Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Niamh Boyce

Niamh’s novel The Herbalist was nominated for an IMPAC, and won ‘Newcomer of the Year’ at the Irish Book Awards. Her unpublished poetry collection was highly commended by the Patrick Kavanagh Award and she won The Hennessy ‘New Irish Writer of the Year’ in 2012.

Obligatory opening question, Niamh – when did you first begin to write?

I always wrote diaries full of fragments, poems and drawings, but that was a very private way of writing – I didn’t start writing to be read, or consider that possibility, until around 2008 after I’d taken some short story workshops with John MacKenna and got hooked on the form. Soon after one of my stories was nominated for a ‘Hennessy Award’ which encouraged me to keep going.

And how long were you writing for before you were published for the first time?

My first story ‘Wild Cats Buffet’ was published by Crannog Magazine in Spring 2009, I’d been writing for a few months at that stage. My first novel, The Herbalist, was published in 2013, which was five years after I began to write, and three years after I’d written it. The Herbalist was one of the winners of the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair Competition in 2012.  The Novel fair involved meeting twenty different agents and publishers and pitching your work to each of them for a short period of time. My novel was picked up by Penguin Ireland as a result of that fair, and published in June the following year.

With regard to your writing practice, Niamh, do you write every day?

No, I wish I did! I write for a few hours, four days a week. I fit writing in around my paid job and family commitments. Once the school holidays start I’ll probably switch to writing either very early in the morning or very late at night. I’ve learnt to be flexible though it can be frustrating.

And how long does it take you to complete a book?

They are all different, some are slower than others. First drafts of novels – I write quickly (a matter of months) and second drafts take (much, much) longer. I write short stories quite quickly, a day or two, but revise them over a couple of weeks, the same with poetry.

Is your work genre specific?

I write in a variety of genres, short story, poetry, novels. My favorite form is the short story, I find them very satisfying to write. I like the fact that every word has to do its work.

On representation, do you have an agent and do you think it necessary to have one?

I don’t have an agent at the moment, but I’ll probably be looking later in the year. I think they’re necessary for some writers, especially those who want to be traditionally published, but perhaps not for others. It all depends on the genre, the publishers you’re aiming to work with, and what kind of rights you want to sell.

Then you probably contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

When my book was published I did a lot of readings, interviews, workshops, articles, panels, and blog tours. I decided that for six months I’d say yes to everything I was asked to do. Luckily lots of booklovers and arts administrators from various libraries, bookshops, literary festivals, writing groups invited me to work with them. Awareness of the book was high due to the fact that I’d won the IWC Novel Fair, and The Hennessy XO Writer of the Year in the previous months. Lots of the PR was done by my publishers. Cliona Lewis, Penguin’s PR, organised interviews on RTE and Newstalk radio, TV3, and with journalists, and was great to work with.

Are you comfortable with the social media side of PR?

It’s a good way of being connected, especially if you live in a rural area. That’s why I started blogging, to find out about submission opportunities and connect with other writers. That has changed, people don’t interact by commenting on blogs anymore. Perhaps Facebook has taken over – FB can be a good resource, and a bit of fun, but a little addictive. Social media has given everyone a free platform to market their work, which can make it a repetitive place to be, when there is always someone pushing their work. On the other hand, I’ve found poetry and novels I’d never have come across otherwise. I like that there are no gatekeepers.

You’ve won some prestigious awards, Niamh. Do you think they are important?

They generate interest in the book, The Herbalist won Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, and was nominated for an IMPAC, both of which were very positive things. Awards keep books and writers in the newspapers, and literary competitions give writers encouragement to keep writing.

What’s your opinion of the current world of publishing?

I’m new to publishing, but I get the impression its in a state of flux – I like that writers can self-publish if they want to, there seem to be a lot of creative options, but I do wish bookshops were doing better.

And Indie publishing?

I think it’s very positive for writers, and readers.

Have you, or would you, consider self-publishing your own work?

I self-published a book of poetry and prose dedicated to my uncle, Tom English, through – friends and family contributed and I edited and wrote some poems. It was very easy, and really rewarding.

If you’ve ever had any – how do you handle negative reviews?

I’ve never had a negative review from a professional reviewer, but I’ve had the odd one or two on amazon which were rather spiteful, and wrongheaded – I just complain to my partner, and then forget about them.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

Disagree, write what you please! Let nothing limit you.

