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.


Anonymous said...

Very best of luck to you, Nuala, with your new publication.

I think I've mentioned here before I am in awe of those who write poetry - and write it well - because I can't do it for chocolate!

Law and Order said...

Rachel, this is a fantastic post! I am so inspired by this interview - what a wonderful woman writer! Great questions from both you and Lori, and insightful answers from Nuala. Thanks for sharing this. I loved the "I'm painting her nude", I couldn't wait to see what you'd unveil at the end. So clever! Well done, you. :)

Rachel Fenton said...

Thank you for, Donna, and Nuala's short fiction is awesome - and every bit as rich and addictive as chocolate!

AW, you have to be the best blogger, always such positive comments, thank you. It's easy to come up with good questions when the starting materials/inspiration are/is so good...the short stories in this collection are really great, and I'm not just saying that - I devoured them all, and I'm not the sort of person who will plough on with something if it doesn't ring my bell, they were a treat to read. Glad you liked the ending!

Group 8 said...

Whee hee!!!! I'm grinning from ear to ear.
Firstly thanks for having me here, Rachel. I'll just slip back into my clothes, while I thank Donna and AW for their lovely comments.
Talk later!
Nuala x

Kar said...

Hi Rachel,

I too devoured ‘Nude’ almost drinking the words from the page. It’s a fantastic collection. Thoroughly enjoyed your interview and loved your questions, it was a pleasure to read on this brisk morning in Dublin.


Rachel Fenton said...

Phewsh! Nuala, it was such fun to do! Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity!

Kar - thank you so much! Like I said to AW, it was easy to think of questions because the stories had my brain on fire, I wish I could have asked more!

Lori said...

Oh, sorry to come to the after-party so late, I had to run and gather my thoughts.

It was a beautiful thing that you did Rachel, creating the atmosphere and letting us all experience your beautiful session of book talk and painting with Nuala. I was blown away by the depth of your questions and still thinking of her answers, like the ones about the second person narrative and stories peopled by the lonely.

With such work, you should apply for a job with the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Thanks so much for letting me be a part of this.

Liz said...

Great interview - both questions and answers. 'Nude' has been my summer nights reading for the past 2 weeks and it has definitely taken me where all good fiction should take one...congrats again, Nuala.

Rachel Fox said...

Very tempting. I will read this before the year is out!

Merc said...

What a creative start to the tour. Bravo!

Rachel Fenton said...

Lori - thank you for being my co-interviewer and for providing such a great starting question! And for your kind compliments! I'm really looking forward to hosting your blog soon!

Hi Liz, I got completely lost in the stories! Glad you enjoyed the interview. Thank you.

Rachel - do read it, I zoomed through the stories all at once - (quite an assault on my senses, and I possibly damaged my heart!) but I'm enjoying going back through now at a safe speed and lingering on them variously.

Hi Merc - thank you, and I'm glad you've popped in because now I can add you to my blog list without trawling around to look for you! I look forward to following the tour all the way to you!

Andrea said...

A very cool interview - well done. I'll have to read her book now!

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks, Andrea, glad not to have fallen on my face!

Anonymous said...

A good interview inspires the reader to chase up the interviewee's work in a hurry. So I'm off to Amazon toute de suite!

Rachel Fenton said...

There cannot be better praise than that, Dick, thank you.

Group 8 said...

Thanks so much, Rachel, for being a lovely, imaginative host and to all the commenters. I really hope you who buy it enjoy the stories now! Some of them are available to read online. See the links on the Nude page at my website

Rachel Fenton said...

You are very welcome, Nuala, thank you!

MichO ツ said...

Nice :)

Dave King said...

That's twice this morning I've read the best interview for ages! Beautifully presented and insightfully constructed. A joy to read.

Rachel Fenton said...

What a compliment, Dave, thank you. I was worried for a while that my presentation of the interview was a tad too comical, but I think, in hindsight, it was nice to contrast the intelligence of Nuala's answers. Thanks again.

Rachel Fenton said...

Gosh, I never thanked you, MichitO - apologies - better late than never - thank you.