Author Heart-to-Heart 💗 with… Noelle Harrison

Hello Reading Friends!

I’m delighted to introduce the first in a new series of author heart-to-hearts, focusing on women’s emotional fiction. Having recently read Noelle Harrison’s, The Boatman’s Wife (read my 5 star review here), I am thrilled that she agreed to join me today. So let’s get started…

Welcome to an author heart-to-heart Noelle, and as we settle in could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’ve always made-up stories. As a little girl I was quite happy in my own company, creating a cast of characters and acting out their dramas – usually orphanages were involved. I was obsessed with the book The Little Princess! I loved reading. It was my solace, and I would perch in a tree hidden away from the world reading for hours. It is still my top pastime. I never feel I have enough time to read all the books I want to. 

I grew up the daughter of an Irish single mum. She was an incredible woman. She had trained as a dancer, was an accomplished pianist, sang, sculpted, spoke several languages she had just ‘picked up’, and was the only person I know who can complete The Sunday Times Cryptic Jumbo crossword in one day. She was a true Renaissance woman, yet she never went to school!  When she had me and my brother on her own, my Mum decided she would give us a beautiful childhood in the countryside so she got a job as a cook / housekeeper. Yes, that’s right she was also an amazing cook! I grew up in grand houses in the home counties but always in the position of a servant. This fed my compulsion for observation, watching the dramas of others unfold as if a fly on the wall. I could become invisible! 

I began writing plays when I was about 20. I put on my first play not long after I graduated with a degree in History of Art from London University. It was multi-media and about child abuse, which was pretty out there in 1990. I got quite a bit of hate directed at me for the play. But EVERY girl I knew at that time had experienced some kind of sexual abuse and I felt it needed talking about!

I had always dreamed of living in Ireland and the next year I made the move to Dublin. There were no jobs in Ireland at that time. In fact everyone was leaving Ireland to get work, but I have always enjoyed swimming against the current. I knew how to read Tarot Cards so I set up a market stall – Noelle de Mosa Tarot – and supported myself reading Tarot. I have continued to read Tarot Cards ever since. As the years have gone by, I have developed a way of using them in my writing to release deeper meaning. They fascinate me!

In Dublin I set up my theatre company Aurora, with a close friend. Over the next few years, I wrote and produced three plays. When I became pregnant with my son in 1997, I moved to rural Ireland and began writing novels. I have been writing novels ever since with the occasional play! I like to live in different places as I draw inspiration from my settings. From Ireland, I went to Norway and lived there for a few years. I came to Edinburgh in 2016, where I completed a Masters in Creative Writing at Edinburgh Napier University which I adored. It was so great to be a student again! 

Writing is my passion. I am never happier than when immersed in writing a novel. The times I find tough are when I have to do other things to pay the bills! Alongside my writing, I’ve also developed my love of teaching creative writing. Over the past twenty years I’ve worked with so many different groups from children in schools to the elderly, academic students to beginners. More recently I’ve combined my love of teaching creative writing, with my yoga practice. Training in Vinyasa, Restorative, Yin, and Menopause Yoga, I now teach yoga, meditation and journaling. I love how the practices of writing and yoga synthesise. I also enjoy collaborating with other creatives. Myself and the Scottish author Sandra Ireland have been running novel writing boot camps with a difference balancing masterclasses in skills with tools for self-care. I do believe this is so important for writers especially at the moment. 

I’ve also received Creative Scotland funding to develop an interactive storytelling Tarot Deck called Dare to Be collaborating with writer Becky Sweeney. We are so excited about this. 

The truth is I don’t have hobbies because I love my work so much it fills up most of my time either writing, teaching or practicing yoga. However, I do love walking in nature. I’ve found living in the city and not being able to get out into the wilds the biggest challenge of lockdown. But it has also been very interesting to see how one can bring a sense of space within limitations through mindfulness. Walking in the city by the canal and listening to birds, closing my eyes, feel the wind on my cheeks, smelling the damp earth, I can access the same sense of peace I get on my own in the country. 

Gosh, what wonderfully varied experiences to draw on. We would love to hear more about your books and writing

I have written ten novels and five plays. The underlying compulsion beneath all my stories is to create a mood, a feeling for the reader or audience to release their own emotions. I am fascinated by the idea of the novel cure. I think as society we underrate how stories, the lyricism of language can soothe us, and help us heal. This is why my early books explored stories of loss and redemption, family secrets, and landscapes which acted as characters themselves, and emotional barometers for the protagonists in my tales. I wanted to write about truths buried deep in all families and in our societies about adoption, unplanned pregnancies, mental health, and tragic miscommunications within families. At the same time, I wanted to uplift through stories of real love, and the beautiful tangle of relationships. My trilogy written under the pen name Evie Blake are literary erotica as I took my interest in the sensuality of language a step further. 

In recent years, I’ve been very much drawn to writing more historical fiction, and in particular the stories of poor women, or outsiders who had no voice during the time they lived. I love blending genre between contemporary, historical and magical realism. 

Interesting… as regular friends of the blog will know that I also love magical realism. But today we are focusing on your latest release, so what inspired you to write The Boatman’s Wife?                                                 

The Boatman’s Wife tells two parallel tales of Lily, living now in Maine in America, and Niamh, in Ireland in the nineties. Both are young women dealing with the consequences of secrets. What if the person closest to you was not who you thought they were? 