Is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

Oranges aren’t the only fruit (Jeannette Winterson), Wuthering Heights, Breaking the Waves, and The Bog of Cats (Marina Carr)

Name six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?

I’d like a pint of Guinness or two with Louise Bourgeois, Bette Davis, Robert Mitchum, Joyce Carol Oates, Angela Carter and John Lennon.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t seek feedback too early, trust your own gut and finish your novel, don’t seek approval. Hold on tight to the enjoyment you get from words. Remember why you write.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

Not yet, sorry 🙂

Thanks Niamh, that last question was worth a try anyway!

Keep up-to-date with Niamh via her blog:


Doing it with passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Martin Duffy

Martin Duffy describes himself as a storyteller. He is a film director, a writer and an editor. Martin’s work includes the feature films, The Boy from Mercury and Summer of the Flying Saucer. He has written several non-fiction books, novels for young people, and also writes songs.

Great to connect with you, Martin, and as always, I’ll start by asking you when you first began to write?

I first started applying myself seriously as a writer in my early twenties – around 1974/5 – when I was a young married man and father and a postman. It was an attempt to fight off the boredom of my work.

And the initial breakthrough?

I wrote a few articles that were published in ‘The Postal Worker’, including an article about George Orwell. And through that I got the nickname ‘Georgie Orwell’ among my fellow postmen. After about five years of writing unpublishable novels I wrote a TV play and that was bought and produced by RTE in 1978. The play was ‘Your Favourite Funny Man’ and starred Jim Bartley. It was about a guy who works in a boring job by day and is a failing stand-up comic by night. No idea where I got the idea from…1978 was a key year for me. My second son, Steven, was born, I got a job in RTE as a trainee assistant film editor and I sold my first TV play. The sale of the play came about through Eoghan Harris who, at the time, had been made head of comedy development in RTE. I think I was one of the few comedy writers he felt had any promise.

Did anyone, famous or not, inspire you to write?

I have always aspired to write with a sense of lightness and openness. My earliest writing influences would have been detective novels (Chandler, Hammett etc) and – Georgie Orwell. Dialogue is my thing and film is my natural habitat. Billy Wilder is my idol.

And do you write every day?

I do write every day. Sometimes it is practical work (such as edit jobs or script report jobs) but when I am doing my own thing I am very disciplined. I just about fall out of bed to my desk: starting by 8am at the very latest. I usually work through until about 1pm. Then I stop, maybe take a walk, certainly take a nap at some point in the afternoon, and then mull over the work (and catch up a bit with the outside world). My problem is that I tend not to know how to stop. I often put in a few hours in the evening.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I have a brother (Bill) who is an extremely successful businessman. Many years ago he asked me ‘what is the one thing you do? There has to be one thing you do.’ I gave him a list of this and that: editing, directing, books. Now, however, I am concentrating on one thing: comedy. A dear late friend of mine was New York poet Sam Menashe and one of his last books was titled ‘The Niche Narrows’. I now think that’s where I am.

Does your writing lean towards a specific genre?

My first break was with writing bitter comedy and I find that now I am a bitter old man I am returning to that old well. I have learned late that I am not Billy Wilder – who could move from genre to genre – so now I am concentrating my failing sight on comedy. It is a bit of an easy way out. If you have written something that makes an audience laugh, you know you have done your job.

Comparing books to scripts, how long does it take you to complete either?

I am often a jobbing writer and have done family history books (I like writing non-fiction books and I like research). Such a book would take me at least six months. Writing a screenplay is a different animal. Idea, plotting, outline etc might take up to a year (floating around in the back of my head) but I would write a first draft of a feature screenplay in maximum two weeks once the ducks have been lined up in my head.

The ‘Agent’ Question? Do you have one?

I have an agent again as of middle last year – Linda Langton in New York. I had an agent for a few years in Germany (I live in Berlin) but agents here do not pursue work for their clients. They simply do the deals. Linda looks for work for me and is representing right now my biography of the late rocker Tony Sheridan. I think an agent is crucial. It is the element of credibility above all else. As it happens, Linda also sends some script and book editing work my way.

What is your opinion on the importance of literary/Film competitions and awards?

Very, very important. I wish I had more awards and had been more conscious of their importance. They are the poor (wo)man’s marketing. The toughest thing is to get the public aware of you. And as most writers are anti-social (or is that just me?) the awards process makes all the difference.

