Q&A with Sally Rooney

We spoke to Sally Rooney about her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, and what it’s like to be longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize.

‘Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed and observant. A student in Dublin and an aspiring writer, at night she performs spoken word with her best friend Bobbi, who used to be her girlfriend. When they are interviewed and then befriended by Melissa, a well-known journalist who is married to Nick, an actor, they enter a world of beautiful houses, raucous dinner parties and holidays in Provence, beginning a complex ménage-à-quatre. But when Frances and Nick get unexpectedly closer, the sharply witty and emotion-averse Frances is forced to honestly confront her own vulnerabilities for the first time.’

Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize:  “Sally Rooney’s debut has been described as ‘whip smart’ and her’s is a weapon which thrashes its hobby horses with vim and vigour. A sharply crafted novel and a cutting review of contemporary affairs. A work too which clearly draws upon a wellspring of emotional and psychological savvy that appears to wash over its often obtuse protagonists but provides for us a sparklingly immersive experience in the lives of others.”

Where did the idea for your debut novel come from?

As with anything I write, I don’t really know. I had an idea for a story about two college students befriending a married couple. I knew who the central characters were straight away, but I wasn’t sure about the plot. I suppose I started writing to see what would happen.

How does it feel to be longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize?

I feel very grateful and honoured to be included.

What was the most challenging thing about your journey to becoming a published author?

I’m naturally a fairly private and introverted person, so the publicity has been a new experience. It’s wonderful to see the book getting attention, and – as I’m the person who wrote the book – I have to participate in that to some extent, but I don’t think I’m very good at it. Still I can’t complain about any part of being a writer really, because there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.

What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?

I suppose I would say it’s a good idea to pay attention to other people and try to understand them better.

What is your favourite debut novel of all time?

As a first effort at the form, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man strikes me as pretty impressive.