I'm delighted to welcome Máire T. Robinson to the blog today. I first met Máire when I worked at the Western Writers' Centre in Galway, about 10 years ago, and Máire came along to a class. Her talent was obvious then and it's great to see her work between covers now, having followed her writing over the years in various lit mags including Crannóg, Horizon Review and the Chattahoochee Review.
Máire holds a Masters in Writing from NUI, Galway and was nominated for a Hennessy Award in 2012; she was the overall winner of the Doire Press Chapbook Competition 2013. And now Doire have published her début collection of short stories, Your Mixtape Unravels My Heart.
For any Dubs reading, Your Mixtape Unravels My Heart will be launched in The Irish Writers’ Centre tonight, the 11th of September, at 7pm.
I have a spare copy of Máire's fabulous book to give away so if you would like to win it, simply read the interview and leave a comment.
Welcome, Máire. Your début short story collection Your Mixtape Unravels My Heart is just out from Doire Press. Tell me about the book title, which is a unifying one. Are the story titles the titles of real songs?
Thanks, Nuala. Yes, the book contains ten short stories and each one is based on a different song. Music is a great source of inspiration for me, as I'm sure it is for many writers. I love how songs have that power to resonate and send you off on creative tangents. I'm also interested in the parallel between creating a mixtape and creating a collection of stories. You're weaving together these elements that shouldn't necessarily fit. They may vary in tone, shape, or emotional pitch. It's very much a labour of love. You're trying to create something that is more than the sum of its parts, that somehow becomes this unified whole.
The cover image and design are great. Can you tell me about that?
Certainly. The cover was designed by the very talented Celina Lucey who is based in Cork City. We met a couple of years ago when we were both working in the Irish Writers' Centre. She did some great designs for their posters and brochures at the time and I loved her illustrations. I told her the concept of the book and the image I had in mind, and she designed the cover illustration and found the perfect font to go with it. I'm delighted with how it turned out.
Why do you write?
Tough question. The honest answer? I don't know. I do know that it makes me happy and I can't imagine not doing it, but it is this strange creative impulse that I don't fully understand.
What is your writing process – morning or night – longhand or laptop?
There's a lot to be said for routine, but I think it's important not to fetishise your writing process. If you become convinced that you can only write at a certain time of day, or with a particular pen, or in front of a vase of freshly cut petunias, or whatever, you're limiting yourself in what you can get done. My dream scenario would be to spend a few hours writing in the morning, then edit for a couple of hours in the afternoon. But I work full-time, so that's not happening. I try to make the most of the time I do have, whether it's writing at weekends, popping into the library on my lunch break for a spot of stealth scribbling, or ignoring the views on bus or train journeys in favour of using that time to make up people who don't exist.
Who is the writer you most admire?
Margaret Atwood. I remember reading Cat's Eye in my early twenties and being blown away. Everything I've read by her since has never disappointed. Her prose style is utterly compelling. It manages to be fiercely intelligent, yet deeply funny. It's masterful and so, so enjoyable to read. I also love that she has this amazing social conscience, yet her work is never polemical. Her non-fiction is fantastic too. Her book Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing is one I keep returning to.
Who is your favourite woman writer?
I love Flannery O' Connor's short stories. In terms of novels, I think Molly Keane's Good Behaviour is criminally underrated. And I recently read Elif Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul and loved it, so I definitely want to read more of her work.
Which short story would you like to see on the Leaving Cert?
It would need to be something students would enjoy, that speaks about contemporary Ireland, but also has a timeless quality (because once they add it to the syllabus, it'll probably languish there for quite some time). Something by Kevin Barry would probably fit the bill – linguistically inventive, funny, and sharp.
What is your favourite bookshop?
Powells in Portland, Oregon. It's book heaven. It's this huge space that takes up an entire block and you get this colour-coded map when you go in. I would literally live there if I could, curled up on a shelf like Yumiko Readman from “Read or Die”.
What one piece of advice would you offer beginning writers?
Be kind to yourself. You will write utter rubbish and that's okay – you're perfecting a craft. It won't be perfect, nor is it supposed to be. The main thing is to actually write. I read this little mantra somewhere and it's stuck with me: You can fix a bad page, but you can't fix a blank page.
What are you working on now? Any plans to write a novel?
I'm currently working on the second draft of my first novel. It's set in contemporary Galway city and features an aspiring tattoo artist and a historian who researches sheela-na-gigs. I'd describe it as a coming-of-age story about two people in their late-twenties who should have their lives figured out, but don't.