I have the pleasure of welcoming Clar Ni Chonghaile today 🙂
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
Hello, Kerry. Thanks a million for inviting me to your blog. I grew up in An Spidéal, in County Galway in Ireland. I moved to London aged 19 to work as a graduate trainee at the Reuters news agency. That was the start of more than 20 years working as a reporter in Europe and Africa. I married my infinitely patient husband in Paris, gave birth to my elder daughter in Dakar, Senegal, had my second child in Camden and lived in Kenya for nearly six years before moving back to the UK in 2014. We now live in St Albans, which is quite the change. My first novel, Fractured, was published last year and my second, Rain Falls on Everyone, is published in July.
What else? I love White House dramas and disaster movies, despite being a total nervous Nellie in real life; I am an enthusiastic but desperately out-of-tune singer; I talk too much and think too little; and I am way too dependent on my to-do list.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
I don’t really think I get my ideas. They get me. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my overloaded brain, things I’ve seen and things I’ve felt and things I’ve thought come together and that process brings forth a voice, or voices. Then, they demand their stories be told. Certainly my work as a journalist has contributed. My first novel is set mainly in Somalia, a country I visited a few times while working as a freelance journalist in Nairobi. It’s about a kidnapped journalist and the friendship that develops between him and one of his captors, a Somali teenager. My second novel is set in Dublin and features a young Rwandan man who came to Ireland as a child after the genocide in his country. My work as a reporter in Africa piqued my interest in some facets of these stories and introduced me to the experiences of people on that continent. But I’d like to think my novels are less about specific locations and more about the joy and heartbreak inherent in the human condition.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
Fictional characters always have some basis in reality but mine are generally composites of people I know, or people I’ve met along the way, or people I’ve read about. They often reflect some of my interests, my fears or my obsessions but these are minor details in a whole that eventually, hopefully, transcends me. That’s the magic of fiction. You bring new beings to life, and then they take over.
How do you pick your characters names?
I don’t really have a method. Names come to me and then I write them in. If it feels right, it stays. When writing characters from other cultures, I research names to make sure I choose one that is accurate.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. I don’t like to plot too thoroughly because if I do there is nothing to discover and then what is the point? To quote Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader”. I write in bursts, punctuated by faffing on social media, pretending to clean the kitchen and mooching around the house thinking that things would look much tidier if I just bought more plastic boxes.
I love it when my characters head off and do something I hadn’t expected. I know it sounds daft but that is how I experience it. I think I have an over-active subconscious. I am also a perfectionist so I sometimes find it hard to move on if I am not totally satisfied with a particular passage. I will rewrite and rewrite until I get as close as I can to what I am trying to say.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
This question is going to keep me up at night because no matter what I say, I will get the answer wrong. When you’ve been reading for more than four decades, it’s a tough call to choose just five authors. But here are five from my infinitely long list of tops: Emily Brontë because Wuthering Heights was my favourite book as a teenager; Margaret Atwood because she is a master world-creator; Roald Dahl because I never tire of re-reading his books; Isabel Allende because of the depth of her imagination; and William Boyd, mainly because of Brazzaville Beach.
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I would love to sit down with Roald Dahl and ask him to tell me a story. Then I’d sit back and listen.
Were you a big reader as a child?
I read all the time. My favourite writers were Enid Blyton, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Wilbur Smith, Agatha Christie, Maeve Binchy, Liam O’Flaherty, Walter Macken, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Hugh Leonard. I always had a book on the go, and it is one of my greatest pleasures now to see our daughters greedily devouring books.
When did you start to write?
I’ve been writing forever. I wrote my first book when I was 10 or 11. It was about a little bear and Jack Frost. I wrote it on copybook pages and drew pictures in the top half of each page. I knew nothing so I sent it off to a very high-profile publisher. They kindly replied and said ‘it was not quite right for their lists’. Even kinder, they added a postscript, gently pointing out that manuscripts were ‘usually typed’. I’ve been writing ever since. I dabbled in poetry for a while as a teenager (well, who doesn’t), I’ve written short stories of debatable merit, and thousands of articles on everything from the Cannes film festival to child soldiers in the Central African Republic.
