PM: Éilís, you’ve said you write “everything” in two languages and under different names, and for different age groups. When do you know the form an idea will take?
É: It doesn’t really work like that for me with certain genres. Possibly with the short story and the novel that would be an issue that I would know from the content or the idea what form it was going to take. The genres I write in are literary short story, literary novel for adults, children’s books, children’s novels and novels in Irish for teenagers and some popular novels. For the latter three categories I really start off with the idea that I am going to write a novel for young people, and this is going to be the subject matter, and really the project comes first. It doesn’t start in a spontaneous way with an idea. It’s always been more deliberate. I think that’s largely true. There might be a couple of exceptions but mostly it just starts in that way, much more practical and planned way.
And then for the short stories, novels, I think when I have a spontaneous idea or something that emerges from feelings and emotions that it becomes a short story, almost automatically, and again I think with a novel, if it’s a bigger idea, not an image or an emotion or something that I feel I need to give expression to, if it is more cerebral, if it’s my ideas for novels … let me think of my novels …
My first novel was The Bray House. That’s a futuristic sort of novel about the environment and nuclear disasters. So that comes from something outside myself, an issue. They’re more issue-driven. Even then if I look at The Dancers Dancing, that’s an autobiographical novel, but still it has the idea of culture clashes, the experience of Irish, children learning Irish, so again it’s an idea outside myself. And certainly with the Anna K one, Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow, I wanted to write about the literary scene in Dublin, so they’re more sociological.
PM: Would you always go for fiction rather than non-fiction, in the context of an idea-driven project?
É: I have done so far, but I wouldn’t always. I’m drifting towards non-fiction now, in terms of memoir rather than autobiographical fiction.
PM: I want to ask about The Shelter of Neighbours. Which was the first story?
É: They aren’t put together chronologically. The first one was “A Literary Lunch”. I wrote it when I was writer in residence in Trinity College and it was a class exercise. We’d been reading Saturday, by Ian McEwan, a novel I like a lot and that had come out around that time, and then Saturday was the theme for their story, and I thought, I’ll write one about Saturday as well. And it was loosely based on a meeting I went to on Saturday. That was 2005, maybe 2006, way back.
And then maybe when I came to UCD, about 2007, and I was teaching the short story I realised I hadn’t really written many short stories myself for quite a while and I should start since I’m teaching these people how to do it, and “The man who had no story” is the one I wrote first.
The others … I got back into writing short stories. As with all collections of short stories of course they’re an assembly of the short stories that you have … The dates are in the book. “It is a miracle” was published in 2002, so that was the earliest by far. Then “The moon shines clear, the horseman’s near”, that was 2005, and I wrote both of those for anthologies, so I would have written them because somebody asked me to write a short story. More or less perhaps.
The rest came in the sequence that I mentioned. I wrote a short story about somebody who didn’t have a story and just got back into the habit of writing them, inspired by things that happened to me, that formed the kernel of the story quite often. In other cases just invented. “Red-hot Poker”, invented, based on the modern legend. I just wanted to try that. So they come from different sources.
The last one was certainly “Bikes I Have Lost”, and there I’m beginning to get much more autobiographical and closer to my own reality than in many of the stories kind of fictionalise a bit, but not as much as in the other. So I think that begins to represent something that is happening to me as I grow older, that I’m getting more impatient with fiction, and I begin to think, hmm, when I recognise the fictionality in other people’s fictions, I can see the contrivance, it seems to me. I may be wrong about that as far as other people’s are concerned, but I can certainly see it in my own, and I begin to think, what’s the point?
PM: OK. That’s shocking!
É: I know, it’s shocking for somebody who’s teaching creative writing.
PM: Well, it’s still creative writing, isn’t it?
É: It’s still creative writing, and of course, how can you get away from it? Because I certainly know … I think Alice Munro … in her last book, Dear Life, includes four or five little pieces which she says are the most plainly autobiographical that she has ever written or will ever write, and if you’ve read all her other stories as I have you see very clearly how these elements of her life have become in many cases more than one story, three or four different stories, which one would always have recognised as having an autobiographical element, especially since themes or certain aspects of them are repeated through three or four stories in her oeuvre. But it is remarkable how flat and uninteresting in that case the plain autobiography is in comparison with the worked over. So it is a big question.
