Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Seán O'Reilly - pic Faber & Faber
The Stinging Fly literary magazine is now accepting applications for the fourth year of its innovative novel-writing workshop.

Led by novelist and short story writer, Sean O'Reilly, 'New Way To Fly' is the perfect solution for those who are in the early stages of writing a novel and who feel they will benefit from a relationship with a group of others engaged in the same process.
Under Sean's expert direction, the group will meet once a week in a workshop setting over a six-month period. The ultimate aim is for each participant to complete (yes!) a strong first draft of his/her novel.
Alongside the workshops, there will be a series of specialist talks by guest speakers on several Saturdays over the period. Previous guest speakers have included Chris Binchy, Evelyn Conlon, Mia Gallagher, Michael Harding, Dermot Healy, Christine Dwyer Hickey, Declan Hughes, Emer Martin, Paul Murray, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Mark O’Halloran, Kevin Power, Ed O’Loughlin and Peter Sheridan.
Participants will be selected on the basis of work submitted. Applications up to August 3rd 2012, though early entry is encouraged as places on the workshop will be offered on a rolling basis.
What past participants say about the workshop:
  • "This is an excellent workshop – unique in fact and I have recommended it to other aspiring writers. Sean O’Reilly is an outstanding and unconventional teacher."
  • “What is outstanding about this course is the generosity, both in terms of time and close attention, with which every submission was discussed by Sean and the rest of the group.”
  • “It’s the best writing course I've done, and I've done a few, including a Masters. Without doubt everybody's work improved during the course – and the work was good to start with.”
  • “The Saturday sessions were fascinating. To meet and discuss work with one published writer, let alone ten highly respected and interesting published writers, was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The details:
Workshop Starts: Monday, September 24th (introductory session)

Times: Twenty weekly workshops on Monday evenings from 6.30pm – 9.30pm at the Irish Writers’ Centre, Parnell Street, Dublin 1. Plus Saturday dates to be agreed.
Cost of workshop: €1500 (A €200 deposit will be payable once a place on the workshop has been offered and accepted. The balance is to be paid in two instalments in September 2012 and in January 2013. Where necessary a monthly payment plan can be agreed.)
For further details, please email:

Monday, 23 April 2012


The cover for my short story collection Mother America. Out June 4th. Woo! Big thanks to Inka for another fantabulous design job.

Happy World Book Day :) In honour of the day the Irish Times ran a feature on Saturday about neglected books. I recommended Martin Malone's historical novel The Only Glow of the Day in the article.

Sunday, 22 April 2012


Thisispopbaby's WERK last night was fantastic: a fun, warm, positivity-all-over the-gaff event. Never mind that I could have been the mother of most of the people there (way to feel old), it was great to be out among those who love to mix it up in terms of venue (the Peacock Bar lined with gold) and acts (drag, spoken word, comedy, song). For my bit, I read from The Juno Charm and it seemed to go over well.

Lots of the cast of the Abbey's current smash Alice in Funderland took to the stage: they are young, hip, beautiful and talented. As are those behind Thisispopbaby, who are also very organised and friendly and that is why - I think - the whole thing works so well. You can be gorgeous and talented but if you don't treat people well or or keep the thing snappy, the whole lot can feel wrong. This crew are definitely getting it all right.

And I didn't get home to my bed until 4.30am. Way to feel young!

Wayne Jordan
Host, Tony Flynn
Mark O'Halloran
Mini Melange
The Funderband
Paddy Fagan
Miss Panti

Thursday, 19 April 2012


Our own Anne Enright is on the shortlist for the Orange Prize for her novel The Forgotten Waltz. She talked about it on Arena on Tuesday night and she was her usual wry, honest self. She is touring the book in the USA at the moment and she spoke about the difference between American and Irish audiences:

'The American audience can be quite intense. They are a very receptive and enthusiastic audience.' Presenter Seán Rocks asked her to expand on this, wondering about the differences between audiences. Anne said: 'The Irish audience knows you and wouldn’t want to annoy you with any intensities. The Irish are more relaxed.' This is true, I feel. Though Germany was about the (in)tensest place that I have read. Still, they all came up afterwards and bought the book. Irish people often say they loved your reading but don't buy the book...

She said of the Orange shortlisting: 'It’s a lovely validation and a great fillip for the book. Publishing is very nervous at the moment; literary fiction is on the back foot and anything that stirs the mix again and gets books out there into the public arena is good by me.' Hear hear.

