Sheila O’Flanagan, 62, is the author of nearly 30 best-selling novels; like Jeffrey Archer, he has set out to write a book every year. His release this year was The women who fled. Some of his other recent novels include Her husband’s mistake, the hiding place, what happened that night and the missing wife. She lives in Dublin with her husband.
Your latest novel, The Women Who Fled, is the story of two women, Deira and Grace, who are brought together by unexpected circumstances and how they come to terms with shocking truths about the men they have loved as they embark on a life-changing adventure. lifetime. Do your characters reflect the lives of contemporary Irish women?
I hope they do. Ireland has changed considerably as a country over the last 50 years and I think the way we see ourselves as a people and the way we have embraced that change has been very positive.
Your characters often deal with love, loss, redemption, and the difficulties of escaping from the past. In a recent novel, Hideout, Juno Ryan does the same. What is the broader idea that you want to explore through these characters?
Juno is a complex character because she has always felt somewhat separate from her family; both because it was an unexpected arrival at the end of their lives, and because their interests are very different from theirs. As a result, he often tries to find their approval in other ways. He wanted to see how these feelings affected his life and his choices, particularly in regards to his relationships. I also wanted to explore how people face different hopes and aspirations than others in our family circle and how women, in particular, face the pressures of expectations from family members. It was interesting for me to explore how Juno gets in touch with her inner joy while away from home, doing things she wouldn’t otherwise do and embracing a different part of herself. Although her dreams remain hers, her perspective and her character change over the course of the book, and that was important to me as a writer and important to her as a character.
As a best-selling author, how do you see the divide between literary and commercial fiction? Do you write with an audience in mind?
I consider myself a storyteller and the most important thing for me is to tell the story of my characters in the most convincing way possible. I think the way the story is told is the biggest difference between literary and commercial fiction. Literary fiction sometimes focuses on form over narrative. Business fiction draws the reader in and immerses him in the situation, rather than leaving him on the sidelines, observing what is happening. Ireland has a reputation for producing great writers, but until recently most of our acclaimed writers have been male literary writers. One of the reasons she wanted to write was so that she could give a voice to women who, until then, had generally been depicted in novels as wife or mother or daughter, influenced by the choices of the men around her. but not as a person with hopes and dreams who can make his own decisions.
Although I don’t have a specific audience in mind, most of my readers are women because I focus on telling their stories. However, I have received some lovely messages from male readers who like the ideas my novels bring to them.
Irish authors have won major awards, including the Man Booker Prize. What has led to this flourishing considering that the literary scene has long been dominated by male writers?
In the last 20 years, women have found their voice. Changes in the country over the past 50 years have made women more confident that their own experiences are worth talking about and exploring. Irish men and women are very open, great listeners and great conversationalists, and we enjoy hearing other people’s stories. It is a source of immense pride for me that the women of such a small country are doing so well on the world stage.
Who are contemporary Irish women writers to read?
Young literary fiction writers like Sally Rooney and Anna Burns have very distinctive voices, while crime writers like Liz Nugent and Jo Spain are doing very well at home and abroad. Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght are brilliant comedy writers and their novels, starring a contemporary woman named Aisling, have been big hits in Ireland. Cecelia Ahern is another brilliant writer whose novels have become Hollywood movies.
Are publishers now more willing to publish experimental voices?
I think the success of Anna Burns Dairy It shows that there are publishers who will take risks, but overall the industry has become more risk averse and it is now much more difficult as a novelist to build a career slowly. Publishers are looking for instant bestsellers and that is a difficult thing for anyone to do. Usually it takes a couple of books to really break through, but fewer publishers are giving authors the time to do so. I think that’s why so many are opting for desktop publishing, but while that has advantages, it also means that the author has to take responsibility for every stage of the book, which takes the mind off writing.
Has the emergence of independent publishers facilitated the publication of new voices?
I hope so, but independent publishers are competing against big corporations, making it difficult for both to publish exciting new voices and remain profitable. However, it is important for writers to know their own voice and write from their hearts. Not everyone will be successful, but good editors from good publishers are always looking for interesting new writers.
What are the dominant themes in some of the major novels by contemporary Irish writers?
Probably most women’s novels deal with relationships and how they are affected by events in many ways. My own books are often about an event that emphasizes the main characters and how they cope. Many of us have written about struggling to meet all the different expectations of us as women. I think most contemporary female writers also try to reflect the world around them and that is why the world our characters inhabit has now changed from an inward-looking society to a more outward-focused one. Whereas 50 years ago the themes would have focused on a masculine rural society, now we write about a more multicultural and urban one.
Nawaid Anjum is a freelance writer, translator, and poet. Lives in Delhi.