In our companion series to our popular podcast, Tanya Farrelly tells us which books she would save if her house was on fire—and other bookish things. (Shelby the dog was unavailable for comment).
Tanya Farrelly’s latest collection of short stories, Nobody Needs to Know is out now.
Turn down the page, or book mark?
I’m not a total nay-sayer when it comes to bending corners, but I prefer to mark the page with whatever’s to hand, even if it’s a chocolate wrapper or a Tesco receipt.
Writing in the margins, or sacred pages?
I will only write in the margins if I’m studying the book for a particular reason. I highlighted and wrote on many books during my academic studies. I do like clean copies and it drives me mad when others have underlined things or written in the margins when I buy second-hand books – it’s very distracting!
Do you lend without expecting a book returned?
It’s happened so often in the past that I prefer to just buy the book and gift it rather than lend it. When I come across a book I fall in love with, I’ll generally end up gifting it to several friends.
Examples that come to mind are The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zaffon, Tenderwire by Claire Kilroy, Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, and Declan Burke’s Absolute Zero Cool. I’ve gifted a number of those. It’s about sharing the joy, isn’t it?
Do you keep all of your books, or do you have a regular cull?
I keep all the books that I enjoy. Being married to another writer means that we have tons of books between us and of course we’ll visit them at different times, often years apart, so it pays to keep them.
Digital or physical copy?
Always physical. I don’t own an e-reader and doubt I ever will. I do recognise their merits: ebooks are cheaper and easily accessible and it’s far simpler to take with you when you travel, but when I write, I’m on the laptop so I don’t want to read on a screen as well.
I love the feel and smell of books.
I love second-hand books as well as new, and like to imagine the journey they’ve been on before I got my hands on them. I lament the recent closure of Chapters Book Store where I bought most of my used books. I used to get lost for hours wandering among those aisles.
Do you finish every book you start?
I used to, but I’ve become less precious. There are far too many books out there that I want to read and I’m always playing catch-up, so if a book doesn’t grab me in the first fifty pages, I’m happy to let it go.
Are you one book at a time, or a polyamorous reader?
Generally, one book at a time – but I do sometimes dip in and out of short story collections while I’m reading a novel. It doesn’t interfere too much with the flow. I don’t like to take too long over a book either, it’s too easy to lose the momentum.
A book that gives you solace?
A book that’s always given me solace is Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I’ve adored it since I was a child, going so far as to start my own Pickwick Club in primary school.
A few months ago, I read the anthology Look! It’s a Woman Writer where Irish women writers reflect on their careers and craft and it was amazing how many of the writers cited Jo March as their most inspirational fictional character.
I hadn’t realised I was one among so many who identified with Jo as a young reader. I feel similarly about The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien.
A book you associate with a particular life event?
In 2013, I met my now-husband David Butler at a literary event. I had just finished my PhD in Creative Writing and was looking for a home for my first novel The Girl Behind the Lens, which I wrote as part of that PhD.
David (smoothly) offered to read the first few chapters and give me feedback on it.
Now if someone is going to offer me feedback, I like to know that said person knows what they’re talking about, so I picked up a copy of David’s novel The Judas Kiss. He still laughs about the fact that I bought a second-hand copy. Satisfied that he did indeed know what he was talking about, we became each other’s first readers!
One of your own books that you’d save?
I’m very proud of and would rescue all of my published books – but When Black Dogs Sing remains the closest to my heart, probably because it’s my first and was the longest in gestation, and also because it’s published by Alan Hayes of Arlen House who I greatly respect and admire for his tenacity and dedication to Irish literature.
A book you are writing now?
I’m currently writing a historical fiction novel based on the lives of two extraordinary sisters. I’ll say no more about it for now except that I’m enjoying both the research and writing immensely – and feel that this could signify a turning point in my career.
I’m currently un-agented and have never really sought out an agent, but I’d like someone to represent this book once it’s done. I’m past the halfway mark and hope to complete a first draft this summer, so more about that later.
A book you are reading now?
I’m currently reading Little Faith by Nikolas Butler, which my friend and fellow-writer Edward O’Dwyer bought me for Christmas. We do an annual Christmas book swap, and I’m enjoying this one. It has rightly been compared to the work of Elizabeth Strout, who I also read and enjoyed for the first time last year.
A book you’d leave in there to burn?
I absolutely detested The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. It was a dreadful book. I read it back in the day when I felt obliged to finish reading books, but stopped about twenty pages from the end because I couldn’t bear it any longer. It tries to be smart and funny and succeeds in being neither.
You can save one non-book item: what is it?
My laptop – I wouldn’t want to lose any work-in-progress. And after that my musical instruments: an acoustic guitar, a couple of ukuleles and a banjolele. I hope to add a piano to that list in the next couple of years, but it might be a little more awkward to fling out the window!