Writer’s Block With Tanya Farrelly

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author TANYA FARRELLY about setting up the BRAY LITERARY FESTIVAL, living with her writer husband and why she always BUYS BOOKS by her peers …


Dubliner Tanya Farrelly is undoubtedly one of Bray’s most influential residents. A passionate wordsmith since childhood, Tanya’s belief and perseverance eventually lead to a double break. The author holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Bangor University and her scintillating work has been short-listed for numerous prizes, most notably the Hennessy and Francis McManus Awards.

Tanya’s first opportunity was the publication of a collection of short fiction, When Black Dogs Sing (Arlen House, 2016). It is a compilation she has lovingly gathered since 2002, winning the Kate O’Brien Award earlier this year. Also in 2016, her debut novel, The Girl Behind the Lens, was picked up by Killer Reads, an imprint of HarperCollins. Set during the aftermath of 2010’s big freeze, at the story’s core is the intertwined paths of characters Oliver Molloy and Joanna Lacey, amid one alleged murder while another body is discovered in the ice. Declan Burke of the Irish Times has called the book “an absorbing psychological thriller…Oliver Molloy is one of the most skin-crawlingly creepy characters to appear in Irish Crime Fiction this year.”

When Tanya isn’t penning prose of her own, she is an EFL teacher and facilitates creative writing classes for South Dublin County Council.

Tanya’s husband is fellow scribe David Butler. Together they run Staccato, an immensely popular spoken word night in Toner’s Pub, Dublin, and the ever-rising Bray Literary Festival. The latter’s dynamic gatherings draw book lovers in their droves to the popular beachside town, proving there’s more to North County Wicklow than the fresh sea air.

Tanya Farrelly is currently writing her third book.

This year’s Bray Literary Festival runs from the September 22-24 with full days of readings, discussions, as well as music and writing workshops. See www.brayliteraryfestival.wordpress.com for more details.

When Black Dogs Sing (€29.33) can be purchased from selected bookshops such as Books Upstairs and Amazon.co.uk. The Girl Behind the Lens (€18.19) is available nationwide.

On home

We’re extremely lucky in that we live right on the seafront. Whatever the weather, it’s a fabulous view. I particularly love looking out at night to see the lights of ships out at sea – it was always a dream of mine to live by the sea with another writer. In general, Bray is a super place to live. Apart from strolling along the promenade to Gino’s for an ice-cream, or doing the Bray to Greystones cliff walk, there’s live music in the bars almost every night of the week. Favourite haunts of mine have to be The Porterhouse and The Harbour Bar, where I play in a Ukulele session on a Tuesday evening. To eat, the Ocean Bar & Grill is the best restaurant in town.

On roots

I grew up in the suburb of Clondalkin. It was an area lacking in facilities – this was well before Liffey Valley shopping centre and the Multiplex were built. Tallaght always fared much better when it came to development and it was in the County Library at the age of twenty-one that I first joined a writers’ group. Ten years later, I was back in that library as Creative Writing facilitator and since that I’ve facilitated in almost every library in South Dublin. I have a regular gig in Ballyroan each Spring and Autumn.

There are so many senses that take me back to my childhood – the smell of hot apple tart brings me back to my mother baking in the autumn during my school days. Ponds cold cream, Oil of Ulay, and ginger nut biscuits catapult me back to my grandmother (or nanny’s) house. Country music like Dolly Parton and Glen Campbell, I will always associate with my mother and step-father, Tom, who both loved singing. We had quite a collection of vinyl records in our house. My love of the arts was nurtured by my mother, who was a talented artist and singer and an all-round creative person. Christmas stockings were always filled with sketch pads, colouring pencils and poster paints. I have a lovely memory of reading War Horse aloud to both my mother and grandmother, during a summer spent in her house. It became a nightly ritual until we reached the end.

On creating

I do my most of my writing these days on the Dart – it doesn’t sound like the most peaceful writing space, but there’s something about the movement that generates ideas. I can tune out everything around me and just write. My morning commute to work is 40 minutes so I can get a lot done if I knuckle down.