A close friend of mine was widowed very young, and we talked a lot about her experience. I wanted to write a main character, Lily, who was a young widow, and the intensity of discovering her husband was not who she thought he was. At the same time, Niamh’s story touched upon a subject I have wanted to write about for a long time. Having lived in Ireland in the nineties I wanted to write a story which acknowledged the Troubles and its impact on border communities at that time. I wanted to show it was not a black and white issue and how it leeched into everyday domestic life. For Niamh she is the secret herself. How can she change the direction her life is going in? Keep this secret from her mother? 

I’ve had some beautiful responses to The Boatman’s Wife and I am always so interested to see what readers like about the book. Some identify with Lily, and some with Niamh. It is a heart-breaking story ~ how can it not be? But it’s also intended to take the reader on a journey of healing with an ending of hope. 

It’s a beautiful story, Noelle and several reading friends have already been in touch to say how much they enjoyed it. But which authors do you enjoy?

This is very hard to answer because I love so many books, and lots of different genres. I try not to limit my tastes and be prescriptive in my choices. My favourite novel of all time is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I could read that book again and again and marvel at her skill as a novelist. Of course, she was completely underrated at the time because of her gender. 

A selection of Noelle’s favourite reading…

I love reading thrillers to relax. Its not a genre I write myself and I am in awe of a compelling twisting plot. Of course, I adore all of Sandra Ireland’s books. Her latest Sight Unseen touches on a favourite theme of mine – witch hunts.

I also enjoy reading literary historical fiction with a touch of magic in them! I have just finished Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell which completely seduced me, as did Circe by Madeline Miller. Another recent favourite was The Familiars by Stacy Halls, and I am currently reading The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. 

At the same time, I love reading contemporary fiction whether they deal with tough issues such as Sinead Moriarty’s brilliant Seven Letters which had me in tears the whole way through, or Monica McInerney’s heartwarming The Godmothers which has just come out. 

Finally, my son as an avid Sci Fi reader has inspired me to explore this genre which has led me to discover some fabulous authors. I absolutely loved Laura Lam’s Goldilocks which came out earlier this year. Feminist sci-fi heist – what not to love? I also discovered a beautiful collection of Sci Fi stories by Chinese authors called Invisible Planets, edited by Ken Liu, which has prompted me to read more work by these writers.  

What a fantastic selection. I’m also a fan of Sandra Ireland’s and Sinead Moriarty’s writing, and have added several others to my to-be-read list! So, what’s next?

So much! 

My next novel to be published by Bookouture is called Sea of Light and will be out later this year. It’s historical fiction, inspired by the true story of Norwegian women branded as Nazi collaborators at the end of the war. So many of these women were scapegoated, abused, and stripped of their citizenship to be left stateless often either pregnant or with young children. We hear many stories of resistance but not of collaboration and I wanted to explore this difficult and very hidden part of Norway’s history. Sea of Light tells the story of two sisters in Northern Norway– one a resistor and one a collaborator. It is also a love story. Are some secrets unforgiveable?

As well as Sea of Light, I am also currently adapting my play Witches’ Gets into a novel. This story is about the witch panic in Norway in 17thcentury. I am quite obsessed with the history of witch trials, so I am very excited to be working on this. 

Finally, I am working on a series of short stories for my Dare to Be interactive Tarot Deck which I am creating with Becky Sweeney and our illustrator Nadja Andersson and designer Minnamari Helmisaari. This deck has a threefold function: for divination, storytelling and as creative prompts. The concept behind the deck is to tell stories of those who dared to be different in the past and now. So not just witches, but all outsiders whatever gender, whatever background. Some of the stories are inspired by real historical figures and some are fictional. 

And of course, I have many more ideas brewing in pots on the back boiler, but that’s all I can reveal right now!

The Island Girls set on Vinalhaven Island, off the coast of Maine

Thank you Noelle, I love a great witchy story too and The Sea of Light sounds like another excellent heart-to-heart book. Also thank you to the reading friends who have joined us.

To discover more about Noelle and her writing just follow the links below, but in the meantime, stay safe and happy reading!

The Boatman’s Wife is available is in e-book, print and audio editions. Buy here: 

https://amzn.to/3cjrJZl

To find out more about Noelle’s books and writing go to her website www.noelleharrison.com

Follow Noelle on Instagram: noelle.harrison5

To join any of Noelle’s online yoga retreats or writing courses, including The Lightning Lab Novel Editing Bootcamp with Sandra Ireland which begins on 1st February go to www.aurorawritersretreats.com

To join any of Noelle’s yoga, meditation and journaling classes go to www.spacetobe.online

Noelle is still available for private Tarot Readings, for more information email: noelle.harrison5@gmail.com

 

Published by Rae Cowie

Check out my bookish chat at raecowie.com

3 thoughts on “Author Heart-to-Heart 💗 with… Noelle Harrison

  1. What a fascinating interview – thank you Rae and Noelle. Rebecca is one of my favourite books too. Love the sound of the Tarot cards in your work, Noelle, and I’m sorry I missed your talk at Edinburgh Writers when you were there a while ago.

    Liked by 2 people

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