But maybe in the hands of a master writer the contrived element is less contrived and they do get at a deeper truth as we say by working at it and shaping it, structuring it with a more coherent narrative than life ever actually has. So, I’m changing my mind as I go on!
But I am becoming more and more …
When I started writing way back as a teenager, as a student, nineteen or twenty, the first story was completely autobiographical, then I made one up completely. But they were largely very based on life. And then I began to feel …
At that point, a little bit later than the 70s, as the women thing took off here, and women were encouraged to write and so on, a huge criticism from the media and from literary critics of women’s writing was that it was confessional. This was the worst thing that you could say, “O, it’s just confessional, they’re just doing it for therapy, they have no imagination,” as if Joyce had made it up. Very irritating. So I wrote something like The Bray House, a completely science fiction thing, to prove that I had imagination of that kind. Which of course I do have, but it seemed to be … the pressure to demonstrate that you were capable of inventing stuff was quite … I felt it quite strongly at that stage, when I was more influenced by reviewers than I certainly would be at this stage, or even by the fashions of the time. And in that case it was actually a sort of misogyny and resistance to women writing at all.
But as I’ve moved through my literary life I feel that’s … I’ve changed my mind about that, and it seems that a lot of the great literature is really, is actually autobiographical, which some critics and scholars and so on did not recognise, I think.
PM: Didn’t want to …
É: … and I don’t really know why. Perhaps it’s something to do with the mysteriousness and the power of the writer, that this is a person who can recreate and invent lives and so on without real reference to anything that they have experienced themselves or that they observed being experienced, but that is actually not true. I think we get more honest. I think writers like Munro, who almost come out and say, yea, this is something that happened to me when I was an eight-year-old child and you can see how I have transformed this into four or five stories ‑ that is something that writers might have been reluctant to do before now, to actually present in an open way the connection between reality and their fiction. But as you say, it’s still very imaginative, there’s the imagination of writing a sentence. I think that’s very much a kind of imagination that is crucially important to a writer. With students you find out very quickly if they have that kind of ability to reimagine the way the words in a sentence are used and to put them together in an exciting way. That’s the bottom line. Whereas the other, the kind of fantasy imagination, making up something like science fiction – I know everyone can’t do that, but I think quite a lot of people can, and it’s just one aspect of it that I don’t consider the most crucial gift really.
PM: That’s an interesting way of looking at it. For those who wrestle with the three-book deals the fantasy writers pick up … It’s the market.
É: Isn’t that true? There’s a huge market, but in the juvenile area. I suppose children always love fantasy. I did myself as a child. It does seem childish to me though. Not that I’m underestimating the gifts or the effort even, involved in inventing a big Harry Potter kind of world or whatever. But it is a juvenile … I was at an event the other night where nine-, ten-year-olds make books, beautiful things with lovely, painted illustrations. There’s an exhibition in Trinity at the moment: it’s a project that goes on every year, about three schools are involved, disadvantaged schools, so it’s designed to encourage them, and they come to the Long Room, and their books are actually kept there in perpetuity, so it’s very nice, and they are beautiful. But they read out some, and they’re all wild fantasies, including monsters, murders, stabbings, explosions, all that kind of stuff. That’s ten-year-olds, I think.
PM: This sounds very pedestrian to go back to after that. Was the way the stories emerged in time closely connected to the way they appear in the table of contents?
É: Not really. I’ve tried to put some sort of a shape on them. This collection has the added complication … First there’s chronology. I’d say it’d be unusual enough for a writer of a short story collection to arrange the stories chronologically they way they were written; they’re grouped according to theme. The first ones are about writing, then the middle ones are, in this case, there’s the shelter of neighbours theme, the characters live in the same area, so those stories in the middle, “Trespasses”, “The Shelter of Neighbours”, “The Shortcut Through Ikea”, “The Sugar Loaf”, and “Red-hot Poker” are all about people in the neighbourhood, Dunroon crescent, and then the others are what’s left over perhaps. So as I said, I move into the more autobiographical area with “Bikes I have lost”, but “The Blind” isn’t autobiographical – it’s more childhood or something. I think I kept the literary ones together. I think you do try to group them. Of course, you also try to put the one you like best at the beginning.
PM: Was it entirely up to you?
É: The publisher would have had an input. We discussed it, but it was largely my choice. The publishers thought it was too long, which it possibly is.
