An Interview with Miriam Burke

13 May 2022

A writer from the west of Ireland, Miriam Burke’s short stories have been widely published in anthologies and journals, including The Manchester Review, Litro Magazine, Fairlight Shorts, The Honest Ulsterman, Bookanista and Writers’ Forum. She has a PhD in Psychology, and before becoming a writer she worked for many years as a Clinical Psychologist in London hospitals and GP practices. Women and Love is her debut collection.

We caught up with Miriam to talk about her new book, Women and Love.

What inspired you to write Women and Love?
My characters come from a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds because I love the diversity of life in contemporary Britain. I grew up in Ireland when it was culturally monochromatic, so I really appreciate the richness of a multicultural society. The stories explore how women deal with different kinds of love because I think how we love is one of the most interesting things about us.

Are there any main themes or points you want the reader to take away from your book?
I suppose one point is that we should value and recognise the humanity of the people who collect our rubbish, fill supermarket shelves, clean our offices, wash our cars and do other poorly paid jobs with low status. The pandemic has taught us that we are all dependent on each other, and I believe we shouldn’t live in social silos with people who think like us and have similar backgrounds.

Which other writers do you most admire and why?
I love Elizabeth Strout’s novels. She portrays a whole community by focusing on a small number of characters. And her prose style is a great pleasure to read. Unlike some writers, she isn’t trying to demonstrate how smart she is; she doesn’t get between the reader and the characters. And like all great writers, she’s terrific company, and I feel bereft when I finish one of her books.

Are there any books which have changed your life?
I read everything Virginia Woolf wrote when I was a teenager, and her work was very important for me because it helped me see that other ways of living were possible. I came to London looking for Bloomsbury and found ‘The Gateways’ (see below).

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Be more visual. Look carefully at the physical world around you.

If you could offer a budding writer one piece of advice, what would it be?
Writing is like any other profession; you need a great deal of practice and a lot of advice from others to achieve competence.

What drew you to the genre of short stories?
I grew up in a culture where the short-story form was loved and valued. We studied great short stories at school and the publication of a collection of short stories was a significant cultural event.

What’s the strangest job (besides writing) that you’ve ever had?
I worked behind the bar at the ‘The Gateways’, the club in the film The Killing of Sister George. It was the only lesbian members’ club in London at the time, so everyone went there, from head mistresses to actresses to sex workers and petty criminals. It was a far cry from Bloomsbury.

Where do you write?
I write at home, because I’d be watching other people and trying to eavesdrop on them if I was in a café or library.

What’s the best place to read?
I love reading on the Tube, especially during the plague, because it distracts me from the stranger in the next seat who is sneezing viruses all over me.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which famous writer (from any point of history) do you invite?
Kate O’Brien, an Irish lesbian writer published by Virago Classics. Her books were banned in Ireland. She was brilliant, very courageous, and funny. She loved to party and would be great company.

What’s the background music at your dinner party?
My childhood friend Marion singing ‘My Own Dear Galway Bay’.

Any outlandish hobbies?
I’m a bit obsessed with hares. Sadly, I haven’t seen any yet on the streets of London, but I took many photos of hares in Ireland and I console myself for the absence of hares in my current life by looking at the photos.

What’s next?
I’m working on another collection of stories, and I’d like to do more work on a novel I’ve written about Irish women revolutionaries.

‘I couldn’t sleep that night; our conversation was like a trapped bird flying around inside my head. The next morning, I texted to say I wouldn’t be coming back. I lied about having to return to my country to nurse a sick relative. I couldn’t bear to see my story mirrored in his eyes, and to see what we never had. I knew he’d understand.’

Women and Love is a thought-provoking collection of seventeen tightly woven tales about the power of love, all its trials and complications, and the shattered lives it can leave in its wake.

The stories explore a huge variety of sorts of love surrounding women in wildly differing settings, and features an unforgettable cast including GPs, burglars, inmates, emigrant cleaners, carers, young professionals, and many more. Navigating heavy themes, with a particular focus on LGBTQ+ experiences, including gender dysphoria and searching for a sperm donor, the stories leave the reader burning with indignation, full of empathy and wonder.

224pp paperback
ISBN: 9781913724818