AWARD-WINNING writer Emilie Pine ends her deeply personal essay collection, Notes To Self, by writing: “I am afraid of being the disruptive woman. And of not being disruptive enough. I am afraid. But I am doing it anyway.”
Her essays address a range of subjects including alcoholism, fertility issues, feminism, and sexual violence. She wrote about her personal experiences, thinking that no-one would read them.
“You can’t think about people reading your work or you’ll self-censor. I wrote as if it [the essays] were a record for myself,” says Emilie.
Notes To Self was first published in 2018 by Tramp Press. The book won the IACI Butler literary award, the An Post Irish Award for Best Newcomer and Book of the Year 2018. While Emilie enjoyed the critical acclaim that her book received, the reception from the public meant a lot more to her.
“People have been really kind and generous in their feedback about the book. People have started telling me their stories.
“What started out being just about me has become so much bigger than that. It turns out that I’m not the only person with an alcoholic father. So many of the issues I address in the book affect many people.
“Alcoholism in families is a subject that we don’t talk about much. A lot of women have talked to me about their experiences of miscarriage, stillbirth, and difficult pregnancies.”
As a result of the widespread success of Emilie’s book, she has become writer in residence at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin. The post is a one-year residency. Emilie has taken a year out from her job at UCD where she works as an Associate Professor of Modern Drama at The School of English, Drama and Film. She is looking forward to her new role.
She says: “I am really interested in writing about women’s health. I’m also interested in the women who work in women’s health and hearing their stories. There is a recurring issue that when women interact with medical services that they don’t feel they are being listened to. One thing that writers can do is listen and try to capture these issues in their writing.”
The essay form has undergone a revival and is becoming increasingly popular amongst readers. Emilie explains why she believes they are growing in popularity.
“They’re short. Because I’m so busy, I don’t have unlimited time for reading. Essays are a bit like a short story, but they are more intense. They usually centre around one theme and they are complete.”
Emilie chose the essay form as opposed to memoir because “essays are thematic. In my book, I have an essay about my dad and alcoholism. I have an essay about trying to have a baby. Obviously, those issues feed into other aspects of my life but I didn’t want to keep writing about them. I wanted that finite form the essay allows. I think a lot of readers appreciate that. Readers want a glimpse into your life. They don’t necessarily want your life story from beginning to end.”
A well-deserved spotlight is shining on Irish women writers at the moment. Writers like Lisa McInerney, Danielle McLaughlin, Sara Baume and Sinead Gleeson are a few examples, who represent the breadth of female writing talent in this country. It is fair to say that Emilie can be included amongst this group.
She says: “I feel very lucky to be included amongst these names. These are writers I really admire. There is finally a little bit of space being made for women writers. We are no longer being pushed to the margins and given a narrow focus. Everyone was getting bored of that.”
Emilie is attending the Words by Water Literary Festival in Kinsale, from October 3 to 6. On Saturday, October 5, she and Sinead Gleeson will be in conversation with Ailbhe Smyth at 2.30pm in the Methodist Church, Kinsale. Tickets cost €12.
Emilie is looking forward to the festival and discussing a range of topics with fellow essayist and writer, Sinead Gleeson. She says: “I’m looking forward to having a conversation about why we write, what we get from writing. You can always learn from someone else’s writing process.”
Sinead’s collection of essays Constellations: Reflections from life was published in April, 2019.
Emilie explains why it is important that readers are given greater access to work by women writers.
“Our essay collections are similar in some ways because we address issues relating to feminism. We both write about the female body. But they [the books] are also very different. Just because we are both women, doesn’t mean that we are going to be repeating the same types of stories. If there are only a few women writers, you only get one or two stories that are supposed to represent everyone. We need an abundance of stories. Women need to be able to tell their own stories,” says the writer.
Visit www.wordsbywater.ie for a full list of festival events.