Naoise Dolan: The new treasure of Irish literature

By Sophia Hadef

Naoise Dolan is a promising young Irish author. Often compared to Sally Rooney, Dolan has created a bright and powerful universe in her debut novel Exciting Times. And guess what, it’s queer and emotional.  

The book follows young Irish ex-pat called Ava as she romantically mingles with two people: Julian, a rich and emotionally deprived banker, and Edith, an aspiring and kind lawyer. Who will get her interest? As the book dives deeper into Ava it deeply reveals her connections and relationships with herself and others. 

I caught up with the 29-year-old novelist about her writing and inspiration for her debut novel: 

What inspired you to write this story? 

I’ve always enjoyed reading plays, and I find dialogue the easiest part of writing fiction, so I decided to write something where there would be a lot of scope to have scenes based around talking. The rest followed from that: I created the sort of characters who would have things to say to each other, and the sort of plot that would best be centred around set pieces of that nature. 

Did you put your own experiences and feelings as a young woman in her character? 

No, not especially. For me, writing fiction is one big exercise in cognitive empathy. I create a character and then I try to guess how they would respond to stimuli based on what I already know about them. I think if I brought myself into it then it would cloud my judgement and make the characterisation less convincing, because it’s much harder to tell if something’s plausible (not to mention interesting) if it’s personal to you. 

Are you planning on releasing other books? What would you like to explore? 

Yes, I have my second novel written and I’m starting on the third. I think for me, my fiction will always be primarily about the characters. I don’t start with the intention of unravelling any particular themes – the themes just arise from whatever circumstances my characters might find themselves in. So, I’m still not sure what the second novel ‘explores’, even though I’ve written it – I’ll have to wait and see what readers think! And I have no idea what the third one will explore either. 

You have been diagnosed as autistic; tell me about it and how important it is to get diagnosed; did it change your life?

I think it’s important to have a conscious framework for understanding who you are, but the impact of getting that signed off by a professional will really depend on the person. Certainly, a lot of people are sceptical of self-diagnosis and it will spare you a lot of hassle if you can fob them off by saying you’ve gone through the formal assessment route.  

But it’s often really difficult to access a formal autism diagnosis, so I also try to be vocal that that needs to change instead of presenting a diagnosis as a miracle pathway for everyone.  

The waiting times are disgraceful in both Ireland and the UK, and the general state of awareness in the medical profession is very low, so you need to do a lot of your own research if you don’t present as most people’s outdated and stereotyped understanding of autism. 

How do you think people should evolve and learn about Autism? 

To be honest, I don’t really care if people learn about autism! I just care if they’re tangibly depriving autistic people of resources and opportunities. So, I would say make disability allowances and services an issue at the ballot box, grant access requests without making a huge fuss about it, don’t read malice into social communication differences, don’t deny people employment or other life chances based on those differences. If non-autistic people did all that, then it truly would not bother me if they still didn’t know a thing about autism. 

– Exciting Times is published by Orion Publishing Co, and is now out in Dubray Books on Shop Street.

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