Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Molly Aitken

Molly Aitken was born in Scotland in 1991 and brought up in Ireland. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University where she was awarded the Janklow and Nesbit Prize for her novel. She was shortlisted for Writing Magazine‘s fairy tale retelling prize and has a story in the Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection 2017. She lives in Sheffield, England.

Aitken's new novel is The Island Child.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

As I was writing I cycled through a lot of names for The Island Child, a few of which I loved, but didn’t end up suiting the novel when I’d finished writing. Just before my agent sent the book out to publishers I realised the name was The Island Child. I was reading WB Yeats poem called ‘The Stolen Child’ and it hit me that its title was quite close. However, my narrator Oona leaves her island, Inis, off the west coast of Ireland. She’s not stolen. It’s a choice for her so I replaced ‘stolen’ with ‘island’. Sometimes naming is that simple. Also the island is really what the novel rotates around. None of the characters can really escape it. They’re constantly drawn back. There are several important children in the novel. It’s up to the reader which child the title refers to.

What's in a name?

The Island Child is set in Ireland but it’s loosely based on the myth of Demeter and Persephone. In Irish folklore, there’s a story of a mortal woman who’s taken by the king of the fairies. Her name was Oona. This is a lovely parallel and I actually stumbled on it quite by accident. As soon as I started writing my protagonist told me her name was Oona. Many of my characters ended up having names that reflected some element of their personalities or meaning in the story. The stranger who comes to the island for a new dream-life names herself, Aislinn which in Gaelic means dream. That is just part of the magic of writing.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

As a teenager I wrote a novel set in ancient Rome about a slave girl and a Senator's daughter who become friends. I would be very surprised in my teens to discover that my first published novel was set in Ireland’s past. Irish history was always my least favourite subject (after science). I always wondered why there were no women in the history books. So perhaps I wouldn’t have been totally surprised that my novel is all about Irish women and their history.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find beginnings much harder to write. It takes a while for my characters to assert themselves and start talking to me. I will write my opening many times, but as soon as their voice is all I hear then the beginning writes itself. In The Island Child Oona’s story begins with a terrible storm. As soon as I’d written it I knew it was the right beginning. Writing the ending was easy. It poured out of me, because by that time I knew everything about my character. I knew her fate.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There are definitely elements of Oona that I relate to, especially when she’s a child longing to be out and about with the boys. But writing would be boring if the characters were too similar to me. I find it more fun to come up with people as different to me as possible. For me writing is about living new lives in minds unlike my own.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Place has the biggest influence on my writing. The Island Child is set on the fictional island of Inis but it’s based on many islands I visited throughout my childhood. While I was writing the novel, I took the ferry out to the Aran Islands to feel the wind on my face and listen to the seagulls screaming. I took a notebook and camera with me and referred back to them as I wrote. I always make a Pinterest board for each novel I’m writing so that if I’m getting lost I can have a look and the pictures will give me ideas.
Follow Molly Aitken on Twitter and Instagram.

--Marshal Zeringue