In her debut novel, “Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking,” Prospect Heights resident Aoibheann Sweeney turns Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” on its head with a modern interpretation. Her protagonist, Miranda, shares a name with the Bard’s character, but is raised on an island off of Maine, not Italy, and instead of running off to Milan, she sets her sights on New York.
GO Brooklyn’s Katie Newingham chatted with Sweeney about updating Shakespeare, careers in publishing and why there aren’t any good diners in Prospect Heights.
GO Brooklyn: So, how did you decide to write a book about Shakespeare’s Miranda?
Aoibheann Sweeney: I wanted to explore the story of the daughter, a girl who’s educated but not at all ready for the outside world. What would happen to her when she breaks her father’s spell and doesn’t marry a prince but moves to the city instead?
GO: What made you pick New York City as Miranda’s final destination after living such an isolated life on Crab Island, Maine?
AS: Having escaped to New York myself, I think it’s a place for escape for so many people from so many different lives. I felt that as soon as I got here: the energy of people wanting to shed their cocoon and climb into the next one. I think it’s a great place to have a character come into her own.
GO: How did you end up here?
AS: I came to live in New York City after college in the early ’90s. I drove here in a U-Haul; it was like a sitcom. I was working in publishing, and I worked non-stop. I even worked at a bookstore after hours. [Eventually] I left to go to an artist colony, and I stayed at people’s houses and tried to write my novel. I went and got my Master’s degree and then realized I had to go back to the city. It was 2001 and all my friends were in Brooklyn, so I came to Brooklyn. I knew nothing about Brooklyn, but now it’s the only place to go. I have a baby, and I live in Prospect Heights and it’s great.
GO: What are the best spots for writing in the neighborhood?
AS: I wish there were better coffee shops in Prospect Heights. I also work full-time, so I can’t really do the coffee shop thing. I used to live in Greenpoint, and there are great Polish diners there that are really well-lit. I love writing in diners where they keep pouring you coffee. We could use more diners in Prospect Heights.
GO: Did your neighborhood influence the book at all?
AS: The last six years I’ve been in Brooklyn, I’ve been writing the book. The Caribbean areas in Brooklyn definitely influenced the book. Miranda was an immigrant, and so many people around New York City are immigrants [so it] was great for inspiration.
GO: With your first book done, are you ready to start on the next one?
AS: Not right now. I’m thinking non-fiction might be an easier path, even though everyone says I’m wrong. I’m working [at NYU] now, so I feel like non-fiction would blend better with my work. With fiction, you need to have another head for it.
“Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking” (The Penguin Press, $23.95) by Aoibheann Sweeney is available at BookCourt (163 Court St. at Dean Street in Cobble Hill). For information, call (718) 875-3677 or visit www.bookcourt.org.