Monday, August 31, 2009

Nude Not Naked Tour

Nuala Ní Chonchúir's here. She's just behind that screen, preparing for her portrait - I'm painting her nude.

You go on and make yourself at home there, Nuala!

While Nuala settles in, here's a little biographical note, just incase you haven't been following my blog or have had your brain misplaced in a peat bog for the last goodness knows how long, and you're now wondering, "who is this fabled Nuala"?

Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in County Galway, Ireland. Her third short fiction collection Nude will be published by Salt in September 2009. She has poems and an essay in The Watchful Heart – A New Generation of Irish Poets, edited by Joan McBreen (Salmon, 2009). Nuala was chosen by The Irish Times as a writer to watch in 2009; she has won many short fiction prizes including the Cúirt New Writing Prize, RTÉ radio’s Francis MacManus Award, the inaugural Jonathan Swift Award and the Cecil Day Lewis Award. She was recently shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature and she was one of four winners of the Templar Poetry Pamphlet and Collection competition. Her pamphlet Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car will be published by Templar in November. Website:

Looks like we're almost ready to get started. I've got my brushes, my paints, tea and biscuits.
Now, don't be alarmed by the size of my easel!
Portrait of this artist looking very sleep deprived and in need of make-up, photoshop, or editing out altogether, and staring oddly just a little bit too close to the camera. I have such lovely eyebrows - what a shame they're hiding.

Regular followers may remember I offered a little challenge for one of you to come up with a question for Nuala, in exchange for a little blog showcasing. And the lucky winner was (is), Lori Tiron-Pandit. Lori is here now - lovely hand shaking ladies - to ask Nuala her question first. So let's begin.

Lori: "You write both poetry and fiction with success. What is the process of choosing to manifest a thought as either a poem or a short story?"

Nuala: Thanks for your question, Lori. It’s a hard one to answer but I’ll do my best. In a sense there is no conscious choice; something occurs to me and I know by the shape or feel of it whether it’s story or poem material.

Story is more complex because there are characters, scene-setting, the ‘what-happens’ – which is akin to plot – etc etc to think about. I don’t start out with a plan or an idea as such, usually a story starts as a meeting of character, situation and atmosphere in my head (very difficult to describe! John Banville called it a ‘mood’ once). That all launches forward from an opening sentence that may have been swirling in my brain for weeks. My fiction is generally based on made-up events that resemble the truth, though sometimes I’ll use a real life event from the media or history to base my fiction on. There’s a story in Nude called ‘An Amarna Princess Up North’ which is my imagined version of a real-life forger’s life; I changed the names and got inside his head.

My poetry then is normally either very personal – based on my life and events in it. Or it’ll be a comment on other women’s lives and things they’ve gone through like domestic violence or anorexia; things I haven’t experienced but I feel the need to highlight. I also write historical narrative poems based on women I admire, like Joan of Arc. Actually I wrote a story about a different aspect of her life too which is on the net at Indieoma.

Rachel: There is the feeling, as the reader of Nude, of not being a reader at all, in the sense that we are not spectators but are brought to take part in the events; almost as if we can intervene at any moment, or that a character may pose a question to us; and I notice that you have used (with success, more so in ‘Unmothered’, I think) that uncommonest of narrative forms, second person narration, and I wondered if this, and your employment of first person narration, was a deliberate means to make the reader feel that the stories are not escapes at all, but to make the reader feel the same need to escape as the characters?

Nuala: I’m glad that you were so lost in the stories that you felt a part of them, that the characters seemed real. It’s so hard to be objective about your own work and you never know if it’s believable. I don’t write with anything in mind other than telling a story to myself, so I never wonder what readers will think as I write. I only wonder about people getting it after it’s been published.

As for 1st or 2nd person being deliberate choices, they aren’t; I just find 1st person the best way to tell stories. I have difficulties with 3rd person because I feel too far away from what’s happening; it feels clunky and frequently doesn’t lift off the page for me. I love creating a voice and getting inside the mind of a character.

Unusual it may be, but I find 2nd person oddly comfortable. I have to stop myself from using it often because I seem to naturally go there when I start writing. I think it’s a very Irish way to tell a story – sort of intimate but distant too.

