‘Charlotte Brontë’s connection with Offaly holds a personal resonance for me…’
#writingtips #publicationjourney #charlottebrontë #authorinterview #debut #irishwriters #novel #laoiswriter #IWCnovelfair
This Tuesday we’re delighted to welcome award winning author Pauline Clooney – a novelist and short story writer whose much anticipated debut will be released in the autumn. Among her many awards and nominations – Pauline is an Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair winner and won the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story competition in 2015.
Q. Pauline, this is a very exciting time for you – I just heard the breaking news that you have secured a publishing deal for your novel! I can’t wait to ask you about the book, but firstly would love to know a little about the story behind the story?
Thanks, Niamh. Yes, it is both exciting and daunting, as in people are going to see what I have been doing with myself for the last few years. The story behind the story, what a lovely way to put it. You know, I think the idea that I would like to be a writer and my obsession with the Brontës (Charlotte is the subject of my debut novel) coincided in 1979. That summer my grandmother brought me on holidays to family in Yorkshire and among the day excursions, to Blackpool, Leeds, and Bradford, was a trip to Haworth, home to the Brontës. As a shy Irish girl of fourteen who had never travelled too far beyond the Laois border, the Yorkshire cities terrified me, and posters everywhere showing the Yorkshire Ripper’s latest victims did not help, but Haworth was different…
I was immediately taken in by the cobbled street leading to the parsonage, and after the visit I walked across the moors with my cousin as far as the famous waterfall, and it was something special. In fact, my first published short story, Shh, was inspired by that visit. Granny bought Wuthering Heights for me in the shop, and I devoured it, and while I was a reader, all my family were, those were the days when the highlight of the week was the visit to the library, I had never read anything like this book by Emily Brontë. And for some strange, completely deluded reason, I began to think that I would like to be a writer; hadn’t I two sisters and a brother just like Emily; and I more or less grew up near the bog, just like her moors; and while my father wasn’t called Patrick, my grandfather was, so there you had it…meant for me! All that, Niamh, without ever having written a single line! Can’t the ambition of adolescence be a wonderful thing!
But I did start ‘doing a bit’ as they say, I had an article on the band Queen published in the Leinster Express when still in school, I went on to study English and history, taught it for over thirty years, took any course in writing I could afford, wrote stories, entered competitions, did an M.Litt. on Charlotte Brontë in 2005 and then a Masters in Creative Writing in 2015. The first novel I wrote was about a drama group putting on an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and while it was a runner up at the Irish Writer’s Centre Novel Fair (I know that is an event very dear to your heart, Niamh), that manuscript is now snugly tucked away in a Windows folder. The idea for the book coming out in October was always there at the back of my mind, and so to finally realise it, and be able to share it with others is something special.
‘it was time to bow out of one career to give the next one my best shot. And here I am.’
Q. Soon the story you have worked so hard on, will soon be on bookshelves, and have its own readers. Congratulations Pauline, you weren’t deluded at all! You changed careers to pursue your passion for writing five years ago… can you tell us about that decision? What kind of writing were you working on at the time? Was there a light-bulb moment or was it something you always wanted to do?
I suppose, considering what I have said about 1979 and that trip, maybe there was something in me that wanted to write, and that visit was the light-bulb moment. I wanted to do journalism after the Leaving Cert, but I didn’t get into the College in Rathmines, which was the only gateway into that career that I was aware of in 1982. I remember the entrance exam involved writing an essay entitled ‘Me’, so the rejection when it came felt even more personal!
I went straight from College, to teaching in the Patrician Brothers secondary school in Newbridge and taught there until the decision to leave in 2017. They were great days, I loved it, I kind of grew up in that community, going from a very frightened twenty-one year old who used to run the gauntlet through a corridor of teenage noise trying to balance a pile of books to a, hopefully, more mature woman, no longer terrified of thirteen year old boys!
