Niamh Boyce's first novel The Herbalist, was the winner of the inaugural Novel Fair at the Irish Writers Centre in 2012. Since then she has been working very hard on whipping it into shape with her publisher, Penguin Ireland. I was lucky enough to get a review copy and my nose was stuck in it for a long weekend recently. Set in 1930's Ireland, it is packed full of great characters and fascinating stories. Do yourself a favour and get a copy to see what all the fuss is about. Here's an interview on some of the burning questions I had on the book's journey to publication.
Welcome Niamh, to emergingwriter. Congratulations on your novel. You have 4 women narrators who are quite distinctive. I am particularly fond of Emily. How did you keep their individual voices and attitudes?
The women were so different in circumstance, age and attitude that their voices felt very distinct from early on in the process. I wrote them exaclty as I heard them – but did vary the point of view. Emily, who was a real chatterbox, narrates from the first person; which is the most intimate. And Carmel and Sarah were written from the third person. It was no effort really to keep their voices distinct- they're at such very different stages in their lives and have very different attitudes towards life, love and the Herbalist.
The women in your novel are to a certain extent, defined by their clothes. How would you recommend any emerging writers consider this for their own characters?
It depends on the character really. Many might not notice clothes at all. For someone like Emily however, with her love of Hollywood glamour and silks, satins and furs - clothes become very important. They symbolise the kind of woman she wishes to be.
Clothes can be very evocative, a child's shoe can evoke loss, a leather belt can evoke terror. When I facilitate writing workshops, I often use small items to help writers to create with characters. Lipstick has worked very well in the past, often bringing up stories of betrayal, murder and lust, as well as some touching personal memories. A hat can represent a part of someone’s personality they usually keep hidden, there are endless ways to work with characterisation through clothes, it’s a very rich area, and very enjoyable.
Your novel won the novel fair in 2012. What did your agent and publisher recommend you change between then and the final draft?
My novel fair entry was a condensed version of my original manuscript, so the first thing I did was work back in those scenes I had cut for clarity in the fever coming up to the novel fair! The next stage was working with a calendar, an excellent recommendation from my publisher. I printed out a calendar from the year of the novel, one for each character. That way I knew where everyone was on any given day. It was very helpful; I’d recommend it to anyone writing a novel.
Niamh blogs here and you can see the Amazon link for The Herbalist here, or better still, buya copy in your local independent book shop.
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