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Emma Donoghue Writer

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Emma Donoghue

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, I am the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue (the literary critic). I attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 I earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin (unfortunately, without learning to actually speak French). I moved to England, and in 1997 received my PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. From the age of 23, I have earned my living as a writer, and have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since I was sacked after a single summer month as a chambermaid. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 I settled in London, Ontario, where I live with Chris Roulston and our son Finn (15) and daughter Una (11).

Fiction

Although I work in many genres, I am best known for my fiction, which has been translated into over forty languages.

My next book, the first contemporary novel I've written since Room, is Akin (September 2019); it's about a retired New York professor and his eleven-year-old great-nephew going to the French Riviera to unearth the professor's mother's wartime secrets.

My series for middle-grade readers (8 to 12), The Lotterys, includes The Lotterys More Or Less (2018) and The Lotterys Plus One (2017), both illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono.

Inspired by about fifty cases of 'fasting girls' over the centuries, The Wonder (2016, a finalist for Canada's Giller Prize and Ireland's Kerry Group Novel of the Year) is about an English nurse sent to the Irish Midlands in 1859 to watch a little girl whose parents claim is living without food.

Frog Music (2014), is a literary mystery inspired by a never-solved murder of a crossdressing frog catcher in San Francisco in 1876.

Room (2010) is narrated by a five-year-old called Jack, who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside. An international bestseller, Room was shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize, and won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Commonwealth Prize (Canada & Carribbean Region), the Canadian Booksellers’ Association Libris Awards (Fiction Book and Author of the Year), the Forest of Reading Evergreen Award and the W.H. Smith Paperback of the Year Award.

I began by writing about contemporary Dublin before the Boom in a coming-of-age novel, Stir-fry (1994), and a tale of bereavement, Hood (1995, winner of the American Library Association’s Gay and Lesbian Book Award, and recently republished by HarperCollins in the US), and I returned to my transformed home city with a love story that contrasts it with smalltown Ontario in Landing (2007, winner of a Golden Crown Literary Award).

I have a great love for the short story form; my stories have been published in Granta, the New Statesman, One Story, the Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, The Lady, the Globe and Mail, as well as 30 other journals and anthologies.  They have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4, RTE and CBC. Touchy Subjects (2006) is a set of nineteen contemporary stories about social taboos that moves between Ireland, Britain, France, Italy, the US and Canada.

I became a YA author by accident. Kissing the Witch (1997), my sequence of re-imagined fairytales, was published for adults in the UK but bought by Joanna Cottler Books (HarperCollins) in the US; they managed to win me a whole new 12-and-up audience, and Kissing the Witch was shortlisted for the James L. Tiptree Award. 

Perhaps inevitably, given my scholarly background and bent, I moved into historical fiction with Slammerkin (2000), a whydunnit inspired by a 1763 murder.  Slammerkin was a Main Selection of the Book of the Month Club, won the 2002 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction, and was a finalist in the 2001 Irish Times Irish Fiction Prize. 

I followed it with a sequence of short stories about real incidents from the fourteenth century to the nineteenth, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002), and then Life Mask (2004, a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award), which tells the startling true story of a love triangle in 1790s London. The Sealed Letter (US/Canada 2008, UK 2011) is a domestic thriller about an 1860s cause celebre (the Codrington Divorce), joint winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Three and a Half Deaths, my first mini ebook (UK/Ireland only), brings together four stories of calamities ranging from 1840s Canada to 1920s France. And  Astray (2012, shortlisted for the Eason Irish Novel of the Year) is a sequence of fourteen fact-inspired stories about travels to, from and within North America; one of them, ‘The Hunt’, was a finalist in the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Prize.