Writers in Ireland: Niamh Boyce

Today, I am delighted to welcome Niamh Boyce to the ‘Writers In Ireland’ series. Niamh’s first novel, The Herbalist, won Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2013, and was long listed for the IMPAC Award. Her stories have been adapted for stage, broadcast, published in literary magazines and anthologized, most recently in ‘The Long Gaze Back- Irish Women Writers’ and ‘The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction. ‘ Niamh has just published Inside The Wolf, her first collection of poems.

Niamh, congratulations on the publication of Inside The Wolf, a collection I am thoroughly enjoying at the moment. The poems feel interconnected, exploring issues such as death, memory and transformation. Did you plan to write this collection, or have they been gathered over the years?

Yes, that’s true Caroline, those themes – especially transformation – reoccur throughout the collection. I was always interested in reclaiming forgotten voices, and in subverting fairy tales, especially the wolf and Red Riding Hood. But there was no plan to concentrate on certain themes in any way. The poems were just written over the years, reflecting my interests, or my life – some go way back. Night Feed is sixteen years old, written during a wakeful night with my baby. Poems from that time are short, echoing the conditions under which they were written, baby in one arm, pen in the other. I felt very close to the elements then, very primal. It was a creative time, despite the exhaustion!

The rest of the poems were written over the years since then, and I wasn’t aware of the themes until I had laid them all out on the floor in front of me last year. That’s when I saw that there were art poems, ghost poems, fairy-tale poems, transformation poems and so on. The interconnectedness was not immediately obvious to me, it took a while to figure out how to shape the book; in which order to place the poems – some fitted together naturally – the ones about The Beast, Bluebeards Wife, Sleeping Beauty and so on – but seeing exactly how the others spoke to each other, took some time. At that stage, I sought out Grace Wells, as I needed a fresh perspective, someone who could see what I was too close to the work to see. That was very fruitful, as Grace has a very clear eye and was very honest. Its only now, looking back that I realise that what I thought of as the end stage, was actually the beginning of a potent process of transformation itself – any number of editorial decisions about placement and inclusion, could have led to many different types of book.

You also write novels, but what is your first love, poetry or prose?

Poetry is my first love, and I find poems most satisfying as a writer, closest to the bone. Sometimes they come in an organic way, unbidden – poets often refer to poems that come that way as gifts, and they are. They are pure joy. Others require a lot of redrafting, I was Swallowed by a Harry Clarke Window, a pretty short poem from the collection, was originally four pages long. But I enjoy working like that too – whittling away at the words, trying to find the poem within the poem.

You are traditionally published, with a great deal of success. Why self-publish Inside The Wolf?

Yes, my novel The Herbalist was published by Penguin, and I was very happy with that. When it came to the poetry collection, a poetry press that I greatly admire, told me it would take two years; if they were to decide to publish my work. That was one of the main reasons I went ahead and set up Red Dress Press. My collection was ready, and I didn’t want to have to wait till 2020 – not if I didn’t really have to – before publishing it. I wanted to go to print this summer, and without being flippant, why not self-publish? I enjoy all aspects of creating and love a challenge – plus it gave me full control over the timing, the cover, the contents. So, I found it a relatively easy process, and will probably publish my next collection under that same imprint.

It is a beautiful publication, and the cover is very evocative, and eye-catching. How much input did you have on how it would look?

Thankyou! I am so happy with the cover. I commissioned Jessica Bell to design it. She asked me to fill in a detailed questionnaire about the book and read some of the work. She responded to the information with three different cover ideas, one of which I loved immediately. We exchanged ideas back and forth, and she tweaked the image until it became the one on the cover. It was a very smooth process as Jessica really ‘got’ what the book was about.

Well congratulations, Niamh, I wish you every success with it. Also, you have a second novel in the works, I believe. Can you tell us anything about it?

I can yes – the novel is called Her Kind and was inspired the Kilkenny witchcraft trial – an event which occurred after a bishop called Ledrede accused a local moneylender, Dame Alice Kytler of sorcery. It was a 14th century case which required all sorts of fascinating research. It will be published in April 2019 by Penguin Random House.

 

You can check out Niamh’s Blog HERE. Inside The Wolf is available to purchase HERE

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 Lulu.com – 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: http://niamhboyce.blogspot.com/