I mean, going off to India on her bicycle at the age of thirty five, was just amazing. She, to me, is a woman who is her own woman.”

“She just went off and did her own thing, and that’s so admirable. I remember my mother reading her books and it stuck in my head. So when it came time to choose some of the women to include, I said, why not pick Dervla Murphy? Someone who flew in the face of convention.”

Rocking the System shines a light on women from a multitude of different backgrounds, with an incredible breath of stories that inspire them. Some of these are less well known, such as Dervla Murphy, and others are downright dramatic, such as Eibhlin Dubh Ní Chonnaill, who wrote  Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, a famous love poem. After being widowed, she fell in love with Art Ó Laoghaire and married him for love.

This wasn’t something her family approved of, but she did it anyway. A few years later Art Ó Laoghaire was killed and she rode off to find his dead body. “Apparently, she was so grief stricken that she knelt down and sucked his blood!” said Siobhán. “It would have been as a kind of ritual to give her strength maybe. But she then wrote this wonderful love poem about him. It’s just so brilliant and moving and romantic, I feel like she was an important figure in the book.”

A happy fact is that young women in Ireland are themselves trailblazing new exciting opportunities and building their own unique paths to success. One of the challenges involved in putting together Rocking the System was deciding whether to include younger Irish women or not.

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“A lot of the women that  we have been focusing on are from the 20th century, we have about five women before the 20th century, which touches on different points in Irish history. We made the decision to stop at the 20th century. There are some younger women who we would love to have put in as well, from Saoirse Ronan to Joanne O’Riordan, who are incredible young women. But we made the decision that we wanted to be able to include someone’s whole career, from childhood to adulthood through to retirement. That’s a story in itself. The youngest person in it is Sonia O’Sullivan, who is not old by any means! But she has finished her running career. It was a hard decision to take.”

The democratic process is hard won, and that’s important to remember, it’s only when you realise how hard won it is, you realise how precious it is.

In recognising these women who fearlessly changed history, we can take stock of just how far we’ve come as women in Ireland. 100 years on from the first Irish women to get the vote, I asked Siobhán what that landmark date and legacy meant to her, “Well, it was really only the beginning because it wasn’t universal suffrage by any means but what it means is women got the vote as a result of enormous pressure from women and women who sacrificed themselves, women like Hanna Sheehy Skeffington who was in and out of jail and on hunger strikes and Countess Markievicz as well. They really did put their  lives on the line and they put their health on the line and they really had to agitate the system. It shows the vote for women was won at a cost, it was really fought for and we have to remember that, how hard won it was. The democratic process is hard won, and that’s important to remember it’s only when you realise how hard won it is, you realise how precious it is,” said Siobhán. She continued, “Women and girls should regard their vote as a precious thing. Every time I vote I feel like I’m exercising an important right. For me it is a very precious thing, the vote.”

We’re sure the women of Rocking the System would agree.

Illustration by Bren Luke

Double Exposure – An Interview with Adrianne Finlay

People have dreams of reaching the moon, defeating death, achieving perfection. Those are the dreams that fuelled the community of Adrianne Finlay’s Your One & Only and led to the society of clones that now populates it. We spoke to Adrianne about her writing process, her clone society and her favourite science fiction.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? 

I spent a good deal of time not knowing what I wanted to be, but I was always a big reader, and even as a child I entertained myself by writing stories. I became a professor of writing and literature, and certainly the fact that I enjoyed reading and writing had an impact on that path, but it took a while to imagine that I could actually do those things as a career.