PM: I counted it. It’s 127,000 words. Did you ever consider making two collections? Compared to some of the books on my shelves with 40,000 words …
É: I should have. How stupid of me! They have been assembled over many years. No, that didn’t occur to me. It is long. I do remember when it was of course entered for the short story book competition, there is the Frank O’Connor, and Pat Cotter, whom I know, who organises all that down in Cork, sent a typically curt little email saying this is the longest collection in the competition, and my heart sank. I just knew, especially since I’ve adjudicated quite a lot of competitions, of course, you’re reading fifty books, you’re not going to be particularly happy to see one that’s twice as long as the other ones.
They did suggest leaving one out, which I refused to do. It was “It is a Miracle”. They said they didn’t like that one as much, but I wanted to leave it in, partly because Caroline Walsh had first published that, and I think that was the year of Caroline’s death, and she had loved the story. But they didn’t consider splitting it in two. Especially since I had four or five other stories that I hadn’t included. And the reason I didn’t include them, and my opinion concurred with … the editor’s, was that they seemed too fakesy to me. They were very made-up stories. They had been written for things like the … anniversary of the UN Charter of Human Rights, and Roddy Doyle did a lovely anthology of stories inspired by the clauses in the charter, the right to this and the right to that, so I took the right to marriage, an invented story, under two thousand words because they were in a newspaper to begin with. And there were two or three others that had been written on commission in that sort of way, that had worked, got good responses at the time, but certainly to me they seemed false in some way, and she could see that as well. But yea, it’s too long. As I keep saying, all books are shorter, the short story collections are often 60,000.
PM: I noticed Anne Enright’s, her first one, The Portable Virgin, I think that’s twentysomething thousand words. I investigated the length because when I read this (“Shelter”) the first time, bought it and read it very eagerly and flew through it, and then I was passing it on to my mother and my sisters and I described it as linked stories set in this cul-de-sac in Dundrum, quite without realising that actually about half of it is not set there. It was when I came back to the next reading, and even my favourite stories in it weren’t part of it, yet I came away with that impression, and I wondered just how much of it was the title.
É: Yes, because the title suggests that. I probably should have just done them as one. It makes me think that perhaps I do have a collection ready.
PM: This hour will have been well spent then. The stories about writing …
É: … they would have formed a unit. I like writing about writing. And that’s especially happened since I’ve been so involved in teaching it. One thinks about it much more in all kinds of ways, but certainly in a theoretical way, what is it all about and so on. I’ve gotten to like reading about it too.
PM: Likewise. Including your book, the book you recently co-edited with Eibhear Walshe and Anne Fogarty, Imagination in the Classroom. It was a very good read, and such a worthwhile project.
É: Only two people have said that to me, Angela Bourke and you. She read it straight away. I think people don’t read these books.
PM: I think you’re probably right. It’s not that you don’t read them, but you buy it and … It’s not that you don’t read it but it might be ages before you get to them.
É: Maybe if you know the person well, and if you’re very involved in the whole project of the creative writer thing, but I think with scholarly articles and with academic things in general, often people don’t read them. I used to sometimes wonder, why aren’t they telling me they enjoyed my article over which I slaved for a year in … or something, and then I realised, they haven’t read it! They read it if they are writing about it themselves. That’s obviously not true of everyone.
PM: But in the case of Imagination in the Classroom, from what you’re saying you get a lot out of being involved in that process, the editing, and the bringing together of the essays and so on as a writer.
É: I was very interested in that book, and the little symposium we had, it was based on papers, a one-day conference which I organised a couple of years ago, I felt it was really important that people begin to debate and discuss what’s going on in the whole creative writing project here in Ireland, and I really would hope that more of that … I think there’s an awful lot to be evaluated, discussed, debated. I think we need to think about it quite a lot, how we do it. So it definitely is a start, but there’s a lot more to do.
