Development & Alumni Relations Office 

MASTER’S GRADUATE SIGNS SIX-FIGURE BOOK DEALGraduate Louise Nealon in front of wall with colourful flowers

26 May 2020

Louise Nealon, who won 1st Prize in the 2017 Séan Ó Faoláin Competition for her short story entitled What Feminism Is, has signed a six-figure deal for her debut novel, Snowflake and a follow-up book.

The 2014 BA English Language and Literature graduate of Trinity College Dublin from Country Kildare completed a Master’s in Creative Writing at Queen’s in 2016.

In addition to her first two novels being acquired by Bonnier Books, the film and TV rights to Louise’s ‘coming-of-age story’ (which is due to be published next year) have been purchased by Element Pictures, the company behind the current hugely popular TV series, Normal People.

The central character in Snowflake, Debbie White, lives on a dairy farm in rural Ireland, where her Uncle Billy resides in a caravan in a field at the back of her house. Her mother, Maeve, is obsessed with dreams. After moving to the city for university, Debbie begins to have strange dreams, struggles to find her identity, and undergoes trials as she navigates college.

“I would describe Snowflake as a massive headache of an idea that has been festering in the back of my mind for quite a while!” Louise told Queen’s.

“It is autobiographical in the way that all fiction is – you start off by writing what you know and to be honest, I don’t know a whole lot, so I start drifting into unfamiliar territory fairly quickly.”

Louise has many great memories of her time at the School of English and the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s and of the staff and fellow students – and indeed other writers – whom she met while in Belfast. “Going to Queen’s was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said.

“My mother really pushed me to apply to do a creative writing Master’s. I was living at home, waitressing part-time and was quite down in myself. I kept saying that I would apply to courses but I didn’t. By the time I got around to applying, the Creative Writing MA at the Heaney Centre was the only course that was still accepting applications! I was incredibly lucky.”

“I had the time of my life at Queen’s. I remember going to my first Poetry and Pints. I couldn’t believe my luck that events like that existed!

“Bookfinders was probably my favourite place in Belfast. When I heard that it was closing, it really felt like the end of an era. We went to Tenx9 in the Black Box every month. We volunteered with Fighting Words. I wrote a play overnight in the Lyric with Accidental Theatre. We did quizzes in the John Hewitt and stood at the back of book launches in No Alibis. We made pigs of ourselves tucking into Jan Carson’s Mum’s shortbread biscuits at readings in the Linen Hall Library.

“So many inspiring people were hanging around – Sinéad Morrissey and Leontia Flynn; Stephen Sexton and the gang of brilliant poets; Glenn Patterson with his impeccable dress sense.

“I worked in the café in the Crescent Arts Centre and Michael Longley came in for a coffee. I’ve never laughed or learned so much in my life. It really was a kind of utopia.”

Among many University staff cited by Louise as being ‘hugely helpful’ were Darran McCann, Garrett Carr and Dr Jimmy McAleavey. Others singled out for praise are Emily Dedakis of Accidental Theatre, who taught Louise for a semester and was ‘wonderful’ and Jan Carson. “I was Jan’s first ever superfan. I read Malcolm Orange Disappears and fell head over heels in love with her. I was struck dumb every time she spoke to me in person.”

According to Louise, however, the most influential people she met at Queen’s were actually her fellow students. “I still remember the first story that Pádraig Ó Meiscill submitted to the class and hating him for it because it was that good. Louise Kennedy (who has recently been nominated for the Sunday Times Audible award for the second year in a row,) was in the same class as me. I learned a hell of a lot from her.

“And I met my closest friend and favourite writer, Laura Sheary, on my first day at Queen’s. She continues to impress and inspire me in the way that lifelong friends do.

While Louise admits that she always wanted to be a writer, she is also quick to confess that she would do anything to avoid sitting down to write. A love for reading and talking about writing may be one thing but she finds opening a word document intimidating.  

Asked about her reaction on hearing that she had been awarded the lucrative book deal, Louise says she found it all surreal.

“Meeting my agent, Marianne Gunn O’Connor, changed my life. If I was trying to get the book published by myself I would be in a completely different position.

“I was ready to be a bitter, unpublished writer for at least another decade or two, stewing in my own ego and low self-esteem. Marianne is a much-needed positive force in my writing life. She was so excited about Snowflake. I didn’t understand it. I still don’t. All of this feels surreal.”

While the current pandemic means Louise will have to wait for any post-lockdown celebrations, she is happy to content herself at the family home in County Kildare, which is shared with her five month old niece Sophie whom she describes as ‘the greatest human to have ever graced the planet’.

And what does Louise – who is currently editing Snowflake and refuses to be drawn on the details of her second novel – enjoy most about the six-figure deal?

“The best thing about getting this book deal is that my parents don’t have to worry about me anymore. They have supported me for years, but they were aware about how tough it is to make a living as a writer.

“I have a job that I love doing and I’m getting paid to do it. I know how fortunate I am. It’s better than winning the lottery!”

For general enquiries about this story or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast. 

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