Writer’s Block With E.M. Reapy

The wonderful, multi award-winning writer E.M. REAPY shares her life being woken by birdsong in the WEST OF IRELAND, escaping to the MAGNETISM OF IBIZA and how she’s handling all of her well-deserved acclaim …


Elizabeth (E.M) Reapy’s marvellous first novel, Red Dirt, has been the talk of the town since it hit bookshelves in June this year. Inspired by her extensive travels around Australia, Elizabeth’s enthralling tale of three drifters abroad quickly became the title on many insiders’ lips.

“There are certain novels associated with backpacking and the immigrant experience … At the heart of such books is a journey, both literal and metaphorical. Elizabeth Reapy’s debut novel, Red Dirt, takes the modern Irish immigrant experience and turns it into a thought-provoking, vibrant novel that grips the reader from the start,” says Sarah Gilmartin of The Irish Times.

After many more positive critiques, the buzz continued to build around Elizabeth’s work. The enthusiastic fanfare culminated in a much deserved Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards victory, where she humbly scooped up The Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year award. Reapy’s other achievements include winning the 2016 Hennessy New Irish Writing (Short Story) award, featuring in Sinéad Gleeson’s The Long Gaze Back anthology, along with being listed for the PEN International/New Voices accolade.

On home

I’m currently based in my grandmother’s house just outside of a small village on the Mayo/Galway border. It’s rural Ireland, fields of sheep and cattle behind the house, lots of birdsong in the morning. The kitchen has an open hearth turf fire and on the wall is a picture of Jesus with his thorned heart out. It’s grand here. Rent has been a bane of my writing life, so it’s great to not have the financial pressure of living in a city anymore. It’s a privilege too to be spending time with my grandmother, who’s eighty-four now. I’m a short drive to my hometown, Claremorris, where my friends and family are. Lately I’ve become very health conscious so my favourite places are the gym, the hot yoga studio, the pool, the health food shop. I love the library in town too. I’ve been a member since I can remember. Libraries make me happy. All those books and readers.

 On creating

I work at a sturdy mahogany desk I inherited from my cousin in my room in my gran’s place. I keep Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son and Alice Munro’s Selected Stories on my desk, along with my to-be-read pile, notebooks, pens, post-its. My laptop’s hooked up to a bigger screen and portable keyboard. There’s some crystals for creativity underneath the screen and a Himalayan salt lamp beside the desk. I have gold and white coasters of the Nazca lines from Peru for my mugs of tea and coffee. My bookcase is brimming to the right of the desk and I have stacks of books on the ground, in shelves and on the windowsill. I don’t have a view; the window is the other side of the room. It’d be too distracting for me. Instead I have three pictures on the wall in front of the desk; a diver in an underwater cave, a volcano erupting and a Ziggy Stardust era Bowie.

On bookshops

Kenny’s and Charlie Byrne’s bookshops in Galway are wonderful places but my heart is in The Salmon Bookshop and Literary Centre in Ennistymon, Co. Clare. I was on an internship there last year. It’s a quirky little spot with lots of second hand and rare books as well as new titles. They also have an amazing poetry section. Jessie Lendennie from Salmon Poetry is the manager. Her and Siobhan work out of the offices upstairs. They host reading events, workshops and residencies in the bookshop. There’s a fab walled garden out the back. I used to really look forward to going into work every morning and I love visiting them now.

On her nightstand

I’m currently reading The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, both to get me powered up for writing full-time again. I’m also reading Anne Enright’s Taking Pictures, a short story collection from a few years ago, for the same reason. She’s an amazing writer, her voice and detail choices are inspiring. I’d usually have between twenty and thirty books on the go but for the past couple of weeks, I took a temp job in a factory to give myself a break from them, this year being so intense with the bringing out of my first novel Red Dirt. I’m now finished that job and ready to get back to reading and writing full-time with renewed enthusiasm and appreciation for what I do.

On escapes 

I went to Ibiza earlier this year with my mam on a short break before the book came out. It was in April, the clubbing season hadn’t started, so it was quiet, muy tranquilo. The people were friendly and the scenery is spectacular, mountains, sea, many beautiful calas – tiny beaches. Went to see Es Vedra, the ‘mystical island’ that they say the sirens and sea nymphs who tried to lure Ulysses lived. I would definitely believe there’s something magnetic happening in Ibiza. I loved the energy there and will return. In Ireland, it’s The Burren, a really special place. Again, it has a certain vibe, it’s calming and energising – a limestone paradise. At home, I listen to guided meditation to switch off. Ho’oponopono, Om, Japa, body scans. Jason Stephenson’s channel on Youtube has a lot of great ones and I often stumble onto others from there.

On emigration

I enjoyed Australia for the most part. It has a stunning landscape and is good fun. I did a writing residency in Katoomba, Blue Mountains, which was a brilliant experience. Sydney is one of the best looking cities I’ve ever seen and Darwin is wild. I enjoyed Tasmania too. I have a thing for small islands. A lot of the young Irish people who left thrived over there post-crash. Travel broadens the mind and so even the ones who didn’t get on well, who were disillusioned with their time in Oz, would probably still have learned loads about themselves and the world from being there.

On awards

Winning The Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year with Red Dirt was a bit overwhelming. I’d only ever won two things in my life before that, ‘Best Reader’ at Culture Night, Galway in 2014 and a children’s chalk art competition in the Gooseberry Festival in Ballindine when I was 11. So I didn’t expect to win and was delighted to be nominated. It was quite a struggle to get Red Dirt to fruition, so to have received a national award for it was very affirming for the work that went into it.

On what’s next

I’m writing new short stories, have a first draft novel to edit, a TV project to work on and I’ve been dabbling with poetry too. Just loads of writing, reading and travel hopefully.

Red Dirt (€16.99) is published by Head of Zeus and available from all good bookshops.

Image by Patrick Bolger

Sophie Grenham @SophieGrenham

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