Liz Nugent on getting published in the most difficult period ever for the industry

This week, to mark the end of our How to Write a Book series, we will have a daily Q&A with a debut author

Author Liz Nugent. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Author Liz Nugent. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Tue, Aug 5, 2014, 12:00

Liz Nugent has spent most of her working life in broadcasting and has written for TV and Radio. Her first novel, Unravelling Oliver, published this year, became an immediate bestseller.

What was the first book to make an impression on you? I think it was either Cider House Rules by John Irving or Dreams of Leaving by Rupert Thomson. I read them both around the same time when I was 18/19 and was really struck by how they both raised huge moral questions without answering them.

What was your favourite book as a child? The Shoeshop Bears by Margaret J Baker. It was the first nonpicture book I read, though there were a few illustrations. I was impatient with picture books because there wasn’t enough story in them. I bought it in a bookshop in Glenbeigh, Co Kerry, when I was about six years old on holiday with my family. Somehow, it got given away and about seven years ago, I went looking for it, but sadly it was no longer in print. I did, however, manage to track down a copy that was being dumped by a library in New Jersey and now it sits proudly on my shelf between Banville and Faulks.

And what is your favourite book or books now? I change my mind about this with fierce regularity and depending on my mood. I think Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane was a masterpiece of modern literature. Yiyun Li’s Kinder than Solitude was very good, and John Williams’s Stoner made me cry.

What is your favourite quotation? “You’re not really drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.” (Dean Martin) . . . Oh, you were looking for a literary quote?

Who is your favourite fictional character? I’m attracted to the dangerous weirdos (in fiction only). Banville’s Freddie Montgomery in The Book of Evidence, Faulks’s eponymous Engleby, and, of course, Heathcliff.

Who is the most underrated Irish author? I’m really surprised that Claire Kilroy hasn’t got more attention. Her writing is beautiful, her ideas are enormous and her books are so readable.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version? Print. I don’t own an ereader and am resisting conversion. The battery lasts a lot longer in an actual book and they look great on shelves. There is substance to them and I can own them.

What is the most beautiful book you own? Aesthetically? I’m not sure. Once I have opened a book, I rarely think about the cover. I think you can’t beat the old Penguin Classics covers, which I think were often details from paintings in The Ashmolean or The Tate.

Where and how do you write? Slowly, in an armchair in my kitchen, with laptop on my lap, but it’s my husband’s house too, so when I want to give him space, I go to Deansgrange Library.

What book changed the way you think about fiction? I have not changed the way I think about fiction. I love it. It’s where I live most of the time.

What is the most research you have done for a book? I’ve only written one book so far and was surprised by how much information is available at the click of a mouse, so I didn’t have to do a whole lot. I had email exchanges with professors of anthropology in Penn State University and UCD and a phone conversation with a retired nurse in the Central Mental Hospital. I think research can be a bit dangerous. You’re tempted to show how much work you’ve done by putting it all in the book, and that’s usually not very interesting.

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