The Crannóg Questionnaire
How would you introduce yourself as a writer to those who may not know you.
It always depends on the person who doesn’t know me. I’ve become better at simply introducing myself as a full-
When did you start writing?
I always wrote even as a child, then as a teenager. There was good validation to the activity of writing in our house.
Do you have a writing routine?
I write in the mornings from 10 – 1.30. After that anything else I produce after a raid on the fridge, followed by a half hour rest on the couch, is really tweaking words, or perhaps preparing a few lines to remind myself, in the case of fiction, what I might do the following morning. Then I try to just stop working and free my mind a little.
When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write?
I just write. I know anyway that it’s mostly women who read my fiction (mostly but not exclusively) but I don’t think about that either. I haven’t a clue who reads my poetry. Again, I don’t consider potential audiences because if I did it would inhibit me. The act of writing for me is a compulsion that makes me feel connected to something unnameable. It is necessary, and audience considerations are beyond me while I’m in the middle of something.
Some writers describe themselves as planners, while others plunge right in to the writing. Would you consider yourself a planner or a plunger?
I’m a plunger, who may have collected small scraps of random information without realising beforehand that they were going to be relevant to what I’m about to write! The random bits could be newspaper cuttings, phrases, new words, actual objects, links to music, and have been fossils and pieces of quartz in the case of one novel that evolved (The Elysium Testament, 1999, Trident Press). I rarely have a novel entirely planned out, and I never know how it will end either.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way they sound or for the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
The names of my characters do matter to me. I am aware of my own aversion to certain names, especially fashionable ones, so I have to distance myself from that. And names can be socially significant, of course. So, if you have a male character and call him ‘Sledge’ or ‘Moro’ that tells the reader something about class (perhaps). Call him ‘Matthew’ or ‘Donal’ and that presents a different impression. With women, a ‘Tracey’ and ‘Chardonnay’ (a la Katie Hopkins!) suggests quite a different type from an ‘Eithne’ a ‘Medhbh’, or a ‘Rose’.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Erotic?
I believe I have a gift for crowd scenes in which something important is revealed, and in three of my four novels this has been the case. I discovered this capacity as a short story writer, long ago, and realised that I quite enjoyed keeping my eye on the ball while dealing with crowds, groups, or several characters in particular scenes.
Tell us a bit about your non-
I have some non-
What do you like to read in your free time?
Both fiction and non-
What one book do you wish you had written?
The Great Gatsby.
Do you see writing short stories as practice for writing novels?
No, not in the least, though I know that in my own case I did write short stories before I wrote a novel. But a short story is as different or as similar to a novel as a poem is as different or as similar to a short story, if you get my drift. Poem and short-
Do you think writers have a social role to play in society or is their role solely artistic?
I think we are a little like unofficial liars. We take ourselves away from the group (or tribe, if we look on it as an anthropological phenomenon and think of storytellers) and go off into a corner (meaning artists’ retreat, your study, or a cave in the back of beyond) and weave these yarns which we hope our group will be drawn to and from which they might discover new ways for themselves to see and dream. Objectively speaking, it may be a semi social role, but one isn’t conscious of it during the act of writing.
Tell us something about your latest publication, please?
In July, 451 Editions reissued my 1992 debut novel, The Light Makers. I really just wanted to get this book back in print, twenty-
Can writing be taught?
Writing can be taught to someone who is hungry to write and who possesses some talent. Not all published writers are talented, remember. Some are, some are less so. But hunger and an appetite for reading and expression in language will carry the right person a long way. What talent is, is sometimes elusive, but those who have it really do rise.
Have you given or attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please?
The first two workshops I attended as an apprentice writer were interesting in different ways. Julia O’Faolain ran the first one. She was a good teacher and you knew you were in the presence of someone with an excellent mind and a certain rigour of approach. The second one was a poetry workshop and I came away from it on a high, because the teacher gave such encouragement. There were others, one in which I observed the teacher diminish a woman (the administrator), for no obvious reason other than pettishness, I felt. It’s always interesting to see how much clay our heroes and heroines in literature have between their toes!
As a writing teacher I’ve led groups everywhere, in Ireland, and abroad. Participants have changed since I taught writing for the first time in 1983. And over the years I’ve watched how participants expect more and come with a more usefully critical literary vocabulary than heretofore. Often they are working people, not unemployed, and often they are very directed and focused too. In the past, American students were easier to work with because they understood the language of critical discourse, but Irish participants and students are very tuned-
I don’t read a lot of Flash Fiction, although I’ve read some pieces I thought were so perfect, among them work from Nuala O’Connor. I don’t think Twitter is the link to shorter fiction, so much as paucity of time.
Finally what question do you wish that someone would ask about your writing, and how would you answer it?
I’d like them to ask, ‘Well Mary, and how has it been for you?’
Finally, finally some Quick Pick Questions:
Dog or cat? Both
Best city to inspire a writer: London Dublin New York (Other)? Paris.
Favourite meal out: breakfast, lunch, dinner? Lunch (long!)
Weekly series or box sets? Box sets.
Favourite colour? Vermilion
Rolling Stones or Beatles? Beatles
Night or day? Night with the hope of day.