Non-fiction

NORA & OTHER EVENTS – LATE ’21

Nora Barnacle Museum,
Bowling Green, Galway

I have several events coming up, many around my novel NORA, which was published here in Ireland in April with New Island Books, so I thought I’d do a preview/round-up list:

12th Sep, 9am GMT: SUNDAY MISCELLANY: I’ll be on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday morning with a radio essay about my relationship with my name, Nuala. More here.

17th Sep, 7pm GMT: CULTURE NIGHT: I’m in an artist collective here in Ballinasloe, Group 8, and we’re holding the opening of our annual exhib, UNBOUND, on Culture Night at the Town Hall Theatre in Ballinasloe. My work is a photo book with extracts from an essay I wrote about crying, that featured in Banshee. More here.

18th Sep, 4.30pm GMT: SHORELINES ARTS FEST, PORTUMNA. I’m doing an in-person fiction event with Louise Kennedy in the church. Tickets and more here.

19th Sep, 10am GMT: RETREAT WEST FLASH FESTIVAL. I’m doing an online event – delivering a keynote on writing flash and answering questions too. Tickets and more here.

23rd Sep, 7pm GMT: ULYSSES FOR THE REST OF US. I’m doing an online (and limited-tix in-person) event – chatting with the fab Conner Habib about the Penelope episode of Ulysses (my fave!!). More here.

15th Oct, 11am GMT: CHELTENHAM LITERARY FESTIVAL. I’m doing an in-person event on biofiction with the wondrous Connie Palmen. More here.

22nd Oct, TBC GMT: WESTPORT ARTS FESTIVAL. I’m doing an in-person event on biofiction and women. More to come, keep an eye here.

27th Oct, 8pm GMT: HOPE FOUNDATION BOOK CLUB. I’m doing an online event with NORA. More to come, keep an eye here.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY FEATURE – NORA

Thanks to Publishers Weekly for having #NoraNovel in their ’10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know…’ feature. You can read it here and I have also pasted the text in below.

10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About James and Nora Joyce

By Nuala O’Connor | Jan 19, 2021

Nuala O’Connor’s new novel, Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyceis a poignant, comprehensive portrait of James Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, as a young woman, mother, and literary inspiration for the Molly Bloom character in Ulysses. Narrating the story in Nora’s robust voice, O’Connor traces the couple’s nomadic life from Ireland to Trieste, Paris, and Zürich, adding to the abundant Joyceana with a moving portrait of an unforgettable family. Here she explains ten little-known facts about the Joyces.

Dubliner James Joyce gained international fame with the publication of his novel Ulysses in 1922. Joyce enjoyed a lifelong partnership with Nora Barnacle—an earthy, pragmatic Galway woman with little interest in literature. The pair met in Dublin, where Nora worked in Finn’s Hotel, and first went out together on the June 16, 1904, later immortalized as Bloomsday, the day the events in Ulysses take place. Joyce and Nora left Ireland for Europe in October 1904 and settled in Trieste, then an Austro-Hungarian port town. They had two children—Giorgio and Lucia—and lived in various cities, including Paris. Both died in Zürich, Switzerland.

1. Joyce and Nora were not married when they eloped in 1904 and didn’t marry until 1931. Though bohemian in some attitudes, the Joyces lived a fairly conventional life. They pretended to be married but, after 27 years, made their union legal to ensure their children’s inheritances. The pair hoped to marry quietly in a London register office, but were found out by the paparazzi. Their annoyance is palpable in the photographs–Joyce looks grim and Nora tries to hide her face with her cloche hat.

2. Nora and Joyce moved relentlessly throughout their lives: sometimes evicted, sometimes living in borrowed accommodation, sometimes having to flee to keep safe. They stayed in Zürich during WWI and returned there at the start of WWII. In Paris alone, they lived at 19 different addresses. This peripatetic existence may have been a hangover from Joyce’s youth—his large family often moved clandestinely at night when his profligate father left their rent unpaid.

3. James Joyce was an English teacher. He taught at the Berlitz schools in Trieste and the Italian province of Pola, but found the work tiresome, and often spoke to his students about the faults of Ireland and the joys of drinking, rather than verbs and vocabulary. He gave up teaching when several benefactresses—Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Sylvia Beach, and Harriet Weaver—eased his financial strains.

4. In the great Irish emigrant tradition, Joyce and Nora “brought over” three of Joyce’s siblings to Trieste. His favorite brother, Stannie, worked alongside Joyce in the Berlitz School. Joyce’s motives were not benign—poverty-struck, the household needed another earner. Stannie was often bitter about propping up his genius brother and family. “He used me as a butcher uses his steel,” Stannie wrote. Still, he named his only son James and, in another twist, Stannie died on Bloomsday 1955.

5. James Joyce opened Ireland’s first dedicated cinema. The Volta Electric Theatre opened on Dublin’s Mary Street in September 1909. Joyce set up the cinema with backing from business people he befriended in Trieste, but Dubliners didn’t much like the program of Italian and French films, and the venture failed.

6. Nora and Joyce exchanged steamy, erotic letters when Joyce was in Ireland setting up his cinema and Nora was home in Trieste. Joyce’s letters, which can be read online, are frank, explicit, and obscene, but they also spill over into intimate, tender, poetic trances. Naturally we should not be privy to these wild imaginings, but it’s hard not to read them when they are there.

7. James Joyce was from a musical family and once contemplated a career as a singer. He had a sweet tenor voice and loved music. Nora was enchanted when she heard Joyce sing in Dublin’s Antient Concert Rooms, early in their courtship. The previous year, Joyce won a bronze medal at a national singing contest, only failing to win gold as he couldn’t sight-read. He gifted his medal to his Aunt Josephine; it was later bought at auction by dancer Michael Flatley.

8. The Joyce children were creatively talented. Lucia was a dancer and performed in Paris, and Giorgio, like his father, had a fine singing voice. Sadly, Lucia’s mental illness prevented her developing a career in dance, and Giorgio was, apparently, too nervous to take to the stage very often.

9. The Irish government refused to repatriate James’s body when died in Switzerland in 1941. He was buried in Fluntern Cemetery in Zürich, beside the zoo. Nora, who died ten years later in April 1951, was not initially buried in the same grave as her beloved Jim, but in 1966, her remains were exhumed and reburied with Joyce.

10. Nora and James’s last direct descendant died in January 2020. Stephen Joyce was the great defender of his family’s reputation and his grandfather’s writing. He said of Nora, “Nonna was so strong, she was a rock. I would venture to say that [Joyce] could have done none of it, not written one of the books, without her.”