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At Home with Monica McInerney

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Women’s Fiction

By Sarah Downey

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For her latest book, international best selling author Monica McInerney delved into the fascinating worlds of the antiques trade, the Australian gold rush, stage fright, Irish surf schools and even selective mutism.  At Home with the Templetons sends readers on a tremendous journey across continents from Castlemaine and the Victorian goldfields in Australia, to London, Chicago, Yorkshire, Sligo and beyond. Writing.ie’s Sarah Downey got a glimpse into bestselling author Monica McInerney’s writing life & the story behind her latest book.

At Home with the Templetons tells the story of two very different families and their impact on each other over a twenty year period.  Monica McInerney found the inspiration for her latest novel in a stately home called Martindale Hall in South Australia.  “It’s a completely incongruous feature in the dry Australian landscape, a two-story Georgian house with palm trees, sundials and stables.  As a child I was fascinated with it and often imagined living there”.  After returning there as an adult, she was curious about how the sudden arrival of a big family to live in a house like that might impact the neighbours. “The story grew from there.”

Monica McInerney herself grew up in the chocolate box setting of a large, “rambling” house in the small country town, Clare in Southern Australia, where her father was the railway stationmaster.  As the middle child of seven children, home was never quiet.  “My parents ran an open house, and in addition to the nine of us, there were always visitors, cousins, aunts, uncles coming and going, with so much conversation, drama, laughter and arguments too. I used to love lying in bed at night listening to all the talk coming from the kitchen.” Today Monica recreates this sense of family life with the fast paced conversations, drama and laugh out loud comedy featured in all her bestselling novels.

Early Inspiration

The McInerney house was not only filled with voices, but teeming with tonnes of books too.  Fortunately for Monica, her book-loving Mother worked in the local library and had Monica reading by the tender age of just four.  Soon she was imagining her own worlds and making up her own stories.  “I wrote my first book at the age of eight, and to my great excitement, the school librarian covered it, catalogued it and put it on the library shelves.  I’m sure I was the only one who ever borrowed it, but I definitely know her kindness planted the seed for me to one be a writer.” Monica firmly believes “I’m a writer because I’m a reader.”

Monica went on to spend ten invaluable years working as a book publicist in both Australia and Ireland before becoming an author, meeting a string of esteemed authors along the way including Roald Dahl, Edna O’ Brien, Tim Winton and Carol Shields as well as many others.  “They all impressed me so much and I learned a great deal from hearing them being interviewed and giving talks about their work.  Looking back, it was like doing a writing course by osmosis.” While she learned they all had different writing methods and wrote at different times of the day, she also discovered, what they all had in common was “dedication, an urge to write and a curiosity about people.”  Traits that Monica shares with them.

The novels Monica pens usually revolve around the family unit, which provides her with lots of material “Everything fascinates me about family. The drama, the relationships, the lessons learned at home, the heartbreak, the tensions- every family, real or fictional, is filled with stories.  The plotlines are endless.” The starting point of Monica’s books is always the make-up of her fictional family : “lots of sisters in Those Faraday Girls, the arrival of a foster sister into a family ( Family Baggage) or what happens when two very different families, a large bohemian group of seven and a smaller unit of a Mother and son, come into each others orbit, as in At Home with the Templetons.”

Character Building

Monica likes to start off writing her novels as the reader reads them, “starting at the beginning, getting to know my characters by putting them into different situations and seeing how they talk and react.” This leads to her writing reams of material and scenes that may go unused but this is key to making the characters more real and is what makes Monica’s characters so well-crafted and believable.  “I don’t do a chapter by chapter breakdown before I get started. I’m sure I’d be much more organised that way, but it would mean I already knew what was going to happen and I’d find it much less interesting to write.”

Monica finds once the character have formed, the plot can head off in all sorts of unexpected directions.  “I love that part of the writing process.”  She often finds herself jotting down ideas on everything from maps and menus to the back of envelopes, even ringing her own voice-mail if she comes up with a plot twist while she’s out.

Monica has grown particularly close to two characters from her books. The first is Gracie Templeton in At Home with the Templetons, as the novel follows her from the age of just ten to her late twenties, “as she moves from earnestness and innocence to understanding about her family’s secrets and lies and the reality of the world.”  She also loved writing Lola, the Irish grandmother at the heart of her fourth novel, The Alphabet Sisters.  “After I finished writing that novel, I wrote a short story featuring Lola, because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her yet.  She’s always been in the back of my mind, and I’m currently writing a sequel to The Alphabet Sisters, with Lola in the lead role.”

What gives Monica’s novels such an air of authenticity, is all the research she meticulously carries out.  Not only does she research all the locations, occupations and hobbies of each of her characters but each book also involved taking crash courses in a wide variety of places and subjects too.  For At Home with the Templetons, Monica delved into subjects as diverse as home-schooling, selective mutism, Irish surf schools, the nanny industry, stage fright and children’s television.  This attention to detail and care is obvious in all of Monica’s skillfully, lovingly crafted works.

“Every book I read influences me in some way.  I love reading books that feature characters I care about, plots that twist and turn and endings that satisfy me, and I try to do the same in my own novels.”  Judging by her popularity, Monica McInerney is achieving all of those things and more for the readers of her bestselling novels.

At Home with the Templetons is available now and you can find more information about Monica McInerney on her website, www.monicamcinerney.com


About the author

© Sarah Downey for writing.ie 2011

Monica McInerney is a bestselling Australian-born author and has been published internationally.  Her articles and short stories have  appeared in various newspapers, magazines and anthologies.  Those Faraday Girls, won the General Fiction Book of the Year at the 2008 Australian Book Industry Awards. All Together Now was shortlisted in the same category in the 2009 Australian Book Industry Awards.  In 2006, Monica was the main ambassador for the Australian Government’s Books Alive national reading campaign, for which she wrote a limited edition novella called Odd One Out.  She worked as a book publicist for ten years, promoting authors such as Roald Dahl, Tim Winton, Edna O’Brien and Max Fatchen. For the past nineteen years she and her Irish husband have been moving back and forth between Australia and Ireland. They currently reside in Dublin.

Monica McInerney is the author of A Taste For It (2000), Upside Down Inside Out (2002), Spin the Bottle (2003),The Alphabet Sisters (2004), Family Baggage (2005), These Faraday Girls (2008), At Home with the Templetons (2010) and the short story collection, All Together Now (2009).

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