Q&A with Emma Donoghue, Author of Room


Emma Donoghue’s Room is destined to end up on many a “Best Books of 2010” list — it will definitely be on ours — for being that unique breed of novel that’s both smart and compulsively readable. Written from a 5-year-old’s point of view, Room tells the story of a mother, her son, and the titular room in which they are confined, while evoking recent news headlines with probing candidness. The book was shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize — Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question ended up winning — Donoghue’s other novels have received numerous accolades. Amid all this media attention, we chatted with Donoghue about her favorite characters from her own work, the difficulties of writing a child’s point of view, and her TV writing aspirations.

Flavorpill: If you were to pick one character from your own work that stuck with you the most, who would you select?

Emma Donoghue: Actually I like Pen in Hood. There’s a lot of my thoughts in her, but she’s living a life (closeted in Ireland) that I walked away from, so she’s a sort of alter ego I suppose. And I enjoyed inhabiting her unembarrassedly fat body for a while.

FP: What research did you do in preparation for writing Room?

ED: I did a huge amount of research into everything from unassisted birth to cognitive behavioral therapy, soundproofing to how to blow eggs.

FP: Was it difficult to write on this topic, particularly given that you have a child of your own?

ED: No, it wasn’t difficult to make myself write it, because I think every parent of young children has considered these horrifying possibilities already; we all ask ourselves, what would I risk to save my child?

FP: We’ve wracked our brains and can only thing of a few recent novels in which the narrators are children. How did you decide to stick with Jack’s point of view throughout the entire book? Was there ever temptation to focus on Jack’s unnamed mother instead?

ED: Actually it’s a long tradition; I was drawing on ones from my childhood (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Go-Between, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha) as much as, or more than, anything more recent. I was never tempted to stray from Jack’s point of view, because telling such a story from the child’s point of view was the big idea behind Room. It was never going to be a kidnapping story, always a child’s this-is-my-life story.

FP: What were some of your favorite books as a child and now?

ED: I’ve always been a compulsive reader; even with small kids, I [still] manage two to three books a week. My favorites as a child included fairy tales of all kinds (a leitmotif in my work, actually), and anything by C. S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, Mary Norton.

FP: We find it very difficult to describe Room to others without giving too much away — how do you do it?

ED: I tend to focus on the fact that the premise (child and woman locked in room) is actually a way of talking about more universal themes; about anyone’s childhood, anyone’s consciousness (since we’re each locked into one skull, after all). If the person I’m talking to still looks horrified and claims they could never read such a book, I lean in and whisper “Don’t worry, the kid’s not going to die!”

FP: What’s your creative process like? Do you allow external influences such as music, film, etc.?

ED: I don’t listen to music while I’m working, I’m oblivious to everything (well, except for chocolate cravings, they tend to break through about 11 am). But of course everything I read, listen to, watch, and do when I’m not working leaks into the sum total of what I have to say. So holidays have inspired some of my fiction, experiences my friends have had or recounted second-hand, things I’ve come across in my reading of history or science, music that’s shifted my mood, and the quality TV drama I tend to watch on DVD in the evenings certainly has a direct effect. If I could only write something as good as a single episode of The Wire before I die!

Check out the book trailer for Room below.