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
I can’t imagine ever wanting to do that. A book is the author’s vision. I would never want to tamper with someone else’s creation. Mind you, I might make an exception for Sleeping Beauty. Marrying a man just because he kisses you awake does not seem logical to me. And the whole Happily Ever After ending is, in my humble opinion, a bit of a stretch.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
My daughters wish I had written the Harry Potter series, and in fact still wonder why I don’t churn out bestsellers about wizards and witches. They don’t seem to buy the that-is-not-the-kind-of-writer-I-am-so-sorry explanation.
If you wrote an autobiography, what would your title be?
That’s Way Too Long.
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
I would love to meet Logan Mountstuart from William Boyd’s Any Human Heart. I remember feeling a little bereft when the book ended and he was gone from my life. I don’t think coffee would cut it though. I’d take him to a basement bar with cool, damp walls and dim lights somewhere on the left bank of the Seine.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve tentatively started writing another novel and this fact fills me with equal amounts of fear and excitement. My main character is a 70-plus woman who has lived a life less conventional and must now take stock of the damage wreaked by her decisions. The book will span the 20th century, taking in the death of her husband after World War Two, her decision to abandon her daughter and her search for a kind of amoral freedom through journalism and writing. I love my main character – she is very cynical, very clear-sighted and very smart. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with her and getting to the bottom of her story.
Do you have a new release due?
My second novel, Rain Falls on Everyone, is published by the wonderful Legend Press on July 15. The novel is set in Dublin and revolves around Theo, a young Rwandan who came to Ireland after the 1994 genocide, and drifts into the city’s drug underworld. As Theo struggles to make sense of his fragmented memories and stay on the right side of a dangerous drug lord, he meets Deirdre, a mother-of-three who is trapped in her own domestic nightmare. They become unlikely friends before violence threatens to tear their fragile lives apart.
What do you generally do to celebrate on publication day?
I wish I had published enough books to have a publication day routine. Last year, I had a delightful launch the week before Fractured went on sale, and then on the day, I went to work. This time, I am supposed to be setting up stalls at my daughter’s school fair on July 15. I am flying back from Nairobi the night before, so fingers crossed the flight will be on time and I will be on site, however bleary-eyed.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
I’m on Twitter as @clarnic. I write an occasional blog at clarnichonghaile.wordpress.com and I have a Goodreads Author page where people can reach me. I’m always happy to chat – some would say this is one of my biggest failings.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
I’d just like to say thank you to all those wonderful people who have helped me in so many different ways on this fantastic journey. They know who they are. And thank you very much for inviting me onto your blog.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Clar Ni Chonghaile 🙂
Thanks also to Imogen Harris for arranging the interview.
Publisher: Legend Press (15th July 2017)
‘Powerful, thought-provoking, and at times horrifying; yet also a compelling story of friendship against all the odds’ – Nick Brownlee
‘A fast-paced, powerful and emotional novel deftly crafted and shot
through with insight, empathy and poetic beauty. As worlds collide, a
gripping story of belonging, identity, memory, culpability and
forgiveness unfolds, creating a poignant and profound novel for our
times’ – Deborah Andrews
Theo, a young Rwandan boy fleeing his country’s genocide, arrives in Dublin, penniless, alone and afraid. Still haunted by a traumatic memory in which his father committed a murderous act of violence, he struggles to find his place in the foreign city.
Plagued by his past, Theo is gradually drawn deeper into the world of Dublin’s feared criminal gangs. But a chance encounter in a restaurant with Deirdre offers him a lifeline.
Theo and Deirdre’s tender friendship is however soon threatened by tragedy. Can they confront their addictions to carve a future out of the catastrophe that engulfs both their lives?
Imogen Harris, at Legend Press, has very kindly offered a paperback copy of Rain Falls On Everyone for me to giveaway to one of you lucky people. All you have to do to be in with a chance is comment on this post and I will choose a winner at random.
The giveaway will close on Friday 21st July.
(The winner will be asked for their postal address, which I will pass on to Imogen Harris at Legend Press.)