Not just you, Martin! And with that in mind, do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

I tried and failed. My eldest son, Bernard, set up a website for me but after a few years I gave it up because I didn’t know how to change it and he had no time to update it. I have a blog I don’t update and I have an Amazon Author’s page. My inability to market myself may be why major success has eluded me. That, and lack of talent

Scratch that last sentence! So, what are your thoughts on social media?

I know it is vital, but I don’t know how it works. My agent says she wants to find a ‘platform’ for me. By which she means something that identifies me with readers. Several years ago my brother-in-law Derek happened to notice a Bill Bryson book (‘A Walk in the Woods’) and, being a hill walker, he bought it. He enjoyed the book so much he went back to said book shop and simply bought every other Bryson title on the shelf. Social media is that connection between writer and reader, between filmmaker and undiscovered audience. Marketing is bonding.

As an author and filmmaker, what’s your opinion of the current business of both publishing and film?

It has taken me a couple of years to realize that while I was catching bits of work here and there (books published, screenplays not produced) there has been a huge shift going on. By this stage in my life I have two hats I most often wear. I have been writing non-fiction (such as ‘The Trade Union Pint’, published a couple of years ago by Liberties Press or ‘Vagabond’, my Tony Sheridan biography) or screenplays of films I want to make (such as the comedy ‘The Mistress’ or the ghost story ‘Little Boy Priest’). It seems to me that with publishing you maybe find a niche and that is where an agent comes in. As for my scripts, the film business has changed so much that they get tougher to make because they don’t make financial sense. Damn you, Marvel Comics!

And on Indie Film?

It’s a mystery. As I mention elsewhere here, I am in the process of making a micro-budget film. I contacted two distributor friends of mine in the UK about my plan and both said ‘don’t do it! The world is awash with them!’

Have you considered crowd-funding your film project?

I haven’t tried any form of crowd funding but I am working on a micro-budget comedy feature film project right now and I might try – later this year – to see if I can drum up some crowd funding to complete it. I am writing, directing, doing most of the camera work (with my own gear) and editing.

You have self-published your books?

I went Kindle a couple of years ago with a selection of books of mine that either never found a publisher or had fallen out of print. I also put some un-produced screenplays out there. Last year I resurrected a crime/comedy novel of mine called HANRAHAN and this year I did it as an audiobook (even with me on guitar in bridges between chapters). I have earned very little money from those ventures, but at least the work is there and available.

If you’ve ever had any: How to you handle negative reviews?

I drink. No. Just kidding. I drink to celebrate positive reviews also. Everybody has their own opinion. Some people think I am a handsomely ageing Adonis. Some say ‘look at that fat bald guy’. Your work – film, book, whatever – stands and the review, good or bad, will be wrapping fish and chips tomorrow. Or would have done in the old days. Now it remains forever on the internet. Oh well.

Is there a book or film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

Simple answer: anything by Billy Wilder. Although Herr Wilder never wrote alone, actually. And then several books by Bryson and Orwell.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

At the moment the focus is on comedy. A producer here in Germany is developing a sitcom of mine. I wrote the concept, the plot outlines and three scripts in English and he has brought in two German comedy writers. I am also writing and making a micro-budget comedy feature (mentioned above) that has already had a few shooting days. Plus I am maybe half way through plotting a script that would be a German/English language comedy script set in Berlin.I cannot reveal any of the plots, though!

Six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

My Dad, Stephen Fry, Billy Wilder, Bill Bryson, Steven Spielberg (for the networking) … and Georgie Orwell.

Last request, Martin! Any advice for aspiring writers?

I honestly think that being creative is our highest level. I think also that it can be a lottery. I didn’t win the lottery, but it has been an interesting ride. Advice? It’s a schizophrenic job. You have to look inside yourself and sit alone in your room to write, then you have to go out there and sell yourself and find your audience. So I guess my advice is ’embrace your inner schizophrenic’. And don’t give up – the work is what matters.


Visit Martin’s page on Amazon:


Feature Film Showreel:
Photograph courtesy of Jens Winter.

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Roisin Meaney

Roisin Meaney worked as a teacher in Ireland and an advertising copywriter in London before becoming a fulltime writer of books. To date she is the author of eleven bestselling adult novels and two children’s books, and her works have been translated into many languages. On the first Saturday of every month she tells stories to small children in her home city of Limerick’s main library, passing on her love of books and reading to the next generation.

