Writer’s Block With Eimear McBride

To celebrate three years of Writer’s Block, SOPHIE GRENHAM re-issues the first ever interview with author EIMEAR McBRIDE

Photograph by Jemma Mickleburgh

A Note From Sophie Grenham

Three years ago, editor of THE GLOSS Magazine Sarah McDonnell and I sat down in the office and came up with an idea for an online books series. I was to gather six accomplished authors and interview each of them about home and their creative environment, with an initial word count of 400 words per article.

What began as a small, six week project not only grew legs, but a whole giant body which threw me on its back, bounded out the door and took me on an adventure. Since Writer’s Block’s genesis, I have interviewed over 150 authors, many of whom have become good friends.

To celebrate three years of showcasing such incredibly talented people, I thought it fitting to issue the extended edition of our very first Writer’s Block with Eimear McBride, originally published on September 10 2015. Eimear’s career has gone from strength to strength, with a hit second novel and the privilege of writing a foreword for Edna O’Brien, author of The Country Girls – the first great read of her life. Cheers!


Eimear McBride’s sensational debut novel, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing was written in just six months when she was 27. But after seven years of rejection slips, she gave up and it took a local bookseller to persuade her to try again. Published a decade after its inception, the book has been a roaring success, winning the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in 2013 and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014.

Eimear’s second novel, The Lesser Bohemians, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize 2017 and was nominated for a trail of other accolades. A celebration of the dark and light in love, the author masterfully captures the energy of 1990s London, as well as the exquisite pleasure and pain of an intense romantic entanglement. She has also enjoyed the immense honour of penning the foreword for Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy (Faber, 2017), which is the Dublin One City One Book Choice for 2019.

Eimear was born in Liverpool to Northern Irish parents and spent her formative years in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo and Castlebar, Co Mayo before heading to London in 1994 at seventeen years old to study acting at Drama Centre. She lived in Co Cork from 2006, before moving on to Norwich in 2011, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter.  

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians (both €12.60) are published by Faber & Faber and available from all good bookstores.

On home

I live near the centre of the city. It’s quite a quiet place. Rather pretty and, as with the rest of Norwich, very bookish – you can’t throw a stone without hitting a writer in this town. I don’t have any particular places I like to visit. Between writing and child-rearing, spare time has very definitely disappeared. I do like to walk though and Norwich’s old streets lend themselves very well to this pastime.

On roots

I go back to Ireland a couple of times a year and, almost, always for Christmas. Before Norwich I lived in Cork for four years but since I was seventeen, I’ve thought of London as home.

On her study

I write at home and what I like best is a small dormer room which, luckily, that’s what I have here. Something about being high up in the quiet is very conducive to clear thinking. I have a big old desk my husband bought me from a house clearance place in Tottenham years ago and it’s followed us on all our subsequent travels. I wrote Girl on it and am now finishing the second book on it too. I also have a poster of Dostoyevsky that has followed me around since I bought it in the Dostoyevsky museum in St Petersburg in 2000. It’s a terrible, ugly thing but it reminds me of a very interesting time as well as what a small fry I am in the footnotes of literature.

On whether she has a creative process

Not beyond the discipline that every writer will tell you is the one necessity of the job. Just sit down, write, delete, write, fiddle about with. Swear a lot. Start again.

I can’t write around other people and the thought of leaving the house while writing is so stressful that I do anything possible to avoid it. Also, from a purely pragmatic point of view, I have a small child so far flung retreats are not an option. The muse has to get to work with her marigolds on, just like everyone else.

On her favourite local bookshop

Well, the greatest book shop in the world sits in the centre of Norwich and is called The Book Hive. This is where its owner Henry Layte first read my much-rejected manuscript and decided to publish it, which changed my life. Life changing aspects aside, it is also one of the most beautifully curated, thoughtfully laid out bookshops I know. It’s a bookshop made by people who love books for people who love books too and that, sadly, is an increasingly rare thing.

On technology

I don’t own a tablet and I don’t think I will ever use one for that purpose. I find the effect of reading on them pretty alienating. It’s a little like watching a CGI-heavy movie. It looks like it and sounds like it but the eye knows what it’s seeing isn’t true. Also, most of my many one star reviews on Amazon are from people who read Girl on Kindle rather than in hardcopy, which really does nothing to lessen my antipathy. I don’t think the physical book will become obsolete although, like the return of vinyl, it may become a special interest. I hope I’m wrong about that.

On inspirational reads

Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls was the first great book of my life, one that really changed me and taught me to look at language in a different way. The second was Ulysses because Joyce crossed every boundary and left the gates open behind.

@SophieGrenham 

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