Ballinasloe's little library.

Ballinasloe's little free library service!

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book” - it's to hard to argue with Harry Potter author JK Rowling on that sage opinion, one that has been put to the test in recent times, as more and more of us retreat from the relentlessness of Covid-19 into a different world of a good page-turner.

It's exactly that spirit that has seen acclaimed author Nuala O'Connor set up a 'Little Free Library' in her garden opposite her house in Ballinasloe, and just in front of her writing cabin, so that during these lockdown days, friends and neighbours have new books to read.
It is just one of the many small gestures of kindness countrywide that have warmed all of our hearts since this whole crisis began. The Westmeath Independent recently caught up with Nuala, who also writes as Nuala Ni Chonchúir, and is the author of popular books like 'Becoming Belle' 'Miss Emily' and 'The Closet of Savage Mementos', to find out more about her little library, and how she is staying creative during strange times.


What is the idea behind your 'Little Free Library?

I buy way too many books and, as a writer, I get sent a lot of books, and I thought ages ago this would be a good way to share the surplus. Now seemed like the perfect time to put the idea into action. 
I first saw a Little Free Library in Arkansas in the USA years ago, then saw them again in Austria and other places. They’re such a good resource – you take a book, leave a book, and everyone in the neighbourhood can benefit. My ten-year-old daughter Juno and I also made some free bookmarks to go with the books.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I was an avid, hungry reader, my mother had trouble keeping up with my appetite for books. I loved Enid Blyton, Noel Streatfeild, E. Nesbit, Patricia Lynch, Carolyn Swift.

What are you reading at present?

My reading has slowed to treacle, I’ve been slowly savouring 'A Thousand Moons' by Sebastian Barry, but I am also reading research books about the sea for a historic novella I’m writing. I just bought 'Actress' by Anne Enright online and Doireann Ni Ghríofa’s 'A Ghost in the Throat', so I have them lined up too.

How have you been staying creative during the coronavirus crisis?

For the first few weeks I couldn’t write a thing – I was worried about my father who has contracted Covid-19 in hospital and my brain was just frozen with that and other worries. But I suddenly got an idea for a novella and that has captured me and kept me sane. I work happily on it every morning.

What kind of opportunities do you see for the arts sector during the lockdown?

I think it’s wrong to put pressure on artists to produce and be super creative during this strange time – worried minds don’t necessarily have wildly creative bursts. I guess it’s a good time for sharing readings and workshops online, and for reading or drawing, to soothe yourself. I’m enjoying Cúirt’s online version of its literary festival just now.

Do you see a resurgence in reading as a result of the crisis?

People have certainly been buying books and the #readirishwomenchallenge on Twitter has been a great way to find out about books we might have missed, but I think people’s concentration levels are skewed just now. Read a few pages, if you can, but I wouldn’t worry about it if all you can manage to do is watch trash TV.

Have you been engaging with other writers and the literary community differently since it all began?

There have been lots of online initiatives to get people sharing readings. I took part in The Holding Cell’s reading series (see YouTube) and I am taking part in Oranmore Arts Festival’s online Literary Lunch on the 9th May. To be honest, my life hasn’t changed hugely in that I always write from home, and I communicate with the literary community mostly via social media, but I miss in-person literary meet-ups and festivals, and I’ve had lots of events, teaching gigs, and a writing residency cancelled because of the pandemic, so it’s been strange.

What are you working on currently?

This new novella I’ve started, which I won’t jinx by saying what it’s about. My new novel, 'Nora', about Nora Barnacle, James Joyce’s wife and muse, will be out next year and I’m really looking forward to sharing that with the world.

For those who want to try writing or journaling during these troubling times, what tips would you offer them?

Don’t feel you have to produce lots of words, or lots of pages. A few sentences a day is enough. Jot them into your phone or on any bit of stray paper you can find. You can transcribe them into a notebook or laptop later.

Best writing advice you were ever given?

The story you are writing is a secret.

Your favourite literary quote?

At the moment: ‘Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.’ Ulysses, James Joyce.

What, if anything, do you think you will do differently after we emerge from Covid-19?

I won’t complain about having to leave home to do work things – I hope I will relish them! It’s a privilege to work from home, but it’s also a privilege to travel, and I think I will appreciate the pleasure side of just being able to be elsewhere for a while, with the safety net of home always there.