This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
There is no routine. Sometimes, when I am being good, I get up early (for me) and manage to write for 1-1.5 hours before work, but usually I write in the evenings after work, which is far from ideal. I also write on Fridays, my day off, as well as the weekends. I write on trains, on holidays whenever, wherever. I try to go to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre which is an artist’s retreat in Co Monaghan at least once a year for an intensive writing week at which I write morning, afternoon and evening. This really gets me into ‘the zone’.
When you are writing, do you use any famous people or people you know as inspiration?
I don’t write about famous people and only borrow very specific aspects of people I know. For example, I know a man whose freckles are quite fascinating (there are so many and they are evenly spaced all over his body) and I thought about him when writing about Brigid’s father in Love is the Easy Bit. In my second book, I thought about specific people in developing a couple of new characters but the fictional characters very quickly diverged from the real ones, so much so that I think I can pretty safely say that all my characters are entirely fictional.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
When it comes to favourite women writers, there are almost too many to list starting with Charlotte and Emily Bronte whom I read in my teens to Alice Munro whose latest book Dear Life I am slowly reading these days, spliced between lots of other stuff.
Lorrie Moore is also wonderful. I loved her novel Who will run the Frog Hospital? I shouldn’t have because the story was meandering and there was no obvious hook to draw me in but the language is incredible. Writers like Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore have the ability to study people forensically and insert those nuanced traits into their writing that make their characters so convincing.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I start with a character and an idea, write background notes, write a bit of the story, plan a little, write some more notes, some more story, reach a cul de sac, plan a bit more, research, write, plan the next bit and write…and so it goes on, slowly. I move back and forth through the book, retrospectively planting bits as I progress. Mostly I rewrite. In fact after most writing sessions I end up with fewer words than I began with, so much so that it seems like a miracle to me that I ever end up with a positive word count!
What was your journey to being a published author?
In May 2011, I was accepted onto a mentoring programme funded by Waterford County Council with poet and children’s fiction writer Grace Wells. The first thing Grace said to me (after the small talk) was ‘You can write, and we need to talk about getting you published.’
I had been working on Love is the Easy Bit for over three years at that point. Grace helped me with its final edit before I submitted the first three chapters and synopsis to Vanessa O’Loughlin of The Inkwell Group for feedback. Vanessa quickly passed these onto literary agent Ger Nichol of The Book Bureau who became my agent in August 2011. Ger passionately championed the book found me my publisher Penguin Ireland and I signed contracts in November.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That you sit and wait for inspiration. Inspiration comes through the act of writing.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Begin. Don’t beat yourself up if the first draft is dreadful. It will be. They always are. Don’t throw it out the window even though you want to. It’s like learning to walk. Your first steps will be unsteady, but if you keep going, they will get stronger over time, and it will take time, and work. The story will evolve as you rewrite it, as will the characters. Open up all your senses and absorb details from the world around you. Record these in a notebook. Pop these into your story as appropriate (but don’t force them in). Listen to your characters, to what they are telling you. Know what it is they want. Don’t force your grand plans onto them. Read. Read work by those writers who are better than you, writers you aspire to be as good as. Watch how they roll out the story, how they get from point A to B. As you write, you will discover that things that good writers do seemingly effortlessly are not in fact that effortless, such as getting from A to B in the story. Invent your own original ways of doing this. Writing really is a creative act. Be ambitious for your creativity. Make sure the first and last sentence of each chapter sings. Workshop your writing or show it to people whose opinion you respect and who will be honest in their feedback. Remember, what is obvious to you in the story may not be to other people. Finally, don’t send out your work to be considered for publication until it is as sparkling as you can make it.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on my second book which is set in Manchester and Japan with a background in Ireland. It has involved two research trips to Japan where I lived in the 1990s. The book is about loss. An Irish woman, Hannah, returns to Japan where she used to live, to discover that her version of her own history is not what she thought it was.