Writer’s Block with Doreen Finn

DOREEN FINN created waves across the Irish literary scene with her debut novel My Buried Life. She talks life in Churchtown, the joy of bookshops, and running into GEORGE CLOONEY

doreen-finn-2-c-eoin-rafferty
Doreen Finn in The Rathgar Bookshop, by Eoin Rafferty

Doreen Finn’s debut novel, My Buried Life, was perhaps one of the most memorable Irish works to be published in 2015. The deeply emotional story of Eva, in her grapple with grief, alcoholism and sense of displacement has caught the attention of literature’s elite. ‘Doreen Finn has created a loaded pistol in Eva Perry, an embittered poet whose creative voice has been silenced … Finn’s language showers sparks as Eva confronts her own difficult nature and her family’s clouded past,’ says Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander.

Finn is originally a teacher by trade, with a degree in English and Spanish and an MA in Education. She has lived in Madrid as well as Los Angeles, where she enjoyed a two year stint as a casting assistant. She now lives in Churchtown, Dublin with her husband and two children.

Doreen has just finished her second novel, Night Swimming, and is currently writing her third.

On home

I live in Churchtown, which is about 6km from the city centre, on the south side. I actually grew up nearby, but I moved away in my twenties, and returned here when my husband and I bought a house. It wasn’t so much a burning desire to live in the area I’d grown up in, but a case of finding the right house. Churchtown is a good place to live, especially for families with children. We have two young children, and we have an abundance of playgrounds nearby, as well as Marley Park and Airfield, which means we’re usually not stuck for somewhere to bring them. We’re also near the Luas, so town is close at hand. Churchtown itself is very populated, much more so than it was when I was a child. But we have a good supermarket, a couple of cafes, and most places are within striking distance. If the need arises, the Dodder river is a few minutes’ walk away, and that is a gorgeous place to knock off any cobwebs and observe the changing seasons.

On creating

I have a large kitchen, which opens onto the back garden. It is not so much light-filled as light-drowned. Light is very important to me, and I prefer natural light as much as possible. I write at my oversized kitchen table, and I can stack my books and spread my notes out while I write. Writing in the same space consistently is good for me, as I can be easily distracted if I’m in a café. I require silence too, so I grab time when I have the house to myself, which doesn’t happen as much as I would like. By silence, I mean no radio or background music, no television, no ping of electronic devices, and definitely no dogs barking! I enjoy the sound of rain on the roof windows, or the gusting of wind around the exterior of the house. I didn’t consciously choose to write in the kitchen, but it is certainly the heart of my home, and I love being there. It also has all the tea I can drink and I feel like I’m not locked away in a forgotten corner.

On LA

Los Angeles is my home from home. I spent five years living there full time, but I’ve also spent myriad summers there. At times I crave it, its food, its ethnically-designated areas; Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Historic Philippinotown, its galleries (LACMA, MOMA), the outdoor film screenings, concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theatre. I love how casual life is, how easy it is to live there. I fell into living in LA, in a way. My brother has lived in California all his adult life, and as such I’ve always visited him. One summer I just decided I was going to stay, so I resigned my teaching job and went. Without a doubt, it was the best decision I’d made up to that point in my life. To pick out one thing about LA that I love above all else, is impossible, so I tend to list several. These are, in no particular order: the jacarandas in spring bloom, tacos from a truck, all spice and chopped cilantro, sunset viewed either from the beach or the mountains, the coffee houses, the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl, the light (especially at the magic hour), the omniscience of warm weather, the positivity and can-do-will-do view of life that almost everybody seems to have, a blended margarita at sundown with the city sprawled before me.

