Emma Donoghue

Notes


Life
1969- ; b. 24 October; dg. Denis and Frances Donoghue, youngest of eight; ed. Mount Anville, and moved to a New York public school in 1979 - where her father Denis Donoghue [q.v.] held at Chair at NYU; grad. UCD, First Class (English & French), 1990; proceeded to Cambridge and completed a doctorate, 1997; turned professional writer, 1993; published as Passion Between Women (1994); wrote I Know My Own Heart: A Lesbian Regency Romance (1993), a play based on secret diaries of Anne Lister, written in Yorkshire the 1820s; premiered Dublin Glasshouse Productions, Dublin, 1993; and Ladies and Gentlemen (Dublin 1996), commissioned by Glasshouse and Irish Arts Council; produced by Outward Spiral Theatre (Minneapolis, 1999);
 
issued Stir-Fry (1994), a novel of small-town girl at UCD who discovers lesbianism; appeared on the Late Late Show (RTE); issued Hood (1995), dealing with lesbian ‘widowhood’ on the death of Pen’s friend Cara; winner of US Library Association Gay and Lesbian Book Award; issued Kissing the Witch (1997), short fiction-cum-fairy tales later adapted for stage in San Francisco; contrib. to Íde O’Carroll and Eoin Collins, eds., Lesbian and Gay Visions of Ireland, ed. (1995), posing the question ‘[h]ow is a woman who loves women to live as an Irish woman?’); issued Passions Between Women: British Lesbian Culture, 1668-1801 (1993);
 
wrote a radio play Trespasses (RTE, 1996), based on an Irish witch trial in the 1670s; edited What Sappho Would Have Said (1997), an anthology of women’s love poetry; issued Kissing the Witch (1997), fairytales for adults, later adapted for the stage and premiered at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, 9 June 2000; also produced at Buddies in Bad Times (Toronto, March 2002); issued We Are Michael Field (1998), an account of two Victorian women sharing a pseudonym; her radio plays incl. Histories of Nothing (BBC 4, 2000); Don’t Die Wondering, a modern Irish comedy about a one-woman strike (BBC 4, 2000) [Afternoon Play]; issued Slammerkins (2000), set in London and Monmouth and based on true story of a young girl hanged for murder in 1763;prompted to write historical stories by Peggy Reynolds; shortlisted for The Irish Times Irish Fiction Award, 2001;
 
issued The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002), stories based on ‘flotsam and jetsame of the last seven hundred years of Irish life’ (Foreword); acquired Canadian permanent resident status, 1998; issued Life Mask (2004), based on the love triangle of Eliza Farren, Anne Damer and Lord Derby in the the 1790s; lives with Canadian partner Christine and their son in London, Ontario; acted as a patron of the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, with David Norris, 2006; issued Touchy Subjects (2006), stories; issued Inseparable (2010), an illustrated study of desire between women in literature; issued Room (2010), a first-person novel of abduction, rape, and abuse, narrated by Jack - the 5-year old son of the primary victim; short-listed for the Mann-Booker Prize;
 
Donoghue lives in Canada with her partner Christine [“Chris”] Roulston, professor of women’s studies at the University of Western Ontario and author of Narrating Marriage in the Eighteenth-century England and France (2010), with whom she shares two children – Finn (born to Emma, Christmas 2004) and Una (b.2007); she issued a study of Motherhood (2014); The Room was filmed in Lenny Abrahamson in 2014 and won the People’s Choice Award at Toronto and numerous awards at the Irish Film and Television Academy (Ifta) in 2016; issued The Wonder (2016), set in an Irish townland after the Famine, being an account of an apparent “miracle&r#148; in which a young girl lives on nothing but prayer, observed by an English nurse; Donoghue is a non-drinker and writes on a walking exercise machine - 10-13 miles a day;

