LOUISE NEALON

Louise Nealon lives on a dairy farm in Kildare with her family. Snowflake (Manilla, May) is a coming-of-age tale about a young woman who struggles to cope when she moves away from her family farm and steps into life in Trinity College Dublin.

What was the hardest thing about writing Snowflake?
The thought of sitting down to write is not very appealing to me, which is unfortunate, as well as embarrassing, for a person who calls herself a writer. When I was working on Snowflake, I had to constantly confront my own insecurities. Every day without fail, my inner critic would remind me that I couldn’t string a sentence together. The moment I finished the last sentence of that first draft was miraculous. It was the best moment of my life.

And the easiest?
Getting to work with the characters. It took a long time for me to get to know them, but once they came alive, they really helped me to get over myself. The story was never about me. It’s all theirs.

In 2020, Snowflake was acquired in a six-figure deal, and TV and film rights subsequently bought by Element Pictures. What was that like?
It was mad. I’m still trying to process it. All of this is beyond any of my wildest dreams. I have no idea how the publishing industry works so I didn’t know what to expect. I had braced myself for the idea that no one would want to publish the novel. The best thing was being able to celebrate with my family. They have always supported me and believed that I could make a career out of writing.

MEGAN NOLAN

Meg Nolan. Photograph: Lynn Rothwell
Megan Nolan. Photograph: Lynn Rothwell

Waterford native Megan Nolan now lives in London and is a columnist for the New Statesman. Acts of Desperation (Jonathan Cape, March) is about a woman’s unravelling through a doomed relationship with a beautiful man.

What made you want to write this book?
I started writing it when I was 26 and had come out of a long-term relationship. When that ended it shook a lot of my convictions about what love was like, and also the possibilities of what you could do with your life – what you should be doing as a woman. What made me want to write this book was trying to sort out for myself, and hopefully for others, those questions about what place romance has in your life, and what to do when it becomes too much.

What are your strengths on the page?
I think my strength is … I don’t mean “unfiltered” as in it’s not considered, but I guess there’s an immediacy to the way I write. When I started, I didn’t have a theory of what was good, or a style I wanted to ape. Almost every writer I liked, I thought, I’ll never be able to write that way, so I’ll just have to do the most natural thing. And I think there’s some intimacy to my writing that connects with people.

How do you keep going as a writer?
That’s such a hard question. We didn’t sell the book in advance. Nobody was beating down the door looking for the manuscript. And honestly, I think what kept me going was that I never expected to make a big windfall from writing, or to have fame, or success. I just thought, if you keep going, and you’re good, people will read it. Also, I had the experience of growing up around my dad, who’s a writer. But he’s a jobbing writer. I think it was having the example of someone who’s very successful and talented but for whom it’s a slog to make the bills, as it is for everyone, and knowing you have to treat it like a job and keep ticking away. I find it dangerous to think, Oh, if I work hard enough, then I’ll make it, and that’s the end of my journey. That’s when the writing gets the most boring.

MEL O’DOHERTY

Mel O’Doherty
Mel O’Doherty

Mel O’Doherty is an English teacher who lives in Douglas, Cork. Fallen (Bluemoose, June) is about the tragedy of a woman whose child was left to die in mother and baby home Bessborough House.

What research/inspiration informed Fallen?
I was stunned and outraged with the scale and systemic nature of the abuse in residential institutions. This was all unfolding in the late 1990s. My brother had been working part time as a security guard in the abandoned convent in Sunday’s Well. This was, of course, a notorious Magdalene laundry for more than 100 years. I decided to accompany him a number of nights, the two of us walking through the silence with flashlights. Your whispers echo in the halls; the bats, rats, broken religious statues, rows of sinks. I became deeply interested in those places, the lives within. My research brought me to Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork. My wife and I were walking in the grounds one day in early 2014, discussing a novel I had been working on and struggling with. She looked up at the facade of the convent and said: “Why don’t you write a novel about this place?” I started the following morning. But that summer, the Tuam scandal broke, which changed everything, including my novel. Fallen became a tragic tale of a fictional Cork family, set against a nation’s crime and its unearthing.

What are you most looking forward to this year?
I’m looking forward to setting these characters free into the world. I’m proud of the novel and excited to see how others receive it. What you come up with on the page is deeply personal, but those characters are only yours for so long, and then they belong to everyone.