Continue reading Double Exposure – An Interview with Adrianne Finlay

Animating Parvana – Nora Twomey on the making of The Breadwinner

Animator and inspirational woman Nora Twomey is one of the most impressive figures in the Irish film industry. After leaving school at just 15, Nora Twomey went on to graduate from the Ballyfermot College of Further Education animation programme and founded the incredible Cartoon Saloon animation studio with Tomm Moore, Paul Young and Ross Murray.The studio has reached international acclaim and has produced beautiful titles such as The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Today sees the Irish and UK release of their latest feature, The Breadwinner. Based on the acclaimed novel by Deborah Ellis, it tells the story of young Afghan girl, Parvana, who is living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan and disguises herself as a boy in order to earn money for her family. Nora took this on as her first solo directing feature which earned her an Academy award nomination. We spoke to her prior to the Oscar nominated movie’s release about animation, directing and the story that inspired her to tell this truly unique tale. 

What was the journey from page to screen for the Breadwinner? 

Nora: We spent about five months crafting the screenplay and then about a year crafting the storyboard, making sure the film was layered and subtle.

We worked with Deborah Ellis herself to make sure she was okay with what we were going to do with the characters but she was very excited for us to take Pavana into a new medium.

Then we worked with Anita Doron, the screenwriter. That was important for trying to find an emotional arc for the film without over-packing it or over-cluttering the film but getting the same sense when you watch the film as you do when reading the book.

The opportunity to tell Parvana’s story and put it up on the screen was something very precious to me I felt.

What was your idea when it came to character design and artwork?

Nora: We wanted to make sure that we honoured the look and feel of Afghanistan as much as we could and we wanted to honour the look and feel of Deborah’s book as much as we could. We always knew that we wanted the world that Parvana inhabited to feel really real. We wanted the animation to be quite subtle to hold a character like Parvana because we wanted to make sure that she felt Afghan. So she’s a character who would put the needs of her family above her own needs, she’s also someone who mightn’t express everything she feels as she feels it, as you might see with Western kids. For Pavana you can see a light in her eyes, you can see that she’s taking everything into consideration but she’s not expressing it openly.

We wanted  it to feel in ways like an epic adventure, like you had to catch your breath after watching it

We wanted the film to be very, very immersive, so even the way that we paint the background, it feels like Kabul in Afghanistan but it also feels very immersive, we wanted to make the film look as beautiful as we could possibly make it so that people take on the journey with Parvana. We wanted  it to feel in ways like an epic adventure, like you had to catch your breath after watching it.

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Nora’s self portrait.

What was the experience like as your first solo directing feature? 

Nora: It was interesting, in a way I was already well into the process before I said I was directing it! When I read Deborah’s book I just got completely carried away about making this film. I was into it a fair bit before I realised that I was in charge of a massive crew, working over three different countries . It was a tremendous challenge to be sure but it was one that I stretched quite a bit with. Your job as director is to identify all of the skills and talents of everyone you are working with and making sure that those skills and talents are used to the best of their abilities in service of the character Parvana and the story. Your job is to make sure that you know the character and make sure that everything the team do is always in service of the character and in the service of the audience.

We’re seeing more and more female directors emerge and tell their stories, was it refreshing being able to tell this story with your own voice and create The Breadwinner from your perspective? 

Nora: Absolutely it was. As one of the founders of Cartoon Saloon I’ve been working with directors for nearly two decades now. Half our crew in Cartoon Saloon are female and I really do my best to encourage young women coming up through the industry and in our company to try and continue moving up through the different disciplines, on from being a supervisor to being a director for example. It’s important to do so. When I started out in college I was one of four women in our year of 30 students and now I go to animation colleges and I can see it’s about 50-50. But making sure that women stay in the industry is that they stay encouraged and supported and hopefully in decades to come it will be a more equal situation and the stories that we tell will be better because they will be representing all of the population.

But making sure that women stay in the industry is that they stay encouraged and supported and hopefully in decades to come it will be a more equal situation and the stories that we tell will be better because they will be representing all of the population.

If you were giving advice to young people interested in joining the animation industry, what would it be? 

