occasions, once by a boyfriend. When I ask if writing the book was in any way cathartic, she smiles. In her academic life, she’s director of the Irish Memory Studies Network and writes a lot about “how narrative is a very powerful way of claiming control over a traumatic past or painful past”.
“In exposing yourself, you take control of the narrative as much as you can within a public space,” she says.
“The other side of that is the personal, emotional side of it. When I was a teenager, I went through a lot of really terrible things and I put them in a nice little box and I closed the box.”
Before writing ‘Something About Me’, she had never been able to talk about her experience of sexual violence — her partner only knew the “vague shape” of it until she read him the essay. In Notes to Self, she tries to reflect that “it’s hard to do, the writing thing, it pours out of you but that act in itself can be physical, almost visceral”.
The collection is very current, not just in light of movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up, or this year’s abortion referendum — where women’s stories catalysed change — but because it’s part of a renaissance in the essay, by women writers in particular. She mentions Zadie Smith, Ariel Levy and Roxane Gay as writers who have inspired her, as well as The White Album by Joan Didion, one of the “gods of essay writing”.
Pine never thought about fictionalising her stories. “The power of them, for me, is that they’re real.”
“I like the essay as a form. I like the idea of the essay. The verb ‘to essay’ is to try something out, I like that it takes an idea and that it pushes it, it looks at it from different angles... you don’t just say here is one route through this material... But I wouldn’t want someone to be put off by the idea that they’re essays because I still want them to be stories. So it’s storytelling in essay form.”
She doesn’t think that what she depicts in the book is anything out of the ordinary. “It’s about recognising commonality in a way.” Though the stories are deeply personal, inevitably they have a societal and political context. Her parents separated when she was five and didn’t speak for the next three decades. Divorce was illegal (though her parents never got divorced) which meant that in legislative terms, her family did not exist.
This forms the core of the essay ‘Speaking/Not Speaking,’ but in a way the entire collection confronts the tension between speaking and not speaking. She felt like she grew up in a culture that was not speaking. In this sense, Notes on Self is partly a rectification. When she first thought about publishing ‘Notes on Intemperance,’ Pine reckoned it would have meant a lot to her growing up, to have had her own experience mirrored, “and that’s what I thought about all the essays in the end,” she says.
Notes to Self is out now and is published by Tramp Press
When I was a teenager, I went through a lot of really terrible things and I put them in a nice little box and I closed the box