Upfront: Author Lisa McInerney on Difficulty Growing Up in an Enid Blyton World

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Lisa McInerney (40) is an award-winning novelist, short story writer and screenwriter, whose work includes The Glorious Heresies and This year’s Rules of Revelation. She was born in Gort, Co Galway, where she is now based. She is married and has a son.

How were you as a girl growing up?

I was your typical kid growing up to be a writer. I was living in my own head, making things up all the time.

Choose three words to describe yourself.

Excitable, salty and fair. I am just angry with things like housing for example, and I throw rants against a world that will not bow to me. It is of no use to anyone.

Why were you raised by your grandparents?

My mom was 20 when she had me. It was in the 1980s, when Ireland still had illegitimacy laws. They decided the best thing to do was adopt me into the family. My grandmother had eight children, so I was like number nine. My mother left and had her own life. I called my uncles and aunts like my siblings. The youngest of them is 10 years older than me.

How was this education helpful in becoming a writer?

It was a strange mix, because I was part of a very big family, and on another level I was an only child. I really was an outsider, which was great for me as a writer. When you have a kid at home you want them to play on their own – so I was given books. I read for hours.

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What did you read as a child?

Heidi, Black beauty, Alice in Wonderland and a lot of Enid Blyton. Blyton wrote these mysteries where five nice kids would solve problems. Sometimes they would meet someone from outside their community – a working class cousin or an English Gypsy traveler – and they were presented as foreign idiots. It’s my past, I’m from the working class. I was absorbing Blyton’s strange imperialism.

Why are you a writer?

I think writers are born, not made. It’s a way of looking at the world and trying to make sense of things. As a child I wrote stories and throughout my teenage years when I should have studied for Leaving Cert. It was the same in college. It is a means of communication. It’s almost like it’s not a choice for me.

Who are your role models?

When I was little, it was Jarvis Cocker from the Pulp group. He was one of the first people to voice all the frustrations I felt as a working class child. He sang about trying to fight his way through a world stacked against you. His songs were about living in a workers’ housing estate, one on top of the other, and the kind of filth that goes with it. He wasn’t ashamed of it and made everything feel alive. It was the kind of thing I wanted to capture in my own fiction.

What inspires your writing?

Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. I was also inspired by our fading relationship with religion. In the 1980s Ireland was a pious country, but scandals in the church shattered it. We have changed radically, but we are not necessarily post-Catholic yet. The rituals of our life are still built around this skeleton of church life. There was a lot about it in my first novel The glorious heresies.

Has motherhood changed you?

My kid is going to be 20, and I was 20 when he was born, so I don’t know if that has changed me. At this age, you don’t really know who you are anyway. I have always been a parent. It’s part of who I am. We grew up together and it was lovely

What drives you?

The stories and the characters in my head and wanting to capture them. And the quest for the perfect phrase.

The best advice we have given you?

I don’t listen to advice. I probably should.

Has Covid-19 changed you?

I write at home, but I missed the community of writers and the buzz around festivals and book launches. I can’t wait to read at the Ballina Fringe Festival.

What are you looking at?

I was sucked into the House medical drama with my son. Every week someone arrives with mysterious symptoms, and it’s a race against time to find out what’s wrong. That’s high octane stuff. I’m glad I didn’t start watching him during the lockdown as that would have been a bit too much for me. I am quite disgusted.

The Ballina Fringe Festival runs from October 9 to 17; ballinafringfestival.ie


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