1. Tell me about your latest project.
My most recent publication is a ‘cover’ version of Joyce’s short story ‘A Mother’ for a contemporary collection; Dubliners100. It was published to make the centenary and is a retelling of each of the Dubliners stories by various contemporary Irish writers.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I read a lot as a child; more than I do now. Reading made me feel less lonely; it offered me human connection, in a way. It was also a way of escaping as a child.
Writing was a different thing. It was a way of putting form on experience and of speaking, because I was a very quiet, shy child and found it hard to speak otherwise.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
That depends on what stage my life is at. Since my first son was born, I have written in the morning before anyone else is up. It is the only way I feel sane for the day. Whenever I have been pregnant, I have found it very difficult to write and have read instead, but some of my best writing was done at times when I had a very young baby. Breastfeeding was a great excuse to get into bed, baby on breast, with the laptop, but after that I have to be more structured about it – these days I write from 6 to 8 and then, if I don’t have other work I write during the baby’s naptime – 2.30-4.00.
4. Who are you reading now?
Rupert Sheldrake. He is a scientist, parapsychologist and biologist. I’m reading one of his earlier texts The Presence of the Past– very, very slowly.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
I hate this question because I know I am leaving something important out. Some of the books I love I think I would find fault with now, but I retain a real love for. Some of them I haven’t reread since I was a teenager; Women in Love, for example, or East of Eden, but I love them because I discovered something new in them, or I understood ideas that I had never considered before; that makes me feel alive; to thinks something new, or consider a vantage point for the first time.
I love To The Lighthouse for a number of reasons; I remember reading it at 14 and being overwhelmed with concepts I couldn’t articulate but could grasp through Woolf’s work nonetheless. I think that is the real work of writing; and I think the bravery of her insight and her vision is something chillingly admirable. The Handmaid’s Tale is another one; I think Atwood has an immense capacity to make strange experience familiar; an incredible, compassionate but searing understanding of the human mind. I loved Oscar and Lucinda similar reasons, though it is a very different book…
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
It’s something I am pretty bad at. I don’t have a website or anything like that. I feel like I need all the spare time I can get for writing, and that there is no point ‘building a platform’ unless there is something to put on it. That said, I sometimes go to publicity things that I am invited to, if I am in the area anyway, and if they don’t sound too painful, because I’m afraid no one will read what I write otherwise, but it is usually hard to gauge how necessary they are. I am answering these questions, for example, because it is something that I can do quickly and easily, but usually the time that goes into these things feels quite wasteful. I don’t have enough time to write as it is, so I tend to resent publicity things. If I had more time I’d be all for it!
7.What is a typical day like for you?
This is boring, but I will go through it step by step:
Weekdays I wake up at six and make some coffee, then I get back into bed with my laptop, or sit at my desk and write until 8.00. Then I get the kids up and ready for school, make breakfast, dress the baby etc. I spend the morning with my two year old, in the vegetable garden, or cooking and doing housework, except two mornings a week, when he goes to crèche and I work as a copy editor and proofreader. The kids come home from 12.00-1.30 and we have lunch together. Then they are back at school until 4.30. The baby has his nap in the afternoon and I write some more, or, if I still have ‘money work’ to get finished I do that. When the kids come home we do a bit of gardening, usually, music lessons and homework, then dinner, a story, and bed. In the evening I am too tired to work. I read and have a bath and watch tv with my partner. This is a vague outline. In reality it is far less organised than this and my partner and I sort of take turns taking days off to write or work to deadlines.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
I don’t have one. It depends what I’m writing and at what stage. Sometimes a cafe is the best place, sometimes bed or a desk. I wrote a lot of my first novel while working as a receptionist in a posh B and B. I had a secret file on the computer and used to minimise it whenever my boss came in… It really depends.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
A fellow first time novelist said my prose was clunky. She also quoted dialogue as though it was my own description… I didn’t mind that because it was sort of invalid, but the clunky prose bit was really difficult to take. I think good prose is basically instinct so it really left me floored. The first thing I did was look her up to see what her credentials were. I hoped she’d be a bad writer herself (because then maybe she was jealous… or didn’t get it?)but in fact she seemed pretty well placed to critique me and had only rave reviews behind her own work…so I reacted by looking up good reviews I had received! I found it hard to write for a few days (everything clunked) but then I just forgot about it because short of stop writing that’s all I can do.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers.
Figure out why you want to write and whether it is worth it.
Born in 1982, Elske Rahill graduated from Trinity College Dublin with an M.Phil in Creative Writing and Gender and Women’s Studies. As an actor she appeared in the Abbey and Gate theatres. Author of the plays After Opium (2003) and How to Be Loved (2008), she is currently working on a short story collection. Her stories ‘Manners’ (2011) and ‘Bride’ (2012) were published in The Dublin Review.