Seán asked about her thoughts on the Orange being a women-only prize. Anne said, quite rightly: 'Statistics show that women’s writing is under-represented in the important media. The Orange Prize redresses the balance.' She cited Vida which measures the reviews/exposure in the media of women’s writing and said that the statistics speak for themselves. I love when a writer I admire gets involved in this debate.

She also said, with reference to the shortlist, which features three American writers (Patchett, Miller and Ozick): ‘American’s women fiction is so strikingly good.’ I feel that too, particularly about short story writers: a few that immediately spring to mind are Amy Bloom, Caitlin Horrocks, ZZ Packer and Valerie Trueblood.

Speaking of Valerie Trueblood, I'm pleased that an essay I wrote about her and her writing has made the shortlist of the Thresholds Feature Writing Competition. There's a shortlist of ten. It seems all ten may be published regardless of who is the overall winner. If that's the case I will link to here when my essay is featured.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


Ann Patchett Writer Ann Patchett recently opened an independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, in Nashville, Tennessee (go Ann!). Patchett is, apparently, a  great supporter of emerging writers (good for her) and she had this to say in an interview on the One Story blog:

"Show kindness whenever possible. Show it to the people in front of you, the people coming up behind you, and the people with whom you are running neck and neck. It will vastly improve the quality of your own life, the lives of others, and the state of the world.

And while you’re at it, buy your books at independent bookstores and tell your friends to do the same because if we don’t take the lead, no one else will."

I agree with her and have been living by this 'helping' motto for ages. However I do meet a lot of writers who want to take but don't want to give. They bug me. But deep down, I realise, they are insecure and not much I do or say is going to change that. I have had my helpers who have given me work and opportunities and to whom I am really grateful, among them Patrick Cotter of the Munster Literature Centre and Gearóid O'Brien of Athone Library. So two men have helped me a lot but I make a personal point of helping other women writers as much as possible.

Ann Patchett's own mentor was Allan Gurganus and she said of him: "Allan Gurganus taught me how to write, which was extremely helpful. I tried to follow his example of hard work, though never came close to matching his sense of elegance and style. He was and is a very generous soul. I didn’t match him there either but he taught me a great deal. My favorite piece of Gurganus advice was that I must always steer the ship of my own career and not assume anyone else was looking after things as I would. If my name was on the book then I must agree with every aspect of it. This has been hugely important to me."

Steer the ship of your own career. It's so true. With Mother America out in a few weeks I have been busily setting up PR stuff in tandem with New Island. It makes for busy times (and no writing) but it's already starting to pay off. The busier I get with it all, the more offers I get (including out-of-the-blue ones). There is some sort of magic in the universe that rewards us (eventually). If we help others, we get helped back. Something like that anyway!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


THISISPOPBABY @ The Electric Picnic (pic. Irish Times)
I'm reading at ThisIsPopBaby's WERK on Saturday night in Dublin at the Peacock in the Abbey Theatre. WERK is a performance cabaret/party. Lots of fun! In their own words:

'In a late-night haze of neon and performance, live art and discotheque, the belly of the Abbey Theatre is returning to WERK. Underground club and performance roulette - this legendary cocktail of ideas is an epic night out of your making. Irreverent, bold and trashy; WERK is the house of outrageous investigation, obscene talent and unnatural beauty. It’s a party. Clock in – WERK out.

Performance roulette, installation explosion and subversive club – WERK is irreverent, eclectic, surprising and fun. A hard night’s WERK will spark ideas, be rich in conversation and provoke action.'

11.30pm to 2.30am, Saturday 21st April, Peacock Bar, Abbey Theatre

Monday, 16 April 2012


To celebrate his award winning short story appearing in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt), I welcome Dan Powell to the blog today for a chat about writing in general and short stories in particular. 

Writer Dan Powell
Dan’s stories have appeared in Spilling Ink Review, Staccato, Neon, Metazen, The View From Here, Friction and Dirty Bristow. His story ‘Half-mown Lawn’ won the 2010 Yeovil Literary Prize for short fiction and is published this month in The Best British Short Stories 2012. Married with three children, Dan teaches part-time while studying for a distance learning MA in Creative Writing. He blogs at

Hi Dan and welcome to WWR.

Hi Nuala, great to be here.

