Penguin USA and Penguin Canada to publish Nuala ní Chonchúir’s new novel, Miss Emily

I’ve been trying most of my life to become an overnight sensation.

It started when I was about seven. I had read a series of books by an irritating twelve-year-old prodigy whose name I no longer remember. (One of her characters was Penelope Pomegranate – ring a bell with anyone?). Her photo was on the back of each book. She was a serious-looking girl with long, straight hair and a sensible woolly jumper. My seven-year-old self, who had previously entertained airy notions of writing books one day, was stung into action.

I began writing like a thing possessed. I had to outdo Miss Sensible Jumper before I hit twelve.

You can guess the rest. I slowly came to learn that overnight success can take a very long time.

I was prompted to reflect on all this last week by a brilliant piece of literary news. Irish writer Nuala ní Chonchúir has just signed a book deal with Penguin USA and Penguin Canada for her third novel, Miss Emily. Nuala got to write on her blog last week the words that every writer longs to type: “I am living my fantasy just now – Penguin USA and Penguin Canada are going to publish my third novel, Miss Emily…”

Nuala ní Chonchúir

Nuala ní Chonchúir

Nuala has certainly earned the joy of writing those lines. She is one of those talented, hard-working writers who puts in the hours, day after day, year after year. She is a familiar and much-loved name to anyone involved in the Irish literary scene, but up to now, she has not been a household name. Now, readers all over the US and Canada are soon to enjoy the work of a new overnight literary sensation.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about the cultural phenomenon of overnight success. Let’s look at Nuala’s case a little more closely. Her first work was published in 2003. Factor in a very conservative estimate of at least five years of serious, committed daily writing graft before that, and you’ve got a minimum sixteen-year lead-in to the Penguin deal.

I remember attending a workshop with Nuala three or four years ago. The topic was self-promotion for writers. Nuala told us that her income as a writer was small; I think the phrase she used was “laughably small”. This, from a working writer with several published works under her belt, as well as a steady stream of workshop gigs and appearances at literary festivals in Ireland and abroad.

I, for one, greatly appreciated Nuala’s disarming honesty about her income. It helped me to realise the magnitude of the mountain that writers have to climb.

So what can aspiring published writers learn from all this?

Before the gravy, comes the graft. The bad news is that in most cases, the graft takes a painfully long time. The good news is, when the gravy starts pouring, it tastes so, so sweet. And you get to write sentences like: “I am living my fantasy just now.”

Miss Emily, which is about Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, sounds like a great read. Enjoy the gravy, Nuala.

Posted on February 24, 2014, in Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Great to read another blog, Orla. I remember that book, too — and the jumper girl. I don’t remember any others beyond the Penelope one…or the author’s name…so her fantasy may have been short-lived 🙂 Copywriting pays my bills…but I get so much more of a kick out of writing the stuff that pays me nothing. I just love the reward of entertaining others more than anything. Congratulations to Nuala on her deals with Penguin!


    • Thanks for reading and commenting Lynn. Good point that the fact that none of us can remember her name probably isn’t a good sign for the child prodigy!
      Yes there’s nothing like the magic of creative writing. What really gives me that buzz is when I am happy that I have written something good. Producing something that others enjoy comes second for me. That may not be a good thing for my future earnings as a writer. 🙂


  2. p.s. I remember the fruit story girl too!!! If it helps, I was also jealous…


  3. Thanks a million, Orla.
    My income remains laughably small but I never thought I’d get rich from writing. (Though I hoped!) I love it – it’s my lifeline to happiness. Anne Enright said the first 12 years are the hardest. By the time Miss Emily is published it will be 12 years since my first book. I hope the ‘easy’ times (har! har!) will include a bit more money so I can pull back from doing so many things I do just to make ends meet (reviewing, teaching etc.)
    I got a good deal for the novel but like all advances, it will arrive to me in dribs and drabs. I won’t be buying my dream home in Dublin just yet 🙂
    To everyone writing, I would say just keep on keeping on. There will always be the lucky ones who get picked up early on. But we all have our pace. For me it took 10 years to find the right agent *for me*.
    But I am ready for this now in a way I don’t think I was 12 years ago. Bring it on!!!


    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Nuala! “Keep on keeping on” – that’s a favourite saying of mine. I feel your pain about the advance arriving in dribs and drabs. My husband went through the same thing when he wrote his book a few years back. It does take a little bit of the good out of it! But only a little!


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