Meet the Norwich author who has won a £30,000 prize for novel written in six months

Eimear McBride

Eimear McBride - Credit: submitted

Norwich novelist Eimear McBride has won the £30,000 Women's Prize for Fiction for her book A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing. Here's is an interview with her conducted prior to the announcement.

Norfolk and Norwich Festival director William Galinsky, and his family, his wife Eimear McBride, and

Norfolk and Norwich Festival director William Galinsky, and his family, his wife Eimear McBride, and daughter, one-year-old Éadaoin Galinsky, with their dogs, Myrtle, left, 4, and Cyril, 3. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Archant 2013

Success hit so suddenly, and with such world-wide reach, that even her own husband was too late to book her for the festival he directs, writes ROWAN MANTELL.

Eimear McBride

Eimear McBride - Credit: submitted

Norwich author Eimear McBride is being hailed a genius, winning rave reviews for her first novel and has been catapulted into a circuit of festivals, shortlists and prizes.

Success came so quickly that she had to turn down her home festival because she was already committed an international tour – despite being married to the festival director trying to book her for an appearance in Norwich.

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For nine years Eimear tried to find a publisher for her first novel, and for nine years the refusals came back, until new Norwich publisher Galley Beggar Press took her on and the book, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, shot to international fame.

This time last year Eimear, ('You pronounce it eemer, to rhyme with femur, or steamer!' she told me,) was an unpublished author. Now, as her husband William Galinsky co-ordinates the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, which opens this Friday, 37-year-old Eimear is flying around the globe for a tour of New Zealand and Australia.

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Born in Liverpool, she was brought up in Ireland, before arriving in London at 17 to attend drama school. She planned to become an actress. 'But I just couldn't face acting and all that rejection, so I decided to be a writer – where there is no rejection!' she laughed.

She wrote A Girl is a Half-formed Thing in her 20s, in just six months, using a stream-of-consciousness narration. 'Reading James Joyce changed everything for me!' she said. 'Of everything said and written about my book, being compared to Joyce was the best I could ever hope for.'

Its narrator begins before birth, telling her story in breathless, broken, merging and mutating sentences, opening: 'For you. You'll soon. You'll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she'll wear your say.'

There are autobiographical elements to a story which centres on the girl and her brother. 'I did lose a brother from a brain tumour,' said Eimear.

Her brother was diagnosed with a brain tumour as a child and died soon after she finished college and returned to Ireland to be with her family for his final months.

She and William had recently met at drama school, where she was studying acting and he joined a directing course. He directed Eimear just once, in a Japanese play. 'Let's just say we never repeated the experience!' she said.

However, the couple have been married 11 years and now live in Norwich's golden triangle area with their two-year-old daughter Eadaoin.

They arrived in the city when William, who had been running the Cork Festival in Ireland, was appointed director of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

'One of my best friends from drama school was from Norfolk, so I had heard her singing its praises,' said Eimear. 'It's been a good place to be!'It was a conversation between William and Henry Layte, of Norwich independent book shop The Book Hive, which began the series of events leading to the adulation, prizes and being feted around the globe, and ended nine years of rejections.

'There were many, many rejections; into double digits,' she said. 'No one ever said this is a bad book, or you can't write. People read it and liked it and said they wanted to be able to publish it, but it never happened.'

So she got on with life, and a series of temporary jobs – filling envelopes, assisting in offices and libraries, filing, and beginning a second novel.

'Henry asked what his wife did and William told him the whole tale about the book and not being able to get it published and Henry said he and some friends were thinking of setting up a press and I should let them read it.'

So the manuscript was dug out again and sent to Galley Beggar Press, but with no great expectations from Eimear. But this time the book was accepted and A Girl is a Half-formed Thing was published in June last year. One of the very earliest reviews was in the EDP's Weekend magazine, when our reviewer Mark Bond-Webster hailed it as 'utterly compelling… beautifully candenced… a book of breathtaking ambition and assurance.' He also commended the Norwich publisher for its 'foresight and courage.'

He says: 'It was her creation of a unique style and narrative voice to imbue the story she tells with such exhausting and overwhelming power, that immediately marked out Eimear McBride's work as exceptional.'

Around the same time there was a glowing review in the Times Literary Supplement, and the praise, and the nominations, the shortlistings, and the invitations kept flowing in.

Even in her most optimistic daydreams, Eimear had not anticipated this kind of response. The book won the inaugural £10,000 Goldsmiths Prize and has been shortlisted for the 2014 Folio Prize and Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize.)

Galley Beggar Press sold the paperback rights to Faber – and Eimear admits to being quietly satisfied to discover that some of the unsuccessful bidders had originally turned the book down.

Now the novel first published in Norwich is being sold in countries ranging from the USA to Australia and France to Turkey. There has been interest in the film rights and Eimear has already sold the theatre rights, with a stage version of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing due to open in Dublin in October.

After returning from Australia and New Zealand she will travel to literary festivals as far apart as Norway and Bali. 'In Bali they pay me in spa treatments!' she said.

But she is just as excited by the success nearer home. 'If I get the train from Norwich, I see my book at the station, which is a real joy!' she said.

In tomorrow's EDP, Rowan Mantell talks to Labyrinth author Kate Mosse about her Festival visit to Norwich.

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