You are a writer, stay-at-home Dad, part-time worker and also an MA in Creative Writing student. You said recently regarding writing ‘I go easy on myself. If there’s no time, there’s no time.’ Happily you are still getting things done. How do you juggle it all?

It’s all down to my brilliant and beautiful wife. Of the two of us, she works full time, affording me the time to pursue my writing when I’m not taking care of the kids. We have two young boys and a baby girl so family time takes up a huge chunk of my week, but the boys are both at school now and my little girl loves nursery, so I usually get two or three mornings a week when I am not working myself to concentrate on my writing. My wife is a teacher and often has to work in the evenings, so I also use that time to do redrafts, update my blog and do submission admin and the like. As you say, it’s a juggling act, but I find, though I have far less time for writing now than I did in my twenties, I do far more with the time I have. The work has a sense of urgency. I rarely struggle over what to write. Time is short, so I just get down to it when I can.

Snap – we’ve 2 boys and a girl as well. Your life mirrors mine too in the time-for-writing sense.
What is your writing process – morning or night; longhand or laptop?

Back in my younger days I wrote mostly at night, but I tend to write best in the mornings now. Those mornings when I am not working I start writing as soon as I get back from dropping my youngest at nursery, a little after 9am and work through to just before 1pm. I take a couple of breaks and slot in doing the washing and other chores when I need to. Mundane tasks like that provide excellent thinking time. Some of my better ideas for where to go next with a story have come while I’ve been hanging out washing or mowing the lawn. If my youngest has an afternoon nap or I have time in the evening, that’s my editing and submitting time.

As for longhand or laptop, my process tends to differ depending on what I’m writing. I have an A4 notebook which I keep purely for writing first drafts of flash fiction in longhand. I find there is something about the slow pace of handwriting something that lends itself to the dense nature of short short stories. Longer short stories and my novel I usually draft in Scrivener, going through a handful of edits before moving into a more traditional word processor for final drafts once I am happy with the overall structure of a piece. My MA novel has so far been drafted entirely on my laptop, but I am planning to tackle at least one section in longhand to purposely slow down my writing and see what happens.

The key thing I have realised about my process is that it is unlikely to ever reach a fixed point. Each time I write a story something new feeds into what I do and older aspects drop away (sometimes to return later, sometimes not). I’ve read a few quotes about how writers don’t learn to write novels, they just learn to write the novel they are currently writing. I feel a little bit like that with all my fiction. Each story requires a slightly different approach.

You live in Germany. Does that country and its flavours ever sneak into your writing?

Though I live in a village Germany, we are part of a fairly large British community within the area. As such I don’t feel I have been as influenced by German culture as I might have been if I was more integrated into the German community.

I know that music is a key feature of your process. Can you tell us a little about that?

Firstly, I listen to music while I write. I have a whole host of music that I have relabelled Writing Music in the genre tab in iTunes. Some is classical stuff, Chopin and Bach being particular favourites. Some is neo classical, Oalfur Arnalds and A Winged Victory for the Sullen feature high on my most played playlist. Bands like Explosions in the Sky and Industries of the Blind make for good background music too. It keeps me focused. If ever I do have trouble starting, I stick on something that I think fits the tone I am going for and start writing, figuring I’ll stop when the album ends. Usually by that time I am up and running and hit loop to keep on writing.

I create playlists for longer stories, with tracks selected for key characters. This aspect of my process started when a creative writing tutor told me he selected a theme song for each of his main characters. I gave that a try and it soon spiralled into my creating ‘soundtracks’ for my works-in-progress.

My MA novel currently has 22 tracks in the list (and growing), all linked to the characters and key times in their lives. I tend to listen to the tracks before embarking on certain sections, to try and get into the right headspace for the character. I find this particularly helpful when returning to the manuscript after some days away.

Some lyrics and song titles find their way into the work as chapter headings. I wrote recently on my blog about how my listening to the Shearwater album Everybody Makes Mistakes had added three songs onto my novel’s playlist. Everybody Makes Mistakes is also a working title for a key chapter in the book from the perspective of my main character’s teenage son.

Who are your favourite short fiction writers and why?

