Emma Donoghue On Writing

Emma Donoghue On Writing

She might have been born in Ireland but Canadians are delighted to lay claim to, perhaps, one of our most well-known authors.

Emma Donaghue was born in Ireland in 1969 into a large Catholic family. In 1998 she finally moved to Canada after years of “commuting” and now resides in Ontario with partner Chris Roulston and their two children.

Donaghue’s most recent book “Room” is currently on the best seller’s lists for the UK, Canada and the US.  Some consider it to be a controversial book because it’s about a small boy and his mother who are ‘kept’ in a room. There have been several long-term kidnapping victims who’ve been released in the past few years – and the media circus surrounding has been difficult to ignore.

I was lucky enough to attend a reading sponsored by Canada Council for the Arts, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops Art Gallery and the Thompson Nicole Regional District Library System.

After a brief reading Donoghue spent some time answering questions. A marvelous story-teller, Donoghue was entertaining while revealing much about her personal process for writing.

When asked about her style of writing, the ‘hows’ behind the novel writing process, Donoghue was open and willing to share much about her personal journey as a writer.

ED:  Authors cover a spectrum.  Because they’re visionary, some authors just start on line one and they don’t know where they’re going and the book just magically happens.  And I rather envy them because to me – the book wouldn’t magically happen that way, I would get magically stuck in a dead end in day if I did that so I map things out a lot.

Yeah.  So – you know for instance the last scene of the book I would have written quite early on.  I really need to know what the last scene was.  So I do huge amounts of thinking and planning in advance.  For me it’s more like architecture.  Especially something the size of a novel.  It’s not going to stand up well; it’s not going to bear any weight unless I plan it.

And if you do it right then, well, for instance; there’s a word used in the last scene, the word ‘crater’.  And I planted that in the very first chapter of the book.  So, by the time you get to the end the reader should still have enough memory of what they’ve read that the word then really pays off because it’s still in their head from when they read it at the end of the book.

How much planning goes into writing a novel?

ED:  I do a huge amount of planning.  I use a great program for Apple/mac users called Scrivener where you write scenes in lots of little individual files and you can move them around very easily and then you can tell it – ‘print out a draft with just the scenes that I’ve marked’ so that’s a very non-linear way of putting the text together which I find really helpful.

And I also, I would have like a one page where I would say basically what happened in each chapter.  That’s a very helpful exercise because then you find yourself going ‘you know not nothin’ much happened in chapter five, maybe we don’t need chapter five’.  So I find it really improves my plot to do a lot of planning in advance.

And planning is a cold-blooded word for it because really daydreaming.  It’s sitting there thinking, ‘what would Jack’s favorite colour be, what would his favorite number be?’  So a lot of it is staring into space and inventing things so that by the time I bring my characters together in actual scenes I know who they are and I know how they would answer each other.

Who is Emma Donoghue’s target audience?

ED:  Call me over ambitious but I always imagine my entire audience as the English speaking world.  My agent taught me that. I wrote my very first novel and because I was Irish I just sort of assumed there might be an Irish press in publishing so I wrote it assuming the readers would understand Ireland – peculiar little nation that it is.   And the agent I got was living in  England and she wrote me this letter I still have she said ‘Emma your reader could be a housewife in Texas, a lumber jack in Sweden, you know. Assume nothing.’  So, I immediately re-wrote the book on that basis and  … I’ve always been published by main stream presses. No, I never do the ‘this would appeal to the, you know, preppy female demographic.

Where does Donoghue do her research?

ED:  It’s funny a lot of my research –I researched this novel (ed: “Room) almost entirely online which is rare for me I’m used to Libraries and online material is terribly in your face,  not just because some of it is visual like the videos on you tube.

And some of it is videos like for a television Interviewers out there are just as crass  with victims of kidnapping.   My publisher made me tone it down she’d say ‘oh Emma the American media aren’t that bad!’ And I did tone it down, you know but there are interviews out there that are just as bad.

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