This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Marita McKenna started her author journey by writing stories for her children when they were small. Since the publication of one of those tales, Under the Hawthorn Tree, which has become an international children’s classic, Marita hasn’t stopped writing.
Her latest novel, The Rose Garden, is set in a rambling old Irish country house where Molly fights to hold on to the home she loves after the death of her husband, and begins to restore the ancient rose garden. Here, Marita talks about her writing life and inspirations.
I am a curiosity box, interested in everything and everyone around me. There are stories everywhere you just need to listen and watch. I love history – tales of old houses and gardens and past generations. I find the complexities of family and friendships, and what love does to us all is a constant inspiration!
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I am not an organised person, but I started writing when my children were very young and had to grab the time when I could! I worked when they were either having a morning nap or at playgroup or school. Afternoons were a disaster as I was collecting and running around doing rugby and ballet runs etc. I wouldn’t write again till late at night when they were all tucked up safely in bed asleep. I am a bit of late owl and would stay up till 2am. My kids are all grown up now and I should be able to write whenever, but I still find my best time for writing are morning and night. Guess my writer clock is set that way now!
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
No, if at all possible I don’t use real people and far prefer to create my characters. However I am working on new historical novel and for the first time it is based on real people and events, which is a very different experience as I am very conscious of it and the fact that these people were living 100 years ago.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I think probably Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, which was not only beautifully written but totally transported me to a world I didn’t know
What female writer has inspired you?
Laura Ingalls Wilder, the great American writer who wrote all the Little House books. I read her books avidly when I was younger and not only loved the setting and adventure and the story of her life growing up on the prairie, and in the big woods, and in Plum Creek, but I also loved the way she wrote and could paint pictures so clearly with her words
Can you give us three book recommendations?
The White Princess by Philippa Gregory – I am a huge fan of her historical novels and love the way Gregory recreates Tudor times and all the intricacies and intrigues of ‘the Cousins’ war between the House of York and the House of Lancashire. This is the latest in the series.
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg – A book that made me laugh at the antics of Martha and her friends from a Swedish old people’ s home who are being badly treated and decide to resort to crime. They take on one criminal caper after another, which all go hilariously wrong.Strumpet City by James Plunkett – A marvellous sweeping Irish novel set in Dublin against the backdrop of the 1913 Lockout, with Plunkett highlighting the deep divisions between the striking workers living in Dublin’s tenements and the wealthy employers who refuse to give into their demands for decent pay and proper work conditions. This moving and tragic classic has been recently reissued. A great read.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I always get the idea first … it may be the simplest thing … a girl sitting in a shop making a hat, an old house overlooking the beach with a woman walking on the sand, an old witch moving in to the house next door. Next I get my main characters names and what they are like and then I begin really seeing their story and what happens to them … so there is a bit of planning! Then I jump in and write. I am a quick writer and get very caught up in what I am writing. I print out my pages as I go along to see how they read and work. To be honest I do as little re-drafting as possible, as I hate overworking things.
I began writing when I was kid. By the time I left school I was getting stuff printed in the newspapers and magazines. I did a course on Children’s Literature and as my children were small I began to make and draw books for them. One of my funny little picture books was accepted by a small publisher. Around the same time I was also writing a book for my older daughter called Under the Hawthorn Tree about three children caught up in Ireland’s Great Famine. I sent it off to another publisher and they took the gamble and published it. By the time it came out they had practically sold world rights everywhere around the globe and it became a huge book. It is a very special book and I am very proud of it. It was written for a child and I think that is often the best way to write.
I hadn’t intended writing for adults, but then began writing The Magdalen, which is set in a Magdalen laundry – I just had to write it. My agent was very excited about it and, next thing I knew, my first adult novel was auctioned with a bidding war, which was totally unexpected. I got a bit of a panic and went and met the various publishers in London as I knew it was really important to find an editor and publisher that understood my writing and the way I worked. Luckily the editor I really wanted to work with outbid the others and they published it and have continued to publish me ever since.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That writing takes no time and no effort and that anyone can do it!
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
It is critical to make time and space in your life for writing if that is what you want to do. If you really want to write you will find a way.
Also another very important thing is that lots of people seem to get stuck on writing the one thing … a book or story and they have it hanging around for years. They send it out and get it back again and again. They keep re-drafting and changing it and rewriting it … hoping it will somehow improve, trying to somehow get it to work! It’s harsh but If a story doesn’t work – just free yourself and throw it in the bin. Get out a lovely new piece of paper or open a new document on your computer and begin writing something new! It’s that simple.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing a big historical novel set during the period 1901 -1916, which was a time of immense change not only in Ireland but across Europe. My story follows an Anglo-Irish family, which gets caught up in all the tumultuous events of the time, as the brothers go off to fight in the Great War and their sisters get involved with rebels who are fighting for Ireland’s independence and are leaders of the 1916 Rising. It is a story of love and tragedy and courage and it has been fascinating researching it.