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Works
Novels
  • Stir-Fry (London: Hamish Hamilton 1994), 231[240]pp.; Do. (Harmonsworth: Penguin 1995);
  • Hood (London: Hamish Hamilton 1995), 320pp.;
  • Slammerkins (London: Virago 2000), 434pp.;
  • Life Mask (London: Virago 2004), q.pp.;
  • Room (London: Picador 2010), 321pp.
  • The Wonder (London: Virago 2016), q.pp.
Short Fiction
  • Kissing the Witch (London: Hamish Hamilton 1997), 210pp.;
  • The Woman who Gave Birth to Rabbits (London: Virago, 2002), 212pp. [extract];
  • Touchy Subjects (London: Virago 2006), 288pp.
Drama
  • “I Know My Heart” (1993), in Cathy Leeney, Seen and Heard: Six New Plays by Irish Women (q.d.); Ladies and Gentlemen (Dublin: New Island Press 1998).
Commentary
  • Passion between Women: British Lesbian Culture 1668-1801 (London: Scarlet 1994), 314pp.;
  • ed., What Sappho Would Have Said: Four Centuries of Love Poems Between Women (London: Hamish Hamilton 1997), xlvi, 209pp.;
  • We are Michael Field (Bath: Absolute Press 1998), 96pp.;
  • Inseparable: Desire Between Women in Literature (NY: Alfred A. Knopf 2010), 271pp.
Contributions
  • “The Tale of the Needle” in Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins (NY: Harper Collins Publishers 1997), pp.167-182.
  • ‘Two Poems’ [“Apparition; “A Path Not Taken”], in Irish Review, 8 (Spring 1990), p.46f;
  • ‘“How could I fear and hold thee by the hand”: The Poetry of Eva Gore Booth’, in Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing, ed. Éibhear Walshe (Cork UP 1997), pp.16-42;
  • “Expecting”, in Moments, ed. Ciara Considine [Tsunami Relief Collection] (BAC: Clé 2005);
  • ‘The little voices in our heads that last a lifetime’, in The Irish Times (7. Aug. 2010), Weekend, p.8 [see extract].

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Hear Róisín Ingle, Irish Times interview with Emma Donogue - online; accessed 18.05.2014.)
Roisin Ingle Interview
... Reads from Motherhood.
See also Irish Times Sound Cloud - online.

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Bibliographical details

The Woman who Gave Birth to Rabbits (London: Virago, 2002), 212pp. [ded. ‘... with love to my father, Denis, who taught me that books are for letting us imagine lives other than our own.’ Contents: Foreword [ix]; The Last Rabbit [1]; Acts of Union [15]; The Fox on the Line [29]; Account [41]; Revelations [45; on the Buchanites]; Night Vision [63]; Ballad [73]; Come, Gentle Night [82; on Ruskin’s Marriage]; Salvage [95]; Cured [106; an English case of clitorectomy]; Figures of Speech [125; on Mary Stuart O’Donnell, Countess of Tyrconnell]; Words for Things [132; on Mary Wollstonecroft with the Kingsborough family in Cork]; How a Lady Dies [146; on Elizabeth Pennington and her companion Frances Sheridan in Bath]; A Short Story [163; on an Irish female dwarf]; Dido [170; on a black gd. of Lord Mansfield]; The Necessity of Burning [184; on the Peasants’ Revolt]; Looking for Petronilla [200; on Dame Alice Kyteler of Kilkenny].

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Criticism
[Selected]
  • Maria Kurdi, ‘Foregrounding the Body and Performance in Plays by Gina Moxley, Emma Donoghue and Marina Carr’, in Irish Literature Since 1990: Diverse Voices, ed. Scott Brewster & Michael Parker (Manchester UP 2009) [Chap. 2];
  • Linden Peach, ‘Mimicry, Authority and Subversion: Brian Moore’s The Magician’s Wife (1997), Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin (2000) and John McGahern’s Amongst Women (1990)’, in The Contemporary Irish Novel: Critical Readings (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp.68-96.
  • Anna McMullan, ‘Gender, Authorship and Performance in Selected Plays by Contemporary Irish Women Playwrights: Mary Elizabeth Burke-Kennedy, Marie Jones, Marina Carr, Emma Donoghue’, in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre, ed. Eamonn Jordan (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2000), pp.34-46.
  • Stephen King, review of The Wonder, in The New York Times (27 Sept. 2016) - as attached.
 

See also various reviews under Commentary, infra.

