It gives me great pleasure to welcome E M Reapy onto Linda’s Book Bag today in an interview all about her writing and her debut novel Red Dirt. Red Dirt was published in e-book and hardback by Head of Zeus on 2nd June 2016 and will be available in paperback from 3rd November 2016. Red Dirt is available for purchase here and directly from the publisher.
Three young Irish people have come to Australia, running from the economic ruins of their home country and their own unhappy lives. In this promised land, stunned by the heat and the vast arid space of the interior, they each try to escape their past in a chaotic world of backpacker hostels, huge fruit farms and squalid factories, surrounded by new friends who are even more damaged and dangerous than they are themselves. Endless supplies of cheap drink and drugs loosen what little sense of responsibility they have, and a spiral of self-destructive behaviour forces each of them to face up to the reality of their lives.
This is a story of the consequences of impulsive choices and of the places where they lead. A vulnerable young man is left alone by his friends in a remote wilderness; a desperate girl puts herself into the hands of violent sex traffickers; a once-privileged favourite son lets a drunken quarrel escalate to murder. An utterly compelling, readable novel that hooks from the first page and immerses us in an all-too topical nightmare.
An Interview with E M Reapy
Hello Elizabeth and welcome to Linda’s Book Bag. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m from the West of Ireland and love reading, writing, travelling, music, nature, keeping healthy. I love people too.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I don’t recall but similarly I don’t recall ever not knowing I was going to be a writer either. It was always the plan since I was a little kid. I guess doing the MA in Creative Writing in Queen’s University, Belfast, in 2008, helped me gain the confidence and techniques to take the leap and try become a professional.
How did it feel when you realised your debut Red Dirt was to be published by Head of Zeus?
It was great, exciting, affirming; just wonderful.
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
I was dissuaded from doing Film and TV in university because of how unstable the job prospects could be (instead I ended up on a teaching route). I think I’d have written scripts. I like writing them now, there’s a great honing of craft that can be done when trying out different forms and genres. I may have done some sort of music journalism or tried to get good at an instrument in order to songwrite. Or have tried to become a photo journalist for National Geographic. Or maybe have become an art therapist, with a focus on writing for therapy. All roads would lead back to writing for me, I think.
There’s a real strength of Irish writers at the moment. Why do you think this is so?
The literary tradition is strong in Ireland and because of that there are good opportunities for writers. I think too, there’s a vibrant arts community which fosters talent and helps new writers in terms of feedback, direction, advancement. The indie presses and journals here are quality and provide spaces for work to reach an audience. When Irish writers succeed internationally, attention is given to new Irish writing and writers. It’s all a virtuous circle, I suppose.
Red Dirt is set in Australia. How did you go about researching the setting to ensure Red Dirt was authentic and realistic?
I travelled and worked in Australia for about 11 months between two trips in 2011/2012 and experienced some of the settings directly. I hadn’t been to all the places mentioned in the book though so I researched by using the internet and talking to people who’d been to give me a sense of what details I needed to include.
You’ve run quite a few workshops about writing with young people. How far did this influence your own writing?
I don’t know to be honest. I suppose I listen to how people talk, I tend to concentrate more on the way they speak than the words they’re saying. Young people can have an interesting way of phrasing things. I may have been picking up some of that when I was working with them. I’m not sure.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
I love brainstorming the ideas for stories. Then I like to explore them, follow them, see where and why and to whom they lead. Getting into the flow state with writing is thrilling, when imagination takes over and time no longer exists. Technically, I’d find editing trickier than writing but because I had to do so much of it with Red Dirt, I learned to enjoy the process. The most difficult thing for me is probably the responsibility that comes with writing. If it gets done or doesn’t get done, that’s entirely up to you. At times I find that overwhelming but I try to channel it into motivation if I can.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
Currently, I wake around half 6 and do morning pages. Then I get tea, coffee, a green smoothie. I’ll write ideas, drafts of stories, edit etc. until around midday. I’ll eat properly then and catch up on emails. For the afternoon and evening, I read and study writing. I do most of my writing on a laptop at a desk in my grandmother’s house.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I love to read short story collections, contemporary novels, poetry, modern classics, literary journals. I like non-fiction books on creativity, spirituality, writing and productivity. I also enjoy National Geographic.
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
I like meditation and aspects of green living. I’m trying to be more environmentally conscious and have gotten really into health and fitness of late. I enjoy swimming and going to the gym, hiking, trying new classes and sports. I’m also teaching myself Spanish, hoping to take a big trip around Spain soon. I volunteer at a creative writing class for kids and will be training as an adult literacy tutor in Autumn. Some of these things may be reflected in my newer work, especially the environmental stuff.
The cover of Red Dirt epitomises the red soil and heat of Australia to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
The cover is hot, in a temperature sense. I like the tone of it with the single vehicle, it suggests loneliness and also it’s quite ominous. It captures the road-trip elements of the book.
If you could choose to be a character from Red Dirt, who would you be and why?
Probably Dorothy, she’s kind and non-judgemental. Or Henk, maybe. He’s got big heart even though he’s a little mad. He’d survive anything.
If Red Dirt became a film, who would you like to play Murph, Hopper and Fiona?
This is such a fun question, I enjoyed thinking about which young Irish actors I’d see in these roles. Rickie O’Neill would be great as Murph. Evanna Lynch could be Fiona. Barry Keoghan as Hopper.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Red Dirt should be their next read, what would you say?
Red Dirt is (hopefully) high-energy, funny, poignant and engaging; it should be your next read!
Thank you so much Elizabeth for your time in answering my questions.
About E M Reapy
E.M. Reapy has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. She was listed for the PEN International: New Voices Award and was featured in THE LONG GAZE BACK: AN ANTHOLOGY OF IRISH WOMEN WRITERS.