Tuesday May 21

Headshot NualaOConnor Nuala O'Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland, she lives in East Galway. Already well-known under the name Nuala Ní Chonchúir, she has published four short story collections, three novels, three poetry collections and a chapbook of flash. Nuala has won many fiction awards including RTÉ radio’s Francis MacManus Award, the Cúirt New Writing Prize, the Jane Geske Award (USA), the inaugural Jonathan Swift Award and the Cecil Day Lewis Award. She was shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature. Penguin USA, Penguin Canada and Sandstone (UK) published Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid. Miss Emily was shortlisted for the Bord Gáis Energy Eason Book Club Novel of the Year 2015 and is longlisted for the International Dublin Fiction Award 2017. Nuala's fourth novel, Becoming Belle, is forthcoming in the USA, Canada and the UK. Her website can be found here.

                                            Nuala O’Connor interview with Jonathan Cardew

Nuala, thank you so much for your contribution this month to Connotation Press!
What draws you to flash fiction? Name a flash story by any author that we should not live without.

I’m a language-y writer so I love flash that works hard where language is concerned. I write poetry (less now than before) so I also love that flash delivers the same hit that a poem does, it’s a condensed, bullet-like shot, that makes you work and think, as opposed to the ruminative meander of novels (which I also write).

I love Thisbe Nissen’s ‘Deer at Rest’: five powerful sentences about motherhood, guilt, grief.

Congratulations on your recent long listing in the prestigious International Dublin Literary Award with your novel, Miss Emily. You write novels, short stories, and poems. Which form are you most comfortable writing in? What projects are you working on at the moment?

Thanks for the congrats, it feels very swishy for my book to be long-listed.

I’m naturally a short fiction writer but, lately, I have been concentrating on novels more. My novels tend to be story-like because I am used to that start-over that stories require, so my chapters are often discrete, dealing with one incident. I like that approach, though it doesn’t always wash with editors. I love all writing, there’s beauty in the short, sharp shock of flash and stories, as much as in the comforting long-haul of the novel.

Just now I am finishing a re-write on my fourth novel, Becoming Belle; set in Victorian London, it’s about a dancehall girl who marries into Anglo-Irish aristocracy. I am also putting the finishing touches to a short story collection that’s coming out in 2017 called Joyride to Jupiter.

I look forward to your short story collection! Tell me something about the inspiration and process behind the story, “Notes from a Train.”

I get the train a lot here in Ireland, I live in East Galway (essentially the midlands) so I am either heading east to Dublin, or west to Galway. People tend to overshare, loudly, on the train and I watch and listen. I saw the mackerel man on a train and I’m obsessed with isolated houses, so various observations resulted in the story.

Tell me something about the inspiration and process behind the story, “Touch.”

Years ago I worked in research and there was a man with a false hand in one of the libraries I frequented. He always looked sweet and shy but we never know what people are really like, do we? I wanted the character based on him to do something unexpected in the flash and it took me a while to decide what it would be.

The last line in “Touch” is deftly done—both abrupt and enlightening. Tell me about endings in fiction or poetry.

Endings are crucial! I say this to students all the time. You are bringing your reader down to land with your ending, you are saying, ‘This is where I choose to leave you.’ The ending has to resonate, ring like a bell (even a quiet bell!). I used to obsess about endings but I trust myself a lot more nowadays.

You are stuck on a desert island (sounds pretty nice). What five Irish things do you wish you’d brought along? Which five Irish things could you leave behind?


My husband
Tayto crisps
Joyce’s Ulysses (for the laughs)
Cara matches
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate bars

(I probably should have said my kids, too, but oh well…)


The government
Endless rain

If you ask me, leaving kids behind builds character, Nuala.
Emily Dickinson is one of your subjects in Miss Emily. Do you have a favorite poem and/or line?

“Hope” is the thing with feathers is my favourite Emily poem. Its warmth and positivity speak to my gut every time. I always pause on the inverted commas around the word ‘hope’ – and wonder why Dickinson felt the need for them. Was she qualifying hope in some private way? I love the poem’s life-affirming qualities. I have a bird tattoo with ‘Hope’ scrolled under it in honour of this poem and Emily.

You write under the name Nuala O’Connor and Nuala Ní Chonchúir. Explain a bit about your name for us non-Irish folk.

Well, I was christened Nuala O’Connor, after my Ma. Then I went to Irish-medium schools (everything taught through the Irish language) so I was Nuala Ní Chonchúir from the age of four. I got used to being Ní Chonchúir and stuck with that form of my name when I started to publish in Ireland and in the UK. When I got the book deal with Penguin USA and Penguin Canada, they requested that I revert to the anglicised from of my name, for ease of pronunciation. I complied. I am now sticking with O’Connor for clarity.

Thank you so much, Nuala, for your flash awesomeness! I know our readers are going to savor these stories.

Thank you, Jonathan, it’s a pleasure to be published by Connotation Press.



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