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Damhnait Monaghan on bringing lightness to Little Cove

By Kobo • June 23, 2022Author Interviews

Damhnait Monaghan’s novel New Girl in Little Cove is the winner of the 2022 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Romance.

Tell us about the setting for your book, the mid-1980s in a town called Little Cove.

First of all, Little Cove is not a real place—much to the disappointment of readers who’ve written to me saying, “I’m definitely going to visit Little Cove!”

I chose to set it in the 80s because I lived in Newfoundland in the late 70s and early 80s, first as a student and then as a teacher in a tiny fishing village. I felt I knew the place, which is important in telling a fish out of water story like New Girl in Little Cove. I wanted the main character Rachel to experience a kind of extreme culture shock and have nowhere to go. I didn’t want her to be able to Facetime her mother or swipe right to meet some guy in the next village. I wanted her to have no choice but to embrace the community around her.

There are some heavy themes here: the death of a parent, the end of a relationship, and the stress of that fish-out-of-water situation you mentioned. How did you keep the tone light and in line with the expectations of a romance reader?

This novel took a long time to get out. In an early version it was much more serious, with a lot less lightness shining through.

I did a major rewrite in 2019 to inject a lot of humour and to strip out the darker elements of back story. This was at a time when I was grieving a sudden loss in my own life, so even as I was adding humour and lightness, because of my own experience I was able to drill down more deeply into the dark, and I think made those parts more realistic.

I think that’s just life. Lightness and dark, sorrow and joy. I was trying to strike that balance, but still writing a rom-com so I knew I was going to address some serious issues but I wouldn’t dwell too much in the dark. I always knew Rachel was going to meet someone. And I knew I wanted to write a meet-cute for her and Doug.

What kind of a reader are you?

I do read romance, especially rom-coms. And I think romantic themes can be found in many novels that wouldn’t fit into the category. I don’t like the term “women’s fiction” but the books that tend to be put in that category appeal to me and they almost always have some element of romance in them. I think often of something Marian Keyes once said, objecting to the notion of these kinds of books as “guilty pleasures.” I agree: it’s a stupid term. Romance is in so many stories, so many books—there’s nothing to be guilty about.

Can you tell me about the “Holy Dusters,” the rug-hooking women who clean the church?

I had so much fun writing them! They came together as I was trying to do two things. I wanted to pay tribute to the strong women of Newfoundland and Labrador who I got to know in the 80s. And I wanted to find a way into the culture of the region, like the music and handicrafts. I wanted to explore rug-hooking specifically. I’ve never hooked rugs but I think they’re beautiful. Those characters were a lot of fun to write—I think more could be written about them.

Do you think you’ll keep writing more rom-coms set in Newfoundland?

I’m writing something right now, not set in Newfoundland. Romance is blooming, but I don’t think it’s that funny yet. I find it easier to add the humour after, so that’s what I’m working on now. ◼

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

New Girl in Little Cove by Damhnait Monaghan

When a new teacher arrives in a tiny fishing village, she realizes the most important lessons are the ones she learns outside the classroom.

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