Writer’s Block With Caroline Busher

In the latest of our book series, award-winning writer CAROLINE BUSHER speaks of finding home in Enniscorthy, her beloved signed copy of SEAMUS HEANEY‘s District and Circle, and her best advice to writers who are ACHING TO GET PUBLISHED …

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Award-winning wordsmith Caroline Busher was born and raised in Manchester, but a part of her heart always lay on Irish shores. With a mother from Sligo and a father from Carlow, naturally her family was involved in a dynamic Irish community. Caroline eventually migrated to Wexford, where she has been for fourteen years.

Caroline’s exquisite debut, The Ghosts of Magnificent Children, has received endorsements from such esteemed company as E.R.Murray and recent Laureate na nÓg Eoin Colfer, who says the book ‘reads wonderfully, an excellent and original voice, with shades of Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket.’

The Ghosts of Magnificent Children has been chosen by Fingal Libraries and the Dublin Airport Authority for the colossal Battle of the Book project. Each child in the Fingal district will receive a copy of the book and participate in an inspiring programme of events. When Caroline isn’t dreaming up mystical new worlds, she teaches writing courses to adults and children and is a curator for the Wexford Literary Festival.

Caroline Busher lives in Enniscorthy with her husband John and their three children. She is currently working on her next novel, The Girls Who Ate the Stars.

On Enniscorthy

It is a rolling valley, steeped in character. A strong literary tradition is carved into every inch of this whimsical little town. The River Slaney sloshes through it, but before it reaches the old bridge it splits to form an island. Pig Market Hill is a much-loved place; brilliant characters knock about there from a tributary of streets leading steeply down to the gushing riverbed. Dry humour and wit can be found ricocheting from the pillars of Duffry Gate. The Wilds, a small café and deli over looks this particular area, it’s nestled in the lower floor of a large period building that was constructed in the 1930s. My favourite menu item? It’s got to be ricotta pancakes with fruit compote and crème fraiche, followed by a flat white. I generally pick a window where I can see Pugin’s Cathedral in the distance – don’t rely on the clock though as it often tells the wrong time. Without a doubt it is certainly one of the most beautiful places to live in Ireland.

On creating

I’m a nomadic writer. I often write in the kitchen, on my bed, in the library or a café. More than often I can be found in my writing studio. It’s simple and functional. That’s where I scribble down stories and ideas for my novels. I have a comfortable desk and chair; it’s important if you’re sitting for a large part of the day. I’ve also got bookshelves, crammed with my favourite books; classics and new releases sit side by side. The studio is painted white throughout, with grey floors, mainly to allow me to empty my mind and cause minimal distraction. Heat is important to me so I’ve a dinky stove to keep the chills away. My most treasured possession is a signed copy of Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle. He was a gentleman and I had the pleasure of meeting him at the time it was published, so that sits proudly on my shelf. I like to write poetry myself, when I am not working on a novel. Apart from that my studio is full of visual art debris; my husband is a painter and printmaker. Basically I’m surrounded by paintings and pieces of art 24/7. It has become part of my daily life. I am a visual writer myself so it seems to work well.

On bookshops

Zozimus in The Book Café, Gorey, is fantastic. It stocks rare and collectable books. The bookstore itself is peculiar; it’s akin to entering your grandmother’s sitting room. Antique lamp shades, teak display cabinets. Higgledy-piggledy, with mountains of books all loosely stacked up to the ceiling. It fits perfectly with my muddled, disorganised mind. I feel at home. John Wyse Jackson has done a wonderful job in assembling this. John is incredibly knowledgeable, and this becomes apparent when you clamber through all the titles. It is burrowed behind a bustling café and one of my favourite things to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon is to nestle with an unusual book in my hand, sip on a latte and watch the world go by.

On literature

As a writer of historical fiction for children it may come as no surprise that I enjoy the classics. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a gothic novella, published in 1898. It ignites my curious nature and sparked my interest in creepy ghost stories, which filters through into my own writing. I adore The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The precocious character of Mary is compelling and the rugged and barren Yorkshire Moors where the book is set is a familiar landscape to me as I grew up now too far away in Manchester. I also like Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

On escapes

Vienna is my favourite city. It is awash with culture, there are endless things to see and do. It was an intellectual melting pot in the late 19th century, a period in time I find fascinating. The Ferris wheel in Prater is a quaint oddity; you can hire one of its cars for birthday parties. Powdered blue vintage bicycles are also available for hire after your ride; it’s where I learned to cycle. Apart from city visits, I like to take writing retreats. These are either self-initiated or through direct applications to residential settings such as The Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Landmark Trust has a range of properties that are perfect for short-term getaways for writers. Gate lodges often have lofts or attics that are quite and secluded. They are generally not equipped with technology such as internet or television, so you are completely alone with your thoughts. Locally there are so many quiet sheltered places; Oulart Hill, Borodale, The Still. It’s no wonder we have such a rich heritage of writers in County Wexford.

On Manchester 

I grew up in a red-bricked Victorian house on the outskirts of Manchester. It was complete with an attic and a cellar, which doubled up as an air raid shelter during World War II. Music is entrenched in the area; it is home to many iconic bands and I grew up to a backdrop of music and books. As a visitor and a vintage fan, Afflecks Palace would be my first stop. It’s a maze of indie stores set over a number of floors. You can find anything from café’s and fashion, to original vinyl. It is a fabulous spot. I spent a large part of my youth in Central Library; the design of the building was based on the Pantheon in Rome. Beneath the resplendent dome is a large reading room where I would go to study. The decision to move to Ireland fourteen years ago was inspired by my childhood holidays. I grew up in a large Irish community in Manchester, and my summer holidays would not be complete without my annual excursion across the foamy sea to Ireland. As a child, I adored the sense of freedom and the beauty of the Irish landscape captivated me. I always felt as though I belonged here.

On the Wexford Literary Festival

Last year I led the sub-committee for the inaugural Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award. It was wonderful to work with Lisa Coen, Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin and Nuala O’Connor who were the judges for the competition. The town is perfectly positioned to host the festival, from the rail network to excellent accommodation over looking the Slaney at the Riverside Park Hotel. Writers are excited to take part in it due to its intimate scale, and warm atmosphere. Audience members get up close and personal with the writers. Getting involved in literary events opens up lots of opportunities and can be a very useful way to get established as a writer. I met my agent Tracy Brennan at a ‘Date with An Agent’ event during Wexford Literary Festival. Since then I have been offered a three-book deal with Poolbeg Press. My advice to aspiring writers would be to take every opportunity that you can to network, attend book launches, enter writing competitions, read lots and never give up.

Caroline was photographed in the studio she shares with her husband, the visual artist John Busher. Her dress is by Vintage Belle, Wexford.

The Ghosts of Magnificent Children is published by Poolbeg Press and available now from all good bookshops.

Image by Eoin Rafferty

Sophie Grenham

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