EDNA O’BRIEN | London, National Theatre

‘A book has to be written with feeling and love. Literature is religious,’ espoused multi-award-winning Irish author Edna O’Brien at London’s National Theatre on Thursday night (September 5th 2020). Sat in a simple black skirt and jacket, with her stockinged feet slipped into sensible brogues, there was something of the ‘Mary Poppins’ about this Dame of the Order of the British Empire as she chatted to fellow award-winning Irish novelist Eimear McBride about the inspiration behind her new novel Girl

This slight framed Octogenarian thought nothing of heading off to Nigeria nearly four years ago to meet girls who escaped Boko Haram, a group founded in 2002 to purify Islam in northern Nigeria. ‘My book was inspired by three lines in a newspaper that I read in a waiting room about a girl who escaped and was found with a baby attached to her. It was a terrible story of horror, rape and slaughter. I went to Nigeria because I wanted to talk to the girls and get to the heart of their situations. Then I came home and sat down to write a story of justice and truth, deeply and rawly, and bring their story to the attention of the world outside.’

Edna has made a career out of writing about the inner feelings of women in more than 20 works of fiction from her first novel The Country Girls about sex and social issues, that was denounced by the church, banned and burned. ‘Any book’s hard to write but Girl was harder. I had a constant fear writing it more than my other books. I wanted to put the story in all its guts on the page. I felt it was the book I was meant to write – about the love of a mother for a child begotten in the most awful circumstances.’

Fortunately, Edna has no intention of laying down her pen. Already she is looking for inspiration to weave her Poppins magic on the next novel… ‘Just like breathing, I can’t not write – I have to,’ she said.

Girl is published by Faber & Faber.

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