An interview with Irish author Catherine Dunne (@DunneCatherine @DublinCityofLit @MelCityofLit @brimbanklibraries)

Image thanks to: Catherine Dunne & Brimbank Libraries

As part of Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature’s Virtual Writers in Residence Program, Irish author Catherine Dunne hosted the “Telling Life Stories” online workshop at Brimbank Libraries in December 2022.

In Dunne’s words: “There’s no such thing as an ordinary life. All interior lives are extraordinary.” Whether it’s for publication or family, the writing of one’s own personal story is “a necessary journey of discovery”.

Dunne’s creative writing sessions encourage aspiring writers to explore ways in which each can develop the writing routine that works best for them. In the process, participants and their instructor learn much about and from each other.

“I learn how it feels to be an immigrant, or an outsider. I learn about the importance of family lore, of the connection between the generations. I learn all the myriad ways in which each individual struggles to make their own unique way in the world.”

The author highlights the role played by inspiration, imagination, dedication and craft in the creative writing process. “If a writer is lucky, she gets a moment of inspiration. It can be a sudden insight, or a conversation overheard, or a buried memory that begins to make its way towards the surface of consciousness.”

“After that, it’s the job of the imagination to start answering the eternal question: What if?” For example, with The Years That Followed (2015, reprinted 2017), Dunne asked, What if Clytemnestra and Agamemnon were brought to life in the contemporary world?

“We let [our imagination] roam freely, and it takes us where we need to go. Sometimes the process is frustrating. Sometimes, we see the beginning and the end clearly, but the middle is a great big sagging underbelly that we can’t get into shape, no matter what we do.”

“Turning up at the desk when all feels tangled, dull, lifeless, is dedication. Writing and rewriting…is how the craft is honed, the prose polished, the story completed.”

Meanwhile, telling other people’s stories “with care and attention” also demands dedication and craft, as demonstrated in Dunne’s influential work An Unconsidered People: The Irish in London (2003, updated 2021).

“When listening to an individual’s story, I had to be alert to the hesitancies, the silences, the occasional reluctance to discuss something as painful as the loss of home. I had to imagine myself uprooted from home and making my way in an often hostile city. I had to step into the skin of the person I was interviewing, and look at the world through their eyes”.

Dunne’s best advice for aspiring writers on transforming their stories into books is to study the authors whose work they admire, and to spend time at the desk every week.

“Above all, in the early stages, leave your internal critics outside the door. Starve them. Deny them water, and air, and your time. When you’re editing the final draft, you can invite them into your writing room. Ofter them food, wine, warmth, a listening ear. Now is the time you can pay them some attention.”

Note: This article was published under the title “Author shares all” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, January 31, 2023, P.15.

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