On Wednesday night, Irish author Lisa McInerney won the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, The Glorious Heresies. A darkly funny story of how a murder impacts various lives in post-crash Ireland, the book explores the legacy of the country’s old-fashioned attitudes towards sex and family with clear-eyed tenderness.
McInerney started her writing career with her blog Arse End of Ireland, which she describes as a “hyperbolised, gonzo version” of her life on a council estate with a small daughter. Now, she’s joined the ranks of iconic previous winners of the Baileys Prize – from Ali Smith to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith.
Stylist caught up with McInerney shortly after she was presented with the £30,000 prize. “I feel surprised, stunned, but in a very pleasant way,” she told us. “I did not foresee this at all, and I’m just obviously really pleased and really happy and really surprised. I feel very honoured actually – that shortlist was stunning and the longlist was bloody stunning, so I’m very confused!”
Here, McInerney shares her thoughts on the importance of women-only prizes, why female writers must allow themselves to be selfish, and how to get words on the page.
On finding the strength to write
“You have to be bloody-minded and this is one of the things women are not conditioned to be. I think women are conditioned to share their time, and I think you have to be quite pig-headed about your time to be a writer – you have to be selfish. Luckily, I can afford to be selfish because I’ve got a lot of support at home.
“But if you feel there’s a story you need to tell, something that you need to get down, you have to be quite dedicated to that above all else, I think.”
On her writing routine
“I’ll get a few chores done in the morning, walk the dog and stuff. I’m not a morning person so I would get a few things done but then I sit down and I impose upon myself that I can’t get up again until I’ve written a thousand words. I can get up and make tea or have lunch or something but I can’t stop. Now, they could be a thousand terrible words and you could edit them back to three hundred words tomorrow.
“Everybody’s routine is different. Some people work really well late at night. But at the same time, don’t be waiting for the perfect opportune moment to write either because that will never happen.”
On women-only awards
“I do feel [they are] definitely a good thing. When you think of literary fiction, you immediately assume there is a male white writer behind it and [that] his themes are literary themes. And sometimes you see a book written by someone who differs from that avatar – such as a woman writer, an LGBT writer, a trans writer, a writer of colour – and their work is going to be seen in the context of that difference first of all.
“Their themes are going to be assumed to reflect, or be a response to their personal circumstances: “oh, this must be a book about being a woman, or being trans”, or whatever. It almost feels that the avatar we were talking about becomes the only thing that is considered literary, and all other work is assumed to be personal.
“When you have a restricted prize, like a prize just for women writers, you immediately just bypass that and go straight to the work and it’s examined on its own merit and it’s really wonderful. And [the Baileys] prize has such a history and it has such a devoted following too, and it finds readers. I think it provides a really wonderful roadmap for readers.”
On taking writing tips
“Don’t listen to too much advice! You can find yourself writing to other writer’s rules but we’re all different, so that in itself is dangerous.”
On the Irish literary scene
“It’s so vibrant at the moment and so supportive that it’s really wonderful to be part of it, and I’m really glad to be accepted into it. From day one with this, I’ve had support from people like Kevin Barry, Joe O’Connor and Belinda McKeon. It’s a really lovely community there at the moment. And one feckin’ great debut after another! I don’t know what we have in the water over there but it’s working! It’s fantastic! We all know each other, it’s quite incestuous really.”
On her plans for the future
“My second novel will be out in 2017. We’re at the line editing stage, which is exciting. And right now I want to go to bed!”