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Commentary
Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction (London: Pluto Press 1997), on Stir-fry: ‘The tactics employed by Donoghue as she sets about normalising lesbianism include engagement with traditional narrative modes, concentration on individual psycholo&y and the avoidance of stereotypes. Stir-fry is a variation on the traditional Bildungsroman novel, a form which seems particularly suited to the ‘coming-out’ narrative so fundamental to modern homosexual discourse. Maria, as so many novelistic heroes and heroines before her, leaves the country and the family embrace to find herself in the city. Through an interwoven process of social and psychological development she reaches a sense of that self and with at least one element of her identity finally named - lesbian. It is unclear if she will manage to come out to her family, as the novel makes it clear that lesbianism is still a problem for the traditional religious and familial discourses informing Irish society. But by concentrating on Maria’s self-discovery and the melodrama of the triangular relationship rather than the wider social status of lesbianism, focus remains on the narrative rather than on the ‘issue’. In the process of rejecting Jael’s seduction, Maria realises that she wants Ruth. The text thus remains true to its Bildungsroman form and reaches a traditional point of closure - the selfconstitution of the central character through recognition of her significant other.’ (p.159). Remarks on Hood: ‘Having insisted upon normality and visibility in Stir-fry, Donoghue’s second novel represents a bolder and more formally ambitious exploration of modern Irish lesbian experience ... longer, more intricately structures and, in its graphic depiction of lesbian sex, less concerned to bridge the gap between the straightgeist than to engage as fully as possible with the specifics of lesbian identity’. (p.163; see also pp.163-65.)

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[Shirley Kelly,] ‘Taking Readers Where they Can’t Go on Holidays’, interview with Emma Donoghue in Books Ireland (Sept. 2000), p.209, notes: Sammerkins (Virago) is the story of Mary Saunders, a prostitute from 13, who becomes involved with a hired killer, based on a brief reference to a teenage girl who killed a woman in Monmouth in 1763 which Donoghue found in an encyclopaedia of Welsh women’s history. Donoghue remarks: ‘The fact that the historical sources were so minimal was very liberating to the imagination [...]’ Further: ‘So much of women’s history will never be unearthed now - the hard evidence never having been gathered or being long lost - that it seems to me fictional forms may offer the best hope of bringing the hidden past to life in all its fulness and contradiction.’ (p.209). See also Alev Adil, review of Slammerkins, in Times Literary Supplement (21 July 2000), p.24.

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Alex Clark, ‘Rescued from History’, reviewing The Woman who Gave Birth to Rabbits (Virago, 2002), 212pp., in Times Literary Supplement (7 June 2002), speaks of the problems of historically-based fiction, in this case an ‘elaborate natal con trick’, and Donoghue’s avoidance of them in her ‘quiet out-takes from the margins of British history’; cites story titles “The Fox on the Line” (anti-vivisectionists in 1870s), “How a Lady Dies” (18th c. Bath), “Acts of Union” (drunken soldier tricked into marriage), “Come, Gentle Night” (doomed wedding of John Ruskin and Effie Gray); “Revelations” (fasting apocalytic evangelists); “Cured” (enforced cliterectomy and sex-slavery); characterises the collection as ‘an unshowy but deeply generous book.’ (TLS, p.22.)

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Luke Clancy, review of Ladies and Gentlemen, a play by Emma Donoghue, deals with history of Annie Hindle, a nineteenth-century female impersonator of men in vaudeville; panned by Clancy who considers that the plodding threadbare storyline could be mistaken for a costume melodrama (Irish Times, 20 April 1996).

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[Shirley Kelly,] interview, in Books Ireland (Sept. 2004), p.171: Donoghue calls history ‘a warehouse of stories for me to burgle’; discusses Life Mask, the true story of Elizabeth Farren, Ann[e] Damer and Lord Derby, centred on the ‘outing’ of Ann Damer in the 1790s in a diary-entry of Mrs Piozzi. Remarks: ‘I’ll probably go back and forth between historical and contemporary fiction [...] you’ve got people like Beryl Bainbridge, Julian barnes, Margaret Atwood, Joe O’Connor, Anne Enright, all choosing to set a novel in the past, and that’s helped historical fiction to shake off the shackles of genre [...]’.

