Interview with fellow writer
How do you organise your writing day? For example, where do you write? And at what time of the day are you at your writing best?
I'm not a lark and neither am I an owl, which seems a bit unfair. I've been palmed off with the afternoon as my ideal creative time and since there isn't a bird analogy for that, I can only assume it's regarded as woefully pedestrian in writers' circles. I have a study at the back of the house where I sometimes work. Equally, sometimes I prefer to hop up on a stool and knuckle down in the kitchen because it’s closer to the kettle.
Do you use a computer?
I'm always scribbling notes and ideas on scraps of paper or my wrist (forgetting about them and washing them off). But for the real business at hand I use a laptop. Mostly, I write facing a window where I look into my back garden and admire the fattest cat I've ever seen in my life stroll around my property as though he's the lord of all he surveys. He has attitude: if I were a lady cat I'd be this pasha's willing slave.
Do you use the internet for research?
All the time. I can't believe how I managed before it was available. The only problem is you get sucked in and one thing leads to another and six hours later you know everything possible about the history of the sausage roll – and nothing about how much it buy a horse in 1711 which was the reason you logged on in the first place.
Are there any books or websites you would particularly recommend for writers?
Colm Toibin's The Master to understand how the great Henry James functioned - it remains applicable today - and The Artists' And Writers' Yearbook for all the nuts and bolts of addresses and phone numbers for harassing people who will probably try to avoid you. They try to avoid me.
Has your life changed since writing your first book, 'Three Wise Men'? Or since becoming a full time writer?
Three Wise Men's publication was a revelation to me. I had been through a fairly desperate time in my private life with failed fertility treatment and a subsequent marriage breakdown and my self-esteem was so low its knuckles were dragging on the ground. When Three Wise Men appeared on the book shelves it was one of the first positive developments in my life in the aftermath of meltdown. It made me realise that misfortunes occur in life but so, too, do wonderful strokes of good luck.
How did you get your first book published? Was it difficult?
I was really lucky because I won a Hennessy Literary Award for my first short story - I hadn't tried any fiction before that, it was beginner's luck. One of the judges, the author Justin Cartwright, suggested I write a novel. So I did. And it never saw the light of day, it was doom and gloom and self-indulgent twaddle, not something anyone should be condemned to read. Fortunately I realised that halfway through and abandoned it for the novel that became my first published one.
Do you have an agent?
Yes, her name is Lucy Luck, isn’t that just the best name? She’s based in London and I trust her judgment, which is important.
What are you working on at present?
I've recently finished another historical novel. Now I’m debating a present day one – trying out a few possibilities. I often make false starts.
What books are on your bedside table at the moment?
The Ginger Man by JP Donleavy - his anti-hero Sebastian Dangerfield is so wonderfully self-absorbed; The Kalahari Typing School For Men by Alexander McCall Smith - you can smell Africa from them and I love his lady detective who's always suspicious of women who are too thin; The Irish Aboard Titanic by Senan Molony which I love dipping into; and Benedict Kiely's Nothing Happens In Carmincross - I've been saving it for a quiet weekend curled up in bed with a box of chocolates.
Do you read every day?
A book is the first item I pick up in the morning and the last thing I set down at night. I can imagine a world without television, radio and computers but never a world without books.
How important are books in your everyday life?
Let me put it this way. If my house was blazing and I could rescue either an armful of books or my granny, there's a real chance she'd have to find her own way out. If I was restricted to saving only one book from the flames it would have to be Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie, a gift from my friend Sarah Webb. She gave it to me after my father died and it really helped me make sense of this mysterious process called death which is an inextricable part of life.
Do you have any advice or tips for budding writers?
Don't give up hope, our greatest enemy is lack of self-belief. Many of us have a mocking voice in our head which tells us we're not good enough or we'll never succeed and we have to remember it's an agent provocateur. If you feel you really, really want to write, then just keep plodding away. Try writing something every day - even if it's only a few hundred words, or you end up with a single paragraph from pages and pages of work that's worth keeping. Writing, and the imagination which fuels it, are like muscles - they benefit from being flexed on a daily basis. And remember to congratulate yourself when you do a good job.