One of my favourite books of all-time is Edna O’Brien’s A Pagan Place, so maybe I gleaned a love of 2nd person from that. The novel I have written is in the 2nd person and some of the publishers who have read it (and rejected it!) have had a problem with that voice. But if it’s good enough for Edna O’Brien and Jay McInerney...

Rachel: The title of your collection of short fiction is, obviously, Nude, and nudes do feature, in some way, in each of the stories within this collection, but I was struck by the notion of reality as the character being undressed, and that your fiction was, in essence, peeling back the filth, the commonplace, the ordinariness of real life to reveal the art of life, and I wondered how much you consider yourself to be undressing reality, as opposed to clothing it with art; which leads me to ask how much do you consider yourself to have chosen characters who are overlooked?

Nuala: I think so much of peoples’ lives are about secrets – most people won’t share the detritus of their minds with others for fear of being exposed. One of the great things about fiction is, as you so wonderfully put it, the undressing of those secrets and the sneak-peak into privacy and personal truths. We all have an image of ourselves and other people’s image of us is often quite different and in stories, as a writer, you get to expose and explore people’s foibles and weirdnesses. I love that. I also love fiction that rings true and I hope that no matter how weird the situation I present in a story, that there is a dose of reality and truth in it.

As a reader, I am not keen on reading about ordinary, hum-drum lives and so as a writer, I prefer to write about odd-balls and loners – they have more interesting internal lives. Frank O’Connor famously wrote about the short story being peopled by the lonely and I would agree with that. Most of the characters in Nude are yearning for something or someone to make them feel less alone.

Thank you, Nuala, for such detailed and insightful answers, and for choosing to stop off here in New Zealand first. No peeking, I've got a few finishing touches to make first.

Thanks a million Rachel for hosting me at Snow Like Thought on my Nude not Naked Tour and for very interesting questions. I’m starting and ending my virtual tour in the Antipodes – the last stop on the 3rd November is at Australian author Sylvia Petter’s blog, Merc’s World:

Next week, on the 8th of September, I’ll be at fellow Salt authors Tania Hershman’s blog TaniaWrites:

My thanks, also, to Lori, whose blog I will be showcasing soon.

Finally, Nuala, thank you for posing. I think we're all done here now, would you like to see your portrait?

Sorry, did you think I was painting Nuala......? Oh, I meant her book of short fiction, Nude! Her Nude! Words, eh? Slippery as paint.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A veiled bubble

That strip in the foreground is a bench: take a seat and enjoy the view, it could be Lake Taupo, or anywhere you want, it's your view.

Bubbles are so pretty when the sunlight refracts off their surface.

This isn't really a post, more a thinly veileld advertisement for my interview with Nuala Ní Chonchúir on September 1st!

And you see them as irredescant spheres.

The Nude not Naked tour itinerary is now available to view at Salt's website .

The whole universe reflected on their rainbow skins for mere moments.

While you wait, I thought you might like a little visual interlude; a thought break.


Friday, August 21, 2009


I found a stack of sketches, all near identical, each figure having taken mere moments to translate. I like the messiness of the whole thing. All of it. Everything. Life. Don't tidy me; don't edit me into conformity and I can be deliciously succinct.

Give me an old body any day

with breasts comfy as cats, skin

that wants to touch itself.

Young bodies are regular, angular or thin,

each appendage trying to leap,

perpendicular, as far away from its host; each

bump a fleshy beast as obstructive,

as appealing, as short-shelved as a peach.

Not long to go now until Nuala Ní Chonchúir touches down, on the first of September, to talk about her ravishing book of short fiction, Nude. And now I want to congratulate her on her genius for choosing a title that would make headlines this week for being in a tug of war between two celebrities - what great publicity! - And she isn't even married to Henry DeTamble!
I'm still averaging a short story a day, too. Got that collection collected! Now, what to do with it?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It could be mist

When I read one of the stories in Nude I thought of this pastel sketch and smiled. I like it because the colours are soft, much as pastels and bottoms should be, I think.

It's time for another nude: not the Nude, that's coming up on the first of September - I'm priming my canvas as I type (I should add ambidextrousness to my list of talents, except that it's made up and I'm being daft) - this nude is ten years old and doesn't look a day over fifty!
She's lovely and blurry and fuzzled at the edges: like mist - a pastel mist.

