Emma Donoghue on the writing room: “I softened the horror of the Fritzl affair”

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Emma Donoghue on the writing room: “I softened the horror of the Fritzl affair”


is I have the idea to write Bedroom in 2008, as I was driving to a book event and reflecting on a report a few days earlier about a five-year-old called Felix Fritzl, rescued from the Austrian dungeon where his mother had raised him and his siblings . By the time I parked and grabbed a napkin to jot down my thoughts, I knew my novel had to be from the child’s point of view, would begin on his fifth birthday and be split in half by the escape, and be called (in an echo of uterus) Bedroom. To tone down some of the horror and move Jack’s story away from Felix’s, I made him a well-fed only child, the kidnapper a stranger rather than his mother’s father, their house was a locked shed with a skylight and a vent somewhere in the United States.

But the romance really started years earlier when I gave birth to the first of our two children. From day one – or rather in the middle of the night – I found the education of children fascinating. I was the youngest of eight children who had never had a job that required fixed hours or responsibilities, and motherhood broke and made me again. Only when I got the idea to Bedroom I realized I had three and a half years to say. About what a huge gulf between an adult and a small child, with only curiosity, humor and love to bridge it. About how a mother is the lovely and the prisoner of her baby, sometimes both at the same time. About how much you want to give your growing child freedom while somehow protecting him in an impossible way. Jack’s story was an intensification of every childhood, so I wasn’t writing as much of a detective story as a coming-of-age story in which growth had to happen overnight when that door came down. opened. It was also science fiction, because he would be an alien among us; and a fairy tale that should find its way into realism.

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson in the 2016 adaptation of Bedroom. Photograph: Caitlin Cronenberg / Document

I am often asked how Bedroom changed my life, and really not, because I wrote it when I was 40 and had already spent two decades in the luxurious position of being able to write what I loved, full time. Reaching millions of additional readers has been a pleasure, and writing the screen adaptation has certainly opened doors for me in the world of film and television.

Too, Bedroom changed something in my fiction. I don’t expect every one of my novels to be a bestseller, but the emphasis is on compelling storylines. I am drawn to situations of unbearable intensity, like the quarantine maternity in a Dublin hospital from 1918 to The attraction of the stars. Settings often have, if not a locked door, then a claustrophobic quality and a ticking clock. All of our lives are limited, after all, so I love to see what happens when I set extreme limits – how my characters come to care so quickly and intensely for each other, and even find moments of transcendence. in their prisons.

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