Friday, 23 August 2013

Niamh Boyce and The Herbalist Interview

Niamh Boyce and The Herbalist Interview

Welcome to my guest Niamh Boyce, a name that has become familiar to readers this summer as her book The Herbalist spent eight weeks in the original fiction
bestseller top ten lists and will be launched in the UK on September 26th.

Niamh's debut novel The Herbalist was published by Penguin in June 2013. She won the Hennessy XO New Irish Writer of the Year in 2012 for her poem 'Kitty'. Her short fiction has been nominated for The Francis Mac Manus Competition, The Molly Keane Creative Writing Award and the 2009 New Irish Writing Award. Her work can be found in magazines such as The Moth, The Stony Thursday Book, Crannog, Boyne Berries, The Poetry Bus, and New Irish Writing Today Magazine. She blogs at

If you would like to meet Niamh in person she will be reading from her book at the Lunch Time Reading, 1pm at the Irish Writers Centre On Sat 31st August.

Niamh has kindly agreed to share some of her writing tips and experience in the interview below.

Drum Roll!!

How do you structure your writing time-daily, weekly, so many words per day/week?

Niamh. It depends, in term time, I write when the children are in school, except when I’m working in the library. That gives me an average weekly writing time of sixteen hours. I also write in the evening if I need to. When I’m writing a first draft I word count, usually 2,000 words a day at first. Not all those words are kept, when it comes to second draft – a lot gets deleted.

Do you have to be selfish to succeed?
No, but you must be hard working.

What’s the best thing about being published?
Without a doubt meeting readers, not a day has gone by since the book was published without an email/facebook message/tweet or encounter with someone who has read the book, and fortunately for me,  liked it. It’s a wonderful feeling.

What is the cost of success?
I can only guess! Does there have to be one? If you are doing what you’re meant to do in this life and keep your priorities straight?

Do you have a big overall plan /five year plan?
No, I plan year by year. I love New Year’s Eve and resolutions.

What do you do to keep focussed i.e. when you get stuck or think you’ve lost your way?
I despair, and write loads of drivel... I believe that the answer to all writing problems lies in the act of writing.

What made you a writer? Family/ childhood/ background /life experiences?
I have no idea!

 Do you believe that you have a message or wisdom to impart in your writing or are you philosophical?
No, not at all! And personally I really dislike books or art that try to tell me how to think. I think any stories that I’ve written that were based on an ‘idea’ have turned out to be rubbish. The ones that work have followed a voice that seems not to be me. An illusion perhaps, but its how I think of it.

Where were you when you got the news that you were to be published and what was that like?
It’s funny but the part I remember most clearly is the day I got the call from Carrie in the writers centre to tell me the book had qualified for the novel fair. I was in work in the library, and went into shock. I couldn’t believe it, and then I thought, why not? Why not this book? That’s when I first got a real sense The Herbalist could make it to publication. The response from agents and publishers at the novel fair cemented that belief, but I can’t remember the actual moment when I was told, it all happened so fast after that!

What skills serve you best for your writing talent?

 Are you a people watcher and is this essential to being a writer?
I’m the opposite, a bit of a daydreamer but I pick up on people’s emotions pretty quickly or so I think.

What inspires you?
I love art, the sea, folktales, superstition, vengeance & lust, the colour red, the woods, the river, devilishly bad people, wolves...

Is writing work or ability? Can you put a percentage/ ratio on it?
Lots of people have enough talent to write, I see it every time I lead a workshop. Out of a class of ten, sometimes as many as five can have a gift for language, for story, or humour, but usually only one of them has the drive that is required to put in the hours necessary to become a writer.

Your greatest wish?
My family’s health and happiness.

Your worst nightmare?
Anyone I love being hurt.

Where would you like to be in five years time?
I would like to be surprised by that one!

Do you get tired writing-i.e. burnt out and take a break or are you afraid to stop writing?
There are days or weeks when life interrupts and no writing is done, I’m trying to get more relaxed about that happening. But usually I only get tired of writing if I’m writing the wrong thing, forcing a subject. I like to keep going back to the beginning when writing was exciting for me - I want to always be an amateur in that respect, to do it because I love it. When I stray too far from that I resort to notebooks and pen in bed as opposed to computer or laptop at a desk.

What writer would you like to do a workshop /interview with?
Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter if she were alive.

Who/what has helped you most along your writing journey?
At the beginning it was John Mac Kenna, he’s a very generous and inspiring teacher. His short story workshop inspired me.

Do you need to write?
I don’t feel right in the head if I don’t.

Advice for anyone writing?
Don’t give up, and write to please yourself above all.

Is it possible to make a living out of writing?
I don’t know of anyone who does.

Is there pressure on you now to produce a second book as good as the first? Is that an incentive or scary?
Yes there is! From myself mostly, and kind readers who say I can’t wait for your next book. While I’m delighted people liked my first published book, I have to try and forget all about that as I dive into the next.

You paint as well as writing-how do you choose between the two?
On a practical level writing is easier to do, more portable, and in my experience easier to get a result from in terms of publication versus exhibition. Ireland privileges writing over visual art. I have put painting on the long finger for a while now, but plan to get back to it in a small way this autumn.

The characters in The Herbalist are all very different and well developed –is this a challenge to get into someone’s head and heart?
It depends on the person, some are hard to get to know, some are very open, or seem to be – I work on the theory that someone is always hiding something.

What were you like as a child and do you think writers are born or made?
I was quiet, studious, a daydreamer. I really don’t know about born or made!

What do you long for?
A holiday!

Does writing make you happy?
Yes, very.

What would you most like to be remembered for?
By my children, for loving them to bits, I hope!

Are you a thinker or dreamer or do’er?
I’m all three, erring on the side of thinker.

Where does creativity come from?
It’s everywhere; you just have to divine it. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing The Bones is good on that.

You write poetry and short stories as well as long fiction –what are you happiest at?

What character in fiction do you most like and why?
None come to mind this morning!

What do you like to do to relax?
Read. Walk the woods. Very long baths.

What makes writing ‘good’?
I don’t feel qualified to answer that one! Personally I like writing that has energy, a rawness and directness.

When you are choosing a book to read what do you look for-
An attractive cover, read the first page or a middle extract?
First paragraph always. I never read the blurb, if the first line doesn’t get me I usually put the book down.

A huge thank you to Niamh.
 I really enjoyed her honest and interesting answers and I wish her every success with her book. I would just love to see this book in film!

Thanks again Niamh!

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