Co-founder, editor and designer of The Moth magazine, Rebecca O’Connor, has a novel out next month, which centres around an adolescent in small town Ireland in the nineties. Published by Canongate Books, He Is Mine And I Have No Other is a tale of first experiences whilst living out in the back of beyond.
Rebecca spoke with The Fountain about how she finds editing helps with the writing process and how the novel is intrinsically linked to her past, having written it many years prior.
TF: A debut novel, you must be ecstatic to have your novel published and to have it published by Canongate?
I am. So much so, it’s making me feel a bit sick. To strive towards something for so long and then to have it actually happen… Well. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was about my protagonist Lani Devine’s age, fifteen. Canongate publish some of my favourite people – David Shrigley, Miranda July, Leonard Cohen, David Lynch. And they feel to me like they’re just the right size (Canongate, that is, not Shrigley, July, Cohen and Lynch) to be dynamic, to take risks, and to share a passion within the company for the books they publish.
TF: And as editor of literary publication, The Moth, has this helped or hindered with the writing process?
Definitely a bit of both, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s been an incredible learning experience for me, reading submissions to The Moth, and coming across the likes of Sara Baume and Rob Doyle and June Caldwell for the first time. We set up The Moth in 2010, when our eldest child was two, and we’ve had two more children since then and moved house numerous times, moved office, renovated an old house and outhouse (which is now The Moth Retreat). I had to put my own writing to one side, particularly fiction, though I continued to pen the odd short story and poem, and managed to publish a poetry collection, We’ll Sing Blackbird, in 2012. To be honest, I was stimulated enough creatively by putting The Moth together every three months, and learning how to run a business. He Is Mine was written before the husband, the kids, The Moth. It’s been waiting patiently in the wings! I’m happy as long as I have some creative outlet. In recent years I’ve taken up the guitar and started writing songs. I’ve always loved to sing. To find the words that fit, to find your voice in that way, feels like a gift. I feel enriched by all of this experience, and ready now to give the time needed to fiction. I’m working on a third novel (the second was also written before all the madness).
TF: Based in Ireland in the 1990s, would it be fair to say that some of this book is semi-autobiographical?
I think that would be fair. It was written when I was in my late twenties and living in Oxford, working as an editor at Oxford University Press. I’d had a very happy time there, but then things started to turn a little sour at work. I guess I must have felt a little homesick – but whatever it was, I wanted to conjure up some semblance of the life I’d lived back in provincial Ireland as a teenage girl – not to tell my story, but to draw on the intense feelings of first love, the suffocating ennui of an adolescence played out in what felt like the edge of the universe, mixed with the intoxicating excitement of things that are experienced for the first time. That distance helped, I think. It meant I had to delve deep. I also drew on the true story of an orphanage fire in my hometown in 1943. I grew up near the cemetery where the thirty-five girls were buried in an unmarked grave, so it had a profound effect on me as a youngster. I felt like I needed to write about it.
TF: How did you alter your processes from editing to writing?
The two are part of the same process, I think. I edit heavily, line by line, as I write, tinkering, always tinkering, though I’m trying to resist doing that with the new book I’m working on. As an editor, it’s easier to see the bigger picture, and to see where something falls down structurally, but that can be difficult when you’re very close to the text. Leaving the novel for ten years helps to give some perspective! But I don’t want to do that again ….
TF: And are you touring with the book, where can we expect to see you?
I’ll be launching the book in London and Dublin, and of course my hometown of Cavan, and I’m reading at the International Literature Festival Dublin on 26th May.
Published by Canongate, He Is Mine And I Have No Other is out on 7th June 2018.