I began writing Holding Her Breath when I was working at Dubray Books in Grafton Street. I loved the job – it was a joy to be around books all day, to talk about them and to put them in the hands of readers. It was on a lunch break at Dubray that I first wrote down the initial ideas for the novel.
Working in the Grafton Street store, I realised how much of a draw Dublin’s literary history was for those who visited the city. Tourists would come in looking for books by and about Yeats, Heaney, Joyce, Wilde, Behan and Beckett. At the till we sold magnets featuring these writers’ faces and quotes, and you would always sell at least a couple every day. Many of the pubs nearby featured the famous Irish Writers poster, a grid of twelve sepia photos of stern male writers peering out at you.
I began to think – what if you were related to one of these iconic literary figures? What if his name, reputation and myth followed you around wherever you went? And what if you didn’t even really like his work?
My heroine, Beth Crowe, is not at all bookish – she’s a former elite swimmer, someone who feels most at home in her body rather than her head. Her grandfather, however, was the famous Irish poet Benjamin Crowe, who died by suicide in the 1980s, before Beth was born. Beth has never paid much attention to her grandfather’s legacy, but when she encounters Crowe enthusiasts at university – and when her beloved grandmother Lydia begins to decline – she becomes drawn into the mystery of Benjamin’s life and death.
This book combines my two greatest passions – literature and sport – and while I explore their respective dark sides, I also feel my love of both comes through in the story.
Eimear Ryan’s writing has appeared in Granta, Winter Papers, The Dublin Review and The Stinging Fly. She is the 2021 Writer in Residence at University College Cork. She is a co-founder of the literary journal Banshee and its publishing imprint, Banshee Press. A native of Co. Tipperary, Eimear now lives in Cork city.