Dea Brovig: ‘Books bridge gaps; they allow readers to cross borders’

‘I’m at my desk every day at 5am and clock out at noon. There’s no internet and only the putter of passing boat traffic to distract me’

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

What was your favourite book as a child?

The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and the entire Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery.


And what is your favourite book or books now?

How to choose?What I Loved by SiriHustvedt, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. Apparently I like books with horses in the title.

What is your favourite quotation?

"Curiosity begets love. It weds us to the world." Graham Swift, Waterland

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Madame de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

It is a feat for new writers to get published these days. There are countless writers – Irish and otherwise – plugging away whose work deserves an audience, not to mention a wider one. Two up-and-coming writers who were fellow students on my Creative Writing MA and who I greatly admire are Sue Healy, whose short stories and drama have won a slew of awards, including the Molly Keane Memorial Award and the HISSAC Prize, and Gavin McCrae, whose debut novel Mrs Engels will be published next summer. If you're not yet acquainted with their work, you've a treat in store.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?

Between the two I’d opt for the print version, although I do love my Kindle.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

An early edition of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, printed in 1897, which my grandmother gaveme when I finished university.

Where and how do you write?

I spend a few months a year on Tromøya, an island off the southern coast of Norway. When I’m there, I write in a boat shed surrounded by life vests, fishing poles, old fenders and other boating paraphernalia. It’s my favourite place in the world to work. When I’m there, I’m at my desk every day at 5am and clock out at noon. There’s no internet and only the putter of passing boat traffic to distract me.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

The most hands-on research I did for The Last Boat Home involved an expedition on a shrimp trawler into the Skagerrak. The fisherman who brought me along assured me after an hour that, if I'd really been seasick, I would have wanted to throw myself in. After six hours, I was ready to bind my feet with the anchor chain.

What book influenced you the most?

Mapping influence is always difficult. Since I first read Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses, I've admired the clean, beautiful language he uses to describe rural life. That's certainly something I've aspired to in my own writing. I suspect all sorts of books I've loved have had a bearing on my work in ways that aren't obvious to me.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

Any of the Moomin books by Tove Jansson.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Plan well so you know what story you’re telling before you start. Use index cards to experiment with the order of the plot points. You might find that things fit together in ways you hadn’t anticipated.

What weight do you give reviews?

It’s always nice to get a good review, just as it stings to get a bad one, but neither affects what I choose to write about, or the way in which I write about it.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

I often hear that the publishing industry is in trouble. These are clearly challenging times, but I’m encouraged by the variety and quality of a lot of the new writing in print today.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

I don’t really follow writing trends. I’m interested in anything that seems to me to be good writing.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

Books bridge gaps; they allow readers to cross borders. I’ve learned that the familiar exists in the foreign, and that few things in life compare to the simple pleasure of time spent with a book.

What has being a writer taught you?

Discipline, patience, persistence.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Virginia Woolf, EM Forster, Zadie Smith, Kazuo Ishiguro.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

All of the short story, The end of FIRPO in this world. I can't think of anyone who manages that balance between funny and poignant in quite the way that George Saunders does.

What is your favourite word or words?

Roiling, scruple, spindrift.

If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?

Queen Isabel I and the Spanish Inquisition.

Dea Brovig's debut novel, The Last Boat Home is about sacrifice, survival and a mother's love, is out now in paperback.