From some of the essays you learn a lot about what they actually do. That was my motivation, actually, in the first place. Because you come in as a teacher of creative writing, as you know … if you’ve done courses yourself then you know what some people do, the people who taught you, but you don’t really know how it’s done, in general. There’s no consensus. It’s all being made up as people go along, which probably has advantages too. It shouldn’t be overly organised or prescriptive, but it shouldn’t be entirely ad hoc. There should be some kind of standards and methodologies. I enjoyed doing that book. It’d be nice to do something else. When we had the conference in the Royal Irish Academy in 2011, ages ago really, the idea was, as at all these conferences, we’ll do it again next year. And other people were saying I’ll organise it at my university, but that hasn’t actually happened. It didn’t take a huge amount of organisation actually. It basically involved writing to people and asking will they do something, and setting it up for the day. So maybe I’ll try and do something like that one more time. I was passionately interested in the whole theory and pedagogy and all that.
PM: I find that it really feeds into it. I see my writing more clearly, the more I read about writing.
É: Teaching it has taught me a lot about writing. I think it’s beneficial, on the whole.
PM: This was Amy Tan, talking about The Joy Luck Club. It was short stories as far as she was concerned, and really it was her publishers and the way they sequenced it and had her put in myths before that turned it into a linked narrative. At what point did you decide to make the Dunroon stories linked stories?
É: That’s a good question. They weren’t linked originally. I think I had a number of stories set in different suburbs, and it just occurred to me at some stage, I can put these all on one street and then they would be linked. Then I supposed I tweaked them, then had the characters knowing each other as neighbours, but it didn’t start off as linked.
PM: It reads as quite organic.
É: Maybe one or two of them, the later ones, I had already developed that concept of the link and that they … But I think they started off as separate stories. The link is neighbourhood. Maybe with the story “Trespasses”, when we’re talking about suburbs, I got the I began to think about the experience of living in suburbs and that I would like to highlight the setting and the fact that these stories were happening in a certain kind of suburban neighbourhood that had a meaning, an impact on the lives of the characters, and then I developed a bit in some of the other stories.
I had got that idea in one of my Irish books, Hurlamaboc, that was actually very deliberately about suburban life and about how different sub-social groups in particular suburbs interact with one another. The point of the book, it’s about individuals, as all novels are, but it was to depict Dublin suburban life. That was around the same time as some of these stories, so I was thinking of those things, and the kind of maybe neglect of suburbs. I’m not saying it’s entirely neglected, but it’s not the first setting that springs to mind when you think of Irish literature, that it is about suburban life. It’s more about rural life.
PM: We’re used to reading about American suburbs, but it’s not so much an Irish thing.
É: It’s not so much an Irish thing even though most of the writers live in suburbs. I was inspired a little bit by a dispute that was going on in artistic circles about the moving of NCAD (National College of Art and Design) to Belfield. I remember there was a motion in Aosdána, around 2006 or 2007, strongly opposing this, and somebody talked about how bleak and horrible Belfield was and how it lacked character, and how it would be so deadening to the souls of the art students. I opposed this motion, and I was seconded in my opposition by Seamus Heaney – it was nice – and I made the point that most of the artists and students came from the suburbs ‑ sure who doesn’t live in a suburb? ‑ I thought it was a bit strange. A lack of … some sort of denial going on.
PM: The stories all stand alone, and they are a wonderful read on their own. But I do think that you get something extra by the fact that you linked them together. I’m surprised to hear that they were all initially on their own.
É: It is a good device. It gives more a novelish feel to a collection of stories. I think that’s why publishers like it. But it’s probably why readers like it as well. You do recognise in a collection of stories by anyone that they always have plenty in common because they are written by the same author, and as a reader you enjoy that, but maybe when it’s more spelt out, the fantasy is better, actually all these characters know each other and are interacting a bit and moving around in each other’s lives. It adds an extra dimension.
PM: It might be simple-minded of us as readers, but finding those little links, and piecing things together …
É: No, it’s not simple-minded. One of the pleasures of reading is spotting things.
PM: One of my favourites was when we find Clara in the book club several stories after she’s killed her pensioner. You say you tweaked the stories a bit. It doesn’t sound like it was a traumatic experience to link them.
