Described as a “huge literary talent” by Karl Ove Knausgaard, Megan Nolan is an Irish writer whose debut novel, Acts of Desperation, recalls an addictive, destructive relationship. Born in Waterford and now based in London, Nolan’s writing includes essays, fiction and reviews which have been published in The New York Times, The White Review, The Village Voice, The Guardian and the literary anthology, Winter Papers.
I live in Camberwell in South East London. Camberwell is lively and convivial, with some of the best restaurants and takeaways in London, and the best pub (The Hermit’s Cave), but it’s also got this quiet dreaminess about it, a grand place for wistful walks. I’m equidistant between Ruskin Park and Burgess Park and go through the Surrey Canal into Peckham to buy fruit and veg and go to the butchers. In ordinary times, I often go to Peckamplex, a cinema where a ticket costs £4.99 all day every day. Moving to London was horrendous in many ways, but I don’t know if I would have ever found the path to being an author otherwise. My agent and dear friend Harriet heard me reading an essay at an event not long after I arrived, and signed me on the back of it. I don’t know where I would be without her.
ON MY DESK
Until lately my desk was a moveable feast. I wrote in various locations at all times of night and day. When I was in a house-share with no decent workspace, I just worked from bed. I find bed the most fruitful still. Sometimes being in bed with the lights off and music blaring is the only way I can get into the required headspace. Just now I’m writing at the kitchen table.
My greatest ambition in life was to have a book published.
I grew up in Waterford. I miss it terribly at the moment. It’s a beautiful little city with an inordinate number of amazingly sound, funny and talented people in it. My mother and father separated when I was young and both are married to other people now, who I get on very well with. My two brothers live in Dublin and Galway. I miss my family awfully. Being away makes me feel too aware of how precious time with them is and what you lose by not being around for all the low-key ambient moments of life. There’s no good resolution to that sadly – London is home now but it’s painful.
Writing for me began as a way to make sense of the world, and then to make something positive out of pain. If you make something worthwhile that other people can take comfort from, then you’ve done something active with the pain instead of just letting it take you over. Because reading was my primary source of escapism for most of my life, I always liked the idea of providing that for other people. I used to think “If I can write one good book that some people like and get something out of, I can die happy.”
Here in London I love Review in Peckham and the bookshop at the South London Gallery. I’m a devoted fan of The Book Centre in Waterford: it’s a real asset to the city, with a broad range of books and well-informed staff.
My greatest ambition in life was to have a book published. I assumed that if I did so, it would be with a pretty low-key small press, just because I thought the fairly unpleasant things I was writing about wouldn’t be palatable to a more commercial publisher. When Jonathan Cape acquired Acts of Desperation it was the most shocking and wonderful day of my life. I’m tentatively writing my second novel, a very different endeavour to my first. Acts of Desperation was all interior and psychological, this next one has a wider scope and requires another kind of world-building. It’s all new problems to solve and tricks to learn, but I would be bored trying the same thing again.
Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan is out now.
Main featured image: Megan Nolan photographed by Lynn Rothwell
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