Jennifer Thorp is an award-winning writer and librettist based in Ireland.

COMMISSIONS ARE NOW OPEN

From Jan-Jun 2022 I am accepting commissions for:

  • Lyrics & libretti
  • Creative collaborations

Want to work on something fun together? Use the Contact Form to get in touch. 

Jennifer Thorp is a writer working across a variety of forms, from novels to traditional motets and operatic texts. She was one of The Observer‘s top 10 debut novelists of 2021, and her first novel, Learwife, was one of Waterstones’ 2021 fiction books of the year.

She is the musical composition partner of award-winning British composer Toby Young and has also worked with acclaimed composer Alex Mills. Her commission partners have included the BBC, the Wellcome Trust and Oxford University Press, and she has been interviewed in The Times, The Economist, The Guardian, The Independent and on BBC Radio 4 . She is an Australian based in Cork, Ireland. Her literary work is represented by Claire Paterson Conrad at the agency Janklow & Nesbit.

Novel

LEARWIFE REVIEWS

Except for one throwaway line, the queen is never mentioned in “King Lear.” In the novel “Learwife,” J.R. Thorp tells her tale.

Here’s a small selection of reviews for Learwife from  Washington Post ,  New York Times, Guardian, the Irish Times, and the Times Literary Supplement. 

From The Guardian:

“They were bad with language, my girls,” thinks Lear’s wife at one point. “Thought it was a servant when really it was power itself.” Thorp has no such problem. She has a virtuosic command. Again and again I wrote down lines and phrases for the pleasure of them. There are paragraphs that could have had a page to themselves, as near-lyric poems: “I am so flooded with self now, with happiness … I could become a web of flesh and green bone, for eel-nests and leeching fish. Little frogs could sing in my pelvis.”

From The Washington Post:

“Thorp places her bet on psychological complexity that evolves into more psychological complexity as the story unfolds. You may have to read it twice before you take it in, but I believe it is worth it.”

January 2021: I am one of the Observer New Review’s top 10 debut novelists to watch of 2021!

“This year’s selection of debuts (from writers in the UK and Ireland) is a particularly rich and interesting mix. We have novels that engage with contemporary British life, with questions of race and identity prominent. There are books that seek to explore occluded histories and contested narratives. It’s a list featuring several poets who have turned to the novel as a way of exploring ideas in a more capacious form. Several of the authors reflect either specifically or obliquely on the coronavirus pandemic, while others explore issues of systemic prejudice and social justice…

“[Learwife’s] tale of pestilence and seclusion also has a powerful contemporary relevance. Written in luminous, lyrical prose, it’s a book that defies easy description, being neither historical novel nor fantasy, but mining the best bits from each genre.”

March 2020: The news is out!  LEARWIFE will be published by Canongate in November 2021! Here’s the announcement from The Bookseller:

“Canongate has snapped up a debut literary novel, which imagines the life of King Lear’s wife in the “vein of feminist alternative histories such as Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad or Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls“. Commissioning editor Jo Dingley acquired world rights including audio to Learwife by J R Thorp from Claire Paterson Conrad at Janklow & Nesbit.

“Dingley says Thorp’s first novel “reads like her 20th. It’s hard to believe that it has taken over 400 years for this vital female character to be given a voice, but Jen is just the writer to do it.”

“Paterson Conrad said: ‘Whether you know the play or not, Learwife is one of the most exciting literary debuts that I’ve read in years.””

I am represented by Claire Paterson Conrad at the delightful literary agency Janklow & Nesbit. My author page is here. 

October 2019: My novel Learwife is on the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize Longlist!

From Curtis Brown: “We received 3,000 submissions from across the UK & Ireland. We were so impressed by the standard of the submissions; it was truly difficult to choose our longlist.

“After many weeks of reading, our judging team narrowed the longlist to these 20 entries. We are proud of our longlist which represent a range of genres and writers’ backgrounds.”

