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Music & Me – Nuala O’ Connor

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Songbook

Derek Flynn

“Music & Me” is a feature in which authors talk about their musical influences, their favourite musicians and their “musical guilty pleasures”. This week’s victim guest is Nuala O’ Connor.

What are your earliest musical memories?

My Da singing to us, rude songs (A sole, A sole, A soldier I would be…). Singing hymns in the car and at mass (we were charismatics so it was all very touchy-feely, ‘Kumbaya My Lord’ etc.). Singing Irish songs at school like ‘Baidín Fheilimí’. I loved all of it. We sang at home a lot, I’ve always loved singing.

Who or what were your musical influences growing up and why?

I’m the fifth of seven children, so I was influenced by my older brothers and sisters and their taste. I grew up on David Bowie, UB40, Kate Bush, Barbara Streisand. My parents didn’t have many records and what they did have was more along the lines of Cór Chúil Aodha and Peadar Ó Riada. Again, I loved it all. When I was old enough to buy my own records, I was into Paul Young (I still rate him) and later, The Cure and Depeche Mode (my Goth phase). By the time I was in university, studying Irish, I was a folk addict: Planxty, Mary Black, Maura O’Connell, Christy Moore, Andy Irvine.

Does music influence your writing?

I did a soundtrack for myself when writing my 1980-set novel YOU, which wasn’t hard: Kate Bush and Simon and Garfunkel. Similarly when I was writing my second, The Closet of Savage Mementos, set in 1991 and 2011, I bought a hits of 1991 to reacquaint myself with the music of that time. When writing Miss Emily, I researched the music Emily Dickinson would have played on her piano and really enjoyed listening to things like ‘The Blue Juniata’, and imagining Emily in her house, belting it out.

As for influence, I wrote a story based on a song for The Long Gaze Back anthology. It had been on my mind for years to tease out the lyrics of Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s ‘Jacques et Gilles’ and try to write a story about it. I didn’t find a way until I had the axe of a deadline to my neck for the anthology.


Do you listen to music while writing, editing, etc.?

No, I don’t. The older I get the more I seem to need absolute peace. I don’t like noise or distractions, they drag my brain away from what I’m doing.

Is there one particular novel or piece of writing you wrote that was directly influenced by a piece of music?

Yes, as I said above, my story ‘Shut Your Mouth Hélène’, was written for the Long Gaze Back anthology. It will also be in my collection Joyride to Jupiter out in June with New Island. I had the idea to do it ages ago but it wasn’t until recently that I finally found the way to do it. It ended up as a close third person narrative, from the POV of the child Hélène who, in the song, is told to shut her mouth.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

I tend to get a new album and play it to death (I still prefer CDs to downloads). At the moment I’m overdosing on Martha Wainwright’s latest, ‘Goodnight City’ and Declan O’Rourke’s ‘In Full Colour’, his album with the RTÉ concert orchestra. Martha and her brother Rufus Wainwright are my favourite artists, along with Regina Spektor. I listen to all three a lot. I’ve also been listening to Colm Mac an Iomaire’s sublime ‘And Now the Weather’. His music has brought a lot of joy in a difficult year.

Musically, what’s your guilty pleasure (or is there such a thing)?

I love American country music, some of it on the more poppy end of the scale. Think Thomas Rhett, Striking Matches, the albums form the Nashville TV series etc. I love nothing better than driving and warbling along to those catchy, cutesie songs. In my defence I also like more serious country artists like Laura Cantrell, Jason Isbell and Gillian Welch.


Nuala O’Connor AKA Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin, she lives in East Galway. Her fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter will appear from New Island in 2017. Penguin USA, Penguin Canada and Sandstone (UK) published Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid. Miss Emily was shortlisted for the Bord Gáis Energy Eason Book Club Novel of the Year 2015 and is currently longlisted for the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, is forthcoming. She is working on her fourth poetry collection. www.nualaoconnor.com




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