Interview with writer Tanya Farrelly
Hi Tanya and welcome to emergingwriter. How did you first get into writing?
As a very young child, I was an avid reader, and I guess writing was a natural progression from that. I remember writing stories when I was in primary school, and this passion continued right through secondary school, encouraged robustly by an eccentric English teacher by the name of Austin Stewart who was very much our Mr Keating from The Dead Poets’ Society! He used to write comments like “potential novelist” on my short stories, and it was on his advice that I submitted and had my first story published in Woman’s Way back in 1999.
How lovely to have a teacher saying things like that. Tell us a bit about your first published story.
My first published story was entitled ‘Serial Lovers’, which Woman’s Way changed to ‘Heartbreakers.’ I wasn’t mad about that, but was excited enough to dismiss the change as insignificant when I received a copy of the magazine in the post. I hadn’t actually been told that the story was accepted. Oh – and there was a cheque, too! Much the same thing happened with my story ‘Shadows’ when it appeared in The Sunday Tribune. I was on a Sunday drive with my mother in Wicklow and went into the a newsagents to get the paper. I’d always gone straight to the New Irish Writing page, and this time I opened it up to find that my story was up for the Hennessy!
Up for the Hennessy! When was that?
That was in 2002, which was the year when writing really took off for me. I was shortlisted for the Francis MacManus Awards that year, too, so it was a really exciting time. I then, reluctantly, took time out from writing as I returned to college to do a degree in Literature, and then a Masters. I was working full-time and studying part-time, so I had to shelve my writing for four years! When I finished the MA in 2007, I decided that I’d had enough of studying other people’s work. It turned out NOT to be the end of academia though – when the recession hit in 2009 and my teaching hours were cut, I took the opportunity to do a PhD – but this time my studies were in Creative and Critical Writing. I wrote a novel as part of that doctorate, which I’m currently re-editing!
Why did you return to college for your degree? You say reluctantly. What was the urge?
I was not reluctant to return to college, but reluctant to stop writing.
At that time, I was a member of a writers’ group in Tallaght library. On a few occasions the facilitator couldn’t turn up, and he asked me if I could facilitate the class. It was this that made me realise that I had a passion for, and seemed to be good at, teaching.
Are you in a writers’ group or workshop? Do you have a reader?
I don’t have a reader, per se. There are some people whose opinions I really value, and I would show those people drafts of my work.
I was in a group for about 5 years when I began writing. Now, teaching creative writing is my way of reminding myself of the important elements. I’ve done lots of workshops in the past, mainly at Listowel Writers’ Week. Some of them were extremely beneficial and others less so. I think the best workshop I ever attended was one on the novel facilitated by Gerard Donovan – the author of Schopenhauer’s Telescope and Julius Winsome. The most valuable thing I learned from that course is that a writer doesn’t have to record time. In my first attempt at writing a novel, I found myself trying to fill the character’s every moment. I did ridiculous things like sending the character to the cinema for a few hours before the next crucial part of the story happened. Oh dear! 😛 The best training anyone can do though is reading! I don’t understand people who want to write, but don’t actually read fiction.
Absolutely. Where do you write? What is your writing process?
I’m lucky enough to share my home and writing space with my fiancé and fellow writer, David Butler who you are also interviewing. David and I write in the same room. His desk overlooks Bray seafront, while my writing area is the living room table! We generally put aside a number of hours to write, and then the only sounds in the room are Lyric FM in the background, and, hopefully, the clack-clacking of two keyboards. The sound of David pounding away at his laptop is enough to get me writing as I know that in a few hour’s time, he will ask me what I’ve done. No pressure!
I try to write as often as I can. Currently, I’m rewriting so the momentum is already there. With stories it’s different. I might jot down an idea on the go and then come back to it, or I might just sit down at the blank screen until some image presents itself to me. I’m very much a perfectionist when it comes to the short stories, I won’t leave a paragraph until I feel it’s right. I rewrite as I go, and so very often when I reach the end of the story, it’s already a final draft. Writing a novel is different, you can’t afford to be as precious when it comes to getting the language right – not in the first draft.
That sounds like a very mutually supportive environment. How lovely. What are you working on now?
I’ve just compiled my short stories for a collection. It’s called When Black Dogs Sing and is coming out with Arlen House next year.
I’ve also been re-editing a novel based on feedback I received from agents. I spent a lot of time comparing and mulling over various comments. For example, one agent said that she loved the book, but was not convinced by the last quarter. On reflection, I think she was spot on and I’m working on rectifying that right now.
I know you do some teaching. Have you some classes ongoing?
Yes, I teach creative writing courses for adults in Ballyroan and Tallaght libraries, and for teens and juniors in Clondalkin library. The next course due to start is a 10-week one in Ballyroan on October 1st. The focus is on short stories and over the ten weeks we cover all aspects of story writing. Each class is dedicated to one element, for ex: character, dialogue, setting etc.
Any links for your courses?
Do you have any links to published writing?
Here are a few of links…
You need to scroll down on the Crannog one…
Thanks Tanya. Good luck with your writing.
KATE DEMPSEY runs writing.ie's Poetic License blog and is our poetry guru. She is a writer and a blogger living in Maynooth. She writes fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry and is widely published in Ireland and abroad, in magazines, anthologies and on the radio. She fits this around her family and a full time job, writing on the sofa, on the train and in that little coffeeshop on the corner.
Poetry can be a solitary activity and she appreciates the support she received from the online community, particularly when starting out. She is excited about continuing the dialogue with her blog here.