Writer's Block with Caitriona Lally - The Gloss Magazine

Writer’s Block with Caitriona Lally

In the latest in our books series, CAITRIONA LALLY shares with SOPHIE GRENHAM where to get the best cake in Phibsborough, her love of SAMUEL BECKETT and how a map of Dublin INSPIRED HER NOVEL …

Caitriona
Nobody could accuse Caitriona Lally, one of Irish contemporary fiction’s most unique voices, of being work shy. Over the years, the Trinity graduate has been a copywriter, an abstract writer, an English teacher and a home help. Caitriona now works as a cleaner in the early mornings before sitting down to create fiction.

It was during a period of unemployment that she began her journey to publication, one which culminated with a book deal at the Irish Writers Centre Book Fair in 2014. Since then she has achieved critical acclaim with the success of her tragically funny and beautifully detailed first novel Eggshells, which will reach US shores next year.

The Irish Times has described Eggshells as, “A book of one liners…the black comedy gives a jaunty quality that complements the dazzling trip around Dublin.”

As well as the above newspaper, Caitriona’s work has been featured in the Guardian, We Are Dublin and the Mayo News.

Caitriona lives in Dublin and is working on her second novel.

On home

I live just beside the soon-to-be Cabra Luas stop, near the boundary between Cabra and Phibsborough. I’m a huge fan of trams and trains and I’m very excited by the idea of being able to time my life around tram comings and goings. We’re very close to the canal and the Phoenix Park, and within walking distance to town.

I’m not much of a meal-out person, but for cake it’s Woodstock, Bang-Bang, or Coffee Addiction in Phibsborough. Quantity is important to me, so anywhere that serves a slab of cake is a winner in my book. I have an unhealthy fixation with Clarkes’ Bakery on the Cabra Road. It sells delicious old-school buns and cakes and doorstoppers of rolls. The staff can add up your order in their heads, which is impressive given the quantities of buns I buy. I mostly go for pints in town – Nealons’, Kehoes’, the Duke, the Gingerman – but if I’m meeting a local friend, it’ll be the Hut in Phibsborough.

On creating

I’m all over the place when it comes to writing space. I’m up at 4:45am to get the paid work done before heading to the National Library to write. That’s the plan anyway; most days I end up writing from bed in my slanket, conducting epic battles with my eyelids to keep them open. I have a beautiful wooden desk, but I can’t bring myself to write at it when there’s a warm soft bed nearby. Above the desk is an old map of Hamburg, the setting for my second book, and a small pile of second-hand German-English dictionaries because I’ve got a bit side-tracked by the German language. It’s a strange thing, buying different dictionaries, hoping for different words.

On bookshops

Most of my favourite bookshops seem to involve stairs: Books Upstairs, The Winding Stair, the second-hand section upstairs in Chapters. I like that you go in for one thing and come out with another. I’m a bit obsessed with Hodges Figgis too, not just for the books but for the book-themed gee-gaws. I must have bought every Alice in Wonderland mug and notebook in there. I also love rummaging in the book sections of the charity shops in Phibsborough, hoping for hidden treasures. There was a first edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf on sale in Oxfam recently, but I decided not to invest.

On literature

Anything by Anne Enright and Henry Miller for their ferocity and honesty. I did Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for the Leaving Cert and it opened my eyes to the idea of plotlessness. Beautifully written books that are not necessarily concerned with formal beginnings, middles, and endings made me look at writing in a new way: Kjersti Skomsvold’s The Faster I Walk The Smaller I Am, Greg Baxter’s The Apartment, Joanna Walsh’s Fractals, W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.

On maps

There are more maps and globes in the house than actual art. I love finding old maps in charity shops or jumble sales, and the maps in the Royal Irish Academy’s Irish Historic Towns Atlas series are gorgeous. The stories contained in old maps intrigues me, as does the what-if potential of new maps, and the changing borders and place names. When I was writing Eggshells, I spread a map of Dublin on the floor and plotted my character’s walks with thumbtacks.

On escapes

I live three minutes’ walk from the Royal Canal, which is lovely for walks and runs. Last summer, my boyfriend and I set out with a tent and sleeping bags to walk the length of the canal from Cabra to Longford. Unfortunately I was hobbled by blisters on my foot-soles, and after pit stops in Maynooth and Kilcock for plasters, we got the last bus back to Dublin from Enfield that night: tent unused, sleeping bags un-slept in. Maybe this summer, with better footwear I’ll make it the whole way.

My uncle’s farm in Gladree, outside of Belmullet in County Mayo is my favourite place in the world. At the turn in the road at Bellacorick, my dad used to tell us kids that we were so near Belmullet we could start waving to everyone. It was to stop us getting fractious towards the end of a long car journey in the days before electronic distractions, but I still love that moment, where the landscape opens out into boggy nothingness. There’s something about the high cliffs and wild seas and lumpy stretches of bog in Erris that puts me to rights. The local pub, Lavelle’s in Corclough, and McDonnells pub in Belmullet town are my favourites. And seeing Eggshells on sale in Carey’s Newsagents was a particular thrill.

On balance

Only the very, very few can afford to write full-time, so there’s little point waiting for that mythical If-only moment. I squeezed the writing of my first book around a 12pm – 9pm shift. Now, I work early mornings but even though I have afternoons to write, the second novel is moving along at glacial pace. More time doesn’t necessarily mean a higher word count.

I managed to produce a consistent amount of words every day with Eggshells, but now I tend to work in all or nothing bursts. I think that if you want to write, something in your life has to give: in my case it’s housework. The house gets dirtier and the meals get more basic as I get further into a novel. I would go stir crazy without a social life, so that’s non-negotiable. My biggest distractions are TV series and news and gossip web sites. I binge-watch and binge-browse (moderation is not my strong suit) so I try not to let myself get sucked into a series when I’m working on a book.

Caitriona will perform a spoken word piece on June 22nd and 23rd for Dublin Port project Starboard Home, a concert bursting with big names, not least co-curator Paul Noonan from Bell X1. Tickets are available from www.nch.ie and start at €22.50.

Eggshells (€12.99) is published by Liberties Press and available from bookshops nationwide.

Caitriona was photographed at Blessington Street Basin by Eoin Rafferty

Sophie Grenham

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