Author and teacher Deirdre Sullivan shares her LOVE OF RANELAGH, why she thinks libraries are THE ULTIMATE ESCAPE and how BEATRIX POTTER first inspired her passion for literature
Galway-born Deirdre Sullivan is the sparkling talent behind the hugely successful Prim trilogy. Her much loved hat trick of titles are Prim Improper (2010), Improper Order (2013) and PrImperfect (2014), whose witty protagonist, Primrose Leary, has impressed critics far and wide.
Her latest novel, the beautifully crafted Needlework, has flown off bookshelves since its release in February. This dark, heartbreaking tale of abuse told through the words of a teen survivor might well be her finest work to date.
When Deirdre is not writing for young people, she educates them. During the week she works with children, and she speaks of them with great fondness.
It is perhaps Deirdre’s comprehensive understanding of adolescents that has made her a leading voice in Irish Young Adult fiction, earning a nomination for the European Prize for Literature in 2015.
Deirdre lives in Ranelagh, Dublin, with her partner.
I live in a one-bed flat in a big old red brick house on Chelmsford Road. We moved in because it was close to the production company my partner worked in, and we’ve stayed because it’s such a lovely neighbourhood, loads of cafés, and there’s a nice bustle to it. I love Hobart’s. It’s so warm and there’s no unnecessary fanciness to it, it’s just great food, and a warm welcome. I love the mix of fancy and normal – on my road it’s people who own the whole house, older people and people like me, who live in tiny, happy apartments.
I usually write in coffee shops. My apartment is too small. When I do work there, I have a table by the window, with a William Morris oilcloth and a lamp. The bright light and the sound of rain and traffic is nice. I edited a novel that way last summer, but I do generally try to leave to work. I find myself tidying the house, or rearranging the books on the shelf instead of doing what I set out to do. It’s nice to be away from obligations and just focus.
I properly love Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway where I’m from. It’s gorgeous, you could spend hours in there, and the staff know and love books. I think any bookshop that supports and cultivates a love of books and reading in their staff is a lovely place to spend some time. In my own neighbourhood, I often pop into Dubray books in the Swan Centre on my way home from work, they’re brilliant. And I love Alan Hanna’s bookshop in Rathmines, they’ve got a café there that’s great to work in, and also a dog called Molly. Bookshops with pets are magical places.
My dad gave me the complete works of Beatrix Potter for my seventh birthday, and I love it, because I associate it with bed time stories and being loved. I ate my way through Roald Dahl’s books as a child, and as a teenager, I have a memory of reading Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes over and over. It’s fantastic. The Waves was the book that opened me up to Virginia Woolf, and I re-read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter about once every two years. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of favourite books and favourite writers, and there are new ones to discover all the time.
When I was in college, my calm place was the children’s section of Galway City Library. It was a nice space to spend some time in, and away from the world. I think that’s the magic of bookshops and libraries. Shelves full of tickets to so many different journeys. I love a coffee shop called Java’s in Galway where I’m from, and will often go there to work on projects, when I’m spending some time at home. My partner is from Cork, and I like to spend time there as well. It’s nice to hole up somewhere, away from real life, and just focus on the things you’re making up. The shape of them. You need time to think and restructure and give things chances. Writing isn’t something you can fit into little chunks. You need a length of time, and space to think.
On Young Adult
I love the Young Adult section of a bookshop, because all of the genres are meshed in together. There’s no division, because YA mainly means books that are marketed to young people. So horror can live beside contemporary, and romance can hang out with gritty realism. I appreciate that, because none of us are one thing, and I dislike it when people say “I don’t like fantasy” or “I don’t read romance.” I think true readers are hungry for all types of stories.
I write YA because I like the transitional nature of young adulthood. You’re crossing a bridge between who you were and who you will become. There are decisions to be made, and a lot of adult choices are encountered for the first time. It’s a difficult time, and one that often tests people. Even when I write about grown-ups, there’s always that transition. That wondering who you really are. If things could change, and what that change would look like.
Prim Improper (€8.95), Improper Order (€9.50), PrImperfect (€9.50) and Needlework (€9.99) are all published by Little Island and available now from bookshops nationwide.
Deirdre was photographed by Nick’s Coffee in Ranelagh village by Eoin Rafferty.
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