author of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Liverpool to Irish parents and moved back to Ireland just before my third birthday. I was raised in the west, first in the village of Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, then Castlebar, Co. Mayo. At seventeen I moved to London to study acting at Drama Centre.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be an actress, mostly because I was a terrible show-off. At eighteen I wanted to be an actress and a writer because I was interested in immortality.
At thirty I wanted to be a writer because I knew that –despite all the rejection letters- it was the best I’d ever make of myself.
That everything would work out alright.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
The Stolen Child by W.B Yeats. Growing up in Sligo Yeats was everywhere. It was the first poem I learned at school and my first experience of the power of well-combined words. It sent chills down my spine and still does today.
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which I discovered on an old cassette around fourteen and played into ribbons. I’d never heard anything like it before and found it’s alien combination of savagery and beauty both overwhelming and, later, highly instructive.
Around twenty-five I finally read Ulysses. It completely changed my attitude towards writing because within 20mins of starting, I understood that every door was now open.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I never considered any other kind of writing, even as a small child it was the only form I was interested in. I eventually chose it over acting because sitting alone for hours is my idea of heaven.
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is set in Ireland. It’s about the relationship between a girl and her brother, who is living with the after effects of a brain tumour. The narrative follows her to the age of twenty and explores themes of religious fanaticism, personal liberty and sexual chaos. I was also interested in exploring the linguistic possibilities of a sort-of ‘stream of pre-consciousness’ perspective, so the punctuation and structure of the sentences are a little unusual. At its heart though, it’s a story about love and loss.
This incredible début novel tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist.
To read A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.
Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
That’s a hard question to answer. I suppose, mostly, that they won’t think they’ve wasted their time and that, alone as we all are in the hardness of life, there is still beauty to be found.
It has to be James Joyce. No novelist has taken greater risks with the English language or achieved more for the form.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Not to write anything I’m ashamed of and, hopefully, avoid writing anything I’ll become disappointed in too.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
If you can think of anything else you could possibly do with your life, choose it instead. Failing that, discipline is everything.
Eimear, thank you for playing
Pick up a copy of A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing here
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.