Tuesday 27 October 2009


I wonder - if I just put 'Nude' up there, will the number of hits rocket? Funny little men in villages across the country playing havoc with the National Grid? But no! This is Nuala Ni Chonchuir's collection, Nude Salt Modern Fiction), and I am delighted to welcome her for the latest leg on her round-the-world tour. I'm meant to have three questions. Erm. I sneaked in a few more!
MOI: Hi Nuala. I am struck again and again by your use of language. Unsurprising perhaps, for a poet, and for someone who is avowedly 'in love with words'. A few examples that pleased me hugely:
"I've sat at my window all morning, staring at the untrustworthy spring sunshine hovering over the boulevard..."
"Monsieur Boucher wears a green banyan; his toes scallop from the bottom of the robe, and they are long, like a monkey's." (both from 'Mademoiselle O'Murphy')
"She pushed her head back into the pillow and I looked up at the steeple of her nose, the wide church of her mouth and chin..." (from 'In Seed Time, Learn')
There are words that are perfectly poised - ('untrustworthy' sunshine, 'hovering' over the boulevard - his toes 'scallop', and references to the face of a lover drawn from religious architecture - 'steeple', 'church'... lending this particular scene a hallowed feel)
All these examples are unusually placed and yet perfectly right, in context. I get the feeling that in the hands of a lesser writer, these small miracles would fall flat. Tell me:
1) Are you conscious of this skill as you write? How do these words arrive on the page? Can you describe the process?
2) Is it something that might be learned - so that a keen-eyed writer can achieve a similar effect by astute editing?
NUALA: Gosh, that’s so hard to answer. I honestly can’t analyse where the words and sentences and images spring from. To paraphrase poet Michael Longley, if I did, I’d go there.
I think maybe a feel for putting words together in fresh ways springs from reading. I’ve been a hungry reader all my life and I’ve loved literary fiction since I was very young, so admiration of good writing has formed my own work, I think. I admire vibrant language in other people’s work and it always pleases me when it falls from my own pen. And that’s what happens – I don’t force this stuff out, it’s definitely an unconscious thing.
Incidentally, I was told in a master-class to ditch that sentence “I looked up at the steeple of her nose, the wide church of her mouth and chin..." One participant said it was over the top. She didn’t seem to like me much in general, so that was my cue to keep it. Anyway, I liked it so it stayed. An example maybe of knowing which of one’s darlings not to kill.
To answer the second part of your question, I don’t think it can be learned in any formal sense but writers can freshen their imagery and word choices in stuff they have written if it feels tired on a re-read.
I do think if you want to be a good writer you have to love reading, almost to the point of obsession. And you have to be able to read critically and learn from what good writers do.

MOI: So what reading do you really love to do? Who are your favourite poets? No - I will rephrase that. IF you could keep a single book of poetry in your possession, in the knowledge that you could not look at another for five years... which would you keep? And fiction book? (It does not have to be short stories!)

NUALA: Well, I came to Sharon Olds late (just last year, in fact) but she re-affirms for me the fact that women's sexuality needs to be aired in poetry and fiction. She makes me feel brave in my own writing.
And Baricco's prose is so elegant, spare and yet adorned that I strive to write as beautifully as him. I'd love to write a fairytaley story, like Silk, that people would remember for a long time. That book has a cult-like status among its fans but it's a real love it or hate it read, I find.

MOI: ‘The Blonde Odalisque’ by Francois Boucher was presumably the inspiration for Lousia in Mademoiselle O'Murphy. (I Googled!) Which came first, the idea for the story or you seeing the painting? And which painting, if any, inspired 'Juno Out Of Yellow'?
NUALA: It's basically the same painting, but the orignal one is called Mademoiselle O'Murphy. So yes, that's right. She was a real Irish girl who was Louis XV's concubine - the story is basically true. I've just given her a personality.
It was hearing about Louisa that inspired me first off - I searched for the painting then.
'Juno Out of Yellow' is a fictitious painting. I read about a girl having her portrait done by Nick Miller - she wondered in her article if it was vain to love a portrait of herself. That was my jumping off point.

MOI: Tell me what is feel like to have a growing shelf of books out there? Does each one feel as special as the first? Do you keep a special shelf for your own books and antholgies you appear in?
NUALA: It feels great to have five books under my belt and more on the way. The first one felt surreal and lovely but I'm most proud of the latest one, Nude - it just seems to me a maturer work and the stories fit together well.
I store my books on a shelf in my study - it makes them easy to find when I have to get them out for readings.
The anthologies and journals are all over the house. I keep most of them but some I give away.

MOI: Describe the room you write in. And if you eat when you write, what do you eat?!

NUALA: I have a study with yellow walls, a noticeboard, a filing cabinet and shelves of books. It's a ghost room at the moment because there is nowhere to put the baby in there while I write. So I've moved my desk to the sitting-room now and she sits in her little chair and I can talk to her while I work. Try to work.
I eat cereal bars and spelt muffins and drink decaf tea. That makes me sound saintly but I have been on a health kick for the last few years. I do love dark choc and the odd gallon of red wine. But I don't drink-n-write.