I have so many favourite short fiction authors. Of the masters, I particularly love Chekhov, Raymond Carver and Amy Hempel. Each one of them has broken my heart with a well written line. As for more contemporary authors, Adam Marek routinuely blows me away with the strength of his ideas and the control he shows in crafting his stories. I love David Gaffney’s very short shorts. Nik Perring, Tania Hershman and Sara Crowley have all taken my breath away over the last few years. And, as you know, I am excited to read your new collection later this year.

What story do you love? (You know the one that begs to be re-read over and over.)

My favourite short story has to be Grief by Anton Chekhov. The title is often translated as Misery, but Rosamund Bartlett in her excellent translation of Chekhov’s early work, The Exclamation Mark, used the title Grief which I think is far more fitting. It is the story of Iona Potapov a cabby working with his horse and carriage in the St Petersburg night. He has recently lost his son and is desperate to talk about his loss with whomever will listen but his customers simply don’t care. The story builds to a sadly beautiful scene which I will not spoil here by attempting to describe it.

As a reader I love being swept along by the black comedy and the deep tragedy of the story. As a writer I am in awe of both Chekhov’s skill in telling this tale and the fact that this was one of his earliest stories to show his mastery, its publication coming right at the beginning of the period in which Chekhov transformed himself from a throwaway writer of comic trifles into the master of the short form we are are familiar with today. The story can be read free online, but I urge your readers to seek out the Bartlett translated collection, The Exclamation Mark, for an excellent contemporary translation.

You are a novelist as well as a short fiction writer. Do you find a crossover of themes between the two, or does each stand alone for you?

I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a novelist just yet, maybe when I’ve finished the book, but I do find certain themes permeate my work. My stories tend to involve births or deaths. It’s not that I consciously set out to do this, but my subconscious certainly seems to gravitate toward the themes of family, marriage and loss. Probably not all that surprising as I became a father shortly after the death of my own. His absence is very much present to me at times.

My MA novel is a bit of a departure (I hope) as it focuses on a single, horribly violent act that affects the cast in different ways. That said I am finding as I begin to get deeper into the story, that the act itself is almost sidelined by the relationships going on around it, particularly those of the father, mother and son in the centre of the maelstrom. And grief seems to be seeping through in the loss of people important to my married couple in their backstories.

What one piece of advice would you offer beginning writers?

I’d probably paraphrase Ira Glass’s excellent advice on storytelling:

Read really good writing. It’s the only way to get good yourself. Work out how others are doing the things you like then start writing. Only don’t expect to be as good as the stuff you are reading right away. That will take time and many. many words on the page. But that’s okay. Keep writing and you’ll keep getting better.

I wish someone had told me that when I was younger. That I wasn’t expected to write perfect prose in first draft. I spent much too much of my early writing life comparing my first draft efforts to the polished prose of the authors I love and, of course, coming off worse. I stopped writing for a long time thinking my work was crap. It took me a while to get it through my head that everyone’s first drafts are crap.

Are you putting together a short story collection?

I am in the process of assembling my stories into a collection to submit. My plan is to take my time with it and include only those stories I am happiest with, the ones that best reflect where I started and where I am now. The interesting thing doing this is seeing the threads that link stories written at vastly different times and about vastly different subjects. Also, trying to come up with a title for a collection is a job in itself. Hopefully, not too many years from now, I’ll be celebrating the publication of my first collection.

Thanks a million for stopping by, Dan. I look forward to reading The Best British Short Stories 2012 very soon. Best of luck with all your writing endeavours.

Thanks for having me Nuala. It’s been a pleasure.

You can buy the book here. It is edited by Nicholas Royle.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


