Irish author on the labour of love behind her debut novel
Nine years in the making, Irish author Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, has racked up awards and deserved acclaim. Tiffany Gibert meets her.
Eimear McBride spent nine years trying to publish her first book, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Finally, a small British press accepted the challenging novel, and the Irish novelist went on to win the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. McBride’s linguistically innovative novel reveals the influence of fellow Irish writers James Joyce and Edna O’Brien; the author uses a fragmented, stream-of-consciousness to construct a jolting story about family and the life of the titular girl – one of the most vividly sympathetic characters in recent literature. I caught up with McBride to discuss the long road to publication and writing tips for young authors.
Can you tell me a bit about the origin of the book? Did it start with a voice, the story, a scene? I originally sat down to work on a very different idea, but after two to three weeks of fruitless hammering away, I hit on the first words of Girl and knew that, whatever it was, this was the start of something completely different. So both the voice and the story came out of the language, and I just followed where it led.
How and when did you feel drawn to this creative endeavour? What did you write before this novel? I have been writing fairly consistently ever since I was a child and always thought I would, but after finishing secondary school I trained as an actress. However, during a period of time I spent in Russia in 2000, I realised that writing would have to take precedence. When I returned to the UK, I began to get up at 5am every day to write, before heading out to my various rent-paying temp jobs. All of that writing, though, was just practise – a way of learning the discipline required to write. It wasn’t of any particular value in itself. Then in 2003 I started work on Girl. It’s the first piece of work I ever completed.
It took nine years to find a publisher for the book. What has the experience been like, returning to the story having written it almost a decade ago? When I finally returned to the book before publication I had so thoroughly forgotten the details that I read an early draft thinking it was a later one and felt rather dispirited by what I found. Luckily I realised this soon afterwards and read the proper draft, which cheered me up again. But it’s very odd to return to your writing, which, despite being fiction, is inevitably personal to you, and yet it feels as though the version of yourself that wrote it belongs so utterly to your past.
Was it difficult to get into the narrator’s mindset or, more so, to escape it? She must have been very consuming. It wasn’t hard to enter the Girl’s mindset. It was a relief to write a female character released from the traditional models of the fictional female and save us from novelists who want to create role models, especially in those moulds. Extracting myself from her was much harder work, but I knew I had reached the end of the novel when I eventually could.
What would you say to a young writer with a book they believe in but can’t seem to sell? Be sure you’ve written the best book you can, so you can live with whatever responses come afterwards. Dhs87, available at www.amazon.com.