What inspired you to start writing?
Like a lot of authors, for about as long as I can remember, I’d been scribbling down stories and embarrassingly rough drafts for novels. But then like most people, I just assumed that book deals were something that happened to other people so I’d just shove what I’d written into the back of a drawer and vow not to mortify myself by even talking about it. Took me a very long time and a LOT of courage to get brave and actually put a book out there.
In the meantime though, I was working as an actress on a long running soap opera in Ireland and, like so many others, had always dreamt of writing a book, but never really had the guts. But my idea for a book kept whispering at me. So I took to getting up earlier and earlier every morning and taking pen to paper and in a few months, had somehow cobbled together the first draft of my very first book.
It was the story that inspired me – and the characters too. Somehow I just had to get this story out of me and commit it to paper, whether it ever saw the light of day with a publisher or not, if that makes sense!
I got VERY lucky though. One of our directors on the TV show, a good pal of mine, published her first book and advised me to get three chapters of mine to her agent who she very kindly asked to look them over. So I took a very deep breath and went for it, sent off my chapters, then spent the next few weeks down on my hands and knees praying till I heard news back.
But thankfully the agent, the fabulous Marianne Gunn O’Connor very kindly agreed to take me on and had a book deal for me a few weeks later. I’ll never forget the moment. I was driving when the call came and my lovely agent said, ‘pull over the car.’ I thought something was wrong and when she told me we had a book deal, I think they heard my screams for miles!
All these years later and I’m still pinching myself…
What message would you like your readers to take away from The Secrets of Primrose Square?
There’s a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which was a huge touchstone of mine when I was writing the book. ‘A woman is like a tea bag. You can’t tell how strong she is until dipped in hot water.’
Because that’s the thing about Primrose Square. It’s about ordinary women, who find themselves in extraordinary situations. And I suppose the message of the book for me is that we women are stronger – so much stronger – together. Always.
Do you have a favourite character in the book?
There’s a character of a twelve-year-old girl called Melissa who just broke my heart to write. She’s struggling when we first meet her, because her sister has past away very tragically, her Dad is away from home with work and her Mum is having a nervous breakdown. Melissa is at that child/woman stage of life and in spite of all the knocks she’s been given, she’s trying her very best to keep the show on the road and to keep smiling for her parents, her teachers and neighbours who constantly ask her how she’s coping. Melissa’s stout, brave response is to put on her biggest brightest smile and to say that everything is hunky dory, thanks very much. I loved writing her!
Have you ever lived somewhere similar to Primrose Square?
No, I wish!! I recently moved back home with my parents, who I look after now, as they’re both elderly and my poor Dad isn’t in good health. The old family house is on a busy main road and a lot of the neighbours are older too, so I rarely see them out and about. I’d love neighbours who’d stop to chat or to give you the time of day. I want to live on Primrose Square!
We often read about sending the first three chapters to an agent. What advice would you give aspiring writers about how to make these first chapters compelling?
For starters, I’d advise any aspiring writers to work out a skeleton outline of any new story before you even sit down to write a line. It makes life so much easier later on, on the days when you find you a bit stuck. I know it takes me quite a long time to get to really know my characters, so I’d begin by writing out a rough biography for each one of them, to try to make them as three dimensional as possible, it helps me hugely.
A reader will quickly lose interest if they just don’t like the hero or heroine. You really have to try to layer them carefully so that they really jump off the page! Remember at the start of a new book, you’re asking a reader to go on a 400 page journey with your characters, and particularly your leading character, so it’s vital to get this right early on.
Woody Allen once said, ‘there’s nothing to writing, all you have to do is sit down at a computer and open a vein.’ And believe me we all have plenty of days where I know just what he meant!
But equally you get great days, where the words are just flying and without even noticing it, it’s five hours after you first sat down and you completely forgot to even eat.
In a nutshell though, I’d advise anyone who wants to write to try to keep the writing day as close to a nine to five job as possible. Easier said than done though…the trouble is, when I’m writing from home, there can just be so many other distractions. Even as I’m typing this, I’m looking at a big mound of ironing, just winking at me to be done.
I constantly have to remind myself that when I’m writing I’m working, just as if I was based in an office or business setting, so I try my best not to take calls, answer emails from pals or surf the net. Believe me though, this took a long, long time to get used to! Soon enough though, my family and friends slowly copped on not to call during the day.
So I suppose here’s a little tip to would be authors who may be reading this; just ignore the door, put the phone on silent, don’t go online and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll get done. Really. My mother is by a mile the worst ‘time bandit’ offender, but then she thinks I spend all day every day daydreaming out the window and that books appear on shelves by magic!
Having said all that though, being a full-time author really is the single best job in the world. I’m incredibly lucky and still pinching myself that I can do it full-time now. Imagine a job where you can haul yourself out of bed and be ‘in work’ five minutes later?
What’s not to love?
When you are not writing what do you do to relax?
I’m a great movie and theatre goer and so is my gorgeous editor, the wonderful Eli Dryden, so when she and I get together, the chat is non-stop about shows and actors and movies and plays. I’m so lucky to have an editor who shares my passion for the stage and silver screen!
See the review of The Secrets of Primrose Square on Hot Brands Cool Places