Why I’m afraid to read Donal Ryan.

It’s been a strange and incredibly busy two weeks, since the announcement of the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book awards shortlist, and my inclusion on it! Thanks so much to the judges for choosing The Visit out of hundreds of eligible stories.  Last year over 50,000 members of the public voted on the various titles in the 15 categories, and what a reflection that is upon the literary engagement of the Irish nation.



I have a lot of friends! I have a LOT of friends, and it takes effort and time and willingness to drive round the country with four kids in the car to keep up with them all, and I’m grateful to all those who voted for me. I’m grateful to the countless virtual friends who did so also.

And all my friends are sick, sore and tired of listening to me talking about Donal Ryan.

They’re bored hearing about how after I read Donal’s second book The Thing about December (which I fortuitously read first, as it’s actually the first book he wrote) I was completely blocked. I didn’t write a single word for 8 weeks afterwards. What, I reasoned, was the point of me continuing to write short stories based in rural Ireland in a rural voice, when the King of rural Irish writing had just descended from Parnassus? I might as well just quit.

However, eventually I sat down again, refining and revising the book that would eventually become The Accidental Wife and the story, The Visit, which would eventually find me at the Book Awards with Donal Ryan. And if I meet him next Wednesday, I’m going to have to confess that although I have long-since read The Spinning Heart and A Slanting of the Sun, I’m afraid to read his Award-nominated new book All We Shall Know, in case I get writers’ block again, in the middle of my new novel, The Flight of the Wren.

That might be an interesting conversation, I might just smile inanely instead and pretend to have lost my voice.

And all that is leading up to this:

I’m not the kind of person who feels comfortable begging readers and friends to go on to Amazon or Goodreads to review The Accidental Wife. Is it beneath us, as writers to beg for reviews? No, it’s not – go for it – but I don’t feel comfortable asking, so I don’t. I also haven’t shared any of the many lovely things people have said or written about the collection before, but today’s the day…

In the two months since I launched The Accidental Wife, about half a dozen readers have sought me out and told me how much they enjoyed it, and how it “really reminds me of Donal Ryan” (swoon!!!!)  and every time, 12 years of 1970-80s Irish Convent education has prevented me from grabbing them by the shoulders and shrieking “Oh My GOD! You need to write that down and sign it”. Instead I have mustered every ounce of Northern Irish reticence and said, “Oh, don’t be silly, you’re too kind!”

So I’m breaking my habit of not sharing reviews to say thanks to Lorna Sixsmith for this Amazon review posted a few days ago:   Loved it. If you enjoyed Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, I think you’ll love this. It’s not plot driven but delves into people’s thoughts and feelings so deeply, it’s very powerful writing. I thought this was wonderful.

Now I’m going off to speak to my spiritual adviser (well, I have to find one first, but it can’t be that hard) to find out what the current Convent school guidelines would be about grabbing and kissing someone the second time you ever meet them, in case Lorna and I happen to be at the Ploughing Championships on the same day again.

(That’s where I met Lorna; even at the Ploughing, you can trust me to sniff out a book launch. The third in her series “An Ideal farm husband” is a fab stocking-filler for farming friends by the way. And I see from th’internet that her second book has just won a CAP independent publishing award. )

If any other satisfied readers wish to write a review comparing The Accidental Wife to Donal Ryan, Charles Dickens, Chaucer or Shakespeare, I’ll be happy to share it!!




  1. Now, If I’d known you were going to quote me, I would have tried to be more eloquent. Donal is lovely btw, very unassuming. I had the honour of sharing a stage with him once – well, I was after him and it was great as he got the crowd there!
    Thoroughly enjoyed your short stories, I loved how they delved into the nice and not-so-nice parts of the human psyche and showed the strength of women in standing up for themselves too. I’m definitely going to read it again next year. I was a few stories in before I copped that they were all about the same extended families so now I want to savour reading about all the relationships again. A huge well done to you and best of luck next week.

  2. Meant to put a smiley jokey face after that first sentence!
    Seriously though, I rarely give 5 stars – off the top of my head, my recent 5 star books were The Spinning Heart, Devlin’s The House Where It Happened, and Burton’s The Miniaturist. Yours is up there with them.

  3. Dear Orla,
    If you use this much energy on Word press etc etc etc you may make a career in communications skills but that is not going to make you happy!
    Go and write. Write what only YOU can write.

    I’ll tell you a funny story, BUT you are not to share it.
    When I met and married my lovely husband I confessed my passion for writing, which had always been thoroughly ignored or jumped on by everyone including my first husband!!!!
    Peter encouraged me, but then I said: If only I’d had a Convent education (I’d just been reading Edna O’Brien) I’ve never done anything storyable . . .
    But, you see, I must have had something, I just didn’t recognise it. You’re 100 goals ahead, having been recognised already. Don’t confuse yourself. Just get on and write.
    Now to see if I can send this without sharing with the whole world!

  4. Sometimes I consider only reading terrible books from now on, because I’m afraid if I keep reading good books, I’ll just give up writing entirely 🙂 Congratulations on your award!

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