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A Writer Profile: Ed O’Loughlin

ED O’LOUGHLIN is an Irish-Canadian author and journalist. He is the author of four novels, including the tech-thriller and spy novel This Eden, the Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist Minds of Winter; the critically acclaimed Toploader; and the Booker Prize longlisted Not Untrue and Not Unkind. Most recently, he published his memoir The Last Good Funeral of the Year, a recollection of love, loss, marriage, and the life events that have shaped his identity. As a journalist, Ed has reported from Africa for several papers, including the Irish Times. He was the Middle East correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of Melbourne. He writes to us from his home in Dublin, Ireland. Welcome Ed!

Where writers write.

Where do you write?

I usually write in a small room upstairs that used to be a bedroom. There are two bookshelves, a small steel mini cabinet, a vacuum cleaner with a cord that no longer retracts, a Spanish guitar with a broken D string, and various boxes of gear and junk that I can’t bear to throw away.

The desk is an Ikea table — a classic white Linnmon 100x60cm, with screw-in Adils legs. Canadian catalogue number 299.321.81.

"Every now and then we have someone to dinner, and I have to slide all the crap off the desk onto the floor and unscrew the legs and bring it downstairs, for use as an auxiliary dining table. After that it will be tidy for a while, until the crap builds up again."

We did the room up a few months ago, to add some insulation in the walls, and we haven’t got around to putting most of the pictures and stuff back up yet - I had beautiful maps of the Arctic and Antarctic that I used for writing my novel, Minds of Winter. My wife has recently put back up the pictures that were on the back wall. I am in three of them, she is in one.

"The thing I love most about the room is its window, which I can stare out when I should be writing."

Any rules for when you’re in this ‘space’?

Leave me alone.

Sadly, rules were made to be broken.

What is your writing process like?

I force myself to sit down and write.

What is the easiest and most difficult part of the process for you?

A. Sitting down. B. Writing.

I like writing in the mornings, early if possible. I can only write for three or four hours max before my head stops. I try and get a minimum of 500 words down per session, but if it’s flowing well I work to the clock.

I’m very proud of the fact that I can touch-type, which is perhaps my only practical skill.

Do you want each of your books to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each one?

There are actually little tendrils of character or plot connecting all my books, but they are really just in-jokes that I put in for my own amusement. No one has noticed, as far as I know.

Why did you become a writer?

I used to write to get away from myself, but lately I’ve tipped over into memoir, so it hasn’t worked. I love the feeling when ideas and words slide out onto the page, and I don’t know where they came from, but they work really well. This is one of the greatest things in my life.

What does success look like to you?

Being able to get away with writing my own stuff for a few hours a day. Anything on top of that is gravy.

Best writing advice you’ve ever been given? The worst?

James Joyce, when he was stuck staring at a blank page, used to write at the top, to break the ice, “Write it, damn you. What else are you good for?” This is good advice.

“Write what you know” is not bad advice, per se, but too many novelists seem to forget that it can also be good and proper to make things up off the top of your head. It says “fiction” on the back cover.

What were your favorite childhood books?

The Moomin books by Tove Jansson. I still re-read them every fifteen years or so, and every time I see something new in them and I love them even more. They aren’t just for children.

What books have you read these past two years that have helped you through the pandemic?

Actress by Anne Enright.

The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey.

White City by Kevin Power.

Pretty much every book I’ve read, actually, except for Shuggie Bain.

Ed O'Loughlin was born in Toronto and raised in Kildare town, Ireland. He has reported from Africa and the Middle East, and has written and reported for the New York Times, Economist, Atlantic, Irish Times, Times Literary Supplement and others. His memoir, The Last Good Funeral of the Year, was published March 2022 by House of Anansi Press. He now lives in Dublin with his wife and two children.

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