Roisin, from teaching to copywriting to eleven bestsellers – within that career arc,  when did the novel-writing begin?

I worked in London as an advertising copywriter in the early nineties, but I started my first book in San Francisco in 2001. It was published in 2004. Then I won a two-book publishing deal! The publishers were new, and running the competition to launch themselves.

Do you write every day?

I’d write most days. Generally I start after breakfast and keep at it until I feel I’ve had enough. Length of time can vary enormously, but I usually manage to meet my deadlines.

And how long does it take you to complete a book?

About six months for a first draft, and another 2-3 on subsequent ones.

Do you have an agent – do you think it necessary?

Yes and yes. I tried doing without one for a few years, when my first agent and I parted company, but despite the fact that I wasn’t looking for a change of publisher I felt I’d be happier with someone in my corner.

Do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

Yes, I’m always on the lookout for ways to spread the word about the books, whether it’s on social media, radio, press or TV.

Is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

So many. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. (Virtually) anything by Ann Tyler. The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce. I could go on.

Six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

Ann Enright, Michael Harding, Seamus Heaney, Gerry Stembridge, Pope Frances and Tommy Cooper.

And in closing, what you are working on now?

The third book in a series set on a fictitious island off the west coast of Ireland. It’s due out at the end of this year, and it’s got a Christmas theme.

You can find out more about Roisin’s writing here:

And on TWITTER @roisinmeaney


Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland: June Considine

June Considine, who also writes under the pen name, Laura Elliot, has written sixteen novels, twelve for children, four for adults. Her novels, which include When the Bough Breaks, Fragile Lies, The Prodigal Sister and Stolen Child, have been translated into many languages. Her short stories have been broadcast on RTE and have appeared in a number of teenage anthologies. She has also worked as a freelance journalist and magazine editor.

Welcome, June. So when did the writing bug first take hold?

I began to write in my late twenties when I at last overcame the belief that only ‘other people’ could be writers. I worked as a journalist for ten years before I began to write fiction.

And your first publishing break?  

The first book I wrote was for children in the ten plus age group. It was fantasy – sadly, pre-Harry Potter. I sent it to two publishers. One publisher rejected it and the second publisher claimed to have no knowledge of ever receiving it. I suspect it slipped under the slush pile and died from underexposure. I was inexperienced enough to believe that two disappointments signalled the end of my career as a novelist and returned to journalism. About a year later I met someone at a reception and casually mentioned my lost manuscript. Unbeknownst to me she approached the publisher, whom she knew. He contacted me and asked  to see a copy of the manuscript  which I duly delivered that day.  The following afternoon he rang to tell me my book would be published.

Do you have an agent and do you think it necessary to have one?

Yes. I have an agent. Whether or not an agent is a necessity depends on what you want to do. Most UK publishers only work through agents so, in that case, a good agent is necessary. In Ireland it is still possible to engage directly with most publishers. For examining contracts and acting as a buffer between you and your editor when things are slightly fraught, it’s good to have an agent on your side.

What are your feelings on social media for authors?

Social media is extremely time-consuming. A lot of what we do seems to go out into a vast black hole and, apart from friends and colleagues, it’s hard to quantify who it’s reaching and its impact on sales. But, as writers, we can’t ignore it. We need an online presence – and the knowledge to use it effectively.

And do you also contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

I contribute by publicising my work as much as I can with interviews, blogs, social media, newspaper features etc.

Did anyone inspire you to write, June?

No. I was born with the yearning.

How long does it take you to complete a book – do you write everyday?

About eighteen months. When I’m working on a book I try to write every day. I begin early and work until about four in the afternoon with a lunch and coffee break. If I’m on a flow I’ll work at night but, I find a regular routine is the most effective way to work. My books are defined as psychological thrillers. I didn’t set out to write in that genre but I’m drawn to exploring how certain events create an impact and how people respond to difficult situations.

What’s your opinion of the current state of publishing in general?

It’s tough…but it was never easy. So much depends on how your book is marketed. The front table display in a book shop is every writer’s dream but is not always attainable. You need promotion, especially if you are a newcomer or not in the elite household name circle. And you’re always competing with the next batch of books coming on steam. On the plus side, there’s the digital publishing revolution. This has opened up a whole new land of opportunity for writers to self-publish, particularly for authors whose books are rights reverted.

And on Indie publishing – would you consider it?