From Munster Literature Centre, re. the Cork Short Story Festival in September; in a new twist, there will be lots of four-day workshops! Bookings open tomorrow, Monday 16th April:
Plans for the Cork International Short Story Festival are at an advanced stage with writers from Ireland, the UK, The USA, Canada and the Philippines to be featured.   Among the luminaries will be American writer Lydia Davis whose Collected Stories was published in 2010. Witi Ihimaera will read at two events, one for adults and one for young people. Ihimaera is often regarded as one of the most prominent Māori writers alive. Best known in this part of the world for his novel The Whale Rider (adapted for an Oscar-nominated film) Ihimaera has also written many other novels and sixteen short story collections mostly about Māori life. Éilís Ní Dhuibhne who is publishing her new collection this year heads up the Irish contingent.
There will be a special focus on Flash Fiction with readings by Flash Fiction specialists, a workshop on writing Flash Fiction presented by Tania Hershman and a public discussion entitled Is Flash Fiction a true Literary Art Form or just something for chancers?
Another key event will feature readings from the Penguin anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me - forty new fairy tales. Author and editor Kate Bernheimer will be among the readers and afterwards will participate in a public discussion on issues around the importance of fairy tales, their relevance to an adult audience in the 21st Century etc.
Bernheimer will also be presenting a four day workshop on writing the modern fairy tale. The festival will present many four-day workshops this year. Éilís Ní Dhuibhne will present the Advanced Short Story workshop, Nuala Ní Chonchúir will present a workshop on Short Stories for beginners, John Spillane will present a workshop on Story into Song for all you budding songsmiths and there will also be workshops on bringing Short Stories to the stage and as said, Flash Fiction.
There will be a strong showing of young writers from Canada, The UK, The USA and the Philippines. 
The festival will run from Wednesday September 19th to Sunday September 23rd and the main venues will be the Triskel Arts Centre and Cork City Central Library. A prospectus for all workshops will be released in April. The programme will be fully finalised when the winner of the 2012 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award is announced in July.  Regular updates on Festival news will appear before then on

Monday, 9 April 2012


The latest issue of UK literary magazine, Orbis (Issue 138) has a review of The Juno Charm from David Harmer. They have kindly allowed me to reproduce the review here in full:


The Juno Charm by Nuala Ní Chonchúir, 84pp, €12.00, Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland

There is much to admire in this collection of poems that can swing their mood from the nuances of ‘Menses’ - ‘Before the butterfly days / are the fly days / and before those / the days of the spider’ - to the earthy and often rural basics of poems like ‘Sofa’: ‘I squat by a farm-gate like a sneaky pisser/hunched low, arms bent, wearing ruin heavily.’

   The poet is herself the centre of the work and the work is centred on her experience. The cover notes make a reference to Blake and it is not without foundation. There are in this collection many examples of poems describing with a disarming simplicity the poet’s worldview, one which has often been hard earned, but of course that simplicity masks a richness of poetic sensibility at work beneath the surface. Here there are moments of profound love, of bitter betrayal, of childbirth and joy, of disquiet and of peace and all resting in a deep sense of the writer as a woman. It is no surprise to find a poem entitled ‘Poem Beginning with a Line by Plath’.

   Equally important, is the sense of the poet and the work being rooted firmly in a place. Sometimes she is in America, where a poem like ‘Chinatown, New York’ rings out a list of specific evidence line by chiming line glorying in the esoteric, the newly revealed ; or in ‘Valentine’s Day’ where the poet is in a Lexington Avenue hotel, with the sounds and smells of the city rising up to surround the lovers nestled in bed. ‘We steal heat through our skins / safe from the wind that hurtles up the island.’ These urgent, urban moments are often contrasted with calmer more reflective rhythms and with a sense of Irishness and the land itself. A good example is the poem ‘Galway’ where ‘Skirling origami swans decorate / the Claddagh basin while Galway / settles her night-shawl down, / boats and birds safe at her breast.’ One of the best poems ‘Dancing With Paul Durcan’ seems so deeply Irish and funny and mad that really I should quote it all. Two lines will have to do.

‘Paul,’ I said, ‘your poetry is filthy with longing.’
He said, ‘Would you like to dance?’

   At times there is a clunk or two, perhaps because the poet seems too knowing, too aware of her craft, giving us writing too arch for its own good. In ‘Airwaves’ for example we find a ‘newly-minted marriage’ which is scarcely original, in ‘Gull’ I wish the bridges didn’t ‘bracelet the river’ and the wedding breakfast in ‘This Is No Cana’ didn’t agree with me. However, these are rare moments. In the magnificent, enriching and boldly coloured ‘Frida Kahlo Visits Ballinasloe’, any such carpings are knocked away by a poet who sings out the belief in art, in the creative life, in the need for the mustering of perceptions, energies and strengths to fight against whatever painful, grey version of reality the artist and writer finds herself in:

‘Viva la vida,’ says unflinching Frida, painter of pain.

Saturday, 7 April 2012


Happy Easter, everyone! I hope you have a chocolate filled few days. I know I will :)

My flash story 'Moongazer' is in the current isssue of What the Dickens? magazine, a gorgeous online venture run by Victoria Bantock. The story will also be in my new collection Mother America, coming next month from New Island.

