Academic journal article Hecate

Interview with Evelyn Conlon

Academic journal article Hecate

Interview with Evelyn Conlon

Article excerpt

Rebecca Pelan conducted this interview with the Irish fiction writer Evelyn Conlon in Brisbane in August 1999.

Evelyn, your most recent visit to Australia was as a guest of the Melbourne Writers' Festival. What role do these kinds of events play in the career of someone like yourself?

Other than a great way to get to Australia, they give you a bit of confidence in your own work in a very subtle way that you wouldn't notice until you're back in your own place and working on something in, say, about three months time. Writers are quite unconfident people about their work--or at least they should be--the less confident they are the better their work is because it means they don't take anything for granted. So writers' festivals would be, in a way, an affirmation of an audience

Do you think that part of that lack of confidence comes from working in isolation?

Very much so, yes. I suppose the only people who don't work in absolute isolation would be playwrights--they do the same lonely job while they are writing the work but, once finished, they are continuously seeing actors working with it. When it's in performance it is very public, of course, whereas for writers of short stories or novels, in the end, you're on your own the whole way. There is an audience you imagine once you begin to write, but the awful thing is that you have to get rid of them immediately--as soon as you do imagine them--because otherwise you're going to write for them and you're not going to stay true to what it is that you're supposed to be doing. So even that brief period in which you do imagine an audience has to go quickly in order to do the work. Even when the book is finished, you possibly can imagine one person reading it, but the act of reading is not like film, it's not like theatre, it's a one-to-one relationship between you and an anonymous reader somewhere. So to go and do readi ngs and go to writers' festivals means that you actually come in touch with some of the audience.

During that moment when you imagine an audience--before you get rid of them--does that audience change for you from book to book or from period to period in your career?

I had one or two people in mind about ten years or so ago and some of them actually think they're still there, but in a way--because one of them in particular has become a close friend--their value as an audience is gone, the friendship has become more important or valuable than their role as audience. The other thing is, I would have the occasional writer in my head whom I've never met, and sometimes what I'm actually doing is replying to the work that they've written so they exist as an audience in my head. But there are a couple of things that come to mind when I think about the idea of an audience. One is something I heard H[acute{e}]l[acute{e}]ne Cixous say: that writers are like murderers--when they go to work, they kill off everybody they know. And the other thing is: Flannery O'Connor said something like when you actually go to do the work--say, for instance, that you are Catholic or Buddhist or whatever--you are not that thing anymore--you are only a writer then. Quite often, for instance, you are wr iting about people that you dislike enormously, but you have to stay true to them whether or not, and the only way you can do that is to get rid of your own personal views for a while. Sometimes, for instance, when I began writing I found it hard to write about awful women. Part of the craft is to learn how to be able to do that.

Does it bother you that Irish writers, particularly Irish women writers, are not better known outside Ireland?

To some extent it does. Just talking about publishing, certainly most of the women--far more of the women in Ireland (although also some of the men that I know--and men that I consider to be better writers than the ones who are very famous) are victims of the fact that what is more comfortable travels better. …

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