Nora: I would say keep drawing, find other people who love drawing too. Keep storytelling, keep writing, whatever part of animation or the industry or filmmaking that you’re interested in, just keep on doing it. Keep reaching out, keep asking questions. The worst someone can say is no. So keep interested in it. But I would broaden that out to anything that you’re interested in. I always believe that if you do the thing that you love the most, then you’ll never work, you’ll always be having fun. It will be a challenge, but it will be interesting.

How do you hope that people will respond to The Breadwinner?

Nora: I would hope that they continue to ask questions. The film is aimed at young adults, but even children from the ages of 10 upwards into adults and I would love for young people to talk to their parents, or to their educators or to each other about life for people like Parvana. I would love the idea that a character like Parvana is up on the big screen, you know that you get to experience life through her eyes, that you get to see that she is is strong, she’s independent, but she’s also flawed, you know she’s a real girl. And for me it is wonderful to see a character like her on the big screen.

The Breadwinner is in Irish cinema’s from today. 

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Parvana and best friend Shazia.

See Cinders Magazine’s forthcoming issue for the interview in full to hear more about the animation process, directing, and Cartoon Saloon’s forthcoming projects. 

Image credits to Cartoon Saloon and Nora Twomey for self portrait caricature.

More than true – how fairytales defined me

For Cinders Editor Méabh McDonnell, few things have been more influential in her life than her love of fairytales. Here, she looks at why the stories she heard as a child became lodestones for her as and adult, inspiring and empowering her along the way.

 

A boy and a girl, a glass slipper, and a poison apple, a witch and a king, a curse and a ‘happily ever after’. Everything it takes for the perfect story. But is it really that simple? Is a few well worn ingredients all that it takes to capture our hearts and take these simple stories from childhood to adulthood?

It would certainly seem so. From Disney to sci-fi, fairytales are the stories that follow us around from our earliest bedtimes to modern day adaptations. They are the stories we learn the magic words from: once upon a time… far, far away…and happily ever after.

Everyone has their own relationship with fairytales. For me, fairytales carved me out and spun me into life. They are the first stories that I ever fell in love with.

Fairytales were an ever-present constant throughout my childhood. From the books that my parents would read to me at bedtime, to the movies that I flocked to growing up.

What child of the 90s didn’t have an animated heroine that she secretly hoped to grow up to be?

Fairytales have permeated the soft core inside me, being the first stories that I read on my own. Fairytales represented independence, something I could do by myself. They also represented the kinds of stories I have always loved most, ones that are steeped in imagination. Give me a pumpkin carriage, a cursed spinning wheel and a pair of shoes that will never stop dancing  over gritty reality any day.

I didn’t know the difference between Hans Christen Andersen and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm as a child but looking back on the stories, Hans Christen Andersen’s were the ones that appealed to me most. The Tinderbox, The Princess and the Pea and most of all, The Snow Queen, captured my imagination and took me by the hand into another world.

Gerda boldly setting off into the dark to save Kai has  always captivated my secretly adventurous heart. The knives that torture the poor little mermaid’s feet,  were images that stuck with me and followed me around. I can still hear the descriptions of the dogs with ‘eyes as big as saucers’ and the lock of hair the goose girl’s mother gave her before she left home. These are stories that stick like glue and don’t let go.

As I grew older, my interest in fairytales grew stronger. I was fascinated by the scope of the different stories, of their many variations present throughout multiple cultures. I love that you can find the core tales of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast throughout the world, with different beauties, different beasts and other princes, but all have the same core elements of the stories.

The hope and fear that permeates each one. The feelings of inadequacy, and of loneliness that so many of the heroes face throughout their journeys were so familiar to me. And the fact that they must fight it to get to the other side, well, that felt familiar too.

Every time I talk to a stranger, I answer a phone call I’m reluctant to, every time I voice what I’m thinking instead of keeping quiet,  every time that I can bring myself to ask for help, I feel like I’ve lifted my own sword and fought against my very own dragon. I don’t always win, but I try to fight.

