Thanks for inviting me to your blog. As regards tips for writing, all I can say for sure is that the best tip is the act of writing itself, writing in a disciplined manner and regularly. What spurs me to write is the why of things. I believe life is not what you make it but what you make of it. I used to work with the Simon community years ago and I met a homeless man on a snowy street once who quoted Shakespeare to me. He looked in my eyes and said, ‘To thine own self be true.’ I never forgot that moment. I try to apply that philosophy to my writing and to my life as well. Otherwise it is all sophistry.
What instigated my writing was my mother reading to me as a child, initially from comics like the Topper with the hard bits about Rob Roy at the back and my father buying me my first diary at twelve— a beautiful page-a-day Letts edition.
We lived for my first six years in the Liberties of Dublin where there was a strong community spirit and then we moved to the suburbs. The Liberties and the suburbs feature in my early novels, Peeling Oranges and The Avenue.
I went a bit academic after that and did an MA in communications and wrote a thesis on poetry as communication which later, by modifying and adding to, became a rather highly regarded Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry As a Way of Seeing the World
The Celtic tiger obsessed me for a while after that which led to For Love of Anna, a tragic love story caught anarchically in a corrupt and capitalist web.
Apart from casting a wry glance at the role of patriarchy in a family, Finding Penelope is essentially a love story marking a growth in self-realisation in the protagonist Penelope Eames. It delves into the drugs culture and its associated criminality in Spain (where a lot of Celtic Tiger money wound up laundered), Ireland and the UK. The prompt for the novel was from Cervantes and a motif may be interpreted as a sort of modern day parallel of Don Quixote’s attack on the proliferation of romance novels of that time. As seventy per cent of fiction readers are now female, I wanted to understand more of the female mindset. So I picked the brains of women of my acquaintance, including two adult daughters and I researched contemporary women writers and books like Everywoman and I reread with new female (or at least androgynous) eyes, my well-thumbed de Beauvoir, Anna Karenina and Portrait of a Lady. Simultaneously, I was studying the crime culture on the Costa. The result was the character Penelope Eames, a thirty three year old romance novelist who moves to Spain to avoid her oppressive father and drug-addicted brother, Dermot. When she meets Ramón, a young Spanish school teacher, she is immediately attracted to him and feels the happiness that eluded her all her life may at last be hers. However, she receives a distress call from Dermot saying he is at the mercy of Charlie Eliot, a pimp and drug dealer on the Costa. Ramón, whose mother was killed by a drug addict, tells her to have nothing to do with Charlie Eliot. Penelope must decide: is she prepared to compromise herself with Charlie Eliot and jeopardise her chance of happiness with Ramón for the sake of her drug addicted brother?
Extract from Finding Penelope
She hears the voice on the sand, gravelly and authoritative like that of her father’s. Press the button and reject, that’s me, she thinks, Penelope Eames, that’s how I feel, or rather how I’ve been made to feel over the years, by him. Oh yes, the former esteemed professor of Histology and Morbid Anatomy with textbooks and learned articles to his name, who couldn’t teach compassion or filial love. The early Spanish sun is lulling her, making her mull over things, things that she had decided belonged to the past now, to another country. The top of her left breast is burning slightly, the new red bikini being skimpier than her usual black swimsuit (she should have thought of that), and then the skin is more sensitive there after submitting to the knife. It was Sheila Flaherty, her agent, ironically who had suggested she go in and get the implants – her breasts were an average size. ‘Good for your image,’ Sheila had said.
She was reluctant at first, considering it a vanity to don the anaesthetic mask to undergo an inessential butchering of oneself (she never even put a tint in her hair, for God’s sake). Sheila had had the job done a year ago, transforming her into the well-upholstered blonde that she now is. And for what?
It was then they discovered the lump in her left breast. Quite young for that, the nurse had said, and Sheila tried to make a joke of it – ‘you’re the lump out and I’m the lump in,’ and the nurse taught her breast awareness.
She hears the voice on the sand, the smoker’s huskiness reeking of pseudo-wisdom; he thinks he is the cat’s miaow. ‘Not at all, my dears,’ the voice (clearly English) is saying; ‘on the contrary, chewing your nails is good for you; rich in protein you know. If I could reach my toenails, I…’ Men, stupid old men, but maybe there is a humour there – who can account for taste? She looks up coyly from under her straw hat to locate the provenance of the voice: that elderly guy a few yards away with the silver ponytail sitting under a huge parasol in the canvas chair. He is holding forth with a bevy of young sycophantic beauties – just like him. Trying as he is to be youthful looking like a born-again hippie or something out-of-date, just like him, the slate blue eyes, her father to a T.
Except of course for the ponytail.
The fine fawn-coloured sand she slides freely between her fingers, letting go, easing her life. She is delaying. The sun has made her lazy. She should be gone back to the quiet of her apartment to work on that recalcitrant second novel, before the sun reaches its zenith. She knows that, and to avoid the sunburn. There is a sound of laughter. She can just make out through the rising waves of heat: grinning young males (is the broad bronzed chap one of the lifeguards? She thought she saw him earlier on his perch) and two females among them playing volleyball as she gazes up into the sun from under the awning of her hand (for she has removed her sunhat which was chafing her forehead). She hadn’t noticed the net before. There are shouts in Spanish of ‘Anda’ and ‘Ole’ subsuming the elderly guy’s utterances. The young men, in a veil of light and heat, are laughing at a monokini-clad girl who has just missed the ball. The putdown. What always emanated from her father. She wanted him to be proud of her as he was of Dermot, her younger brother, when he started on his science degree. Oh, such voluble praise. A scientist in the family. Mixing chemicals and potions in Quinlan’s Laboratories. How right, how prophetic he was. And earlier her first book which she stuck at, she was sure he’d be proud of; she was hoping – her first novel to be published – but all he did was wonder if anything could be done about it, her writing that is, as if it were one of his studied pathologies.
I had better not give any more away except to say that I hope I caught Penelope’s voice and character authentically and I would love to hear from readers what they thought. I can be contacted through my website or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What I’m working on at the moment:
I’m looking for a literary agent for my new novel American Doll just completed, 82,000 words set in Ireland and USA about how 9/11 opened a Pandora’s box on an Irish American Family. It is a sort of Irish Roots and should appeal to Irish and Irish Americans in particular and to people universally in the impact of 9/11.
When Laura Calane of New York comes to Ireland to further her studies and to live in what her father considers a safer environment after 9/11, she discovers that the land of her ancestors is not the haven she had believed it to be. When she meets social worker Danny Faraday, she is torn between her attraction towards him and the emotional blackmail of her uncle Thady who is domiciled in Ireland and who never lets her forget that he saved her father’s life in a terrorist attack in New York in 1993.
The story is about loss, losing someone as Con the firefighter did with his wife in 9/11; it’s also about hope, never giving up and knowing when to give up and let go, and how the process is in danger of repeating itself in the new generation with Laura his daughter going missing in Ireland, and Danny’s parents who were also lost at sea. It’s also about coming into maturity as in the case of Danny with the help of Laura suffering the grief, and Laura, growing out of her family-engendered chimeras.
Thanks and best wishes,