On bookshops

First of all, a disclaimer: I adore bookshops. If I didn’t live in my house, which I love, I would live in a bookshop! I like to think I would have opened my own bookshop if I hadn’t been so drawn to writing. I even have my shop all planned out, and furnished. In the absence of my shop, however, I visit others’ shops, and while I’d buy books from a table set up on a street, I do have my favourite places. In Dublin, the Rathgar Bookshop is my favourite. Liz runs it, and she is a wonderful book person. The shop itself is tiny, but it manages to stock an impressive range. It is quiet, with respect for readers and books a priority. A space towards the back is for coffee, with lovely bistro tables and chairs, and there’s even a gorgeous patio out the back, which is long and narrow and manages to make me feel that I’m anywhere but in Dublin on a warm day. If I’m in LA, then my loyalties, and dollars, are firmly divided between Skylight Books, in Los Feliz, and Book Soup, on the Sunset Strip. Both are fantastic shops, eclectically stocked and overflowing with every kind of book I could ever hope to read. Skylight even has its own resident cat, and a tree growing right in the middle of the shop floor. Lucky customers get to sit on the cushioned bench that circles the tree, and read. Book Soup has small reading nooks around the shop, and it is quite possible to disappear for hours on end.

On escapes

If I had to choose the place above all others where I can unplug and disconnect, it has to be Griffith Park in Los Angeles. When I lived there, I walked its trails several times a week. Hiking is an obsession in LA, and Griffith Park has hundreds of dusty trails that wind around and over the mountains. For such an arid place, Southern California has an astonishing topography, and it’s much greener than you would imagine. I never fail to be amused by the warning signs all over Griffith Park, advising walkers to beware of mountain lions, coyotes, snakes and bears. The hush that descends is total, and it is possible to walk for hours without speaking to another soul. While I prefer to have company on hikes, I do find that for working out a tricky plotline, or dissecting a character, a solitary walk uphill is one of the best ways of getting headspace. Any visitor to LA should do as Angelenos do, and get out and get walking.

On grief, funerals and the Irish

I do think that Irish writers love grief, much in the way that other nationalities love certain themes. I think that the Irish fascination with death is an age-old one, and is probably linked to our past, and the awfulness of being Irish and poor. As a writer, I am more interested in the aftermath of death, and its lingering effect on those left behind. Irish people have a unique way of telling everyone that we’re absolutely fine, when it is abundantly clear that this is anything but the case, while deeper emotions lie concealed like nuclear waste. Despite the gregarious, outgoing side to the Irish personality, underneath this façade lies a much deeper, secret side that historically was fed by alcohol, and given room to breathe mostly through song and story. We are more open these days, but there is still that buried aspect, and it is this that I like to probe. My father said once to me that it’s what Irish people don’t talk about that is more telling, that which remains unsaid, and I think he’s right. So in my writing, I find I am drawn to this silence, and it makes a perfect canvas upon which I can then project my fiction.

On George Clooney

Everyone has a Hollywood story (or at least, they should have!) and I am no exception. When I first landed in LA, a friend got me a job as a ‘background artiste’ (read: extra) on ‘The Untitled George Clooney Project’, which was to become Unscripted, a television programme created by George Clooney, in the style of cinema verite. George was also the director, and I was a mere student in the acting class around which the narrative was structured. Maybe it was because I was the only Irish person on set, or maybe it was because I spent my free time mainlining the fantastic coffee that was permanently on offer, but quite quickly George and I got talking. He was very much the antithesis of how you’d imagine him to be. He wore the same shapeless grey tee shirt most days, old jeans and pair of hiking boots. He is thinner and greyer than you would imagine, but he’s funny, warm and very welcoming. He’s also very fair-minded: everyone on set is equal, and he does not tolerate a hierarchy. For a while after Unscripted wrapped, I ran into him a few times out on the town, and believe me, there’s no need to queue up to get into a bar when Mr Clooney is inside, waving out at you!

My Buried Life (€13.99) is published by New Island and available from booksellers nationwide.

Sophie Grenham @SophieGrenham

Don’t miss our February issue, out Thursday February 2.

Love THEGLOSS.ie? Sign up to our MAILING LIST  now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.