Author’s Corner: Emma Donoghue on the Fan Mail She Receives About ROOM
This week’s Author’s Corner features an inside look at Emma Donoghue’s book, ROOM.
About Emma Donoghue
EMMA DONOGHUE has published six novels, including the internationally acclaimed and bestselling Slammerkin, Life Mask and The Sealed Letter, which was longlisted for the Giller Prize. Her most recent book, Room, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award and the Man Booker Prize. Born in Ireland, Donoghue lives in London, Ontario, with her partner and their two children.
ROOM is the story of a five-year-old called Jack, who lives in a single room with his Ma and has never been outside. When he turns five, he starts to ask questions, and his mother reveals to him that there is a world outside. Told entirely in Jack’s voice, ROOM is no horror story or tearjerker, but a celebration of resilience and the love between parent and child.
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A Kmart Books Exclusive Look into the Fan Mail Emma Donoghue Receives About ROOM
When I began publishing novels, back in 1994, fan letters were a rare occurrence. Not just because I didn’t have many fans (though that was true!), but because writing or typing a letter and posting it to a publisher to pass on to an author was a hassle, so only the very most motivated readers did it. Nowadays, being easily emailable at www.emmadonoghue.com, I hear from readers all the time.
Sometimes people write to me in the middle of the night to say that they’re halfway through ROOM and consumed with dread about whether Jack and Ma will be OK. (Those who listen to the audiobook are particularly agonised; the actors really ratchet up the tension.) Sometimes six months after finishing it, they get in touch to let me know that the characters are still haunting them.
I’d say the typical reader of ROOM is a mother, and I marvel at how they spend their precious leisure time on my novel. They often joke that they are neglecting their own kids – and failing to make dinner – while they read. The greatest compliment is when the mother of a baby tells me she’s stayed up half the night reading it! I hear from passionate fathers and grandfathers too, and people who have no children but who can easily relate to the primal fears and everyday joys that ROOM explores. Lots of teachers, lots of health professionals (especially psychologists and nurses). I got an email from a fourteen-year-old who told me ROOM was the first book in English she’s read all the way through. A man who felt as if ROOM was the story of his own impoverished and isolated childhood. Long letters from women who’ve lived in the shadow of violence themselves; who’ve been assaulted by strangers or controlled by partners. I’ll never forget the woman who told me that, having finally got herself and her sons out of an abusive marriage, she thinks of the painful memory as being like Jack’s Rug, rolled up in a closet, out of sight but never gone. I get emails from readers in such countries as China and Iran who read the book more politically, because they feel like shut-ins themselves, sealed off from Outside.
Of course I get the occasional cranky response too: complaints about the novel’s child-like punctuation, or objections to a phrase that sounds unAmerican. But mostly people write in the most generous way, sharing details of their own lives so that I’ll know how much Jack and Ma – these people I invented, made of nothing but words – have touched the lives of strangers and made themselves friends in the world. So, it’s time-consuming to respond to them all, but it’s not a chore, it’s an honour: that magical sense of having an impact on the lives of people I will probably never meet…
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