MOI: oooh that’s interesting... the 'no drink n write' thing. Have you never ever ever written summat after a party... something you don’t remember writing at all, but which was brilliant?!
NUALA: I wrote a story while under the influence years ago - it won the first story comp I ever won! After being edited, naturally. It's not brilliant though...If I make drunken notes they usually make no sense whatsoever the next day.

MOI: Nude is a very special book -I much enjoyed your stories! I can understand your pride in it. Not only a beautiful book inside, but such a gorgeous cover design. How did that come about? Was it the first design?
NUALA: Salt were very busy when my cover needed doing so they said if I had an image in mind they'd be open to seeing if it would work, to save them sourcing one. So I trawled the internet and, eventually, the handcrafted yummy-stuff site Etsy for a suitable nude. There I found Rachel Manconi's beautiful images for sale so I made her an offer on one pic and she said yes. Chris was happy with it so he used it. I love it!

MOI: And finally, what are you working on now? I know your novel comes out later... amazing lady that you are. After that???
NUALA: I am working on my next full collection of poetry which will be out November 2010 from Templar Poetry. I have a pamphlet coming out with them this November: Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car. Busy busy.
Thanks a million, Vanessa, for having me on this the penultimate stop of my tour & for supersonic questions. For my last stop I am back in the Antipodes, in Australia (see, a REAL round the world tour!) with Sylvia Petter AKA Merc at http://mercsworld.blogspot.com/

MOI: It is a great pleasure, N. One day, I will explain to the readers just how helpful you were over this stop on your tour. I look forward to reading the next, at Merc's place. And good luck with all your projects!
Nuala's website is HERE and Nude can be bought from all the usual suspects, including Salt Publishing, from their website HERE


Kar said...

Vanessa, wonderful warm interview. You can see that you almost drank every word from the page of Nude. Loved your question on the single poetry book to keep, really got me thinking and the eating question is just brilliant, very different. You managed to uncover more interesting things about Nuala and her writing and also her habits. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview on an otherwise very dull morning in Dublin.

Jenny Beattie said...

An interesting interview - thank you.

(I am certain you will see an increase if your stats with people searching all kinds of nude things! I had a picture of a promotion in London called 'Nude in a Scarf' (the title was more interesting than the campaign) and I get ... oh so many hits from nude things. They must be terribly disappointed when they reach my blog.)

Anonymous said...

What an extraordinarily fresh & poetic voice! And, yes, glad that Nuala kept that church-y set of images 'in': a good writer must have faith in their own work.
Wonderful interview - thank you to both of you. I'm so glad to have found it, as I've been wondering about Nuala's work since discovering her via your blog, Vanessa.
'Nude' now on my list of books-to-be-bought. You're both going to be keeping me off chocolate & red wine for the next few months at this rate - no bad thing, tho'. 'Hyacinths for the soul' as someone said.

Unknown said...

Another great interview. Thank you Nuala & Vanessa. I'm glad I'm not the only one with crumbs around and on my keyboard ;) I have to admit to the odd drop of red wine there too though.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Kar, thats for dropping by. Nuala is a gem- not the least for coping when her interviewers don't exactly work to correct schedules!
JJ Beattie - sigh. It happens, doesn't it. Mind you, I could preface every post in future with 'Nude' and see my popularity rocket!
Minnie - absolutely. And another of Nuala's books I love is her bilingual poetry collection Tattoo Tatu. It is gorgeous to see both languages next to each other as the poems are set in Englaish and Irish - I just wish a CD came with it, with live readings!
Oslo- thanks for dropping in -Im sure my keyboard is a veritable larder, as well.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Lovely, thank you!

Irish Mammy said...

Really lovely warm interview, thanks for sharing.

Insinbad said...

Great, interesting interview. A joy to read; two wonderful writer in writen conversation.

Wena Poon said...

The steeple and church line is gorgeous. I'm so glad you left it in, NNC. I love the virtual tour, ladies!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thank you for poppoing by and reading all of you. It's been a great pleasure to have Nuala here - a very special writer, with a very special voice.

Rachel Fenton said...

I, too, loved the food question! That is the question which reveals you, Vanessa, as a writer!

A really great read on my return to blog land!

Group 8 said...

Hi Vanessa
Thanks a million for having me here - it was a pleasure. And thanks to all the lovely commenters, espesh those who have followed all the way. Nearly done, guys!!
Nuala x

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Ha! I was munching a marmite rice cake at the time...

Vanessa Gebbie said...

That last comment was for Rachel!

It was a great pleasure to have you here on your tour, Nuala. I wish 'Nude' every success.


Miss_Úna said...

Another fantastic interview & as Kar said more very interesting uncoverings! Wasn't it brave of you Nuala to keep that line in when someone else shot it down? As minniebeaniste it's a wonderful thing to have faith in your own writing, its paid off, in spades.
Looking forward to the final stop.
You healthy people make me sick! she said scoffing yet another lemon sherbet!