The theme for the current What the Dickens? was Mad March Hare. 'Moongazer'  is on page 49.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Happy, happy, happy :)

I spent yesterday viewing the book covers the designer has come up with for my short fiction collection Mother America, out in May from New Island. Lots of excellent designs, very much in keeping with the stories in the book. I was giddy looking at them and, as usual, I conducted a straw poll amongst my nearest and dearest to get their opinions. The majority liked the one I like.

So how do you choose between covers featuring tattooed ladies, moons and dangling red-shoed feet? You don't because your lovely publisher comes up with a final curve-ball cover that blows them all away! It has layers, it's a tad creepy, and I think it is the kind of cover that will appeal to both sexes. In terms of layout, it also echoes my novel You's cover, so that's good.

It has yet to be 100% confirmed but I will share it with y'all as soon as I am allowed. Excitement! I love this part of the process.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


As her exceptional novel The Coward's Tale (Bloomsbury) goes into paperback, I interview Welsh writer Vanessa Gebbie. Vanessa is on a mammoth virtual tour for the book and I'm delighted to have her here at WWR.

Hi Vanessa and welcome. I feel I should open a bag of toffees before you speak to get you flowing, like Ianto in the book.
Funny, isn’t it - he doesn’t eat much except sweets and the odd sandwich, but he seems perfectly healthy - can still get up the hillside, even though he complains about his bones! Lovely to be here.

Speaking of Ianto, the names in the book, and the setting, are so evocative that I ‘heard’ the novel in a Welsh accent as I read. Each character has a wondrous name – Laddy Merridew, the Baker Bowen, Icarus Evans, Prinny Ellis etc. Talk to me about naming your characters. How do names come to you? What do names mean to you as a writer?
Lots of people do - and I hear it in an accent too - something like my grandmother’s voice - south Wales, definitely.  That voice was certainly in my head as I wrote, most of the time. So when I read, it becomes very musical, and rhythmical - I like that.
Names - aren’t they so important?  I find a character just won’t ‘take off’ until he or she is named correctly - almost as if they are letting me know what their right name is - not me making it up. Only I guess it takes another writer to understand that one.
Laddy Merridew - he was called Laddy right from the start. And I’d already used that surname in another piece of work, and liked it very much. It holds lots of possibilities. I think that’s what names do, for this writer at least - they hold possibilities, if they are the right ones.      Re-reading Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ - Jack, the darker of the boys ‘in charge’ is also called Merridew. It’s the sort of name that gets you bullied.
People give each other nicknames and those stick, don’t they... and so much of ‘The Coward’s Tale’ is based on incidents that happened sometime in the past -  related to me by my late father. His friends at school all had amazing nicknames  - there was  a boy called Full Pelt and that name followed him until he was old - I love it! That name was so strong, Dad could not remember the boy’s, or indeed the man’s, actual name.
I had to be careful. “Jones the Milk” and all that is such a cliche - but with my lot - firstly, they are all based, however loosely, on the Twelve Apostles - so many share first or second names with their namesakes. And then the nicknames needed to be original, whist mirroring something important about the character. Icarus Evans, for example - his real name is Thaddeus Evans -and he teaches woodwork. The kids gave him the name Icarus because he is obsessed with making feathers - only these must be carved out of wood.  But it’s more important to me that he is called Thaddeus, after his grandfather. St Jude Thaddeus of the Twelve Apostles became the patron saint of impossible causes, and Icarus’s obsession is certainly an impossible one. That all fitted perfectly in ‘The Coward’s Tale’.

This is a book very much of the earth – the men in it are steeped in the land and nature: mines, wood, birds, the river. Do you live in a rural area or where does your knowledge and love of natural things spring from? I know you wrote much of the book in Ireland, at the Anam Cara retreat in Cork. Did the landscape there influence the book at all?
I’ve alwayslived in places that aren’t too far from the countryside - and I do love it. We live on an extraordinary lump of rock in space, don’t we?! But I also enjoy the dark end of cities, our industrial past. Where does knowledge come from? Observation, I guess. And a very real love of being here.
When I was writing ‘The Coward’s Tale’, all the settings are based on ‘real’ places, or at least memories of real places, so I was there, as I wrote. Peter’s pebbles by the stream were under my fingers as I was typing.  I could feel them. Still can.
And yes - the vast majority of the book was written at the unparalleled Anam Cara - I’ve been traveling over to stay at this marvelous writers’ and artists’ retreat since 2005.  It is in West Cork, on the Beara, and wherever you look the world is beautiful - the sea, the mountains, the rocks, and yes, there are mines too - old copper mines at Allihies. Love it there.  If I was working on a “mine section” of The Coward’s Tale, I sometimes drove up to the Mountain Mine with a picnic and sat there writing for hours.
There’s one scene in the novel where a character walks on the mountain in bare feet, feeling and noticing everything. That was me, walking barefoot on the slopes above Mountain Mine, Allihies, to feel how it was to walk on a mountain riddled with tunnels.
 Since I’ve been going to the area, they’ve opened a brilliant museum, by the way - link here  - it is well worth a visit.

