Q&A with Poet and Author Finuala Dowling

13 May 2015
Finuala Dowling

Finuala Dowling is an award-winning poet and author who works as a senior lecturer at the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Cape Town. Her debut poetry collection, I flying (2002), won the Ingrid Jonker Prize; her second collection, Doo-Wop Girls of the Universe (2006), was a joint winner of the Sanlam Prize for poetry; and her third collection, Notes from the Dementia Ward (2008), won the Olive Schreiner Prize. Her writing and poetry has been published in several anthologies and she has also written comic skits and plays, winning the Spier/PANSA Audience Award for Bungee Writing Finals in 2002.

Finuala’s novels include What Poets Need (2005), Flyleaf (2007) and Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart (2011), which won the 2012 M-Net prize for fiction. Her fourth novel, The Fetch, is being published by Kwela Books this month.

Favourite South African novel / poem?

‘The Head of the Household’ a poem by Ingrid de Kok.

What are you working on at the moment?

Character notes towards a new novel.

Favourite part of the writing and publishing process?

The beginning, when no one knows what you’re doing and the book or poem still has potential.

Any characters (yours or another writer’s) that have stuck with you?

George Eliot’s Dorothea; Jane Austen’s Emma, Coetzee’s Magistrate and his Michael K. (They would make strange bedfellows.)

Any advice / tips for writers starting out?

Keep a diary.

Hardest part of the writing and publishing process?

The reception, when you’re doing all the publicity and warily watching out for the responses of your readers.

South African writers, poets or books that have made an impact on you?

Gus Ferguson’s entire oeuvre of poetry and cartoons, Ingrid de Kok’s poetry; Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull; Michiel Heyns’ Lost Ground.

What are you reading at the moment?

Olive Schreiner’s From Man to Man, in a new edition by Dorothy Driver.

If you had to pick one book or poem to give to all South Africans to read what would it be?

The poem ‘Today I do not love my country’ by Ingrid de Kok.

Any other genres that you’re interested in trying your hand at?

I’ve tried them all. I think everyone would probably prefer me to stick to poetry and the occasional novel.

Proudest moment of your writing career?

Winning the Ingrid Jonker prize for my debut collection, I flying.

Favourite quote from a book / poem?

‘expression is the need of my soul’ (Don Marquis, Archy and Mehitabel).