Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a widely published and award winning poet, novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel You was published in 2010. Longtime readers of this blog will remember her third collection of short fiction, Nude, was reviewed as part of my Short Story Challenge, her story Letters winning a spot on my Top Fifteen Short Stories of 2010. Arlen House have just published an expanded edition of her second collection, To The World Of Men, Welcome which I will be reviewing on this blog next week. Nuala is currently offering a copy as a prize over on her blog, Women Rule Writer, but before you click over there to enter please join me in welcoming Nuala as she shares her life in short fiction:
The first short story you remember enjoying.
I’ve always loved stories but Seán Ó Faoláin’s story ‘The Trout’ lodged in my brain in a peculiar way. We must have read it in primary school. It’s about a little girl who finds a ‘panting’ trout in a secluded well. The landscape of the story is an old laurel walk ‘a lofty midnight tunnel of smooth, sinewy branches’ and it’s like a similar spot in my homeplace in County Dublin. At some point I started to believe that the story had actually happened to me; I adapted it into my own mythology. So much so that when I re-read ‘The Trout’ as an adult it felt like I was reading my own history. Bizarre. It’s a gorgeous piece of fiction and I often think about it.
The short story that made you want to write short fiction.
I couldn’t say that there was just one. We read a lot of short stories in school and I was always reading at home. I started to write short stories because poetry wasn’t enough for me and the novels I was attempting never went anywhere. I’ve always loved the way short stories pan out – the motifs, the tension. It’s like watching someone dive into a dark pool. They go under, you see the ripples fan out and fade, but you know the diver has to come up for air at some point, so you wait for that. I fell head over heels with Anne Enright’s collection The Portable Virgin around the time I was starting to write stories myself so, as a collection, I would say it egged me on; it showed me the possibilities of what a young Irish woman writer could do.
A story by the author whose body of work you feel has most influenced yours.
Again, it’s impossible to pick one writer or one story. Annie Proulx makes me brave with naming characters; Claire Keegan teaches me to slow my pace; I love Emma Donoghue’s language and energy; Michéle Roberts has a delicate touch that I would like to master. But I do remember being directly influenced by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s story ‘Midwife to the Fairies’ – it gave me the idea to use a folk tale in my story ‘One Hare’s Foot’ . I’ve come around to the idea that influence is a good thing, having resisted (or misunderstood it?) for a while. I love seeing what other writers are doing and what I can learn from them. My favourite story writers include Edna O’Brien, Flannery O’Connor, Michéle Roberts, Claire Keegan, Seán O’Reilly, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, Annie Proulx, Emma Donoghue, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Tess Gallagher, Rose Tremain, Yiyun Li, Manuel Munoz and Ernest Hemingway. At the moment I am basking in the stories of Valerie Trueblood – they have an absolute humanity; her stories are layered, learned, insightful, moving and witty. I wish I could write like her.
The story from your own body of work that most reveals something of who Nuala Ní Chonchúir is.
Oh, this is a hard one. Well, I write a lot about the things that obsess and possess me: art, the breakdown of love, sex and the body. So if I have to pick one, it might be ‘Madonna Irlanda’ from my collection Nude. The story is about a shy, self-conscious artist, newly separated from her husband, who goes to Paris and meets a fabulous man (another artist). They become friends and from him she learns about strength and forging ahead with her life and her art; he makes her braver.
Your all time favourite short story.
I love different stories for different reasons at varying times. But if I had to choose only one story for my desert island, I think it would be Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Good Country People’. I just love Hulga/Joy as a character and it is so brilliant and comforting to me, as a writer, that Flannery O’Connor wrote the story not knowing how it would end. With that perfect ending! You are pulled into the story and its mix of the funny and the deadly serious. She was a genius, she had such an ear.
Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway county. Her début novel You (New Island, 2010) was called ‘a heart-warmer’ by The Irish Times and ‘a gem’ by The Irish Examiner. Her third short story collection Nude (Salt, 2009) was shortlisted for the UK’s Edge Hill Prize; her third poetry collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Her second short story collection To The World of Men, Welcome (2005) has just been re-issued by Arlen House in an expanded paperback edition.
Author photo by Emilia Krysztofiak