Emma Donoghue Interviewby Julie Oreskovich
It's fair to say that Emma Donoghue is a master of her craft. With 10 works of fiction under her belt, short stories, literary history, stage, radio and screenplays, Donoghue certainly has a lot to say. Although Donoghue is probably best known for her historical fiction including Slammerkin, her latest novel Room - a story that keeps the reader glued to the page from start to finish - has won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was a finalist for Canada's Governor General’s Award and the Man Booker Prize.
Room is about a mother and her five year old boy who are confined in a 11x11 foot room and are never allowed to leave. To Jack, the little boy, it’s all he knows but to Ma, it’s her personal hell. For seven years she has been kept hostage in the garden shed with only a skylight in the roof showing glimpses of the outside world. Without giving away too much of the plot, the story is gripping, horrifying, intriguing and immensely readable.
Although Donoghue is extrememly busy these days with writing, reading and collecting book awards, she agreed to answer some questions about Room, what's next for her and more.
AbeBooks: What sort of research did you conduct to prepare yourself for writing this book?
Emma Donoghue: "A great deal, not just on kidnapping cases but on all sorts of other situations that I thought might help me understand some aspect of Jack and Ma's life: children in prisons and concentration camps, child neglect and abuse and confinement, unassisted labour, various forms of psychotherapy, solitary confinement in US prisons, police policies in sexual-assault cases, autistic child's sensory overload, language development... I could go on. Pleasanter forms of research, too, like blowing eggs, playing Legos with my five-year-old son and rolling him up in a rug. Having a background in historical fiction, I tend to plunge deeply into my research because you never know what you're going to discover."
AbeBooks: As a mother yourself, did you find it difficult to write Ma's narrative?
Emma Donoghue: "Every parent I know has already dwelt on those nightmarish scenarios: what could you bear for your child, what would you sacrifice, what if you had two children and the Nazis made you pick one... Peace of mind is gone once you've had a kid, anyway. So no, writing Room was quite therapeutic, in that I got to gather up all I've feared and all I know about mother-love and make a satisfying story of it."
AbeBooks: This book more than any other that I’ve read recently has lingered on in my memory. Is this the same for you? I would imagine that the characters of Ma and Jack would be hard to let go.
Emma Donoghue: "I haven't really had the chance, since I'm responding to fan letters about them daily! I'll be able to report on this in a few years."
AbeBooks: You've written numerous books of fiction, short stories, non-fiction history and stage, radio and screen plays. Which piece of your own work is closest to your heart?
Emma Donoghue: "Right now, Room, but then I always feel that way about the new 'baby'. I would say that they all matter greatly to me but that my fiction (short or long) is top of the list."
AbeBooks: AbeBooks recently wrote an article about how the industry often displays an obvious bias towards white male authors and male writers in general. Bestselling authors, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner have commented " that men who publish the same level and tone of commercial fiction – one example mentioned was Nick Hornby – enjoy more reviews, acclaim and respect than female counterparts". Do you feel that women are overlooked as authors in today's world?
Emma Donoghue: "I haven't scrutinised the matter enough to give an opinion. There have been interesting studies suggesting that women get fewer prizes and reviews in important publications, certainly. But this year I've had so much attention, I can't say I've felt any neglect!"
AbeBooks: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Your name has certainly generated a lot of press these days with all of the book award nominations. What are your thoughts about book awards in general?
Emma Donoghue: "They're useful; they're a roving spotlight, they get readers excited about books, by bringing in that devilish spirit of competition. A crude device, maybe, but any phenomenon that makes people talk passionately about books is fine by me. As for how I respond to being longlisted or shortlisted for an award - I try to enjoy the taste of glory, without letting myself believe I'm going to win, because that way heartbreak lies."
AbeBooks: What writing projects are you working on now?
Emma Donoghue: "I've put together a collection of short stories and I'm working on a novel about a murder in 1870s San Francisco, as well as starting a new stage play."
AbeBooks: What book are you reading now?
Emma Donoghue: "I'm about to dive into an advance copy of Sebastian Barry's new novel, On Canaan's Side."
AbeBooks: What are some of your favourite books by other authors?
Emma Donoghue: "An agonising question: like being asked to name your three best friends in a newspaper!"