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Lorna Gibb, ‘Female Friendship’, review of Emma Donoghue, Life Mask, in Times Literary Supplement, [25 June 2004], p.21: ‘At the centre of Life Mask is a love triangle, involving historical figures whose personalities, as the author is careful to inform us, have been recreated using the available facts. [...] Lord Derby’s fixation with, and determined pursuit of, Eliza is the thread the narrative follows against a background of scandal, promiscuity and high finance, yet it is the relationship between Anne and Eliza that is crucial to the plot. Their connection is founded in the kind of intimacy that was socially acceptable in the eighteenth century between two like-minded women. It is this association - the very thing which brings Eliza acceptance - that threatens her precarious social position. / Anne’s strength, Derby’s adoration and Eliza’s sexuality create an atmosphere of passionate sensuality; small private spaces and intimate moments for the protagonists act as a counterpart to the salacious gossip and heartlessness of the wider world. The juxtaposition of the public arenas of war and politics with the personal dramas of sexual orientation and insecurity are skilfully managed by Donoghue. The dominant theme is of creation, of stripping away layers to reveal what lies underneath; an act of creation which is suggested by the book’s title (the “life mask” is a model Anne makes of Eliza’s face) as well as by its structure. Just as a work of art, so Donoghue constructs her novel by disclosing what lies hidden beneath the familiar glamour of an age. [...] Donoghue uses a social historian’s tools to depict the world of bon ton , making use of small concrete details, such as the inconvenience of long, bumpy carriage rides and the lisping affectations adopted by Georgiaria’s intimate circle. But it is thanks to Donogbue’s skill as a novelist that her characters are so vividly and amusingly resurrected. The dialogue gives the reader a strong flavour of the tittle-tattle and repartee of the period, and the careful descriptions of place and costume create a bright pictorial backdrop. / The only real flaw in the reconstruction of period detail is that, at times, the presentation of historical detail seems a little contrived, information included because the author managed to find it out. [...].’

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Sarah Bakewell, ‘A feeling for feeling’, review of Touchy Subjects, in Times Literary Supplement (24 Nov. 2006), p.20: ‘These stories’ subjects are touchy in two ways. They deal with matters of “taboo and embarrassment”, as the author’s website puts it. Emma Donoghue’s characters leave sperm stains on hotel carpets, or become obsessed with a girlfriend’s chin hair but dare not mention it, or fret about what to do when they find a man lying unconscious in the street. / But these are also touchy tales in that many of them concern touch, or, sometimes, the absence of it. The title story is a hilarious farce involving conception without sexual contact. A man agrees to impregnate his wife’s best friend in a hotel room; he takes with him an empty baby-food jar for the purpose, but finds the procedure less straightforward than he expected. The attempt turns into a fiasco on several levels, until his wife saves the day with a bout of telephone sex. [...] a collection whose main virtue is not depth or resonance so much as surface versatility. Donoghue speaks in many voices. She sets her stories in different locations, from Florence to Louisiana, and shows expertise in many genres - mood pieces, comedies, moral fables, romantic erotica. One has the impression of a professional who can make literary capital from any experience, from a trip to Los Angeles to a cat’s illness, to the teaching of a writing class. In isolation, each story would shine on its own merits; in a collection, all this virtuosity can be fatiguing. / Still, there are great pleasures in Touchy Subjects, including the humour in the title story [...]’ (For full-text version, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Declan Hughes, ‘This book will break your heart’, review of Room by Emma Donoghue, in The Irish Times (7 Aug. 2010), Weekend, p.8: ‘[...] Room, Emma Donoghue’s extraordinary new novel, draws on the harrowing cases of Sabine Dardenne, Natascha Kampusch and Elisabeth Fritzl, and many of the details are true to one or another of their testimonies, as Donoghue freely acknowledges, but this is no semi-fictionalised wallow in the misery mire. Charming, funny, artfully constructed and at times almost unbearably moving, Donoghue mines material that on the face of it appears intractably bleak and surfaces with a powerful, compulsively readable work of fiction that defies easy categorization. [...] A typical, if exceptionally bright, boy, Jack loves Dora The Explorer and his Ma. If he was made of cake he’d eat himself before somebody else could. He can read very well and green beans are his food enemy. Less typically, Jack has spent his entire life in an eleven by eleven foot room with no natural light apart from God’s yellow face through Skylight, and he still feeds at his mother’s breast. Not only has he never been outside, he thinks Room is an entire world in itself, and that people on TV are made of colours and don’t really exist. [...] Part childhood adventure story, part adult thriller, Room is above all the most vivid, radiant and beautiful expression of maternal love I have ever read. Emma Donoghue has stared into the abyss, honoured her sources and returned with the literary equivalent of a great Madonna and Child. This book will break your heart.’ (For full-text version, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Sara Crown, ‘Emma Donoghue: “To say Room is based on the Josef Fritzl case is too strong“’, review of Room, in The Guardian (13 Aug. 2010): ‘[...] Until now, Donoghue's reputation had been founded on her knack for spotting historical rough diamonds and buffing them into glowing narratives. Slammerkin, her unlikely bestseller in 2000, was spun out of a murder on the Welsh borders in 1763, while in 2006 The Sealed Letter took a notorious Victorian divorce as its grist. In the run-up to publication, however, word was that Donoghue's seventh novel would be based on the modern-day case of Josef Fritzl, who locked his daughter, Elisabeth, in a basement for 24 years, raped her repeatedly and fathered her seven children – three of whom he imprisoned with her. Unsurprisingly, accusations of cynicism and sensationalism abounded. When I meet Donoghue, halfway through a publication tour that has mushroomed thanks to her longlisting, she recalls the period as “quite painful. A lot of people made out I was writing this sinister, money-making book to exploit the grief of victims. I was thinking, it’s not like that, but no one will know until they read it.”’ [Cont.]

