Sarah Moore Fitzgerald: ‘Human beings need stories. It’s how we make sense of the world’

‘Reading is an adventure – an utterly irreplaceable way of engaging with images, ideas and the human condition’

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

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

What was your favourite book as a child?

There are some picture books that I cannot set eyes on without being transported to my childhood, and for me, The Tomten and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren is the most evocative example. It's gentle, benign and soothing and also reminds me of the stories of kindness that my parents chose for me when I was very young.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

This is a hard question. Yesterday's list was different from today's and tomorrow's would be too, but off the top of my head, books I go back to again and again include Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (compelling, linguistically incomparable, with fine, sharp, clever observations of human nature that are as recognisable now as they were then); A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (the beauty of Owen's quirky character floored me when I read this first, and it floors me still); If This is a Man by Primo Levi (proof that humanity can prevail even in the face of inhumanity).

What is your favourite quotation?

“Any fool can deal with a crisis. It is this day-to-day living that wears you out” – Anton Chekov.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Holden Caulfield

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

It was enormously sad to hear of Dermot Healy's recent death. While his writing could not by any means be considered under-rated, I am still always surprised about how few people I know have read his astounding novel, A Goat's Song. It's an immensely powerful story, full of darkness and moments of pure brilliance. It should be on everyone's list.

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

Traditional print.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

The new edition of Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, complete with red ribbon and bow.

Where and when do you write?

I have a busy job, which I love, and three kids, (who I love too), so I rarely get to write fiction during daylight hours. Usually I do it in bed, under cover of darkness late at night, and when on holidays.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

Oh lots and lots, but most recently, Eimear McBride's astonishing A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Her writing is so exciting and so fabulous and it has reminded me that reading is an adventure – an utterly irreplaceable way of engaging with images, ideas and the human condition.

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

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

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


What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

1. Write every day.

2. Spend more time writing than you spend talking about it.

3. Back up your work.

What weight do you give reviews?

I like to think the good ones are a sign of courtesy, fine taste and excellent breeding.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

Human beings need stories. From our very earliest years, it’s how we make sense of the world. These days, given that we’re bombarded with fragments of information from everywhere, it seems to me that we need complete, complex stories more than we ever have before. That’s what makes me think that publishing, with all the changes and challenges that it faces (and to which it must respond), will still survive no matter what.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

Resilience in the face of disaster.

What has being a writer taught you?

The value of routine.

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

I’d have Christoper Hitchens beside Simone de Beauvoir, put Sue Townsend next to Primo Levi, and Brendan Behan with Molly Keane. Guests of honour: Jane Austen and Seamus Heaney.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

I remember laughing uncontrollably while alone on a train reading Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, much to the alarm of my fellow passengers. It's a mirthful, funny, clever study of academic life. There are so many impossibly funny scenes in this book that I can't choose one. Joe O'Connor's new book, The Thrill of it All, contains a conversation between a father and his college-going son that's worthy of Flann O'Brien. Brilliant and very, very funny.

What is your favourite word?


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

My husband and I have started to outline a novel together that we hope to write some time in the future – it’s based on two teenagers who, during the American Mexican war, left the American army in 1847 to join the Batallón de San Patricio to fight on the Mexican side. The real history of the San Patricios is extraordinary and dramatic. It would be a wonderful challenge to write about it from two young boys’ perspectives.

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald works in the University of Limerick and chairs Ireland's National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. She specialises in developing creative and effective learning environments and in supporting effective teaching. She has written many non-fiction books on related topics. In addition to this, she has always been a writer of fiction. Her first novel, Back to Blackbrick, was published last year by Orion Children's Books. Her secondl, The Apple Tart of Hope, came out in June.

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