I began 2014 with an almost-completed first novel, Eggshells, pieced together from jottings on scraps of paper that made their way into different-sized notebooks and eventually into a book. The previous October, I had entered the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair competition. I was now jobless, and as a distraction, I worked on another draft of Eggshells. It wasn’t hard to motivate myself to write; job-hunting is frustrating and tedious, even more so when you have no idea what you want to do or where you want to do it.
When Brendan from the Irish Writers Centre called to say I was one of the finalists, I shrieked like a wounded banshee. The decibel levels were so high, I may owe Brendan the price of a hearing test. I hadn’t really allowed myself to think about winning the competition; I hadn’t so much as a paragraph published in my name. As far as I was concerned, publication was for Other People, people who emerged from the womb holding pens. The only snag to my excitement was: it was Friday, and I needed to mail a completed novel to the Irish Writers’ Centre on Monday.
Instead of writing, I told friends and family my news and spent the next while on the phone receiving congratulations for a novel that I should be finishing. Instead of writing, I went to the pub that evening to celebrate with friends and cider and more squeals. The next morning, I woke with a mild hangover and a less mild sense of unease about some unfinished business.
Fortunately, I had the house to myself that weekend so I stayed in my pyjamas and pruned and tweaked and tore strips off the book at a kitchen table strewn with cruddy bowls and tea-stained cups and scraps of paper. I ate cereal and ordered takeaway and did nothing more domestically arduous than boil a kettle for the next 48 hours. I spoke the words of the novel aloud, I lopped off certain sections, I added in what I thought were braver, better words, but which after rereading seemed like inferior words, and so, to the delete button again. When I’d sent off my virtually finished novel to the Irish Writers Centre, I felt all sorts of relief and pride until I realised that I had a pitch and bio to write, as well as some serious swotting up on the publishers to do.
The pitch unnerved me. I’m terrible at buzzwords, at selling myself, at putting a year’s work into a couple of killer sentences. Eggshells is a strange kind of a book, and I found it difficult to describe. All I could hope for was that the agents and publishers would look beyond the awkward, hesitant woman and into the manuscript she clutched. But if I thought writing a pitch was hard, writing a biography was sheer hell. I was tempted to invent a couple of literary prizes I’d won or been shortlisted for, but I’m the person who gets caught out for even thinking about lying, so I just wrote a list of jobs I had worked and my favourite flavour of crisps.
The Novel Fair is a chance for 12 aspiring writers to spend 15 minutes pitching their books to various agents and publishers. I’ve heard it described as speed-dating for nerds, but instead of aiming to get laid, we were aiming to get published. The fair was fun, it was intense, it was exciting. Better than a job interview because if you write, you read, and at the fair, you get to talk about both to people who love books. In job interviews, you squeeze yourself into corporate shapes; here, you could be real. Real also meant nervous though; there was much sweating and running to the toilets to towel off the oxters and mop my clammy forehead.
Shortly after the fair, I went to stay with a friend in Hamburg. I visited a museum which got so far under my skin, I’ve since decided to set my second novel there. At the time, I had the makings of two characters in my head, but I was in no form for writing. The obsession with the museum fizzed around my brain until I placed my characters firmly in this German world and began writing the second novel. Eggshells is about a woman who believes she’s a changeling walking around contemporary Dublin trying to find a portal back to the otherworld. I loved obsessively studying the city for that novel, but I felt I’d written Dublin to death. Writing about a different place would be a relief.
After the fair, Ger Nichol of the Book Bureau contacted me and agreed to represent me, and towards the end of the year, I signed a book deal with Liberties Press. Ger and Liberties really got the book, they got the character, and being got was what I was after. With much of last year spent finishing and trying to find a home for Eggshells, I’m glad it won’t end up on the compost heap just yet. It launches this week, which means 2015 will be spent promoting the first book, writing the second, and finding paid work to keep me in pencils and printer ink.
(c) Caitriona Lally
“A fairytale of Dublin. Edgy and eloquent, a remarkable debut.” Declan Kiberd.
About the Book:
Vivian Lawlor believes she is a changeling. She was left by fairies on Earth, replacing her parents’ healthy human child. Now, as an adult, she’s trying to get back to the ‘otherworld’, where she feels she can finally belong. The thing is, Vivian is having some difficulties going back, so she’s forced to go about her Earth life in the meantime.
Vivian’s everyday routine, meticulously mapped out on parchment paper, takes her all over Dublin in her effort to get ‘home’. She encounters nosy neighbours, pernickety social workers and her condescending older sister – who is also named Vivian. From making lists in her journal to posting ‘wanted’ advertisements for a friend named Penelope, Vivian leads an eccentric life.
Caitriona Lally offers a witty, exhilarating debut novel in Eggshells. Vivian’s head is filled to the brim with clever one-liners that leave the people she encounters more than a little confused. Her OCD-like tendencies make her human relationships strained, but she still has the house her Great Aunt Maude left her – as long as she doesn’t hurt its feelings.
About the author:
Caitriona Lally studied English Literature in Trinity College Dublin. She has had colourful employment history, working as an abstract writer and a copywriter alongside working as a home help in New York and an English teacher in Japan. She has travelled extensively around Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Her essay about Grangegorman appeared in a recent issue of We Are Dublin. Eggshells was selected as one of 12 finalists in the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair 2014.
Eggshells is in all good bookshops or pick up your copy online here.