More articles Sunday 14 August 2016 8:23pm
Eimear McBride Introduces her Brand New Novel
No two ways about it: writing about sex has its challenges. The prudish, the prurient and the judges of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award lie in wait for those brave writers who attempt it. For Irish writer Eimear McBride, though, it proved unavoidable in the formation of her second novel, The Lesser Bohemians. “I was a bit mortified,” McBride told her audience at the Book Festival earlier today. “Like watching sex on the telly with your mum. But every time I tried to cut out more shagging… it seemed to creep back in.” McBride did, however, set herself a few ground rules. “I could not use ‘thrusting’. Or ‘grinding’; or ‘pumping’! None of the sex words.”
This copious but cliché-free coupling occurs between an aspiring actress recently arrived in London from Ireland, and an older actor with whom she enters a tumultuous, all-encompassing love affair. Fans of McBride’s much-praised debut novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing will be pleased to learn that The Lesser Bohemians further demonstrates her buoyantly experimental way with language - but might be surprised that its mood is happy rather than harrowing. “I really wanted to write a book about joy,” McBride said. “And I did feel I owed people, after Girl…!”
If the mood of the new book is different, so too was the writing and publishing process. McBride’s debut was written in six months, but took nine years to find a publisher. Its follow-up has taken nine years to write, and has both a major publisher behind it and an eager public awaiting it. “The second novel is a real bastard,” McBride admitted. “You have to learn how to be a writer at that point… it doesn’t all just come out.”
Her own time spent training as an actress informed the book’s theatrical content – and helped her to overcome a long-standing aversion to looking back that period of her life. Giving up acting, she said, carries a particular stigma. “If you’re an electrician, and then you change your mind and become a plumber, it’s not as if everyone refers to you as a ‘failed electrician,’” she says. Acting training continues to inform her work, however: both processes involve creating characters - “You’re trying to make language do that work, instead of the body” – and treating them without judgement. “For me it’s about learning to look at people and just trying to understand them – trying to make sense of what you see, rather than deciding whether someone is a good person or a bad person.”
Otherwise, her writing process is rigorous – a thousand words a day - but unstructured. “I don’t plot at all. I write, and what comes comes. It’s running around in the dark with your hands out hoping for the best!” So that’s no grinding, no pumping, no judging, no plotting… With such an idiosyncratic trajectory so far, what can McBride be planning next?
“I really need to get out of this nine-year cycle,” she laughed. “There’s only so much life left - I’m forty in October!” Her third novel, she revealed, is already underway. At this stage she intends it to be “something quiet, and small, and intimate, where nothing very dramatic happens – but as befits a career characterised by extremes and an investment in all things theatrical, this could still change. “I do have a terrible love for the melodramatic…”