Writer's Block with Mary Costello - The Gloss Magazine

Writer’s Block with Mary Costello

In the latest of our online book series, author of the award-winning Academy Street, MARY COSTELLO tells Sophie Grenham about how STORIES DEVELOP and gaining praise from J.M. COETZEE …

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Galway-born Mary Costello has lived in Dublin since she arrived to start college at seventeen. She was a teacher for many years before the release of The China Factory (2012), a collection of short stories that were first published in The Stinging Fly and New Irish Writing.

Her debut novel Academy Street (2014) won the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Year and Eason Novel of the Year. It has received profound praise from industry insiders around the world, including J. M. Coetzee, whom Mary admires.

He noted that “with extraordinary devotion, Mary Costello brings to life a woman who would otherwise have faded into oblivion amid the legions of the meek and the unobtrusive.”

On her dining delights

I have a few favourite places I like to eat in town – Dunne & Crescenzi, Cornucopia, Coppinger Row among others – but I’m always open to trying new spots.

On her study

I work upstairs at a table in a back bedroom. There’s a bookshelf, a futon laden with books where I sit and read at times, a filing cabinet, and an old pine armchair from my grandparents’ day. I usually close the window blind and put on a lamp when I’m working. Though the street outside is quiet I like this room at the back of the house because I feel cut off.

On taking her time

Stories usually incubate for a long time – sometimes years – before I write them. I often make several false starts before I find the right voice for a story or novel. It can feel hopeless, very despairing. Once a story takes shape, you have to persevere then. The best writing happens in the rewriting stages.

On her Galway roots

I do work well at my childhood home. In my old bedroom, actually. It’s quiet and safe, and I somehow manage to shed responsibilities – the ordinary responsibilities that attach to being here in Dublin, like paying bills, or writing deadlines, or even mowing the grass. I also work really well at my sister’s home a few miles from Galway city. I go there when she and her family are on holidays. It’s a lovely house and garden but it has a sense of familiarity and safety that’s important for me – I feel their presence, the familial connection.

On what’s on her bookshelf

At the moment I would say Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson is a favourite. Also several of JM Coetzee’s – including The Life and Times of Michael K and Elizabeth Costello. Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower. And the Irish writer Gerard Donovan’s Julius Winsome.

The China Factory and Academy Street (both €14.20) are published by Canongate and are available from all good bookstores.

Image via Eoin Rafferty at Mary’s home in Kimmage, Dublin.

Sophie Grenham

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