Eimear Mcbride // A Writer Before All Else

While it may feel like everything you’ve been looking forward to is being forced into cancellation, Cúirt International Festival of Literature aren’t letting things get the better of them. Converting their annual literary festivities into an online celebration of the written word, to be enjoyed from the comfort of your own front room. One of the most eagerly anticipated online events comes in the form of a discussion with the inimitable author Eimear McBride, hosted by the exceptional Edel Coffey. Taking place on Thursday, April 23 from 7.30pm, McBride’s latest novel – Strange Hotel – will be the topic of conversation.

Luckily, I got the chance to have the chats with the acclaimed author before the world went up in smoke. From my makeshift office to McBride’s abode, we spoke about the evolution of her writing style, finding creativity in the depths of grief and being a writer before all else.

Eimear McBride’s writing career began in 2013 with the release of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which received critical acclaim and a number of awards including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. 2017 saw the release of Lesser Bohemians, which was equally well-received, and her latest release, Strange Hotel, is making waves among book lovers for its incisive look at the uniquely human experience of a hotel room. However, it was nine years prior to the publication of her debut novel that McBride first put pen to paper.

Unrestricted by the rules and regulations of a formal education in writing, Eimear gained some valuable tools from her studies at the Drama Centre in London. “Our training was about really digging deep inside and creating the inner world of a character in order to better express them truthfully, which was something I brought with me once I started to write. Because I am really still interested in people and character, it actually turned out to be very useful and became a way of writing characters that felt quite different to the usual way, allowing the reader to have a deeper experience of the character. It’s a huge part of why I write the way I do.” Foregoing the rigid discipline of being told how to frame narratives and create characters in a particular way allowed Eimear to approach writing from an entirely fresh perspective.

“I think that I would be a completely different writer if I hadn’t come to writing in that way.”

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was born from a tradition of Irish modernism, people didn’t initially seem to know what to make of it. It took nine long years for the book – which deals with the body and sexuality of a young girl – to finally be published, but it found the exact right moment to reach the shelves. “I think readers were interested in writers trying different things and the subject matter was something that was suddenly very much in the public consciousness. It just seemed to find its readership.” This is quite the understatement, considering the numerous awards and critical acclaim the novel has received. It’s fair to say that A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing positioned Eimear McBride as a prominent name in the literary game.
Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride by | © JMA Photography

Lesser Bohemians, McBride’s second release, followed largely in the tracks of the first, shifting perspective slightly to that of a young woman. Centring around a turbulent love affair with a much older man, this book bore a lot of the pressure associated with the publication of another piece of work. In the four years since Lesser Bohemians was released, Eimear divided her time between working at Beckett’s archive and chipping away at a screenplay, but somewhere during all of this Strange Hotel emerged. Unintentionally and very quickly, the book grew legs. “Initially, I wrote it just as a short story, but then it grew. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it, I didn’t sell it in advance, nobody knew and there was no pressure. It was like writing Girl all over again; it was quite secret. I was lucky.” As with the previous book, the gradual shift of perspective continues to whose protagonist is a middle-aged woman. The fractured, experimental style we had grown accustomed to when reading McBride has evolved to something quite different.

“I’m still a writer who’s very interested in modernism and I think that although this book is written very grammatically, it’s also a book that is still very preoccupied with language and with how just because all the words are in the right order and all the punctuation is correct, it doesn’t necessarily make communication easier. Communication is a fundamentally difficult thing. It’s interesting to go against the idea that just because someone writes in a linear way, it’s somehow easier or better.”

The work of Eimear McBride stems from a simple urge to write. This passion flows through her veins and onto the page and is often, at its heart, to do with grief. Having been transformed by the trauma of losing her father at the age of eight and again by her brother’s passing at twenty-two, the delicate nature of existence was always an apparent fact to this author. “When you lose a parent when you’re young, you lose any possibility of believing in your own invincibility and that is something that you carry with you through all of your life. When you become aware of the fragility of life early on, it kind of opens a lot of doors that you can’t help but look through and that can be very useful creatively, but it’s difficult to live with. It allows you to see the world in different ways, in ways that other people aren’t privy. It instructs you in how you deal with the world.”

Having channeled some of these deep-seated sentiments into her work, McBride’s unique style and inexplicable ability to explore a story have brought her to where she is today. An inimitable talent, a critic once wrote that ‘McBridean’ ought to be an adjective. However, that is not to say that the author does not experience her fair share of frustrations. Constantly categorised based on her gender and place of birth, Eimear McBride is a writer before she is anything else.

“There’s a rather patronising attitude towards writing about the female experience as though it’s somehow lesser and of more trivial value than the great thoughts of men. Being an Irish writer, there’s another level of infuriation because we all get lumped together, even if we are completely different and have nothing in common and write about completely different subjects in completely different ways. I’m a writer first – that’s it. Then a woman and then Irish.”

For those of you reading this who have always aspired to become a writer, here are some words of wisdom from this award-winning author. “The most important thing to realise – which is not very comforting – is to take your writing seriously, because no one cares if you don’t write your book. Maybe your mum will or maybe your best friend, but the whole world won’t care. It’s down to you to take that seriously if it’s something that you want to do and there’s nothing that will make it easy, you just have to do it.”

From having her father read her Animal Farm as a child to becoming a magnificent, multi-award-winning author, it is clear that Eimear McBride eats, sleeps and breathes storytelling. Gaining an understanding of the world around her, as well as herself through her writing, when this author puts pen to paper, it’s more than likely going to be a best-seller.

If you fancy being a fly on the wall during Eimear’s discussion with Edel Coffey on April 23, register right HERE – you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Eimear McBride
Feature Image courtesy | © Sophie Bassouls