And I truly believe that fairytales gave me some of that power.  These are stories that mean more to us than cautionary tales or stories to help children sleep. They have heartbeats throughout history and weave their way into our lives as adults.

Fairytales took me into the deep, dark wood, to the places where I was lonely and lost. But all the while, even though they realised my deepest fears: kidnapping, drowning, predators in the centre of the woods; in a fairytale, the heroine always makes it out the other end. She escapes the woods. She finds friends and she thrives. I never needed a guarantee of happily ever after, but I always wanted to know that, in the words of  fairytale professor, Theodora Goss, ‘this too will pass’. That the woods will reach an end and the moonlight would gather me out.

I was always a little braver entering my own woods because of that. Knowing that the fairytale heroine has to step off of the path to have her adventure always made it a little easier to take those steps myself.

I’d like to think that’s true for other people. Not just me. Fairytales are the best kind of magic.

Because they may not be real. But they are true.

 

 

New issue of Cinders Magazine out now!

Cinders magazine volume two issue two is out now! This issue is all about empowerment.

From fearless Irish women to #MeToo and body positivity, to remembering great’s like Ursula K. Le Guin, this issue is all about women supporting women. Don’t forget to check out our in-depth interviews with writers Stefanie Preissner, Siobhán Parkinson and Theodora Goss!

Click here to read the bumper new issue Cinders Magazine Volume Two Issue Two

Contributors to Cinders empowerment issue were: Méabh McDonnell Grainne Coyne, Teresa Mulhern, Jasmine Harris, and Aisling O’Halloran.

This issue is insightful and has many home truths to tell, from how to live in the age of #MeToo to understanding the lives of historical women, to thinking about writing.

You won’t be able to stop yourself from diving right in!

Bell, book and candle – interview with Moïra Fowley Doyle

Magic, mysticism and mystery are at the core of Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s novels, The Accident Season and this year’s The Spellbook of the Lost and Found. Set in rural Ireland they take normal girls and unravel the secrets of their past and defeat the demons of their present with spells, enchantment and dreams. We chatted to Moira about the inspiration behind her books and weaving magic into modern Ireland.

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Did you always want to write novels?

Always. When I was a child I wanted to be a ballet dancer so I took four two-hour ballet classes a week for ten years – and I wrote constantly: stories and poems and every day in my diary. When I was a teenager I wanted to be an artist so I drew and painted and sketched – and I wrote constantly: poetry and short novels and every day in my diary. When I was in university I realised that my only constant was my real passion, so I started calling myself a writer.

Where did you develop an interest in magical realism?

When I was a teenager I discovered the Weetzie Bat books by Francesca Lia Block.They’re a series of five cult YA books written in the 80s and I’d never read anything like them. They’re glitzy and grim and sparkly and serious, they’re lyrical and strange and poetic.

There’s this sense that threads through them that even the darkest moments can be beautiful, that reality and fantasy are blurred, that everybody has a story to tell.

I took this like an arrow to the heart because I’d always had the same sense myself, but couldn’t quite put it into words.

Once I realised that this interlacing of truth and fiction had a genre and a name I started reading all the magic realism I could find.

It’s the closest type of fiction that I feel reflects real life.

“The real and the maybe-not-so-real have always been a bit blurry for me, and that means that when things are good they’re dreamy and magical, and when they aren’t they’re eerie and haunting.”

What books and authors have influenced your writing style?

Francesca Lia Block, for starters, but also non-YA like Kate Atkinson and Jeanette Winterson on the adult fiction side, and David Almond and Philip Pullman on the children’s fiction side. These are the authors I read the most as a teenager, which was when my writing style developed, and are also some of the authors I read the most today.

Both The Accident Season and The Spellbook of the Lost and Found are dreamy, haunting stories, do you have to get in a particular mindset for that style of writing?

To be honest, that mindset is kind of my default. I’ve never been someone who is particularly anchored in the real world. The real and the maybe-not-so-real have always been a bit blurry for me, and that means that when things are good they’re dreamy and magical, and when they aren’t they’re eerie and haunting. I lived my entire adolescence like this, so I suppose it made sense to me to write about teenagers who lived the same way.

