Edna O’Brien

Oops! I accidentally clicked on my own like and apparently there’s no way to undo it…Sniff…sniff

Anyway…here’s the post.

“You have to be lonely to be  a writer,” says Edna O’Brien in an interview with  Jane Martinson of The Guardian regarding her recent memoir Country Girl“You wouldn’t go through the purgatory of writing unless you were a lonely person.”

Edna O’Brien published Country Girls (notice the difference from her memoir Country Girl) in 1930, which was banned in Ireland for its candid treatment of sex.

Author of The Sea, John Banville (2013)  writes in the introduction to her short stories The Love Object  “Here, as so often elsewhere, Edna O’Brien mourns for the plight of her wounded women and at the same celebrates their exuberance, their generosity, and ultimately, their indomitable spirit. She is, simply, one of the finest writers of our time.”

When I first laid eyes on her office a line from The Eagles’ Hotel California came to mind:

Such a lovely place

Edna O'Brien

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe 

Look, she even has a bouquet of fresh flowers.

Or maybe it was this quote of hers:

Writers really live in the mind and in hotels of the soul.

Here’a another one of her quotes on writing 

But any book that is any good must be, to some extent, autobiographical, because one cannot and should not fabricate emotions; and although style and narrative are crucial, the bulwark, emotion, is what finally matters. With luck, talent, and studiousness, one manages to make a little pearl, or egg, or something . . . But what gives birth to it is what happens inside the soul and the mind, and that has almost always to do with conflict. And loss—an innate sense of tragedy. (Paris review…The art of Fiction No. 82 )

Click here for the interview with the very charming Edna O’Brien. 

Do you think any book that is any good must be autobiographical?  

24 thoughts on “Edna O’Brien

  1. I think that to be a great book a book has to be pulled from the emotional repertoire of the writer. But that doesn’t mean that the experiences have to be lived.


  2. Carol – You have an interesting perspective. I think you’re right that writers integrate themselves in some way into what they write. I don’t see how one couldn’t. And there’s no doubt that when you write, you write alone. Of course first readers, editors, critique groups and so on can be of inestimable value. But really, the fingers on the keyboard are the writer’s.


    • Margot, this is really Edna O’Brien’s perspective but I do think that writers, especially in the creative mode, are alone. But there’s a difference between alone and lonely and as for myself, when I’m writing I never feel lonely.
      Perhaps, Ms O’Brien means that writers write to take away their loneliness, for she does say – who would go through the purgatory of writing unless you were lonely.
      It’s as if writing were an antidote to loneliness. And, I can see it being that.


  3. This is a difficult question, Carol. It is difficult as it depends on the definition of ‘a good book’. If it is sufficient that I feel entertained – a good book must not necessarily be autobiographical. I loved reading The Country Girls and Girl With Green Eyes as well as the third book in this trilogy. On the other hand there is ‘I Dream of Zombies’ – I just read it, published my review yesterday. This book is very entertaining – and luckily it is not autobiographical. 😉
    My short story Sælevatnet was praised by many readers and – I can assure you that it is not in the least autobiographical.


    • You pose an interesting comment, Karen. As I was writing this post I was thinking about sci-fi, horror and crime writing and how much of it could not be autobiographical.
      However, I think there is always a part that is so. Maybe the fears that live in us. Is not our imagination part of us?


  4. Hi, liking what you write is a good start 🙂 the other day I published a post I really didn’t mean to!

    I think you have to write from where you think is your truth.


  5. I read a lot of Edna’s work when I was younger. I don’t think you need to be a loner or an introvert to write, and I think that all writers pour a fair bit of their experience into their work, whether overtly or otherwise.


  6. I’m not all that sure that a book must be autobiographical to some extent. I mean, how many times have you faked an emotion and no one has been the wiser? At the same time, I think a writer has to put his or her heart and soul into the writing if it’s to be interesting.


  7. Love the room, but no, I don’t think any book that is any good must be autobiographical. I think you can imagine emotions. If every author who created a believable murderer was writing autobiographically, the world would be an even more dangerous place.


  8. I agree in a sense that any book must be autobiographical because all stories hold some bit of reality. The best books are the ones that take the reader on an emotional rollercoaster. How can one truly describe emotions if one has not felt them before? In response to the murder example above, I see your point. But did the author have to feel hate, or rage or envy? These emotions led to the ACT of murder, not the feeling of BEING a murder. Someone can write a novel about motherhood, without having been a mother. But they have felt love, etc. I think the best books are penned by those that are willing to be vulnerable and unafraid. ( Great post. Reblogging this!)


    • I agree that the best books are those that take the reader on an emotional rollercoaster and that the best books are written by those willing to be vulnerable. It takes a lot of courage to write but much more to write meaningful writing.

      Thank you for reblogging this, Faith:)


  9. I really like this part of your blog, Carol. For some reason, I love memoirs. And you pick out such interesting writers to write about. I can’t just read the part you write, but I have to keep digging. LOL


    • Thanks, Drew. I’ve always liked doing research and I learn a lot about these writers by writing these posts. It’s all very stimulating for me and it pleases me to know that it’s of interest to you and other bloggers:)


  10. We do insert pieces of ourselves into our writing. I tend to be rather self-centered on my own posts/blog. I think research is an interesting way to add details and also, roots in languages. I have written posts where I will choose a word that can be interpreted in more than one way. These are just essays not books, though! Smiles, Robin


  11. Pingback: Lord Byron | Carol Balawyder

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