Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, August 20, 2012

Interview with Shauna Gilligan-Author of Happiness Comes From Nowhere

Not long ago I had the great privilege of being one of the first people to post on Shauna Gilligan's wonderful debut novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere.   Here is the publisher's description and a reaction of two of Ireland's leading authors to Happiness Comes From Nowhere:

Happiness Comes From Nowhere 
Happiness Comes From Nowhere follows the lives of the Horn family: Mary, Sepp and Dirk. Their paths cross and intertwine with those of extended family, friends and acquaintances as journeys are made through the changing city of Dublin. People also venture further in search of happiness: Mary and Dirk wander the streets of Rome and Ita watches a cargo ship unload in Spain. Expressed in ways as different as suicide, art and sex, the inseparable pangs of loss and happiness – remembered and present – are threaded through the novel.
'A refreshingly thoughtful novel, poised and unpredictable. Delicious in its sensuous details and mischievous sense of humour. Happiness Comes from Nowhere is a truly impressive debut from a writer of exceptional talent.'

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne

'In Shauna Gilligan’s unsettling novel-in-stories, Dirk has troubles that his mother Mary may not be able to right, much as she tries. Gilligan writes intimately of one mother’s possessiveness, devotion and ambition for her son. Rich with insight, this is a book that informs as much as it haunts. As a début it is a very fine piece of work.’
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Happiness Comes from Nowhere is the sort of book that rewards a single reading; the parts fit together like a jigsaw, and it’s nice to keep them fairly close in one’s mind so that the narrative thread remains pretty whole. I liked the way that characters were introduced and having bit parts in one story then become the centre of a later story. And yet, although each part can stand alone, there is a narrative development about loss, which comes together towards the end.

 My Interview with
Shauna Gilligan

Your book is part about very lonely people, people who have only the smallest
anchors in life. Do you think there is something in the culture, history,
or psyche of the Irish that has caused such a heavy focus on loneliness in the
literature of Ireland?

That’s a really interesting question, Mel. I do think loneliness is part of the Irish
psyche. I have an inkling that it’s to do with a sense of belonging (or not belonging),
being part of either a modern urban or a more traditional rural landscape. It’s
also connected with how the sense of belonging changes with colonization and

What is the genesis of your interest in Suicide?

Ireland has one of the highest rates of suicide in Europe. Depression is rife. In fact
the statistics show that the mortality rate from suicide in the 15-24 age group is
currently the fourth highest in the EU and the third highest among young men aged
15-19.1 Luckily, charities such as SOS ( and Console
( among others are helping make people more aware of this
issue, helping people speak about it. It’s not an individual problem. It’s society’s
problem. In Happiness Comes from Nowhere I try to look at the possible effects of
(attempted) suicide through different lenses.

Why did you choose to not write Happiness Comes From Nowhere in a linear

In fact the first draft was in a linear fashion but as I re-drafted and revised, the minor
characters grew and as they did, so too did the stories within stories. They knit
themselves into the larger story that became the composite novel that Ward Wood

Tell us a little about your writing habits. Did you have the general plan for your
book in place before you began it?

I don’t follow any particular method of writing when approaching novels or short
stories. I approach each work on its own. I try to be open to the forms it may need to
encompass so that the writing becomes what it needs to become.
With Happiness Comes from Nowhere, I didn’t have a general plan but I did know the
beginning and the end and in fact these were the first chapters I wrote!

Who are some of your favorite short story writers?

Alice Munro is probably my favorite short story writer right now.

How do you normally find new to you writers?

I discover writers usually through recommendation by real life or on-line friends.
Reviews also help – if I’ve heard of a writer, for example, but not had the time to
investigate, a review will jog my memory and I’ll order straight away.

Who are your favorite famous dead poets?

At the moment: Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickenson, Hart Crane, Patrick Kavanagh.

Does Charles Dickens or Victor Hugo do a better job of bringing a big city life?

Deciding between writers is such a personal choice. Faced with Dickens or Hugo I’d
find that choice hard, to be honest. I think they both do a fine job in their own right.
That is to say, within their own cultural contexts.

Who are your picks for world's three best short story writers?-Mine are Anton
Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, and Katherine Mansfield with maybe Flannery
O'Connor somehow working her way into the list the more I read her work.

I’d be with you on Chekhov. And then I’d have to say Mansfield, Munro, Elizabeth
Bowen, Seán O’Faolain. But not necessarily in that order. I also love Sam Shepard’s
short works.

Do you mind telling us a bit about your experiences in Mexico and India?

I spent far more time in Mexico than I did India so I feel I know the place better, at
least central Mexico where I lived. It was a wonderful experience. India was also very
special but the time I spent there was in short bursts – usually between 3 and 6 weeks
at a time. But the working hours were very long so my impressions were based on
what I saw and experienced in New Delhi and Hyderabad. I did some travelling (to
Rajasthan, for example) though not half of what I would have liked. In both places,
though, the colors, the heat and the smells were what stayed with me. All in total
contrast to this little island in the Atlantic.

What is your reaction to Edmund Burke's telling the English that they had no right to rule India, a culture much older than their own.?

I read Burke’s Reflections on the Revolutions in France many years ago and he was
pretty radical in once sense although not necessarily from a twenty-first century
viewpoint. I think colonialism world-wide has a lot to answer for. The problems it
caused are evident in many on-going conflicts.

My great thanks to Shauna Gilligan for her very interesting and insightful remarks.

You can learn more about her work on her very well done webpage.

Vanessa Gebbie has a very fascinating interview with Gilligan on her blog as well as a post on Happiness Comes From Nowhere.  

Sue Guiney also has a  post on the novel as well as an interview with Gilligan on her blog.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir   has also done a great interview with Shauna.  It is always fascinating to sit in as highly talented writers talk to each other.

The Irish Examiner has done a very favorable article on her, including an author biography.   

My post on Happiness Comes From Nowhere.

Author Biography

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Shauna Gilligan has worked and lived in Mexico, Spain, India and the UK. She holds an MA in History from University College Dublin having also studied English as an undergraduate. She is completing a PhD in Writing at the University of Glamorgan, Wales and occasionally lectures in NUI Maynooth in Creative Writing.
As part of her research, she is examining suicide and writing processes in a selection of novels by and in a series of interviews with Irish writer Desmond Hogan.
Her work has been published in The Cobalt ReviewThe Stinging Fly (online), The First Cut, New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writingand in The Ulster Tatler’s Literary Miscellany. She has given public readings of her fiction in Ireland and USA and has presented on writing at academic conferences in Ireland, UK, Germany and USA.

Her debut novel, Happiness Comes From Nowhere is receiving great reviews from all over the world.

I completely endorse Happiness Comes From Nowhere to all lovers of fine fiction.  I think it could easily become a classic.   I hope to read many more works by Gilligan.

Mel u


shaunag said...

Many thanks, Mel for your wonderful, probing questions and, of course, for taking the time to conduct the interview. Shauna

valerie sirr said...

Congrats to Shauna on the novel publication. I'm with her on allowing the writing to find its own form. I love Bowen too! Great questions, Mel

@parridhlantern said...

Great interview, with some interesting question & responses.