In the latest in our weekly book series, young adult author CLAIRE HENNESSY tells SOPHIE GRENHAM about her love of Rathmines, the books that first STIRRED HER TO WRITE and what’s she’s learned teaching creative writing …
The industrious Claire Hennessy published her first book Dear Diary… just before her fourteenth birthday. Since then, she has written several novels for the Young Adult (YA) audience and become a director of the Big Smoke Writing Factory creative writing school in Dublin, which she co-founded in 2009.
If that’s not enough to keep her busy, Claire is the co-founder and editor of literary journal Banshee and the Puffin Ireland editor at Penguin. She regularly makes special appearances and gives writing workshops for schools, libraries and festivals. She also teaches regularly at CTYI.
Claire’s hotly anticipated new book, Nothing Tastes As Good approaches the delicate issue of teen anorexia with a darkly original storyline. It is published by Hot Key Books and due for release in July this year.
Claire lives in Dublin and is currently working on her next YA novel, as well as a collection of short stories for adults.
On her neighbourhood
I live in Rathmines, in large part because of its proximity to the city centre. I don’t drive (like a lot of writers and people in the arts, I’ve discovered – are we too flaky for car ownership or just too broke?). The trade-off is, of course, insane Dublin rents for shoebox-sized places. You can’t have everything. I very rarely take advantage of all the lovely cafés nearby, though I do have an absolute favourite place I’ve recently discovered – Ernesto’s on the Rathgar Road. They do lovely coffee (so I’m told – I only ever drink tea) and very simple but gorgeous Italian food. There’s a chicken pesto pasta thing they do for under a fiver and it brings me much joy.
On her favourite bookshop
This feels like a bit of a cliché as I know a lot of people are very fond of it, but I do love The Gutter Bookshop in Cow’s Lane in Temple Bar. It’s a lovely space for events – I’m often in there for launches – and Bob is just so friendly and passionate and engaged with books. I also have a particular fondness for it as it opened up in late 2009, a month or two after myself and others had opened the doors of the Big Smoke Writing Factory, for the first time. Creative bookish things founded at a very bleak point in the country’s economy that are still going years later – it’s inspiring.
On titles of note
Emma Donoghue’s Hood, which I first read when I was seventeen and loved for its portrayal of convent schoolgirls as much as the present-day adults – it’s an incredible take on love and grief. Marian Keyes’s Sushi For Beginners, Rachel’s Holiday, and This Charming Man are among my favourites of hers – she is such a smart, astute writer who often gets dismissed as escapist or frothy, because there are funny bits and also they’re about women (gasp).
On the writing process
I don’t stay positive throughout the writing of a book – but it’s normal, with any big project, to feel a bit fed up or frustrated or anxious about it along the way. I think knowing that helps – and knowing that if you don’t stick with it, you don’t get to the end.
And ultimately I remind myself: no one’s holding a gun to my head and making me do this. Life is too short to do something you hate, if you can possibly avoid it. There are frustrations with writing and with publishing, of course, but the actual act of writing is a joyful thing. You’re making a thing out of words!
On teaching creative writing
I love the demystifying of it for beginners – the reassurance that yes, you can put words down on the page, just right now, look! And then emphasising how much of the gorgeousness comes with revisions and with edits and with continuing to develop your craft – it’s not a case of either you’re a genius or you’re not. For more workshop-focused groups, where people are critiquing each other’s stuff, I love the energy when people really embrace the feedback and ideas being thrown around and you can see their faces lighting up when someone makes a suggestion or asks a question and something’s clicking for them.
On her holiday season highlights
I love seeing family and friends – I think in Ireland in particular it’s a time when people ‘come home.’ And then I love having time to read purely for pleasure – to be able to stay in bed with a huge cup of tea and a Selection Box and lose myself in a novel. The lack of guilt about it! In ‘work mode’ there’s always something you could be doing, should be doing, and the holidays are a very necessary time to just breathe and be a human.
Dear Diary… (€9.99) and the rest of Claire’s collection are published by Poolbeg Press. They are available from Amazon.co.uk and most good bookshops.
Image by Aisling Finn
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