Author Niamh Mulvey
Hearts & Bones is the debut collection of short stories from Kilkenny-born Niamh Mulvey.
Witty, sharply observed and deeply moving, these 10 stories announce an extraordinary new Irish literary talent.
Niamh spent 10 years working as a commissioning editor for a publishing house in London before writing her first book Heart & Bones, which was launched last week by Picador.
The collection of short stories, is about Ireland, and the relationship between Ireland and London; families, love, misunderstanding and heartbreak. Her first novel, The Amendments, will be published in 2023.
Niamh's short fiction has been published in The Stinging Fly, Banshee and Southword and was shortlisted for the Seán O’Faoláin Prize for Short Fiction 2020.
She sometimes still edits books. She is a writer, editor and writing coach, helping other people to write their books.
Here is a glimpse into Niamh’s writing…
What are the short stories about in Bones & Hearts?
This is a book about what love does to us, and how we survive it. It’s set between Ireland and London in the first two decades of this millennium. The stories in Hearts and Bones, look at the changes that have torn through these times and ask who we are now that we’ve brought the old gods down.
For example, a young woman learns to wield her power, leaving casualties in her wake, while a man from a small town finds solace in a strange new hobby.
A watchful child feels a breaking point approach as her mother struggles to keep her life on track, and another daughter steps onto a stage while her family in the audience hope that she is strong enough now to take on the world.
First-time lovers make mistakes, brothers and sisters try to forgive one another, and parents struggle and fail and struggle again. Teenage souls are swayed by euphoric faith in a higher power and then by devotion to desire, trapped between different notions of what might be true.
Quiet revolutions happen in living rooms, on river banks, in packed pubs and empty churches, and years later we wonder why we ever did the things we did.
Hearts & Bones, LOVE SONGS FOR LATE YOUTH is written about what love does to us, and how we survive it. Why this topic Niamh?
Love is the most important animating force in all of our lives. I don’t just mean romantic love – my book explores relationships between friends, family members and siblings as well as lovers.
Love can be wonderful, but it can also be very destructive. It’s often painful.
People often misunderstand or cannot clearly see their loved ones – and this misunderstanding allows for drama. Which in turn makes great stories.
Are the characters based on real life events and people?
Yes and No. All of the stories are made up. But they are drawn from my life experience and what I’ve seen or imagined of other’s experiences. I don’t think there is any such thing as fiction that is not in some way autobiographical.
After 10 years, you took the plunge to go from editor to writer. Was it hard to swap the red pen for the blue?
I’ve always been writing so in some ways there was no sense of swapping.
A few years ago, I decided to give up both on publishing and on writing as I felt I wasn’t making progress in either. And that’s when these stories started growing – when I stopped trying so hard.
I stopped thinking about ‘being a writer’ and then my writing got a lot better. I had to get my ego out of the way.
You also coach writers. How do you know if a student has 'what it takes'?
I don’t think about writing in that way. It’s not for me or anyone else to say whether someone ‘has what it takes’.
It’s about whether the student is brave enough to be really really honest about their motivations and hardworking enough to focus on their technique.
In my sessions, I focus on the work, not on the student. And if someone wants to write, there is always an interesting, true reason behind that. That’s what I help people to find – the subject they really care about. The writing follows from that.
How do you tell the ones that don’t have 'what it takes'?
I would never tell anyone they can’t be a writer. If you read my writing a decade ago, you never would have thought I would have written a book.
I love working with all kinds of writers and I find that if you give people the space and permission to really pay attention to the things that interest them – while at the same time alerting them to how writing works on a craft and sentence level – then magic can happen.
Humans make sense of the world through storytelling – every single one of us. Writers just pay closer attention to this process than other people. And anyone can choose to pay close attention to that process.
Your debut novel is coming out next year and it’s based on the title story in Hearts & Bones. Can you give us a sense of what it’s about?
It’s a family saga with lots of highs, lows, heartbreak, joy, and surprises. It’s set between Ireland and London and spans the early eighties to the present day.
I’m working on the edit at the moment, it’s very challenging but I hope it’ll be a juicy and enjoyable read. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and I can’t wait for people to read it.
You are moving back to Kilkenny this year with your family. Will you miss the bright lights of London?
I will! I love London and, in some ways, I don’t think I’ll ever fully leave it. But I’m also looking forward to building a new life in Ireland, with my little cockney children.
If anyone wants to avail of your writing courses, how do they avail of them?
I only do one or two courses a year – through Publishing Ireland, so check their website or sign up to their mailing list for details, the next one is in September.
For my coaching, you can visit my website niamhmulvey.com where you can book a session or find out more.
Hearts & Bones, LOVE SONGS FOR LATE YOUTH is available in The Book Centre, Kilkenny and at https://www.kennys.ie/
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