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Sara Crown, review of Room, in The Guardian (13 Aug. 2010) - cont.: ‘She is keen, too, to contextualise the link between her novel and the Fritzl case. “To say Room is based on the Fritzl case is too strong,” she says firmly. “I’d say it was triggered by it. The newspaper reports of Felix Fritzl [Elisabeth’s son], aged five, emerging into a world he didn’t know about, put the idea into my head. That notion of the wide-eyed child emerging into the world like a Martian coming to Earth: it seized me.” / The whump Donoghue experienced on hearing Felix Fritzl’s story may have had something to do with the fact that her own son was four at the time. ‘[...] Donoghue says [of the central character Jack]: “I didn’t give him a childhood because I didn’t want to let him off the hook. Once he’s arrested he disappears, because I refuse to be that interested in him. As a society we’ve given disproportionate attention to the psychopaths – the average thriller is about a psychopath who wants to rape and chop up a woman. I wanted to focus on how a woman could create normal love in a box.”’ [Cont.]

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Sara Crown, review of Room, in The Guardian (13 Aug. 2010) - cont.: ‘Donoghue’s success in doing just that positions her book as a response of sorts to another novel based on a real-life crime. In Lionel Shriver’s Orange-prizewinning We Need to Talk About Kevin, sparked by the Columbine massacre, a mother and her son create hell in the heart of a middle-class idyll; in Room, Ma and Jack conjure humdrum beauty out of a kind of hell. “I found Shriver’s book very inspiring,” Donoghue says. “Every parent has those moments where they look at their child and think, ‘There’s a demon in those eyes and no one can see it but me!’ I could see how she extrapolated from that. With Room, I was trying to extrapolate from those moments where, as a parent, you think, ‘I’ve been stuck in this room playing with this doll for years!’ Shriver is also a great reminder that you don’t have to be a parent to write these stories [Shriver is childless]. I hate it when people say, ‘Oh, you could only have written this as a mother.’ The best book I know about being a battered wife is Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. Writers should be applauded for their ability to make things up.” (For full text version, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct. See also related extract from Room, infra.)

