Tara Westover

Posted by Sue Leonard on Friday 18th May 2018

Following a dysfunctional childhood, Tara embraced education. In 2014, after ten years as an academic, she moved from Cambridge to London to write a memoir. But after concentrating on academic writing for ten years, she had no idea how to start.

“The things that make for great writing in an essay are intolerable in a story,” she says. “If you overinterpret, people can’t come to their own conclusions. They need to experience the story. I knew nothing about narrative arc, or point of view.”

To learn, Tara read the greatest short stories, and listened to the New Yorker Fiction podcasts.

“They’re amazing! A writer reads another writer’s story, then discusses it with the fiction editor. I picked up so much that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.”

It was a struggle for her to write the first draft, but once she’d done so she found an agent and a publisher very quickly.


Who is Tara Westover?

Date of birth: 1986 in Idaho.

Education:  Bigham Young University, winning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Cambridge. MPhil and PhD.

Home: Cambridge.

Family: “Three brothers who I’m close to, and a good extended family. A dog called Leo.”

The Day Job: None, at the moment.

In Another Life: “It would be fun to run a podcast and interview interesting people.”

Favourite Writers: Mavis Gallant; Flannery O’Connor; Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Tobias Wolff.

Second Novel: “I hope there will be one. I’ve no plans right now.”

Top Tip: “Don’t read widely; read deeply. I’ve read some short stories 50 or 60 times and marked them up. I think of it like studying algebra.”

Web: www.tarawestover.com Twitter: @tarawestover


The Debut: Educated. Hutchinson: €17.00 Kindle:€9.15

Brought up a Mormon with a very extreme father, Tara didn’t go to school. Instead, she worked in her father’s junk yard, or helped her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife. Attending university at 17, she pursued education zealously for ten years. She’s now estranged from her parents, and some siblings.

“It was surprisingly easy to write of the painful things because I had reconciled with them. It was harder to write of the nice things, like the sound of my mother laughing, because those are the things I have lost.”

The Verdict: Inspirational. An extraordinary achievement.


Published in The Irish Examiner on 31st March

© Sue Leonard. 2018.

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