Choral Works

UPCOMING CHORAL WORK
  • “A Suitcase Full Of Songs” premiered on 10 December 2019! This new project with Toby Young was a commission from The King’s Singers and 300 performers from the AC Academy. The two combined to sing a suite of pieces exploring the experience of immigration, difference and harmony in the modern world.

Performances were on 10 October 2019 (Bushell Hall Solihull School, Solihull) and 11 October (Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry). 

PAST CHORAL WORK 
2019
  • “As One”, commissioned for the High Sheriff’s Concert of Bristol and performed by Exultate Singers, the Bristol Youth Choir and the Renewal Choir. Composition by Toby Young. Premiered 19 June 2019 at Bristol Cathedral in Bristol, UK.

“…..the piece explores some of the many seams that tie together Bristol’s diverse communities, as well as considering some of the challenges facing the city today, in order to celebrate the creative and independent spirit that makes the city so unique.”

“Schola has embarked on an exciting new commission involving a collaboration between composer Toby Young, writer Jennifer Thorp and visual artist Whitney Conti. Toby has written a set of three madrigals, which aim to explore the lives of people living with mental illness in order to give voice to those affected by the trauma, isolation and stigma of their separation from society.” Information available here. 

Previous Years
    • “The Schubert Project: Heideröslein“, commissioned by Oxford Lieder Festival, performed by Anna Dennis (soprano) / Daniel Norman (tenor) / Andrew West (tenor), Oct 2014. Music: Toby Young
    • “Four Motets After Bach”, commissioned and performed by Armonico Consort, Sept 2015. Music: Toby Young
    • “The Astronomer’s Carol”, commissioned and performed by Armonico Consort, Dec 2015. Music: Toby Young. Hear it below:
    • “Under The Surface”, commissioned by the Life Of Breath Project at the University of Bristol, performed by the Brabant Ensemble & Bristol University Singers, Nov 2016. Music: Toby Young

    • “Music, Make: Anthem For St Cecilia”, commissioned for the Festival Of St Cecilia annual event held by the Musicians Benevolent Fund. Performed by the combined choirs of Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral  and Westminster Cathedral Choir, and performed at Westminster Abbey, Nov 2016. Music: Toby Young. Hear a segment below:

  • Annual Official Christmas Carol, commissioned by BBC Music Magazine, Dec 2017. Music: Toby Young

Opera

DEAR MARIE STOPES REVIVAL

King’s Place on 21 September 2019, with Alexa Mason (soprano), Jess Dandy (contralto) and Feargal Mostyn-Williams (countertenor. It received a rave four-star review in The Stage!

This opera was commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, created with composer Alex Mills as part of the Tête à Tête festival of contemporary opera. 

First published in 1918, Marie Stopes’ controversial book ‘Married Love’ revolutionised the way people understoodfemale sexuality, sexual health and contraception. Now, a century on, a new chamber opera by composer Alexander Mills explores and challengecontemporary attitudes to these issues using extracts from the hundreds of letters Stopes received in response to the original book.

First performance: August 9, 11 and 12 2018 in the Wellcome Reading Room, London.

Featured in “I Can’t Do The Gonorrhea Duet!”, Guardian 7 Aug 2018:  “supernatural poignance, melodic but otherworldly, narratively urgent but poetically impressionistic. [….] those of us who’ve never seen it are instantly welling up.”

PAST OPERATIC WORKS

“BEOWULF”

“Beowulf”, commissioned by Armonico Consort & AC Academy Singers with a score by Toby Young, premiered in 2017 with soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and harpist Catrin Finch . It toured in 2019 and the score will be published by Editions Peters.

WITCH: AN OPERA

Commissioned by the University of Oxford Faculty of Music, with a score by Toby Young, performed at the Jacqueline de Pre theatre in 2017.

