MAs in action: dispatches from writing’s frontlines
Debut novelist Susan Stairs credits a creative-writing MA with the completion of her book ‘The Story of Before’
Several Irish literary debuts have been published this year, and all of this work seems anchored in the past. What motivated Stairs to look backwards? “For debut authors, there is a natural inclination to look back. The past shapes us, it’s how we understand who we are, so for anyone taking their first steps in the literary world, the past is a place we are familiar with.
“When I pick up a book to read, I love that reflective tone. There is a sense of memory and lesson learnt. With writing, I really enjoy the experience of being immersed in a completely different world – it helps that there’s a large distance between where I am and what I’m doing.”
Except for weekends, she writes every day and tries to write all day. Every writer has a work ethos, superstitions and mantras, and Stairs believes the muse is like an engine “that can take a while to warm up”.
“I find that I’m usually in full flow from 3pm to 6pm or 7pm, which is the time when people are arriving home and the house is busy. You have to find a pattern that suits you. The internet is full of tips on how to be a writer, but you never find advice on how to be a dentist or accountant. Writers are so solitary and insecure . . . we’re always looking for the best way to do things – but no writer is ever sure that what they’re doing is the right thing or the right way.”
We talk about writers who gripe about the process of writing, of building up pages, but who hate the isolation of typing at a desk. Stairs doesn’t understand this at all. When parted from her characters, she longs to get back to them and is beguiled by the idea of a world she has created and is the only person with access to.
Currently, she is a third of the way into another novel, which is set in the 1980s. “I don’t know what will happen in the future, because I only had a one-book deal. This time around, I have an agent. Writing the first book I had nothing, but I kept going and there was never a moment where I thought I wouldn’t finish it. Now that I’m doing this, it’s what I want to keep doing.”
The Story of Before is published by Corvus/Atlantic