É: No, it was fun. Some aspects of the creation of the stories and the editing of them, that kind of tweaking is as enjoyable for the author as for the reader. You begin to see it as a kind of jigsaw – where could Clara fit in with Audrey, or whoever. I enjoy writing, and some aspects of it are a game. That’s writing as play in a sense, positioning people. I used to do a lot of that, I wrote for three or four years, as a scriptwriter on soap operas, Glenroe and Ros na Rún, and they’re real jigsaw puzzles, very much people in a neighbourhood, obviously running across each other all the time. But there was even more jigsaw involved, especially with Glenroe. If you have, for example, twelve scenes in an episode, you could have six outside broadcast and six studio. If you had a scene in Michelle’s house, you couldn’t have a scene in the same episode in Mary’s house because they could only have three of the sets up at the same time. So apart from writing the story, the dialogue, the emotions, all the stuff they’re doing, you had to jigsaw them around as if they were dolls in a doll’s house, and you just had these three rooms this time. That’s fun to do. A headache. But in this sort of story, where could one neighbour come across the other? How could they interact? Then they take on another dimension. The characters come more alive, actually, because you begin to think about them … In short stories, they’re always focused on one character; there’s usually just one protagonist experiencing one event in a deep traumatic way. But then if you start thinking about that character, what she’s like when she’s taking out the bin and bumps into her crazy neighbour Audrey … It’s very good. It has more potential than I have achieved in this book.
PM: How many links are enough?
É: I don’t know. What feels right. I suppose you don’t want to ham it. There’s a danger of hamming it up, isn’t there?
PM: I’m afraid there might be …
É: The short story is always a contraction of meaning, and the novel is an expansion.
PM: When you’re doing the linking…?
É: The linking is an expansion. That’s why it feels as if it’s moving towards the novel. It’s beginning to expand. The contraction of meaning, kind of the contraction of personality. The classic, epiphany short story, which is the kind I write, it really is about one individual person experiencing an insight. I know there’s a lot of event in this collection, quite a lot of violence, which is unusual for me, but really they are about the deepening of insight or experience in one person. The novel is about the interaction of characters. Though I know lots of novels are getting more like short stories in that they’re intensely focused on the individual experience. Even in Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, which is really very much about Florence, and especially Edward’s, experience of life, you do get a strong sense of many of the part players, specifically their parents, the two families. You can almost see the possibility for the novel, if it was a bigger novel, going off into their lives and how the central event, the failing marriage, would impact on all of them. But in the short story type of thing, it can only be on the one person. You could play around so much more in the short story, how the experience of one individual, which is very private in the short story, in that it’s in their head, the deepening of understanding or despair, or the opposite, it’ll be experienced very internally. But, as I always say, something has to happen on the surface as well, so the thing that happens on the surface could impinge on the other people in the community. I think that happens in some of the very deliberately linked collections, such as Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. I don’t remember it terribly well, but I think the events criss-cross much more, and what happens to one character does affect other characters in their lives.
PM: Sometimes it feels forced, as if Olive is just lumped in to some of the stories …
É: That’s inevitable
PM: That’s the danger. Reading the Dunroon stories as a linked group of stories makes the reader more compassionate towards their own neighbours. In one short story, you can sympathise, but you can close the door on them. But then when you come out your own door, see somebody putting out their bins, you can wonder what’s going on in their lives …
É: I always like the house as a symbol of the head, and the person. I’m beginning to think I must write more of these Dunroon Crescent folk.
PM: In the sequencing “The Man Who Had No Story” is in Dunroon Crescent, but as reader, we don’t know the link until much later.
É: He’s separated out.
PM: “The Moon Shines Clear” came before “Red-hot Poker”. That doesn’t fit in. That’s ten years older. “It’s A Miracle” is old too. None of these things occurred to me on first reading. When I came back to read critically, I found it hard to stop enjoying …
I love Francie, his arrow in flight …
Looking out and looking in at the same time…
I have read that linked short stories are seen as a transition from short story to novel, an MFA thing, in the States. That wasn’t my own experience. I found linking really difficult. Have you any thoughts on that.
É: These distinctions between the importance of the novel vs the short story don’t make any sense to me artistically. We all know from a purely marketing point of view the novel is a more attractive genre. Readers prefer novels, there is no doubt about that. It’s also true that the short story, as I point out in my essay (in Imagination in the Classroom) – I wish I had written one on short story ‑ the short story fits so well into the creative writing class, simply because of its shortness. It’s so easy to deal with in class, in comparison with teaching the novel, that in the MAs and the MFAs students generally write more short stories. They hardly ever write a complete novel because there isn’t time. In America in particular, and here to some extent, they begin by publishing short stories. Well, everyone does that. That’s how I started. It can be seen as what you do at the beginning of your apprenticeship and then you move on. But you see with people … Jumpha Lahiri, I’ve just been rereading Interpreter of Maladies. It’s such a brilliant short story, and her short stories are absolutely wonderful, and her novel, the latest, doesn’t match up to them at all. Her real gift seems to be her short story writing. Why should she feel obliged to move on. You can sell more copies of novels, I guess.
