Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Q&A with Damhnait Monaghan


Photo by Rachel Elizabeth Photography UK


Damhnait Monaghan is the author of the new novel New Girl in Little Cove. She also has written the novella The Neverlands. She lives in the south of England.


Q: What was the inspiration for New Girl in Little Cove, and for your character Rachel?


A: The inspiration for my novel was the province of Newfoundland & Labrador. We moved there, from mainland Ontario, when I was 12.


Almost immediately we all fell in love with the island: its rocky coastline, unpredictable weather and the constant presence of the sea. Most of all though, we loved the culture - music, laughter, warmth. In many ways, the novel is an homage to both the province and its people.


To a certain extent my main character Rachel was inspired by my own experiences as a novice teacher. Like her I taught French in outport Newfoundland in my early 20s. Unlike her, I was not newly arrived on the island.


But it makes a far better story to drop a complete outsider into a unique setting and see how she copes (or doesn’t as the case may be!) Like Rachel, I had my own difficult moments as a new teacher - I was also asked how to say seal in French on my first day.


Q: As you’ve noted, the book takes place in a small community in Newfoundland. How important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Setting was important to me for New Girl in Little Cove. From the opening chapter, I wanted the reader to experience the claustrophobic nature of Little Cove contemporaneously with Rachel.


For me setting includes the timeframe. I set the novel in the 1980s in part because that’s the period during which I lived and taught in Newfoundland. But I also wanted Rachel to feel a real sense of isolation, to be fully immersed in a foreign culture and totally reliant on the locals: no texting, email, or FaceTime.


I also believe that dialect contributes to setting, helping a place and its people come alive. Douglas Stuart does this so brilliantly in Shuggie Bain. Newfoundland & Labrador has a distinct (and varied) dialect which Rachel initially struggles to understand. I only hope I’ve done it justice.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: Because the novel is inspired by my own experiences, it was less a case of research and more of reminding myself about events from the relevant time frame – hit songs and current events from the 1980s, for example.


I also looked through old photo albums. However, rug hooking is a feature of the novel and I knew nothing about it, so had to research it. I spent some time studying instructional videos on the website of Deanne Fitzpatrick, a wonderful rug hooker originally from Newfoundland.


Something that surprised me? A few months before the book’s publication in Canada, I discovered there was a Little Cove beginner’s kit on Deanne’s website. I had never tried hooking, but with that coincidence, how could I not? Even more surprising was the fact that I completed the project and enjoyed it! I suspect I’ll do more hooking in the future.  


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I hope they take away a strong desire to visit the wonderful province of Newfoundland & Labrador post pandemic!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I don’t want to say too much in case I jinx it, but I’m working on a novel that takes place over the course of a summer, not in Newfoundland, but in mainland Ontario. My main character Maisie is at rock bottom and has to claw her way back up. We’ll see if she makes it!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I mentioned the distinct Newfoundland dialect above. The Dictionary of Newfoundland English is available online: https://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/ and I’d love your readers to explore it.


Like any good teacher, I’ll even assign some homework. Look up these three words: “angishore,” “mauzy,” and “bangbelly.”


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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