All this getting ready to interview Nuala Ní Chonchúir has been extremely beneficial to my creativity. I've written five short stories over the last seven days ( I can't call it a week because it didn't begin on a Monday, nor end on Sunday), and they're all going in my almost complete collection. I like to imagine I have a publishing deal and all the trimmings, there's no point being a pessimist is there? Or a pastelmist. Perhaps I am ever so slightly losing the plot, but it will all come out in the wash. Speaking of...I'd better get these brushes washed!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Worn art

I chose this pastel sketch because I gave the sitter a big body and a leetle head, and because the style and colours make me think of some of Gauguin's work.

I've been having a bit of a clear out, preparing my studio for when Nuala Ní Chonchúir visits on September 1st, to start her virtual book tour, here!
I'm going to be interviewing her about her latest book of short fiction, Nude. I have my copy, which I read whilst pushing the buggy to school, and I cannot praise it enough.
You may remember I was asked to think up three questions to ask Nuala. Me being the generous soul that I am, offered one of you lucky bloggers a chance to ask a question yourselves. Well, I can say I have chosen the question (it was an easy decision, those of you who are regulars will know why) and I am very happy to announce Lori Tiron-Pandit as the other lucky questioner. Hurrah for Lori!
As her prize, Lori will have her blog showcased on this blog after the interview which should hopefully benefit her with some extra blogger traffic.
So watch this space for more updates and, possibly, more nudes - it's amazing what tattered un-masters you find down the far recesses of a dusty old portfolio! I might start painting nudes again - any offers for sitters?

So shall we

It isn't saving lives, is it?

Writing is pretty selfish.

One markets it as an essential tool for understanding society, or a method of ascertaining the human condition but that's being somewhat philosophical.

Can writing save your life, or anyone else's?

The intuitive ones among you may have noticed a touch of melancholy to my tone - yes, I got another rejection. You are a sensitive lot! I've lost count how many negative returns that is from the ten or so queries I sent out but that's because I have dyscalculia and not because I am not counting! However, there are some unaccounted for (um) so it's all still very much to play for. And even if they all come back with no love I will be sending another batch out and going through the same process all over again. I am nothing if not tenacious!

Life would be simpler if I could be happy doing some other job. All I can do is make stuff: of words, of paint, of stuff. You make of me what you like.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Water your thoughts

A piece of short fiction of mine has just been published here. It's the one I wrote especially for the submission, and I feel rather nervous and proud all at the same time. I had to re-read it a few times to check I hadn't let any mistakes slip through or something equally as hideous (do tell me if you see any, I'm a shocker for typing gibberish under stress/excitement/worry!)

Anyhow, I think I'll include it in the collection I've been working on for the past year. I have twenty-one pieces of short fiction included in this, but I've just decided that half of them can go towards a second collection, having changed my overall theme, so I have about as many to write again for each. And I'm really enjoying writing them. I have a lot of other, very random, pieces to do something with at some point, too.

Of all the short fiction I've written, there are only a handful which have been anything I could term hard work. Mostly they just pop into my head and I go with them. Of course I change and edit them afterwards, and some end up nothing like how they began, but some simply appear finished; as this one did. And I like those the best.
Let me know what you think of the story!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Family are rare

Inspiration comes in all forms...

What You Are

Your eyes; familiar denim. We were well
acquainted long before your birth. Like mine
but brighter, you're a star. I crave your smell,
rice pudding skin, topped off with gold. A fine
floss, candied honey tangles. Pillar-box
grins, milk-teeth smiles and belly laughs consume
my heart. Mischievous mouse and cunning fox
I've called you. Making mess in every room,
then hiding. Marmite fingers up the walls,
and chocolate melts into the carpet. Still,
it's fun to see you beam, aglow with all
you've done, my happy lantern. Giggles fill
our house, which you've turned into home. How do
I count the ways you keep me loving you?

...and it never gets tidier...

A Spotted Robe

You wore when you were three
and still do sometimes at seven
rests across the arm of the settee

kept company by other laundry,
shirts and trousers, not all yours,
ironing, pending, work in progress,
a life captured in a list of chores.

...but it keeps on growing!

(I wrote the sonnet when I was being 'taught' to write poetry - what's that all about, eh? I wrote the second poem last year. Now I've thrown out all the teaching, I can start on the Housekeeping.)