At one point during her appearance at the Hay Festival in Kells, Liz Nugent mentions that she sometimes dreams about committing murder. Does anyone else do this?
To my surprise, I’m the only one to admit, yes, I do it, too. Maybe it’s an occupational hazard. Something that happens when you commit murder on the page.
This strange commonality means we’re soulmates, obviously. Very dark soulmates.
In profile Liz Nugent looks a bit like a young Hillary Rodham Clinton, but with a stronger jawline. As she took her seat in the Presbyterian Church preparing to be interviewed by Sophie Gorman, I thought she’d be a shoo-in to star in a movie about the Democrat’s early years. When Hillary Met Billy. A romantic comedy in the Nora Ephron vein, but without the schmaltz. As I wait for the interview to begin, I’m casting the film in my head. I have Matt Czuchry down to play Bill.
Before I can cast anyone else, we’re off and Ms Nugent is being introduced. We already know about her astonishing first book, Unravelling Oliver. She has a second coming out on July 7th. Lying in Wait. I like that her titles have more than one meaning. I like, too, that her books are more ‘whydunits’ than ‘whodunits’.
Sophie starts with some of the facts: Liz grew up in a house of books and she equates them with love. She didn’t do well in school but she liked writing and Shakespeare. In the early years, she held a lot of different jobs, working as a waitress, in a dole office, in medical records. She lived in London for a time. Later, she took an acting course at the Gaiety School and ended up as a stage manager.
At this point I’m checking off a long list of things we have in common. Big age difference between author and her next sibling? Check. Grew up in a house of books? Check. Lived in London? Check. Worked in the theatre? Check.
At this point you’ll be thinking less of soulmates and more of the Jesus-Pinoccio joke. (If you don’t know it, it’s here.)
For a time, Liz worked on Fair City. This was after she was placed on the short list of the Francis MacManus Short Story Competition with the story that became her first novel, the prize-winning Unravelling Oliver. If you haven’t read it, then get thee to a bookshop. Or, if you really must, you can download the kindle version from Amazon. Liz didn’t know she was a crime novelist until her book won the Best Crime Novel of the Year at the BordGais Energy Irish Book Awards.
Nowadays, Liz says, books have to be genre-fied. Her books are categorised as ‘Domestic Noir.’ She tried pitching a book as ‘Comedy Noir’ but was told she wasn’t allowed to make up her own genres. Ah, publishing!
She reads the opening of her next novel, Lying in Wait, and even the pigeons on the roof are holding their breath.
As befits a former student of the Gaiety School of Acting, Liz reads very well. She hardly has to look at the page and you realise this book is the product of countless rewrites. Not only is it apparent in the meticulous prose, it’s in the fluidity of her reading.
She says she’s undisciplined. She writes in the local library and aims for 1000 words / day. If she didn’t work in the library, she’d spend her day in pyjamas. She is easily distracted by social media.
Nope. Can’t relate at all.
For all her protestations of laziness, the prose tells another story. Liz has a way of opening a story with a hook that you can’t escape. I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her, opens her first novel. My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it, opens the second.
Although she has worked in other media, Liz likes the sense of control that comes with the novel. There are no producers or directors to get between the prose and the reader. The novel is the purest form of writing, though she admits her editor made huge contributions.
Can writing be taught, she is asked. She runs salons and her students seem to feel their time was well spent. She speaks of the importance of things like plot, structure, characters, etc.
As is often the case at the Hay Festival, it’s over far too soon. I’d like to go and say hello, but she’s surrounded by admirers and well-wishers. Another occupational hazard, perhaps.
If you get a chance to hear Liz Nugent speak, don’t miss it. In the meantime, check out her books. You won’t regret it.