This Spring, we are delighted to include Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times is our Featured Recommendation. Alice was lucky enough to ask Naoise about the novel and her writing process. Here is an extract of the interview… (to read the full interview, subscribe to NB Magazine).
- What was the initial inspiration for Exciting times, and when did you start writing your debut novel?
There wasn’t really ‘inspiration’ as such – I just wanted to write a novel because I felt like giving it a go, and I figured I could start with a scene where a man and a woman talked in a bar. I wrote the first draft over five months in the spring and summer of 2017. It took several years to get it published, though, both because publishing is slow and because I had a lot else going on in my life that I needed to fit editing the novel around.
- When you write, are you someone who jots down random phrases and uses these as starting points– or do you plan the entire structure methodically, and work through the manuscript chronologically?
It’s neither of those, really — it’s scene by scene. I’ll try to have something turn or change within a scene, and then the next one should be something that follows from the last on some level, be it events or feelings or both. Then later I’ll edit to make sure the entire structure has some kind of logic to it. Line edits are the last thing I do when I have the discipline to wait, but they’re far more fun than structural edits so sometimes I’ll catch myself tweaking a sentence I’m still not sure if I’ll keep.
- Money and class are themes which run throughout the novel, serving as an axis on which the characters and the narrative rests. Did these themes emerge organically as you wrote, or was their inclusion more deliberate?
It was all very organic. I think the combination of an Irish narrator and the Hong Kong setting made money and class an inevitable part of the story, since both countries have had huge swings in their socio-economic makeup over the past century, and that’s affected everything from culture down to individual psychology. I suppose really what I’m saying is I would have had to deliberately think my way into a world where money and class do not exist, and I didn’t see any reason to when it would have made the characters less believable and the stakes lower.
- Which authors do you adore, and which have had the greatest influence upon you?
Zadie Smith, Sayaka Murata, George Eliot, Edward St Aubyn, Nella Larsen, Leila Slimani, Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh. But it changes a lot.
- Which books have got you through the (insert expletive of choice) past 12 months?
I suppose I am still here and it can’t all have been paracetamol, so: Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars, Raven Leilani’s Luster, Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness, Brandon Taylor’s Real Life, Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs. Lots of others, too – 2020 was terrible in every way except for books.