Book cover1

Great poet befriends plucky maid

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

Nuala O’Connor.


“Secrets will always out,” the Dublin novelist Dermot Bolger wrote recently. “In the same way as Emily Dickinson’s poems were once the best-kept secret in Massachusetts, Nuala O’Connor’s luminous prose has long been one of Ireland’s most treasured literary secrets. Now, through her superb evocation of 19th century Amherst, an international audience is likely to be held rapt by the sparse lyricism and exactitude of O’Connor’s writing.”

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And so it has proven, if “international audience” means admiring fellow writers here in the U.S. Ahead of its publication here this week, several have stepped forward to praise “Miss Emily.”

“The structure of the book is reminiscent of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, a lyrical dialogue between two voices,” said Stephanie Barron, author of the Jane Austen mystery series.

One of those voices is fictional. Dickinson didn’t have a maid in 1866, and so O’Connor created Ada Concannon, and made her a cousin of one of the poet’s real-life servants later on, Maggie Maher, who was born to immigrants from County Tipperary.

“An original portrayal of Emily Dickinson seen here not just as a lover of words, but as a heroine and friend to a plucky Irish maid who casts a new and sympathetic light on the Belle of Amherst,” said Sheila Kohler, author of “Becoming Jane Eyre.”

“The Bookman’s Tale” author Charlie Lovett wrote: “I lost myself in the beautiful detail of 1860s Amherst, a cast of characters that leapt off the page with life, and the constant reminder that words, properly wielded, can transcend time, transmit love, and, above all, inspire hope.”

O’Connor, a former Irish-language translator, library assistant and arts administrator, will visit Dickinson Country next month for a series of events.

Nuala O’Connor

Date of birth: Jan. 14, 1970

Place of birth: Dublin

Spouse: Finbar McLoughlin

Children: Cúán, 21, Finn, 13, Juno, 6.

Residence: Ballinasloe, Co. Galway

Published works: Three novels, four short story collections, three poetry collections, two chapbooks published in Ireland and the U.K. Full time writer since 2004. Up until now has written as Nuala Ní Chonchúir.

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

I write in the mornings from about 8.30 a.m. to 2 p.m., while the kids are out at school. I have a desk in the corner of my bedroom. I like peace and quiet – no music, interruptions or radio.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read like a maniac; write every day; walk a lot; travel as much as possible; listen and take notes. Don’t worry about productivity or what anyone else is doing – write as much as you can when you can. There is no right age or time – do it now.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco; “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen; “The Country Girls” by Edna O’Brien.

What book are you currently reading?

“Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” by Jennifer Tseng. Set on an unnamed island (probably a fictional Martha’s Vineyard) it’s about a 41 year old librarian’s obsession with a 17 year old boy. It’s hilarious and beautifully written.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

“Silk” by Alessandro Baricco – such a delicate, fairy tale-like novella about the power and ingenuity of women.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“On Writing” by Stephen King. Part memoir, part writing guide, I found it fascinating and affirming.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

Flannery O’Connor. I love her cock-eyed humor and penchant for darkness; I love that she kept peacocks. I imagine her conversation would be raucous and incisive.

What book changed your life?

“The Portable Virgin,” Anne Enright’s first short fiction collection. It changed my writing life in the sense that she made me understand that it is possible to write about Irishness in a modern, open way.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Mill Lane in Palmerstown, Dublin, where I grew up – a country idyll on the hems of the city. We spent our childhood in and on the Liffey, swimming, boating, fishing.

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