Helena Close Q&A: ‘Serve your apprenticeship. There are no short cuts’
The author of The Gone Book on her writing life
Helena Close: I heard a story about a mother who walked out on her family and couldn’t stop thinking about the effect that would have on her children
Tell me about your new work and how it came about – the story behind the story.
I heard a story about a mother who walked out on her family and couldn’t stop thinking about the effect that would have on her children, especially if she reappeared after a few years with a brand new family.
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
Wuthering Heights. I still love it but it’s no love story.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I read obsessively from the age of six. The first book I read was Pollyanna and it’s the one I remember most.
And what is your favourite book or books now?
Difficult. I read crime while writing and I love the new crop of Irish crime writers like Tana French, Arlene Hunt, Liz Nugent. I’m reading Edna O’Brien’s Girl at the moment. Tough read. Donal Ryan is a gorgeous storyteller. There are some amazing short story writers around – June Caldwell, Wendy Erskine are favourites. I love Cormac McCarthy. I go back to him often.
What is your favourite quotation?
“A word after a word after a word is power” – Margaret Atwood.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Which Irish author should everyone read?
What is the most beautiful book you own?
Selected Poems by Michael Hartnett.
Where and how do you write?
I write in furious bursts, mostly in a mobile home in Spanish Point.
Who influenced you the most?
Anne Warner, my brilliant English teacher in secondary school. She challenged me, encouraged me, taught me how to think critically.
If you have a child, what book did you most enjoy reading to them?
A collection of verse including Up the Airy Mountain and the Owl and the Pussycat. Also the brilliant Hungry Caterpillar.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Serve your apprenticeship. There are no short cuts.
What weight do you give reviews?
Reviews are just opinions.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
The rise of the non- story, auto fiction also. They generally bore me.
What has being a writer taught you?
How to accept poverty.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Raymond Carver, Michael Hartnett, Edna O’Brien, Maeve Brennan, Bernard MacLaverty, Margaret Atwood, David Park, Isabel Allende, Jo Slade. We’d need lots of wine.
Do you have a favourite poem?
Laundry by Limerick poet Mary Coll. A beautiful personal poem about our shameful recent past.
What is your favourite word?
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would you choose?
Lady Heath, the Limerick aviatrix. Fascinating woman.
Which sentence or passage or book are you proudest of?
The opening sentence of The Gone Book: “Dutch gold tastes like piss.” Also the climactic scene on the GAA pitch from Pinhead Duffy.
What is the most moving book or passage you have read?
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Beautiful, spare writing.
Who do you most admire at the moment?
Alexandria Ocasio -Cortez.
Where is your favourite place in Ireland, and in the world?
Spanish Point, Co Clare and Lisbon, Portugal.
What is your life motto?
Life is short. Get a dog.
The Gone Book, the debut YA novel by Limerick writer Helena Close, was published on April 2nd by Little Island Books. Set in Limerick, it tells the story of teenage boy, Matt, whose mam left his family when he was 10. Matt writes letters to her but he doesn’t send them. He keeps them in his Gone Book. Five years of letters about his life. Five years of hurt. When Matt learns his mam is back in Limerick with her new family, he knows he has to find her – to finally deliver the truth.