Megan Nolan has been shortlisted for the 2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award, with Acts of Desperation. In this interview, we discover more about Megan’s writing process and how Acts of Desperation came to be.
How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award?
It feels affirming and even relieving somehow. Obviously awards themselves aren’t the measure of artistic achievement and plenty of the greatest books ever written never won an award, but the fact I happen to really respect and revere both the people who judged this shortlist and my fellow nominees means that it feels truly enlivening.
And as I never really had the chance for a big party to mark my publication I am delighted by the opportunity to put a big dress on and drink about it with some of the people who made it possible.
What made you want to be a writer, and when did you first start writing?
I found reading the only efficient reliever of my mild but constant anxiety as a child, that thing specific to childhood and adolescence of being able to totally absorb and saturate your consciousness in someone else’s writing. I suppose I just always felt very grateful for that possibility and therefore felt inclined to try to create something absorbing myself.
Also, writing seemed the best way to elucidate my own life to myself, to break it up and slow it down so I could avoid it overwhelming me.
I was writing essays and poems regularly since pre-adolescence with sporadic bouts of reading them at events but I started writing more seriously when I was 24.
How did you come to write Acts of Desperation?
I was interested in the core idea of Acts of Desperation, of women submerging themselves in romantic love at the cost of their identity, and was trying out some ways of writing through that, but it eventually seemed clear that only a fictional rendering would be capable of conveying it as vividly as I wanted it to be.
Can you tell us a bit more about the writing process? How long did it take you, what did it involve?
It took me almost three years from the first word until we submitted a draft to publishers, and then another six or so months of edits following that. I was working as a freelance journalist and an admin temp during that time, so I only wrote in a concentrated way when I could afford to take the time off – there were maybe four stints like that of a few weeks at a time when I would usually go off and cat-sit or house-sit somewhere outside London. Aside from those stretches it was written at night and sometimes at the pub on a Sunday afternoon.
Which writers do you look up to and why?
From my childhood, I revered John Irving and Jeffrey Eugenides for writing books that captured me so entirely that I still think about them most days now, almost twenty years later.
Contemporarily, I deeply admire Anne Enright, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Jamaica Kincaid, Lorrie Moore, A.M. Holmes, Joshua Ferris, Emmanuel Carrère.
There’s no one reason or unifying trait between those writers except they make me excited to be alive and able to read.
Finally, what are you planning to do next?
I’m in the final throes of a first draft of a second novel, which has been like going back to school at year one because it has almost nothing in common with Acts of Desperation formally or thematically, but I’ll keep the faith.
Megan Nolan lives in London and was born in 1990 in Waterford, Ireland. Her essays, fiction and reviews have been published in The New York Times, The White Review, The Sunday Times, The Village Voice, The Guardian and in the literary anthology, Winter Papers. She writes a fortnightly column for the New Statesman. Acts of Desperation is her first novel.