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Aimee Bender, ‘Separation Anxiety’, review of Room by Emma Donoghue, in The New York Times (16 Sept. 2010), Sunday Book Review: ‘Emma Donoghue’s remarkable new novel, Room, is built on two intense constraints: the limited point of view of the narrator, a 5-year-old boy named Jack; and the confines of Jack’s physical world, an 11-by-11-foot room where he lives with his mother. We enter the book strongly planted within these restrictions. We know only what Jack knows, and the drama is immediate, as is our sense of disorientation over why these characters are in this place. Jack seems happily ensconced in a routine that is deeply secure, in a setting where he can see his mother all day, at any moment. She has created a structured, lively regimen for him, including exercise, singing and reading. The main objects in the room are given capital letters - Rug, Bed, Wall - a wonderful choice, because to Jack, they are named beings. In a world where the only other companion is his mother, Bed is his friend as much as anything else. Jack, in this way, is a heightened version of a regular kid, bringing boundless wonder and meaning to his every pursuit. / Donoghue navigates beautifully around these limitations. Jack’s voice is one of the pure triumphs of the novel: in him, she has invented a child narrator who is one of the most engaging in years - his voice so pervasive I could hear him chatting away during the day when I wasn’t reading the book.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Una Mullally, ‘In love with life’s losers’- interview-article on Emma Donoghue, in The Irish Times [Sat.] (15 march 2014), Weekend Review - notes that Room is being filmed. ‘[...] Her latest novel, Frog Music, steps away again from the departure that was Room and back to historical fiction. Donoghue does suffocation well. The atmosphere in Frog Music is stifling. It’s the summer of 1876 in San Francisco, and in the saloons and burlesque parlours in the midst of a heatwave, a crime unfolds. A young woman, Jenny Bonnet, is shot, her French friend Blanche Beunon is on the tail of her murderer. Or is the murderer on hers? / “Donkeys years ago” Donoghue came across a one-paragraph description of the case in a book about wild women of the Victorian age. Since then, she was drawn into The Wire. “It struck me that I wanted to write a historical novel which would be like that. It would take the scum of the earth seriously, these drifters, not just Jenny, but all the people she knew, these French lowlifes. Even though they’re sordid in many ways, to take their struggles seriously and give them that moment of dignity.” / Donoghue’s mum liked bringing her to Famine graveyards, poking around the headstones and seeing what they said. Or to stately homes and wandering around their kitchens. “For political reasons, I started getting interested in the nobodies,” she says of her approach to history. “First of all, women. So my first historical novel Slammerkin was very much like “Okay, I’m going to take this total nobody and I’m going to find out what made her tick.”’ (Available online; accessed 16.03.2014.)

Incls. quotations - viz.:
   “I’m not that intensive about the writing process. I don’t go off to a hut in the woods to write my books. I very much, in the spirit of Jane Austen, I write, and when my friends come in the door, I slap the laptop shut and talk to my friends. I try not to be precious about it. But you’ve got to be so preoccupied with the subject of your story that you don’t even count the days you spend researching trivia.
   “Does her sock have a tassel on it? You look up the history of tassels. It’s such a pleasure to follow those questions as far as you need to follow them. To look up every picture you can find of burlesque dancers and costumes and try to figure out when the skirt dance arrived, when the can-can arrived. You just need to go down into these wormholes. And then of course throw away most of your research, but it’s not really thrown away because you’ve chosen the very juiciest little morsels from it, and it all enhances what you’re writing.” (There is a photo-port. by Eric Luke.)

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Quotations
Noises from Woodsheds’, in Ide O’Carroll and Eibhear Walsh, ed., Lesbian and Gay Visions of Ireland, ?1995): [speaking of growing up at a time when] ‘Irish lesbian still had the ring of a contradiction in terms: how was I to conceive of myself as a practising Catholic and a furious lesbian feminist, a sweet colleen and a salty sinner?’ (p.159).

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Hood (1995): ‘I run and run till my lungs are burning up, and finally corner her. She turns, her gauzy hood falling back. Was I expecting decay behind a mask of powder, or the grin of bone? She has my own face. It is my own face that looks back at me, almost understandingly. Then she turns and runs on, after Cara. I can hear their laughter in the distance.’ (p.302; quoted in Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction, London: Pluto Press 1997, pp.164, 165.) [For longer quotations, see attached.]

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The little voices in our heads that last a lifetime’, in The Irish Times (7. Aug. 2010), Weekend, p.8.: ‘[...] If you’re anything like me, your mind houses a ragged gang of them: valiant Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe; Twain’s crafty Tom Sawyer; Roddy Doyle’s awkward Paddy Clarke; the rational yet temperamental Alice in Wonderland. The child narrators of great novels never grow up, never grow old, and certainly never die. They keep their grubby-fingered hold on us long after we’ve forgotten everything else about the books that spawned them. The young protagonist of L. P. Hartley’s The Go-between, for instance; I couldn’t tell you much about the plot, but I’ll never forget the boy’s lingering confusion, in the overheated fragrance of summer, or his embarrassment about mishearing the name “Hugh” as “who”. / I’m using “narrator” in a broad sense, here, to mean a point-of-view character. Like most readers, I often can’t recall whether a book is written in the present tense or the past, the third person or the first or even the second; those are technical points for the author to worry about. All the reader demands is a moving and gripping perspective on the events of the story, and a sense of authenticity and immediacy. (Think of the sensory freshness of childhood in the opening pages of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.) / For my new novel Room, I never felt I had a choice. It’s about a five-year-old boy who has never known (or even known about) a world outside the 11 x 11 foot cell somewhere in America in which he lives happily enough with his beloved young Ma: the novel had to be entirely from Jack’s perspective. A woman’s story of kidnap, confinement, rape and motherhood would be too obvious a tear-jerker. What drew me to this material was the notion that, for the child, this could be an entirely different kind of story, more like a cross between science fiction, an adventure and a fairytale. So Room’s point of view was its whole point.’ (For full text version, see attached.)

Extract from Room (2010) - printed in The Guardian (6 Aug. 2010) - available online; 13.01.2011.

Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “Was I minus numbers?”
 “Hmm?” Ma does a big stretch.
 “Up in Heaven. Was I minus one, minus two, minus three — ?”
 “Nah, the numbers didn’t start till you zoomed down.”
 “Through Skylight. You were all sad till I happened in your tummy.”
 “You said it.” Ma leans out of Bed to switch on Lamp, he makes everything light up whoosh.
 I shut my eyes just in time, then open one a crack, then both.
 “I cried till I didn’t have any tears left,” she tells me. “I just lay here counting the seconds.”
 “How many seconds?” I ask her.
 “Millions and millions of them.”
 “No, but how many exactly?”
 “I lost count,” says Ma.
 “Then you wished and wished on your egg till you got fat.”
 She grins. “I could feel you kicking.”
 “What was I kicking?”
 “Me, of course.”
 I always laugh at that bit.
 “From the inside, boom boom. “ Ma lifts her sleep T-shirt and makes her tummy jump. “I thought, Jack’s on his way. First thing in the morning, you slid out onto the rug with your eyes wide open.”
 I look down at Rug with her red and brown and black all zigging around each other. There’s the stain I spilled by mistake getting born.
 “You cutted the cord and I was free,” I tell Ma. “Then I turned into a boy.”
 “Actually, you were a boy already.” She gets out of Bed and goes to Thermostat to hot the air.
 I don’t think he came last night after nine, the air’s always different if he came. I don’t ask because she doesn’t like saying about him.
 “Tell me, Mr. Five, would you like your present now or after breakfast?”
 “What is it, what is it?”
 “I know you’re excited,” she says, “but remember not to nibble your finger, germs could sneak in the hole.”
 “To sick me like when I was three with throw-up and diarrhea?”
 “Even worse than that,” says Ma, “germs could make you die.”
 “And go back to Heaven early?”
 “You’re still biting it.” She pulls my hand away.
 “Sorry.” I sit on the bad hand. “Call me Mr. Five again.”
 “So, Mr. Five,” she says, “now or later?”
 I jump onto Rocker to look at Watch, he says 07:14. I can skate-board on Rocker without holding on to her, then I whee back onto Duvet and I’m snowboarding instead. “When are presents meant to open?”
 “Either way would be fun. Will I choose for you?” asks Ma.
 “Now I’m five, I have to choose.” My finger’s in my mouth again, I put it in my armpit and lock shut. “I choose — now.”
 She pulls a something out from under her pillow, I think it was hiding all night invisibly. It’s a tube of ruled paper, with the purple ribbon all around from the thousand chocolates we got the time Christmas happened. “Open it up,” she tells me. “Gently.”
 I figure out to do off the knot, I make the paper flat, it’s a drawing, just pencil, no colors. I don’t know what it’s about, then I turn it. “Me!” Like in Mirror but more, my head and arm and shoulder in my sleep T-shirt. “Why are the eyes of the me shut?”
 “You were asleep,” says Ma.
 “How you did a picture asleep?”
 “No, I was awake. Yesterday morning and the day before and the day before that, I put the lamp on and drew you.” She stops smiling. “What’s up, Jack? You don’t like it?”
 “Not — when you’re on at the same time I’m off.”
 “Well, I couldn’t draw you while you were awake, or it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?” Ma waits. “I thought you’d like a surprise.”
 “I prefer a surprise and me knowing.”
 She kind of laughs.
 I get on Rocker to take a pin from Kit on Shelf, minus one means now there’ll be zero left of the five. There used to be six but one disappeared. One is holding up Great Masterpieces of Western Art No. 3: The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist behind Rocker, and one is holding up Great Masterpieces of Western Art No. 8: Impression: Sunrise beside Bath, and one is holding up the blue octopus, and one the crazy horse picture called Great Masterpieces of Western Art No. 1: Guernica. The masterpieces came with the oatmeal but I did the octopus, that’s my best of March, he’s going a bit curly from the steamy air over Bath. I pin Ma’s surprise drawing on the very middle cork tile over Bed.
 She shakes her head. “Not there.”
 She doesn’t want Old Nick to see. “Maybe in Wardrobe, on the back?” I ask.
 “Good idea.”
 Wardrobe is wood, so I have to push the pin an extra lot. I shut her silly doors, they always squeak, even after we put corn oil on the hinges. I look through the slats but it’s too dark. I open her a bit to peek, the secret drawing is white except the little lines of gray. Ma’s blue dress is hanging over a bit of my sleeping eye, I mean the eye in the picture but the dress for real in Wardrobe.
 I can smell Ma beside me, I’ve got the best nose in the family.
 “Oh, I forgetted to have some when I woke up.”
 “That’s OK. Maybe we could skip it once in a while, now you’re five?”
 “No way Jose.”
 So she lies down on the white of Duvet and me too and I have lots.

.

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References
Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares & Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994), contains extract from Stir-Fry (1994; reissued 1995).

Webpages: There is an official Emma Donoghue website [link], with extracts (e.g., (“Expecting” [link]). See also January Magazine, Interview [link]; the Canadian Writers’ Union Page [link]; Virago Press Profile [link], and Norton 20th Century Anthology [link].

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Notes
Life Mask (2004): There is a of Eliza Farren by Anne Damer in the National Portrait Gallery (London). The characters in he love-triangle are Lord Derby [Edward Smith Stanley], possessor of the oldest earldom in England, the artist Anne Damer, of the actress Eliza Farren, renowned from roles in Sheridan and Derby’s mistress, and Eliza Farren, a sculptress and her intimate friend.

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Dublin Gay Theatre Festival - Executive: Brian Merriman (Artistic Director/Managing Director), John H Pickering (Administrative Director/Company Secretary), Eddie Devoy, Victor Merriman (Waterford DIT), Roshene Pickering, Barbara Cashen, Gearoid Ó Byrne; Patrons: David Norris and Emma Donoghue; directors Ann Maire Dolan, Mark Banchansky and Richard Wentges. Friends: John Walsh, Mark Coogan, Caitriona Farrelly, Bruce Carolan, John O’Driscoll, Andrew Kearns, Paul Byrne, Nial O’Dwyer, Majella Costigan and Dearbhaile O’Neill; supporters: Maurice Knightly, Kevin Smith, Diana Humphrey and Tiffany Jones, Caroline Quinn and Kathy Sherry. (Go online.)

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