“THE CHOICE”

Frame opera libretto commissioned by Vocal Futures, performed at Britten Theatre, conducted by Suzi Digby, 14-15 October 2016. Music: Toby Young

Press

2021 IN REVIEW

Learwife had a HELL OF A YEAR. Lovely reviews in the New York Times, Guardian Book of the Day, one of Waterstones’ Best Books of 2021, Jane Smiley of A Thousand Acres fame apparently approving of the whole project in the Washington Post – it’s been delightful. Bring on 2022!

I was also profiled in the Times, and interviewed by Scala Radio, Dublin Book Festival, Hay Book Festival, and the Independent. 

JR Thorp has created a feminist tale of Lear’s missing spouse

It was also the Independent Bookstores Book Of The Month for November 2021! It’s available at your favorite indie bookstores: Daunt’s,Bookshop.org, Foyles, Dubray, Hatchards, and anywhere cool books are sold. The audiobook, read by the incomparable Juliet Stevenson, is also available on Audible and everywhere else.

I’m one of the top 10 debut novelists of 2021 in The Observer New Review!

January 2021: Learwife is among the Irish Independent Culture Guide’s most anticipated books of 2021!

PAST PRESS

The Economist “Prospero” 27 September 2019

“Jennifer Thorp, the librettist, scoured these letters, which are kept in the archive at the Wellcome Collection in London. “The weight of the pleas and vitriol that came at Stopes for decades almost has to be seen to be believed,” she says. “She was a public beacon of aid in an age where birth control was highly illegal, sexual education was obscure and women in particular were often kept in the dark.” Ms Thorp argues that the missives are well-suited to opera not only because of their emotional intensity but also because they had a kind of rhythm and pattern.”

The Stage review of “Dear Marie Stopes”, “Short But Potent”, September 2019

“FOUR STARS: Dear Marie Stopes is short (45 minutes) but potent, with its sometimes heartbreaking text that comes from the thousands of letters written to Stopes in the wake of her book’s publication. Mills and librettist Jennifer Thorp have judiciously chosen extracts that highlight the ignorance and fear that drove men and women to turn to Stopes….a first-rate addition to the catalogue of one-act operas.”

“Dear Marie Stopes” has featured in the Independent, the Evening Standard, The Guardian and on Radio 4 Today. Here are some other excerpts from the press coverage!

“Desperation itself, Thorp remarks, “can be weirdly melodic. A lot of these letters, particularly from working-class women, had the same sort of rhythm, ‘I am X years old, I’ve had this many children, this many have survived’ … this hesitancy before they open the floodgates, and reveal this really deep, really intimate, really raw tragedy. There is a lot of innate poetry in that.”

“I can’t do the gonorrhoea duet! The opera about pioneer expert Marie Stopes”, Zoe Williams, Guardian 7 August 2018

Married Love felt like such a sea change because it was the first time this wealth of knowledge was made available to the public the world over,” Nina Brazier, the opera’s director, tells Stylist.co.uk.  Many women didn’t know how to start or stop having children. Some didn’t even know what sex was. Stopes also explained female sexuality and female libido in great detail, giving permission for women to have equal sexual desire to men and the right to bodily freedom for the first time.”

“How Marie Stopes revolutionised British women’s sex lives”, Stylist, August 7 2018

“In an innovative collaboration with the Wellcome Collection, new chamber opera Dear Marie Stopes sees composer Alex Mills explore extracts from the thousands of letters Stopes received following the publication of her controversial 1918 sex manual Married Love.”

“The best alternative hip opera shows to see this summer,” The Independent, August 2018

OTHER PRESS

“There are strong folk-pop influences and also the bonus of a terrific libretto by JR Thorp, which Young adequately described as beautifully reflecting the rich world of monsters and battles. Young says he enjoys ‘blurring’ traditional senses when he composes, mixing in folk elements to classical, or classical ideas into pop.”

Review of Beowulf, “Legendary Tale Is A Family Delight”, Alan Wallcroft, Bromsgrove Advertiser 2017.