Liz Nugent talks about her novel
Unravelling Oliver
Nugent-Unravelling Oliver
I have always been fascinated by flawed male characters in fiction. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Sebastian Faulks’ eponymous Engleby and John Banville’s Freddie Montgomery in The Book of Evidence and on television, Tony Soprano, and Walter White from Breaking Bad are all really intriguing protagonists. All of these characters were leading fraudulent lives and I think I wanted to write a story about somebody like them. I had the first line in my head for a year before I wrote it down ‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her’ while I thought about the kind of man that would say it. I fixed his voice in my head and then Oliver-this very callous aloof character began to reveal himself to me. But I knew that he would be crippled by hidden insecurities so I had to explore where these insecurities came from.

It is hard to say how long it took me to write Unravelling Oliver. I had a pretty demanding full-time job and only got writing time on my annual leave so the story was worked out over the course of six years but the actual writing of it only took about six months. That’s not to say that the time in between wasn’t crucial. Sometimes, a story is percolating in your head and you don’t even realise it. So the time when you are not writing is just as important as the time when you are.

I am pretty disorganised. All of the brilliantly prolific writers say ‘get up early and write every day’. I do neither of these things. On a good day, I will go to the library at 10am and stay there until I have written 1000 words. I don’t necessarily stop at 1000 words and some days, the tale flows easier than others, but I’m mad with myself if I don’t write at least 1000 words. I could finish at 1pm or 4pm but the rule I make is that I’m not allowed to eat until the word count is done. I have, of course, broken that rule many times. It’s not like The Hunger Games.

I start with characters. I make them as interesting and unusual as I can. Then when they start to do stuff, a plot develops. I would think ‘what is the best thing Oliver could do here?’ and then have him do the opposite, but find a realistic motivation for that. My plotting is a constant surprise. There are all these possibilities so I try to pick the one with the worst or most dramatic consequences.

Getting published happened quite quickly, although, to me at the time, it seemed like an eon. I finished writing Unravelling Oliver on New Year’s Eve 2011 (or so I thought). I sat on it for three months before I sent it out to a few agents. Four out of the five came back with a positive response but I chose Marianne Gunn O’Connor because she represented my friends Claudia Carroll and Julia Kelly and she had a wonderful reputation. She asked me if I would be willing to work with an editor to make some changes. I spent most of that summer rewriting and improving the novel and then Marianne sent it out to publishers. The rejections came flooding in and I was heartbroken until eventually, I met with Patricia Deevy of Penguin Ireland. She just got it straight away and, more importantly, got me. We worked together to structure the book to make it as compelling as possible and it was ready to go by the end of 2012 but Penguin schedule things very far in advance so the publication date was set for March 2014. That waiting time was the hardest bit. Like having a baby and not being able to show it to anybody- Look what I did! So when March 2014 came along, I had been pregnant for 2 1/2 years and was pretty much ready to explode.

The best thing about being a published writer is seeing my name on the front of a book, particularly on the foreign translations- my name looks very weird in Greek and Korean.

For more information, please visit Liz Nugent’s website.