This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Ann O'Loughlin has popped over today to tell us a little about her book, The Ballroom Café. This novel, set in a small village in Ireland, tells the story of two elderly sisters living in a crumbling mansion who haven't spoken to each other for decades and only communicate via notes on the bureau in the hall. The story is centred around the Irish baby scandal, where thousands of babies were sold to rich American couples by the Catholic church, in most cases without the knowledge or agreement of the mother.
Early, early, early.
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I get up at 5am. Even the dog stays curled up asleep. I like it when the house is quiet and there are no interruptions. It gives me thinking time and time to stop and stare and most of all to write. I live in the countryside with a marsh behind our house and the sea in front, so it is often the dawn chorus , a squabbling duck or a thundering sea hitting the shore that disrupts my writing, but I can live with that.
If it is a work day – I am a journalist – I usually stay at my desk which is actually a big comfy armchair beside the French doors in the kitchen until 8am, when the kids get up and get ready for school. If it is a day off work and school, then I can spend another few hours until my brain gives out or the kids give out or both.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I believe it is the lives of us ordinary men and women that are the most interesting. What do they say; if we all threw our troubles in to the middle of the floor, you would pick up your own pretty fast. I am fascinated by the tales of bravery, hardship and courage in ordinary lives. Being a celebrity and wearing diamonds is easy compared to the hard slog of living life.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
This is so difficult to answer, but for me it has to be Mary Lavelle by Kate O'Brien. I think Kate O'Brien was one of the foremost writers in Ireland and for me it is always a toss up between O'Brien and Jennifer Johnston. What I particularly like about O'Brien's work is how strong the women are – I tend to gravitate towards that myself in my own writing. I have O'Brien on my bedside table and often I will just pick up Mary Lavelle and read a few pages – it is the language, the descriptive passages; the bloody good story. Above all it is beautiful writing.Kate O'Brien died in the 1970s, but her literary career spanned fifty years – I love all her other books as well, but if you are to read any, I would recommend Mary Lavelle.
I usually have an idea in my head for a very long time before I even attempt to write it down. Often I do research and just pile it up knowing when the time is right, it will all hopefully fall into place. That is what it was like for The Ballroom Cafe. There are so many threads; the village, the cafe; the recipes; the interior. Then there was the whole big issue of adoption. The fun bits were researching the crumbling old mansion the O'Callaghans live in; the china cups and the picking of those beautiful Weiss brooches. It is very daunting to stare at the blank page so I just start writing; you know you are on the right track when the characters start talking in your head. Sounds strange, but it is what works for me. Now, when they start jostling for attention and shouting at me, it is hard to keep up with them. I write and rewrite, trying to get a good first draft done which is the template for the book. Every rewrite makes the novel better. I am convinced of that and for the writer, I find it is a good process, where you see the polish put on the sentences and the whole book begin to shine.
What was your journey to being a published author?
It was a long hard journey, but who doesn't have a tale to tell about the rejections and the fish … ooops … book deals that got away. It wasn't so much the path to publication was difficult; it took me so long to find my own voice as a writer. Once I did that, I believed in myself, but it was still still so difficult to get an agent. The best day for my writing was when agent Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates rang me. Everything changed from that moment on. Black and White Publishing Scotland are a brilliant crew to be with and I feel very lucky that The Ballroom Cafe is in their hands.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That we sit with our feet up quaffing champagne waiting for inspiration. If there are authors like that out there, I would love to hear from them. For me it is impossibly early starts, lots of tea and toast and hard graft on the sentences with once in the blue moon inspiration setting the fingers flying across the keyboard. More often than not, it is 500 words on an empty stomach, before I can have a cuppa, another 500 words to earn my toast and yet another hard worked 500 words before the biscuit tin is an option.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Make time. Writers come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they can't sit down and write. Really, you just have to steal the time and get on with it. It doesn't matter if you don't have an up to date lap top; a desk or even a private space. All you need is a comfy seat- you are going to be in it a lot – and something to write on, laptop or longhand, and away you go. Keep the bottle of champagne for much later when you land a book deal.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on my second novel – Monsoon Tears – which is based in Ireland and India. I lived in India at one time, so it is a wonderful journey back for me, but my lips are sealed on saying anything else about it.