25 Questions With Author Emma Donoghue
The Irish-Canadian novelist reveals what made her fall in love with reading, her favourite author and the book she can’t put down.
Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue isn’t just the bestselling author of 13 novels for adults, two for children and five short story collections. She’s also a playwright and literary historian, and has won numerous awards, including a Booker shortlisting, an IFTA and an Oscar nomination for her adapted screenplay room. To celebrate the release of her latest book Haven, we asked the Irish-Canadian novelist some questions…


What was the first book you ever fell in love with?

A male babysitter (a dropout trainee priest, as it happens) read me the Narnia books by C S Lewis when I was very small, and I was completely enraptured.


When did you know you wanted to be an author?

I began writing poems at seven and nothing’s ever thrilled me quite as much.


Is there one book that changed everything for you?

Around 1989 I happened across the first volume of diaries by Anne Lister (1791-1840), and adapted it into my first play. My next novel (Learned by Heart, coming in 2023) will be about Anne Lister’s time at boarding school in her teens.


Are you surprised by your achievements?

I’m not surprised that I write and publish books but I am taken aback by how many people across the world they reach.


Can you take us back to a moment when you felt fearful or uncertain?

Oh, I’ve had career lows of course – a few years when I couldn’t get published in Ireland and Britain, my home turf.


How do you cure a creative block?

Work on something else.


Where do you buy books?

Browsing in bricks-and-mortar bookshops, or impulse buying e-books on my phone.


Print or kindle?

Depends on my particular need that day.


Do you have a favourite author?

I adore Roddy Doyle.


What’s been your favourite book of 2022 so far?

Leila Mottley’s Nightcrawling: A Novel is a very vivid and powerful study of a teenager being exploited.


What’s one book everyone should read in their lifetime?

Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance is a heartbreaking tale of clashes between classes in 1970s India.


What was the last book that made you cry?

I was reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House aloud to our 15-year-old.


Favourite literary character?

Eliza from G B Shaw’s Pygmalion.


What are you reading right now?

A study of tidal creatures, The Sea Is Not Made Of Water by Adam Nicolson.


Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

The novel after next, and some possibilities for film and stage.


Take 10 With Emma Donoghue

Your greatest strength? Enthusiasm.

Your greatest weakness? Speaking before I think.

Your most treasured possession? Nothing springs to mind, except maybe paper files of ideas for future books.

What scares you? Dementia and other causes of cognitive loss.

What virtue do you admire most in others? Humour.

If you could do any other job, what would it be? The prospect of any other job than writer fills me with gloom.

What’s your idea of absolute happiness? French pastries and good company.

What have you learnt about friendship over the years? Use it or lose it.

What has motherhood taught you? The absurdity of life.

Final question – do you have a life motto you live by?  I like words too much to limit them to one motto.