This is a novel-in-stories. Each story could stand alone and yet as a narrative they weave together beautifully. Was this a difficult thing to pull off in a technical sense? Did you ever feel it might not work as you had envisioned? (It works very well.)
Thanks - and yes, that’s how it was written. Each ‘Tale’ came first - and gradually, the backstory revealed what had happened in the past - I didn’t know until Ianto told it - which was strange, but really wonderful.  When I had a first draft, it then took a long time to smooth them into the novel as it is now. Yes, you could take out a tale, but there would be much in it that wouldn’t make sense - as the main narrative is referred to over and over again - it kind of builds through them, if that makes sense?
But I am a short story writer - and I love the form. It helped hugely with this book! 

The men in Ianto’s tales are named for the twelve apostles. Talk to me about the influence of the Bible on this book.
To begin with the characters were ‘unlocked’ for me because of something in the mythology of the men we have now come to think of as the apostles. I was interested to find something that would make them real - something that could anchor them in this narrative.  So I read the legends that have grown up over the centuries surrounding these twelve ordinary men. And something in those legends would stick to the character in the novel and help me with the work. Biblical influence is therefore certainly there - but the Bible as a fabulous and important piece of writing - not as a religious tract. I love the language, the stories - I was brought up on them, and whether or not that leads you to a life of churchifying, which it didn’t with me, it can’t help but stay in the mind as something beautiful, met young.
People have told me there is symbolic religious significance in many scenes in the novel - throwing the bread into the stream, for example, but I can’t claim to know consciously what that might be. Obviously the central image of a working mine, the movement of men from light to dark and back again, mirrors in some way a shift from the divine to the earth and back - some sort of cycle - but you could go on finding parallels in this book and the writer didn’t necessarily consciously put them there!  The one that was conscious however, is the looming darkness of tragedy in the background, something that happened generations back, but which still casts its shadow - and from which in the course of the novel, the community is healed.

The language is beautiful in the novel; so many gorgeous phrases, so delicately done. As a reader, do you actively seek out books that are told with interesting language? How important is language to you as a writer?
Thanks, coming from you, such a fantastic writer of both prose and poetry, that is a real compliment! Oh yes, language is very important to me.  I find it very hard to sustain interest in a piece of writing of any length, unless it is really well written. I love sound. Rhythm. Always read out loud what I’ve written, for sound.
I read recently about a book that sounded marvelous - praised to the skies in broadsheet reviews. I almost bought it - then stopped to check - thank heavens for the chance to read a few pages online, these days. The story itself may be as great as it likes - but the writing is just pedestrian. Saved some money there, sadly. 
Contrast with this, the opening to ‘The Fall’ by William Golding, sitting by my elbow here on my desk. (Do I love his work? You bet!)
I have walked by stalls in the marketplace where books, dog-eared and faded from their purple, have burst with a white hosannah.  I have seen people crowned with a double crown, holding in either hand the crook and flail, the power and the glory. I have understood how the scar beomes a star, I have felt the flake of fire fall, miraculous and pentecostal. My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step. They are grey faces that peer over my shoulder. I live on Paradise Hill, ten minutes from the station...

Best of luck with it all, Vanessa. You’ve had some great reviews and I hope the novel goes on to be award winning, like your short stories.
Thanks so much for having me - and lots of good fortune for your own wonderful work.

Tomorrow Vanessa's tour takes her to Teresa Stenton's blog. Stop by to read Vanessa's letter to herself as she started out as a writer ten years ago.

Also, you can watch Vanessa read some of The Coward's Tale on YouTube here: