How I write: Emma Donoghue
Published: December 6, 2004
|While Emma Donoghue, 35, has been dabbling in various literary genres and supporting herself as a writer since age 23, she has achieved the most recognition for her historical novels Slammerkin (2000) and Life Mask, her latest release. In Life Mask, Donoghue explores an intriguing love triangle in upper-class 18th-century England among three historical figures of the time. |
An Irish native, Donoghue now lives in Ontario with her partner and their son, and is working on a contemporary novel.
Credits: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002), Kissing the Witch (1997), Hood (1995) and Stirfry (1994).
I find it the most absorbing, fascinating way I could spend my day. There's no pleasure like it. ... I've really never been drawn to any other kind of work.
At home I work in an office, but it doesn't have a desk or anything. It's got a sofa--actually several sofas--and lots of cushions and a few masks and hats on the walls. It's very colorful, and I have a pine bench to put my papers on, but I really don't like desks. It's as much like a boudoir as I can make it--and very messy.
I do huge amounts of planning. I often get the ideas for books many years before I actually write them, and I write down the ideas as they occur to me and keep adding thoughts to that file.
When I actually start the process of working on a book, I plan in great detail and very often write some of the big scenes of the book toward the start. I might even write the ending and then start filling in the gaps between them.
I don't in any sense start writing the book and just wait to see where it takes me. I like to plan a lot because there's always room for creativity-there's always room for plot to wander off and for you to come up with changes, but I really think my books would be a complete mess if I relied on my instincts to get me through.
I do a lot in advance to work out the basic story that I want to tell, but even when I feel I know enough to get going on the writing, I come up with endless lists of queries. So every few weeks (sometimes every week), I would have to go off to the library and start looking things up. There is a problem with historical fiction in that it's so enjoyable to do the research. And obviously, it's easier than doing the writing. So every now and then you have to say to yourself, "Just go home and write." There's quite a tension between the two.
I think the important thing is to write the story that you passionately want to tell. And success--commercial success--may follow from that. For instance, ... when I was writing [Slammerkin], I remember saying to my partner, "No one's ever going to buy this book. It's horribly grim--why would anyone want to read it?" And I remember my agent saying to me (this was mid-1990s), "Oh, Emma, historical fiction is really hard to sell." The book was hard to sell, and the publisher I was with at the time ... turned it down. Yet it ended up being published by other publishers and doing extremely well. So that just proves that first of all, you can't tell yourself what the readers are going to like, and often publishers don't know either. It's all a bit random and accidental.