Saturday, 1 November 2014


When I was in New York last week I went to the Westside Theatre's production of The Belle of Amherst, off Broadway. It's one-hander by William Luce and the role was made famous by Julie Harris. This time Joely Richardson plays Emily Dickinson.

When the play was announced, some of the madsers on Facebook had a little hate party. Here's one typical comment: '''Emily Dickinson'' to be made into a movie??????? (sic) ''Emily'' is not a face, but, an idea inside of the Ideal, a cosmic metaphor grasped, then given gravity on a sigh, or the whim of wonder, from our menial intellects. And, you want to personify that abundance of knowledge within the frame of a has-been Actress! Please People, don't send Emily's name to the lost world, by allowing this woman to even attempt going inside the mind of Emily Dickinson. We want our Children, and there (sic) Children to remember ''Emily's'' name. This is not the way to do 'Emily Dickinson'' justice.'

Yes, this is what you're up against - cosmic metaphors and all. If the film of my Miss Emily novel gets made (touch wood) I imagine there will be more choice viewpoints such as the above to contend with.

I suffer from Pre Theatre Stress. I am always trepidatious going to the theatre, to any gig or play. I fear that I will waste a couple of hours of my life on a below par performance and I'm just too impatient for that. It is mostly misplaced - I rarely don't enjoy the theatre. And, glad to say, Joely was wonderful as Emily - she was intense, witty, energetic, moving and warm. Just the Emily I know. Her accent was great (not one dip in it) and she used the set well. I took a sneaky pic of the set with my phone, it's not great but I add it for what it's worth.

The stage is split in two - to the left Emily's bedroom, slightly elevated, where she writes. To the right, the parlour, where she receives visitors. Emily addresses the audience as if we are visitors to her home and, with words taken from her letters and poems, she tells us about her life and those closest to her: her brother and sister, Austin and Vinnie, her parents, her beloved sister-in-law Sue, her 'preceptor' Thomas Wentworth Higginson (who edited her poems after her death) etc. She has one-sided conversations with these people and that, surprisingly, works really well.

Joely as Emily - pic by Carol Rosegg, Wall St Journal
Joely Richardson has incredibly expressive hands and she uses them brilliantly as she flits like a bird around the stage, telling us her recipe for Black Cake one minute and the next, heartbreakingly, recounting the death of her nephew, Gib. She cries (briefly) many times during the course of the play (I cried along) and this helped get across the fervency and depth of Emily's personality. I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the themes and the poems that chime with my own novel - it made me giddy to hear/see them played out in front of me. It makes my book seem very real and makes me fall in love with Emily and her world all over again.

I've now seen both covers for the novel - the USA/Canada one and the UK one. They are both very pretty and also quite different to each other. I can't wait to show them off. My book tour in the States next July is being planned and meetings with booksellers in Massachusetts next spring too, so I'll be back and forth a bit, it seems. It's so exciting and I love America, so it's all good. I should be able to announce the UK publisher soon (contract is signed) and do a cover reveal for the UK side too. Looking forward to sharing it with you all.


The New York Times review of the play is hereThe Hollywood Reporter has a kinder one here.


Donna OShaughnessy said...

A book tour here next summer? How wonderful. Will you be only in the east or will you more towards the Midwest? A Chicago stop would be wonderful, for me of course. Thanks for the play review as well. Sounded wonderful

Nuala Ní Chonchúir said...

Donna, so far east coast only, but we are pushing for Chicago and San Francisco too. Fingers crossed!!