But I can see that the linked thing, because of what is happening to your imagination and to your sense of creating the novel, that it would lead you to an understanding. You have the separate short stories but the characters are beginning to interact now, and there’s a bigger picture. I can see how that could evolve, you could say then why have separate short stories, let’s focus more on the interaction, and less on the individual, intense, contracted experience, somehow combine them instead of having one protagonist see … it does evolve.
I can see the sense of that comment, the idea that the short story is for MFA students. We don’t have that idea here in Ireland because of the high status of the short story. So it is true, it would be a good way for the student to move on …
For me, the writing can go wrong in the novel much more easily, that fakesy thing can happen much more, it can go off the rails, become so contrived that it’s bad, and I feel that doesn’t happen to me with the short story. That I can keep it …
PM: You’ve less recovery space in the novel because you’ve gone so far in one direction …
É: It happens. You’ve gone so far, too far, and it takes too much time to get it back on track. You lose the plot, literally. Because of its relationship with time, taking so long to do it, going back and trying to rescue it can sometimes seem impossible, or just not worth the effort, and maybe sometimes it isn’t worth the effort, because the idea isn’t big enough to sustain itself for the duration of a novel.
That’s happening to me with a novel now. I have to decide whether I’ll painfully go over it again, almost writing another novel about the same subject or just throw it in the bin. It’s difficult to … With a student I would know what advice to give. Which is, if you’ve been doing it for too long and it’s not working it’s probably better to abandon it and do something else. Cut your losses.
PM: Do you have a mentor, Éilís?
É: No, and I think it would be great. I should have one. I belong to a writers’ group, I’ve been in it for twenty-five years or something, they’re my friends, and I will never leave it, but it’s more for the companionship, and I found it no good for novels. Nobody ever reads the whole novel. You read a chapter, half a chapter. I suppose some people might use it systematically and plod through their novel, but it doesn’t seem to me that that’s how it is done. What you need is someone whose judgement you trust to read the whole thing and, hopefully, give you good advice and tell you what you can do to make it really good if it’s not good.
I don’t have an agent. The only person who does advise me is the editor in Blackstaff, and she’s good. That’s a kind of strange relationship because she’s the publisher. She’s a good reader, offers very good comments. But it would be better to have that sort of person before you sent it.
I’m very private about my writing. I really admire my students, and I do appreciate how awfully difficult it is to share their work with all these people in the class, in public. You really put yourself out. You get kind of used to it. But as the teacher it’s very easy to remember how excruciatingly painful it can be for people, especially at the beginning when they don’t really know each other, or have any reason to have the slightest trust. It is hard. And it goes on being hard, doesn’t it?
PM: You learn whose opinions you’re interested in and you just tune out the others.
É: It’s true. Some are very knee-jerk and have no meaning in the longer term. I think the little groups (MFA in UCD), the twosomes and threesomes, work very well.
PM: I feel very privileged to have had this available to me, which wasn’t available to you when you were starting out.
É: I suppose after your initial fear, but particularly in the small groups, the pairs or threes get to know each other, their writing, really well, and give fantastically good advice to each other. I wondered about the MFA thing, but I think it has got something. The bigger group is a different dynamic. The little group, you’re mentoring each other. You hardly need the teacher. I know it’s nice to have the guidance, it adds a formality. I could see how that could go on in the longer term, and it does seem to do that, some seem to go on mentoring each other.
PM: Anything you’d like to add?
É: I should say that my answers to questions in this sort of interview often depend on my mood at the time, and I could give different answers, possibly, at a different time. Possibly. I’m not so sure about that. And I’d like to say I haven’t been giving it a huge amount of thought for some time.
Paula McGrath’s first novel, Generation, will be published by John Murray Originals in July 2015. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Gorse No.3, Surge (Brandon 2014), Eclectica, Mslexia, Necessary Fiction, and other publications. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Women’s Studies from University College Dublin, and a BA in English Language and Literature from Trinity College Dublin.