Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
On an ideal day and usually during the summer months I get up very early–5am, make a pot of tea, put on some music and get to work. On the perfect day I'm finished by 8/9am and ready to have breakfast with my son. I love the early morning quiet when everyone else is asleep but it means I have to be in bed early and there are mornings when my son has decided to join me! (he's just 4); but he will be starting school this September so I be getting him ready and then settling down to work until lunchtime.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I love the writer Annie Dillard and have found lots of her commentary about writing very inspiring. Her book, The Writing Life is one I return to regularly. My mother is a great story-teller and being from the West of Ireland she has lot of unusual expressions and a great sense of humour. She was a great inspiration when writing Little Beauty which is set on the West coast.
What is your favourite Women's Fiction book of all time and why?
Oh that's tough! I absolutely love The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguo for its elegance and restraint. I love books that allow the reader in and don't 'over tell' the story–when you're working things out and feeling stirred up by the book, you are really involved. I read this book when I was living on my own in Paris and felt a big loss when I'd finished–as if I was missing a good friend. I also love Jane Austen, especially Sense and Sensibility and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I have learned (from making many 'false-starts') than I'm a writer who needs to be ready to write. Cautious by nature, I'm not a person who really dives into anything. I like to think about a book for at the very least a year but ideally two before I even start writing. I'm not a writer that will sit down and knock out 1000 words; I have to feel fired up or moved by something in order to write–and it shows in my writing. There has to be a lot of feeling behind the words or it seems pointless to me. That said, once I am into the body of a book, i.e. after I've done about the first quarter, I can usually get into a routine and make progress every day.
I worked in advertising for 15 years before becoming a full time author. I had been a director of an ad agency for about 5 years by then and was feeling disillusioned. Not with the company I worked for but more the choices that I had made. I was 39 at the time and I knew deep down I still wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing. In some ways it was a scary decision but also a fantastic one and one I knew I couldn't regret. I wrote my first book This Man and Me while still in my job and then found an agent and decided to go for it. The transition from ad-land to writing on my own every day took some getting used to but I'm so glad I did it. Even now when I watch Mad Men I cringe!
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it's easy and that writing is not really work. Writers by their nature are sensitive and prone to self-doubt and anxiety around their own work. It can be very daunting to feel that everything must come from you initially. Obviously authors also have great support from their agent, publisher etc. but until there is a decent manuscript on the table no one has anything to talk about. It takes a lot of hours on your own to write a book–there's no other way to do it–and it is work!
I would ask ' What moves you?' in other words, what has happened in your life that has changed it or has caused you to feel emotional?–and begin by writing about that. It can feel very autobiographical at the start but that's OK. The most important thing is to find a way into your book. You can build from there. There is also no reason why you need to write in sequence–there is nothing wrong with writing separate pieces as they come to you and then 'knit' them together to make a book. It's your book and you can do it whatever way you choose. Also to accept that thinking and waiting are very much part of the job. Writing, in my view, is not something that can be forced. Be patient with yourself and don't listen to the 'naysayers'. People will always read books and there is no reason why it can't be yours.