Photo: Bríd O’Donovan
Doireann Ní Ghríofa writes both prose and poetry, in both Irish and English. A Book of the Year in both The Irish Times and The Irish Independent, her most recent book ‘Lies’ draws on a decade of her Irish language poems in translation. Awards for her writing include a Lannan Literary Fellowship (USA, 2018), a Seamus Heaney Fellowship (Queen’s University, 2018), the Ostana Prize (Italy, 2018), and The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature (Trinity College, 2016), among others. ‘A Ghost in the Throat’ — a hybrid work of autofiction, scholarship, literary translation, and echoes — is her first book of prose (Tramp Press, 2020).
What was the biggest challenge you faced when working on your most recent collection, Lies?
‘Lies’ is a gathering of poems published in Irish over many years, which I subsequently translated to English. The most significant challenge I faced with this book was in negotiating the friction between multiple versions of my self. I found in some cases that the current version of myself wanted desperately to speak over the previous selves who had first composed the poems, and in some cases she wanted to obliterate them. Bhí gealt marfóra ag rith tríd na dánta go fiáin le scian ina glac aici, agus b’éigean domsa rith léi agus seasamh ina coinne araon. Translation is a mysterious art in itself, and self-translation is far from innocuous - it can feel like a parlour game, like a drunken knife fight, or like a convoluted version of “dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi.” There’s always more to it than meets the eye.
How would you describe your daily writing routine?
At the moment I’m finishing a book of prose called ‘A Ghost in the Throat,’ and the daily slog of writing this book has been very different from any other book I have written. On an ordinary weekday, I have three hours at my disposal before I need to collect our youngest child from playschool. I don’t have a professional writing room/desk/office situation, so I just drive my car to the roof of a local car park. It’s very quiet there, it’s free, and it allows me a clear view over the exact landscape I am writing about. Every book demands something different from its author, and this one needed height and cloud and distance. I write on that rooftop for 3 hours and then I hustle for scraps of bonus time wherever I can find them. I often put in long, long hours at weekends too. In the thickets of a new book or poem I find myself haunted, and will be lying awake at three or four in the morning, emailing myself strange new passages from elsewhere; this is the writing I am most grateful for. I don’t know how much of these shenanigans I could call a ‘routine’ though, and how much of it is simply bonkers.
What has receiving bursary awards meant to you as a writer/for your writing career?
Each bursary has given me the gift of time and quietness, facilitating the gestation required to bring a book to completion. Also (importantly) I have been encouraged by the sense that writers I admire have examined a sample of my work in progress and deemed it worthy of investment. That is always heartening.
What is the best piece of advice you received as an emerging writer?
Slow down, Doireann. (Sadly, I could not.)
What book/author has influenced your writing the most?
I read a lot and so I have probably absorbed a lot of influences, but these are some of the writers I return to and whose work nourishes my own. Poetry: Paula Meehan, Laura Kasischke, Layli Long Soldier, Deborah Digges, Michael Hartnett, Aifric Mac Aodha. Prose: Kate Zambreno, Natalie Léger. Ard-rí: Ciaran Carson.