Her words have transported us to the Northwest Pacific, the woodlands of the Midlands and even the eerie salt marshes of the Camargue in Southern France. For author Noelle Harrison, travelling is a constant source of inspiration. In her latest novel, Where The Ice Burns, the icy landscape of Arctic Norway forms an impressive backdrop.
Noelle Harrison was born in England to an Irish Mother and spent much of her early childhood living in the Home Counties. After attending the University of London, she took the plunge and moved to Dublin in 1991. Throughout the early nineties she wrote and produced three stage plays as well as a short film with her theatre company, Aurora. Noelle left Dublin for Meath with her partner in 1997, where her son was born. August 2004 would see all her dreams finally come through with the publication of her debut, critically acclaimed novel, Beatrice. She has just finished her fifth book after spending time in stunning Norway researching it.
The young Noelle grew up as the daughter of a cook/housekeeper living mainly with employer’s families. Early on, she informs me, she became a keen observer of other people’s families and their “domestic dramas.” She learned to watch and listen to others almost as though she was not even present, just a silent onlooker. Noelle recalls how “this feeling of being an outsider” always helped her to write and is probably why she moves around quite a bit to this day and has not remained on living in the country of her birth.
She began as a little girl to avidly keep notebooks, a useful skill for any aspiring writer. It was in here she jotted down all her most precious thoughts, ideas for books and even stuck inspiring images into them. She tells me that to this day she always takes a notebook with her wherever she goes. “If I am stuck for words I always go back to a notebook and handwriting a passage as I feel this process of moving the pen across paper helps me to connect to my imagination more immediately.”
Noelle, like many authors, experienced years of crippling self-doubt before she was finally published. Encouraging, I’m sure, for any writers out there struggling with their confidence. Her first novel took a total of five years to pen, after numerous drafts and re-drafts. Proving that persistence and hard graft can really pay off when it comes to the art of writing. Her Mother, she tells me, never questioned her decision to become a writer and never forced her to get a “proper” job. The unwavering support of those around her proved crucial. “Friends and family who have believed in me has had the biggest impact on my ability to become a writer.”
For most writers inspiration can strike at any time and emanate from just about anywhere. Noelle informs me that her primary inspiration comes from “the visual- art and nature.” She also enjoys discussing out her ideas with friends who are involved in creative life such as fellow writers, artists and musicians. You certainly won’t find Noelle locked in her office for days on end, as she remarks “For me an hour walk in the woods is as productive as spending three hours at my desk.”
When asked how she develops her intricate plots, she answers “it can be rather haphazard and intuitive.” Generally she begins with a concept or theme, for instance a missing girl in her debut novel Beatrice and tries not to control it. Noelle doesn’t like using a rigid plot as she feels it can often be overly restrictive. She believes readers can easily sense this and just switch off. “Sometimes my endings surprise even me!” she adds playfully.
Noelle explains how she tries to let her characters “lead” her through the story, thus she hopes to keep the book “alive.” I am intrigued to know, how does she manage to get into the head of some of her darkest characters? “None of us are perfect, we are all flawed in some way.. even my most shining heroine must have a shadow self, and the most darkest of my characters must have redeeming qualities.” She manages to identify with all of characters in some way because as she explains so eloquently “there are some experiences, which are universal to the human condition – love, loss, fear.”
As with so many writers, Noelle’s vast collection of characters have become almost like children to her “I have nurtured them, watched them develop and exist within the pages of my books, in order to finally separate from them but I never completely let them go.” Yet amongst them Noelle has her favourites! – Barbara in I Remember, June in The Adulteress and Iselinn in her brand new novel.
For Noelle, research can take her just about anywhere in the world. She is a writer of wondrous landscapes. These landscapes are imperative to her books and often can even form the starting point. She recalls that moving to the North Midlands of Ireland and walking in the woods and bogs there, inspired her first novel. “In all of my books landscapes are crucial, creating emotional barometers for the characters whether it is the big sea & sky of the Northwest Pacific (A Small Part Of Me) or the perpetual twilight of the Arctic winter in Norway (the setting for my new book).” As locations are such a source of inspiration for Noelle, she likes to travel as much as possible, “funds permitting” of course!
Noelle has just put the finishing touches to her fifth novel, Where The Ice Burns. She describes it as “a tale of intrigue, dark family secrets and love set in modern-day Arctic Norway. A young woman is running away from Ireland and a family crisis, to escape to Norway and hide from the pain of loss. Yet her journey brings her closer to all that she fears for her ancestors have been to Norway before, leaving behind them a shame so deep it continues to have consequences for each new generation. Combining ancient myths with the challenge of finding an enduring love in the modern world, Where The Ice Burns is a book about death not as an ending, but rather a beginning.”
So what’s the hardest part of writing for Noelle? “You have to have bags of patience as nothing happens quickly in the publishing industry and sometimes it is hard to switch off and just wait to hear back.”Something I’m sure all budding scribblers must experience at the outset.
Noelle Harrison is, however, in no doubt that the positives far outweigh the negatives, she knows she is living her dream and the dreams of so many just like her.
“I love being a writer, and I constantly count my lucky stars that I am able to do something I feel so passionate about for a living.”
Noelle Harrison is the author of Beatrice (2004 ), A Small Part Of Me (2005), I Remember (2008) and The Adulteress (2009). Noelle has written a fabulous article for writing.ie describing how she uses landscape as a metaphor in her work.
For more information on Noelle Harrison and the release of her new book, check out her website.