In The Spellbook of the Lost and Found you mix religious traditions, superstitions and wiccan ritual, did you do a lot of research to bring your story to life?

I read a lot about folk magic and patron saints, but these are things I’m very interested in anyway, so I had a good bit of that research done already. I learnt a lot of the superstitions and religious traditions just by having been brought up atheist in Ireland. There’s this fascinating and beautiful almost-paganism to Irish Catholicism when you look at it from the outside: the patron saints, the holy wells, how people bury Child of Prague statues before weddings and keep St Christopher medals in their babies’ prams. I also read a lot about trees. Native Irish trees and the superstitions and legends and folk magic associated with each. Each of the characters’ names were carefully chosen so that their personalities – and relationships with each other – aligned with the meanings of the trees they’re named after. I think I read more about trees than I did any other research.

Your books have such a sense of place – did the area that you grew up in have a big influence on that? 

Not the place I grew up in, so much: I grew up in Clontarf, which is a seaside suburb on the north side of Dublin, and it’s very lovely, but not at all like where I set my first two books.

But a couple of years before I wrote The Accident Season my parents bought a house in County Mayo, beside a forest, on the shores of a lake.

It’s in the middle of nowhere, a fifteen minute drive from the nearest small town which has a beautiful river running through the middle of it and not a few ghost estates sitting empty and overgrown. B

oth The Accident Season and Spellbook are set in fictional small towns that are heavily based on that real town.

“I don’t tend to write people I know in real life into my books, but I put a lot of the feel of my family – the closeness, the teasing, the minor chaos, the dad jokes – into Olive’s family in Spellbook”

The characters in both of your novels are loyal and have strong connections of family and friendship – is that drawn from your own life?

I’m very lucky because I have a very close-knit, loving family and a group of friends I’ve had since I was a teenager. Some I met when I started secondary school, the others when I started university, and we’ve been through a lot together and grown up together and stayed strong and a lot of us were each other’s bridesmaids and now our children play together.

I don’t tend to write people I know in real life into my books, but I put a lot of the feel of my family – the closeness, the teasing, the minor chaos, the dad jokes – into Olive’s family in Spellbook.

That’s probably why the chapters we spend in Olive’s house are some of my favourites in the whole book.

Do you have a favourite of any of your characters?

I feel a great kinship with Bea in The Accident Season – she is probably the closest to teenage-me that any of my characters have turned out so far.

But I also love Rose in Spellbook – I think it would be very difficult not to fall in love with somebody like Rose in real life.

The romances and emotions in both of your books are incredibly intense and vibrant – do you enjoy writing that side of your characters or do you find it challenging?

I love the emotions!

Emotions and relationships and family dynamics are the things I prefer to write – in fact, they’re always the things I write first.

My first drafts are a mess of dreaminess and creepiness and characters having emotions and relationships and the rest of what makes a story – the plot, the pacing, having at least half of the book make some semblance of sense – happens in the edits.

“Write the kind of book you want to read but can’t quite find, the one that ticks all your boxes, the one that you’d buy instantly if you saw it on the shelves.”

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

I know this is kind of a cliché, but write what you love. Fall in love with what you write.

Write the kind of book you want to read but can’t quite find, the one that ticks all your boxes, the one that you’d buy instantly if you saw it on the shelves. If you don’t love your book fiercely, you’re less likely to finish it.

And if you love it that much, chances are very high that other people will too.

Do you have plans for your next novel? 

I’m currently about halfway through the first draft of my next novel, so because it’s at such an early stage I can’t talk much about it. I like that it’s kind of a secret as I build it, though – this tangle of family history and stormy seas – that will one day soon become a book.

The Accident Season and The Spellbook of the Lost and Found are published by Penguin and available from all good bookshops.