Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars tells the story of overworked nurse Julia Power, her eager young helper Bridie Sweeney, and the real-life figure of Kathleen Lynn, a Sinn Féin politician, activist and medical doctor, as they battle the Great Flu of 1918 in the emergency maternity ward of a Dublin hospital. The intense drama that plays out over just three days presents a graphic account of a city devastated by war and pandemic, yet is an inspiring evocation of compassion, sisterhood, hope and survival against the odds.

Where are you now?

Walking along on my treadmill desk.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

Sitting on a sofa, mostly office hours but also whenever I can snatch a half hour.

If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?

It’s never occurred to me that I needed one.

Full-time or part-time?

Full, since I was twenty. (Fifty now.)

Pen or keyboard?

Keyboard, except if I’m scribbling barely legible notes in a library.

How do you relax when you’re writing?

Good TV drama or comedy.

How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?

High drama in a maternity ward in a Dublin hospital during a terrible pandemic. (1918, not 2020.)

Who do you write for?

Myself, first: if I can get a scene or even a line right, I’m happy, even before anyone else reads it.

Who do you share your work in progress with?

My agents (UK and US), who give me crucial feedback; I only show my partner when the book’s closer to publication.

Which literary character do you wish you created?

Emma, in the eponymous book by Jane Austen after which I was named.

Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.

“Wild nights – wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!”
Emily Dickinson

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Sarah Waters’ stunningly constructed Fingersmith.

Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?

Maggie O’Farrell’s heartbreaker about losing a child in a sixteenth-century plague, Hamnet.

What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?

Several Jeeves books by P.G. Wodehouse, for comfort in Covid times.

Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?

Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries has been sitting on my shelf but I must get around to reading it before watching the BBC series.

Which book/s do you treasure the most?

My mother left me her diaries – little scrappy notebook agendas with life as a mother of eight recorded in telegraphic form.

What is the last work you read in translation?

Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (translated by the author).

Which story collections would you particularly recommend?

It’s hard to beat Alice Munro for stories that capture lives as fully as novels do. One brilliant Irish short-story writer is Kevin Power.

What will you read next?

Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.

What are you working on next?

Two different novels and a musical.

Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?

They’d certainly include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ali Smith and Toni Morrison.

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?



Emma Donoghue was born in Dublin in 1969, and is an Irish emigrant twice over: she spent eight years in Cambridge, England, before moving to Canada’s London, Ontario. Her novels range from the historical (The WonderSlammerkinLife MaskThe Sealed Letter) to the contemporary (AkinStir-FryHoodLanding). Her international bestseller Room was a New York Times Best Book of 2010 and was a finalist for the Man Booker, Commonwealth, and Orange Prizes; her screen adaptation, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, was nominated for four Academy Awards. The Pull of the Stars is published in hardback, eBook and audio download by Picador.
Read more

Author portrait © Mark Raynes Roberts