My colleagues, especially in the early days, were like family, and my social life almost completely revolved around the school. I made lifelong friends, who have seen me through life’s ups and downs, and then a time came around 2016 when I looked around and there were only two people remaining from when I started in 1986, I felt left behind or something, and knew it probably wouldn’t be long before I became the bore that started every sentence with, ‘Now, back in my early …’. By this stage I had seen my daughters through their education, had completed the Masters in Creative Writing, experienced some success with my short stories, and so I decided it was time to bow out of one career to give the next one my best shot. And here I am.
‘whenever I got a rejection, I sent it out to a new agent/publisher’
Q. Many readers of this blog are emerging writers, as well as book lovers, can you tell us a little about your journey to publication? Any tips?
I suppose from my experience with the first book I wrote, and the immensely helpful critique and advice I got from the Novel Fair adjudicator, who in my case was Christine Dwyer Hickey, the best tip I would like to share is, do not send out a first or even a second draft to agents or publishers. I did, and hence it now lies in that folder, until such time as I can get back and fix it. With this second novel, I wrote it at a slower pace, and worked on sections at a time, so that by the end of a day’s work what I had could effectively have been a tenth draft. When I knew it was finished, I got the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook (I was working from the 2018 version), and I went through it alphabetically sending out mostly to agents, and some Irish publishers. I tried to do five a day until I had, I think, thirty, and then whenever I got a rejection, I sent it out to a new agent/publisher. There is work involved in this process and I think the most important thing to get right is the cover letter indicating a knowledge of who it is you are writing to, and why you think your book might be a good fit for them. After that, and this is the soul-destroying part for writers, I think it is a matter of luck, of hitting on someone who is looking for what you have to offer. Thankfully, I found that publisher in Merdog Books.
Q. Can you tell us about your debut novel? I heard on the grapevine that it’s about a year in the life of a much-loved writer – some people might be surprised to know about the Irish connection. I imagine Bronte fans will be very excited!
Thanks, Niamh, I hope you are right. Charlotte and Arthur is the story of Charlotte Brontë’s honeymoon in July 1854. She married an Irishman, her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, and having spent the first few days of their marriage in Wales, they crossed the Irish sea, and for an entire month visited Ireland’s most popular attractions in Dublin, places by the banks of the Shannon like Clonmacnoise, and then the Victorian tourist hot spots of Clare, Kerry and Cork, but the best part for me was the time they spent with Arthur’s family in Banagher. My mother was born in Banagher and spent the first twelve years of her life living there, so Charlotte Brontë’s connection with the Offaly town has always held a personal resonance for me.
It was an absolute delight to write about the famous author mixing with the locals and reimagine what she would have thought of them and they of her. I think that was my favourite section of the book to write. As well as following their honeymoon itinerary, because it is written from Charlotte’s perspective it is also an insight into her life and her works, but most of all, Niamh, the book is the story of how Charlotte fell in love with Arthur over the course of their travels in Ireland. Apart from Brontë fans, maybe Fáilte Ireland will like it too!
Q. When will Charlotte and Arthur be launched Pauline, and how can we get our hands on it!
It will be launched on October 1st. You can pre-order it now at Merdog Books…But look, Niamh, like everyone else, I am hoping that a sense of ‘how we were’, will be restored by then and I can have a few actual launches in Kildare, Offaly, and Laois where I can meet and chat with potential readers.
And of course, I will be asking the publishers to get their distributors to stock the local bookshops. I think that is how it works, it is all new to me, but the lovely thing about writing is you are never alone. Already I am discovering the network that is there to help and encourage and hold you up, just like you, Niamh, inviting me to come along here and share my story. I am so grateful for this opportunity and I think that it is highly appropriate that my first public interview is for Laois Library bringing me back to where my relationship with books began, in the cordoned off children’s section of Portlaoise library on Church Street, now the Dunamaise Arts Centre. Thanks, Niamh, for bringing me back home.
You’re so welcome Pauline, it’s so wonderful to share good news in these times. We wish you every success with Charlotte and Arthur – exciting times!
A link to Charlotte and Arthur …
A link to Pauline’s Website
By Niamh Boyce