08 Niamh Boyce

Niamh Boyce is a novelist and poet who was the winner of the 2012 Hennessey AwardThe-Herbalist-Niamh-Boyce-220x330 for Irish Writing. In the same year, her book The Herbalist won a place at the Irish Writers' Centre's inaugural Novel Fair and was quickly snapped up by Penguin Ireland. The Herbalist is her first novel, which has won praise and awards and is in the running for IMPAC this year.

1) What is your name? What is your quest?

My name is Niamh Boyce, and my quest... (stuck at the first question!) is to write the books I'd like to read.

2) Okay, tell me about your book.

It's set in 1939 in a small midlands town and begins with the arrival of an Indian Herbalist.  The locals (especially the women) become intoxicated by the stranger but as the summer progresses life becomes quite complicated and dangerous for the herbalist and his devotees. The novel is told through the eyes of four women, each of whose lives is changed irrevocably by the herbalist.

3) What was the most difficult bit to write?

I don't plot, so after the first draft was finished, I had to figure out the story. It was messy, chaotic and frustrating. It was also exciting, but boy was I was glad when it was over!

4) What surprised you about writing it?

I was surprised at how real the characters became to me. I was very teary once, or twice...

5) First line:

"He just appeared one morning and set up shop in the market square."

6) What's the next project?

I'm beginning the second draft of a new novel, so I'm at that chaotic stage again! But this time I'm certain of the first and last lines, and a few things in between.

7) Your three main characters are trapped in a barn during the zombie apocalypse. What's the outcome?

Emily will cook up an ingenious zombie repellent from cow shite and straw, which Aggie will then paste on the outer walls of the barn while roaring out special curses that make zombies ashamed of themselves. In the meantime, Sarah could spear the more shameless ones with poison arrows from her position on the roof.

8) Your book's been made into a movie. What's playing over the opening credits?

I'd like the Baz Luhrman treatment, so 'Get your Rocks Off' would work well for me. I can see the camera zooming into the market - the women cackling, Aggie on the river, people jostling outside the courthouse, the herbalist sauntering in and tipping his hat...it may have been the 30s but a lot of things don't change - as the song says - teasers keep teasing, holy joes are preachin, hustlers keep hustling, death keeps knockin, and souls are up for auction!

9) When and where is the book available?

It's in all good bookshops, and on Amazon. There are signed copies in Dubray & Stone House Books in Kilkenny and The Reading Room in Carrick On Shannon.

My two cents: With strong female protagonists, a touch of 1930s Hollywood glamour in rural Ireland, and an edge-of-your seat finish, I could easily see this story appearing soon in a theatre near you. Personally, I could barely breathe for suspense when I was deep into the last hundred pages. If you like your Irish historical fiction gorgeously written with a jolt of the unexpected, this one's for you.

And here's the opening of the movie:


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"...astonishingly good....a juicy coming-of-age story...also an important read." The Globe and Mail

"...poignant...heart-wrenching. This stunning debut will surely appeal to both teenage readers and adults." Quill & Quire, starred review

"Witty, devastating, with a melancholy humour..." Sunday Business Post

"...page-turning, top drawer stuff..." BGE Book Club

"...warm, witty, heartfelt and utterly engaging..." The Irish News

"A stunning debut. I loved it." The Irish Examiner