Mary O’Donnell privilege of inventing things from within her own head

‘It is a simple contract with yourself, so be true to it’

Fri, Aug 29, 2014, 07:00

What was the first book to make an impression on you? Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, when I was a teenager.

What was your favourite book as a child? Patricia Leitch’s novel The Horse from Black Loch, about a mysterious giant water-horse that two young people are protecting from the vested interests of science. I loved the mixture of myth and adventure.

And what is your favourite book or books now? Always hard to say as my favourite changes all the time, but Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies. I didn’t want to leave the period or the people. Poets like Ted Hughes, Tishani Doshi and Irish poets Sean Lysaght and James Harpur also hit the spot for me in a big way.

What is your favourite quotation? Words from Nelson Mandela:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

Who is your favourite fictional character? At the moment? Thomas Cromwell, Hilary Mantel’s semifictional creation.

Who is the most underrated Irish author? Most writers believe themselves underrated on a scale from 0-10!

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version? I use both versions and although I find the smell of print and paper a potent part of the reading experience, I find ebooks incredibly useful. I like the idea of carrying a library in my handbag.

What is the most beautiful book you own? Years ago, my husband got two of my novels bound in traditional hardcover, with beautiful leather spines and marbled front and back covers. For reasons to do with that, my novels The Light-Makers and The Elysium Testament are my most beautiful books! However, I do have a copy of Celtic Wonder Tales by Ella Young, illustrated by Maud Gonne, and it’s signed by Maud Gonne MacBride, dated 1938.

Where and how do you write? In a pea-green study at the front of the house. I write on a laptop and morning is my best time because that’s when I have most energy. But I do need a quiet house too. And order.

What book changed the way you think about fiction? The way I think about fiction has evolved, but mostly I’m fascinated by writing from John Berger, the Icelandic Sjøn, and people who don’t do the complete realist narrative.

What is the most research you have done for a book? My new novel Where They Lie required a lot of research because it dealt with the Disappeared and events in Northern Ireland.

What book influenced you the most? Most novels and poetry I read as a teenager influenced me, from John Steinbeck to J Hubert Selbie to Edna O’Brien to Juanita Casey. Influence lessens as you grow older.

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