Zoe Miller’s fourth novel A Family Scandal is a Bord Gais Energy Book Club ‘Book of the Month’. The novel tells the story of the Morgan sisters and how they deal with the aftermath of the mysterious death of their rock musician father. Hazel Gaynor spoke to Zoe about her writing career.
‘I’ve been writing since I was young,’ Zoe explains. ‘I still recall standing in a library at age seven, filled with wonder at the shelves of books, knowing that I had found my life’s passion. I scribbled away in copybooks for years, and I was first published as a freelance writer, with articles and short stories. Eventually I realised that if I wanted to write a novel I was going to have to carve out the time somehow. There were lots of hiccups along the way but Guilty Secrets was published in 2009, Sinful Deceptions in 2010, Rival Passions in 2011 and now A Family Scandal.’
By night Zoe is a busy author, but during the day she works as a training specialist in communication and personal development skills. How does she juggle the two? ‘I fit my writing in around my day job which means I have very little free time – and minimum household chore time – (yay), but it’s great, all I ever wanted to do was write! Like most other women I have a normal, busy life behind the scenes and my juggling act is around the day job, writing novels, and keeping home and family ticking over!’
Having decided to write her novels under a pen name, Zoe explains how this works day-to-day. ‘Most of my writer friends know that I use a pen name, but I don’t go around shouting about it as I like to keep my writing career separate from the day job. Some people I meet in the course of my job would be very surprised to hear that the prim and proper lady in the corporate suit goes home to write glitzy novels! The pen name allows me to take that leap of courage out of my comfort zone and tap into my innermost heartstrings. It’s fun as well and it puts a little space between writing about the disastrous exploits of glamorous, sexy people and my own private life. I’m not saying I’m not glamorous or sexy – ahem – but I’m certainly not sitting back all day in Jimmy Choos quaffing champagne with a silver pen in my hand.’
Zoe’s enjoys exploring family relationships in her novels. ‘A Family Scandal began with the character of Ellie, along with the uneasy relationship between her and her younger half-sister, Lucy. Family relationships are often studded with landmines, the roots of which can go back to childhood, and the possibilities for conflict are endless! Out of that I developed the characters, and added a few plot twists such as the anniversary of the mysterious death of a rock star, and some well-hidden secrets. Then I gave them glitzy, A-list lives, where there’s no escape from the vulture-like media glare, and had them flee to different corners of the globe…’
As with her other novels, A Family Scandal moves between locations, with the story written between Dublin, London, Hong Kong and New York. How does Zoe write so authentically about her locations? ‘In all my novels I like to include a foreign location I’ve already visited; Italy, Paris, the French Riviera… I think you need to have been there to write with authenticity. I am lucky enough to have visited all the cities in A Family Scandal and I checked out my holiday photographs to refresh my memory. The internet is also useful for confirming minor details but there’s nothing like being there in person to absorb the atmosphere. A great excuse, I tell myself, to plan a trip to the Maldives! Or the Seychelles… (wishful sigh)!’
Zoe’s trademark style is the ability to create glamorous, memorable characters. So, what is the trick to creating these stand-out, larger-than-life characters? ‘I watched a girl stroll out of a café in Old Town, Nice, and Jenni from Rival Passions walked right into my heart and sparked a whole book. Generally my characters are an amalgam of lots of different impressions. I develop them by making some initial background notes and focussing on the human relationships between them. Then I plunge in and start writing about them, setting them up in a variety of dramas and dilemmas. That’s the only way I become familiar with their failings and complexities and they become real to me. By the time I’m finished a novel, I’m emotionally attached to my characters as though they are my family, and I hate saying goodbye. I’d never consciously base a character on a real person or celebrity. I think they need to come from your heart.’
Zoe describes her writing style as, ‘a heartfelt and passionate story, under the facade of glamour. I like to unravel the hopes and fears behind the glossy persona my characters present to the world, the life experiences that shape them and compel them to behave as they do. Then, no matter how many mistakes they have made, there is still hope for the future.’
Having been a successful author for several years now, does Zoe feel her writing has changed since her first novel? ‘I haven’t intentionally changed my style, but I trust it has developed and improved. Continuing to read a variety of books from a writer’s point of view, and studying the craft, as well as having the benefit of editorial guidance along the way, feeds – I hope – into my writing to make it better and more entertaining. I find each successive novel is more of a challenge as I aim to dig a little deeper into human emotions and the complexities of relationships, and get real people onto the page while keeping the reader hooked, of course!’
And what about the motivation to write? How does she keep the ideas flowing and the bum on the seat?! ‘There’s nothing more motivating than the vision of your book on the shelves. But apart from that, for me it’s more a question of being compelled to write. I can’t ever imagine not writing. Naturally there are days when I’m more enthusiastic than others, and that usually happens if I’ve read a particularly good book or watched a movie that inspired me, or had a positive review or feedback! It’s also great to lose myself in a different world, and follow my creative dream. Nowadays more than ever, we need some form of escapism in our lives, even if it’s reading about other people’s problems and messy lives, and seeing how they reconciled things.’
So, what can we look forward to next?
‘I’m delighted to say that I’ve agreed books five and six with my lovely editor, Ciara Doorley and super-agent Sheila Crowley. My next book is still a work in progress, so I don’t want to say too much about it beyond the fact that it has slightly more suspense than A Family Scandal, and it spans the 1970’s to present day. It involves dark intrigue, heart-breaking decisions, and the dilemma of choosing between family and friends when you’re caught in the middle of their collision course.’
Zoe is married with three children and lives in south county Dublin. You can follow her on Twitter @zoemillerauthor or on Facebook zoemillerauthor