At home, I share my writing space with my writer husband, David Butler. We both write in the living room. His desk is at the window overlooking the sea while I write at our living room table. I find sharing our work space stimulating. Often on a Sunday, we put in several hours writing and the sound of David tapping away on the keyboard spurs me into action because I know that afterwards we’ll read our works in progress to each other and see how we got on! There’s great mutual support between us.

On bookshops

My favourite bookstore is Chapters. I confess that I buy most of my books second-hand (writer’s nightmare!) but at the rate I buy books, I need to budget. I actually love second-hand books – they’ve had their own journey before they fall into my hands. When it comes to my peers though, I try to attend launches and buy lovely new books as we have to support each other and the small publishers who struggle to survive. Other indies that I love are the Winding Stair because of its old-world atmosphere and Books Upstairs, which is great for stocking books by independent publishers such as Arlen House who published my collection When Black Dogs Sing, as well as having a great selection of literary journals.

On her nightstand

Where do I start?! I’m currently reading Banville’s The Untouchables. I’ve got a lot of Irish books waiting to be read: Nuala O’ Connor’s Joyride to Jupiter, Lisa Harding’s Harvesting, The Light Makers by Mary O’ Donnell, A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume. Donal Ryan’s The Slanting of the Sun, June Caldwell’s Room Little Darker… I tend to vary my reading by reading an Irish and then a non-Irish book, but I’ve been to a lot of launches and readings lately so the Irish have been gathering! My favourite authors are Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Sebastian Faulks, Simone de Beauvoir, Milan Kundera, John McGahern and Edna O’Brien. Claire Keegan’s collection Antarctica, in my opinion, has yet to be surpassed. I love thrillers – SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.. Declan Hughes is my favourite Irish crime writer. I have him to thank for introducing me to his forebears: Chandler and Hammett – I love a good noir.

On Staccato

Staccato’s inception came about, as most things I do, on a whim! I’m very impulsive and when I get an idea in my head to do something, I just go for it. I was sitting at home one evening and said to David “wouldn’t it be fun to run a spoken word night?” I then sent out a few emails to writers I knew asking them if they’d be interested in reading and when I got a positive response, I just went from there. It became hugely popular very quickly and has been running for almost two years now. I love meeting other writers and hearing them read their work so it’s just as much a joy for me as I hope it is for the participants. Music is a very important part of Staccato too, it’s dif ficult to listen to readings one after another and I find most people really appreciate hearing original songs. We always have a featured musician on the night.

On the Bray Literary Festival

Another whim! I figured that Staccato had been so successful, why not try something bigger?! I’m a regular festival-goer. I’ve been attending Listowel for many years now and always enjoy the mix of voices. The committee puts in a huge amount of work and does a terrific job. As much as I enjoy other festivals though, I was becoming frustrated seeing the same handful of people reading when I know so many talented writers who struggle to get opportunities. A lot of it is about self-promotion and not everyone is good at that – I’m sure I don’t bang on enough doors myself. It’s hard, and a lot of it depends on having the right contacts. And so with Bray Literary Festival I wanted to open things up – try to give opportunities to a range of writers from those who are doing well in competitions but have yet to have a full-length work published, to debut and mid-career writers to established professionals – some of whom do few readings. We have some excellent headlining events: Lady Killers featuring crime writers: Arlene Hunt, Louise Phillips and Sam Blake. Lit Fix featuring Alan McMonagle and Nuala O’ Connor in conversation with Catherine Dunne, and Writing Across the Genre featuring Mary O’ Donnell, John MacKenna, David Butler and Kelly Creighton. We have poetry events and short story events – I’ll be reading alongside Martin Malone and Orfhlaith Foyle. We also have Ones to Watch – featuring exciting up-and-coming writers, two of whom are currently shortlisted for the Francis McManus Award. We’re also offering a range of writing workshops, as well as free talks. There is literally something for everyone!


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