By Kaytlyn Coyne
After this morning’s trip to Kilmainham Gaol and the Newgrange Passage Tomb, we headed back to the hotel in order to get ready for the evening’s activity–a talk given by Irish crime novelist Liz Nugent. Over the course of the trip the class has been reading her first novel Unraveling Oliver and that night we would have the opportunity to learn about Liz’s career and what inspired her to begin writing.
Once we all got settled into the room for the talk, Liz began by reading an excerpt from her second novel, Lying in Wait. The chapter she read was narrated by a boy named Laurence, the seventeen year old son of a couple who buried a girl in their garden. The excerpt was the perfect way to open the talk and everyone waited eagerly to hear what Liz had to say.
Despite her tremendous success as an author, Liz did not begin her career as a writer. She moved to London at the age of seventeen and began working in administrative jobs. After an accident, she then decided to attend drama school. Even though she never became an actress, she learned that she loved the text of the plays–the dialogue, stage directions, and the format of the script and how powerful it was in the process of putting on a play. After this realization, she began to get jobs in the theater as a stage manager, even going on a two year tour with Riverdance in the United States and Canada.
After getting back, she began working in television on the Fair City soap opera. Working for the show was an intense job–they had to produce four half hour episodes a week! “It’s like a freight train, it has to keep going!” Liz said about working on the soap opera. She did share with us the most important thing she had learned from this experience, which is you needed to have something that would bring the reader back. This is why she leaves her readers asking questions at the end of each chapter, if they are intrigued about what is going to happen next, they will be certain to come back for more.
Then the conversation moved to Unraveling Oliver, which Liz was inspired to write after a summer vacation with her extended family in a chateaux in the south of France. She used that experience as well as influences from John Banville’s The Book of Evidence as her starting point in order to write her book. Another tip she told us was that stories should be packed full of incident because it keeps the readers interested. This brought up questions from the class about various points of her book, such as if Alice really did have feelings for Oliver, does Liz fully understand Oliver as a character, and her research process for writing the story. Another point that was brought up was how she addressed many social issues throughout the course of her novel and some students were wondering why she decided to address so many of them. “I never wrote it with these issues in mind,” Liz explained. “It was just a reflection of the world in the 1980s, the world I was living in.” By writing the world as it was, these social issues just naturally fed into the course of the story as they were things the characters would have been dealing with at that time. Something that I found interesting was how she would change what happens next if she can guess it because she does not want her writing to be predictable.
After giving us a sneak peek of what her fourth novel is about (it is called Brothers and it sounds incredibly exciting to read), Liz even gave some advice for all the aspiring writers in the room. Her main advice was to keep the story moving along because you will be tempted to rewrite certain parts over and over again to make sure they are perfect. “What I liked about talking to Liz was that she taught us how to grow as writers, not just in a successful way, but in a fulfilling way. I really hope at some point she gets to see our creative work on the shelves as we have seen hers,” Jordan said about Liz’s talk. When the talk had ended, the students all lined up so Liz could sign our copies of her book before bidding us farewell.