Human & Rousseau

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Author Focus

Finuala Dowling

Biographical info

Finuala Dowling was born in Cape Town in 1962, the seventh child of radio personality Eve van der Byl and broadcaster/copywriter Paddy Dowling.  Her previous novels are What Poets Need, Flyleaf and Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart, which won the 2012 MNet prize for fiction. The Fetch is her fourth novel.

Dowling established her literary career as a poet.  Her first collection, I flying, won the Ingrid Jonker Prize; her second, Doo-Wop Girls of the Universe, was a co-winner of the Sanlam prize, and her third, Notes from the Dementia Ward, won the Olive Schreiner Prize.  She has been invited to read her poetry internationally.

In addition to novels and poetry, Dowling has published short stories in national and international anthologies, and has had plays and skits performed on stage and radio. She has published widely in the field of education.  

Dowling is currently senior lecturer in the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies at UCT.  She has a D.Litt from Unisa, where she taught English for several years.  She has also taught English and creative writing at the University of Stellenbosch.  She was married to the late writer, actor and raconteur, Guy Willoughby, and has a daughter, Beatrice. 

Did you know? 


· Finuala is an Irish name which means “white shoulder” and relates to a myth about a swan.
· She has given readings of her work at the Aldeburgh Festival in the United Kingdom, as well as at various literary festivals in South Africa.
· Along with her sisters, Cara and Tessa Dowling, she has formed a theatre company called Dowling Sister Productions. They have regular music and reading events, as well as cabaret performances.

Books still in print

The Fetch, Kwela Books (2015)
Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart, Kwela Books (2011)
Notes from the Dementia Ward
, Kwela Boeke/Snailpress (2008)


Olive Schreiner Prize (2010) – Notes from the Dementia Ward
Sanlam Poetry Prize (2003) – Doo-wop Girls of the Universe
Ingrid Jonker Prize (2004) – I Flying

List of published works

2002 I Flying, Carapace
2006 Doo-wop Girls of the Universe, Penguin
2008 Notes from the Dementia Ward, Kwela Books/Snailpress

2005 What Poets Need, Penguin
2007 Flyleaf, Penguin
2011 Homemaking for the Down-at-Heart, Kwela Books
2015 The Fetch, Kwela Books

2006 Portraits of African Writers (by George Hallett), Wits University Press
2006 Lovely Beyond Any Singing: Landscape in South African Literature, Double Storey

Excerpts from reviews

Notes is a volume which delivers a huge lump in your throat and a wide smile on your face, because Dowling is the local master of tragicomedy.” – Danie Marais (Boeke-Insig, 2009)

“This volume is heart wrenching, comical, humoristic, ironical, surrealistic. With subtle metaphor. A unique volume, with a variety of tools and themes and a strangeness (newness) which sometimes also exposes the dementia of the poet. I enjoyed it and agree with the old lady in the institution which the author presents as follows: ‘I was going to say / This is my daughter Nuala / - she’s just a little bit odd.’” – Ampie Coetzee (Die Burger, 2009)

(Photo: Simone Scholtz)

Books By This Author