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"Write what truly, obsessively interests you" advice from Room author Emma Donoghue


Ever wondered how a successful author gets their inspiration, overcomes writer's block, or develops believable characters?

Emma Donoghue’s best-selling book, Room, tells the Fritzl-like story of a woman and her five-year-old son who, having been held captive for years, finally escape and gain their freedom.

The film adaptation of Room, for which Donoghue wrote the script, hits our screens today. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank) and starring Brie Larson (Don Jon21 Jump Street),it's been nominated for a slew of Oscars this week, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress.

Donoghue recently joined Stylist.co.uk for a Facebook Q&A with our readers, revealing everything from her writing technique to being inspired by her surroundings.

Take a look at some of the best pearls of wisdom she shared with us, below.


The film adaptation of Room is out now

On getting started as a writer

"Write what truly, obsessively interests you, not what you imagine will sell. You have to give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft. I often let myself put in several adjectives - e.g. brutal/savage/merciless/relentless - figuring that I can pick the right one later."

On writer’s block

"I've never had writer's block yet, which I attribute, not just to luck, but also to my technique. I would advise anyone looking to ward-off writer's block to start writing something else, a completely different project. I'm always working on about six different projects at various stages of development, so if I don't feel like working on one I just turn to another.Basically, monogamy is hard, in writing as in life!"

emma donoghue

Author Emma Donoghue

On creating a writing routine

"I write a draft and send it to whatever agent/editor/producer/director I'm in an editorial relationship with, and then because it'll take them a while to get back to me with detailed notes, I do have a few weeks' break from it, which is refreshing: it means the next time I read that draft I see it with fresh eyes."

On taking inspiration from friends and family

"I get inspiration from my life and those of my friends. I always make sure to ask permission, though, because some of them getting superstitiously freaked out by it. My brother-in-law was a sort of consultant psychopath for Room, in that he's a DIY buff and he took great pleasure in answering my questions about how you'd lock someone up for seven years in a really escape-proof way. I also take inspiration from obscure historical incidents - long-forgotten ghosts who seem to demand I write their stories."


On the inspiration and research behind Room

"The idea for Room came from having two small children (at the time aged four and one) and sometimes feeling as if motherhood was a locked room. And also the Fritzl case in Austria.

I never speak to anyone during my research - I prefer to read as widely as I can. For Room I researched broadly: family theory, resilience, trauma/recovery, incarceration, refugees, international adoptions - anything that would help me figure out what life might be like for my lead characters. I was enormously grateful to all the scholars whose insights I drew on."

On adapting the book to screenplay

"The only risk with a novelist adapting their book to screen would be if a novelist was just doing it out of propriety, not a genuine love of cinema. I think whoever wants to try her hand at it, she should in. I say 'she' because women are big successes in fiction but represent a pathetic share of screenwriters, so I'd love to see more female novelists do their own screenplays too.

Literary novels have no rules, infinite freedom and an infinite budget! Films have many more constraints and above all, less time to say everything in, so the first thing I did with Room was cut lots of characters and situations that weren't crucial for the film.

There's a moment when you have to hand over the final script and I certainly felt a pang then, but I think next time I'll find it easier, because I now finally understand that it's still my scene even if it doesn't contain the same lines of dialogue."


On social media

"I'm a very low-key user of Facebook and Twitter, mostly to promote books or good causes, but I can't claim I've embraced that world. I'd certainly be open to doing so in a novel if it suited my characters."

You can see the full Facebook Q&A here.

Room is in cinemas now


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