Indie publishing is massive. Some of it is really bad – but some is excellent. I attended the Historic Novel Conference in London last year where an award was presented for the most professional self-published novel. The shortlist was of an extremely high standard and the covers, design and presentation on a par with, and better, than many traditionally published books. I’d certainly consider self-publishing – but I’m slightly daunted by the idea of promoting my books online. I’m not a Luddite but my evolution from that status to techie is a slow progression.

Thoughts on literary competitions and awards?

Their importance can’t be denied. They establish reputations, open new doors in terms of exposure at literary festivals etc, and offer a writer a track record when it’s time to negotiate a new contract.

And if you’ve ever had any – how do you handle negative reviews?

I’ve had negative reviews. When my first book came out I had an appalling review in which my book was described as ‘risible’. I wanted to crawl under the carpet and stay there for a week. The next review for the same book described it as ‘brilliant’, Who was right? And does it matter? The only opinion I needed was from my readers and they obliged by making my book a best seller.  Amazon – with its one to five-star reviews – has added a whole new dimension to reviews. Unfortunately, you can’t send such reviews up in smoke or flitter them into the litter bin. The only thing to do with reviews, good, bad or indifferent, is to wear them lightly on your shoulders – unless, of course, you read a constructive one that resonates with your heart and points out a flaw in the structure of your novel that you were unwilling to acknowledge. Such reviews are invaluable.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Lots of advice – but, mainly, sit down and start your book. Let it flow, don’t worry about how it reads, spelling, grammar, style etc. Just get your idea down as fast as you can. The real work will start once that’s done. You will edit, change, agonise, sweat over the next stages – but you’ve written down the bones of your idea and given yourself the momentum to continue.

In relation to the ‘Write what you know’ advice that we hear so often? Agree or Disagree?

Agree – but don’t be afraid to plumb your imagination.

Is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

And six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?

Anita Shreve, Margaret Atwood, Nicola Sturgeon, Bruce Springsteen, Stephen Fry, A.A.Gill.

Finally, June, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’ve just finished a novel, another psychological thriller about a couple who, having reared their family, decide to separate and seek what they believe will be the perfect divorce, one without acrimony or blame. But two things conspire to thwart them – the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and the arrival into their lives of a woman they both knew when they were teenagers. She’s a woman with a score to settle – and the book explores how the past catches up with them in ways they never expected.

Stay connected to June’s [and Laura Elliot’s] writings via Facebook and website links below…

Mickey Rourke and the master in monochrome, John Minihan.

I have in my possession a wonderful book,  An Unweaving of Rainbows; images of irish writers (1998)  by one of my favourite photographers, John Minihan.

With a personal inscription to me from the man himself, An Unweaving of Rainbows is a thing to treasure, and contains a collection of images, spanning thirty years, of some of the legends of the Irish literary world, the living and the dead…amongst them J.P Donleavy, Edna O’Brien, Pat McCabe, Neil Jordan, Joseph O’Connor, Brian Keenan, John Mc Gahern, William Trevor, Seamus Heaney and many, many more.

Born in Dublin, and raised in Athy, County Kildare until he was eleven years old, John Minihan moved to Britain with relatives, and by the time he was sixteen, was working as an apprentice for the Daily Mail. Over the years, he would return to Athy for holidays, always with camera, collecting an amazing array of monochrome portraits and images of the people, many of them aged and residing in the County Home where he loved to visit…the collection was subsequently exhibited in London in 1971, and was described by critic, Harold Hobson, as sad, poignant, despairing and sublime.  

Samuel Beckett was also vastly impressed by the amazing character studies of John’s portraits, which led to him inviting John to Paris, where he took some of the most famous images of the legend, then in his eighties. You can see those images here:

Over the lifetime of his career, John has been the creator of many other iconic images, including those of Princess Diana, and the man I have featured here…Mickey Rourke.

Taken in the late eighties in London, John tells the story of asking Mickey’s permission to photograph him. Mickey, interested in John’s work, and very taken by the image of the old woman, a resident of Athy, holding a photograph of herself when she was young and beautiful, agreed, but he would only pose for him, holding the poster of John’s exhibition, Hometown, the people of Athy, County Kildare, 1962-1985.

Sublime? Yes. Poignant? Yes.

I have only one other word for that Rourke fellah…CLASS!

The Photograph reproduced here is the copyright of John Minihan and is part of a permanent exhibition in Athy Library, curated by Kildare County Arts Service.