I started writing stories at about eight years old and that was also when my dream of writing a book and seeing it on the shelves of a real bookshop first took root. On the 33 bus to my post-primary school I would write my school mates’ English essays in return for them doing my maths homework. In my teens and twenties I had some short stories and poetry published in various magazines and always, wherever I was, whatever was going in my life, I was scribbling away and always at the back of my mind the dream was there, to write a book and have it published.
It has taken me a long time but now, in my mid-fifties, that dream is being realised with the publication by Poolbeg Crimson of my debut novel, The Lost Girl.
So what took me so long?
In 1997 I won first prize in the Swords Festival Short Story Competition and that gave my confidence a boost but time passed and still I had not written a word of that book.
Then in 2010 one of my short stories was runner-up in the Mslexia International Short Story Competition. That same year my short story, Reading Brother Boniface, was shortlisted for the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award. The story was about a missing girl and while I was writing it, I realised that here was my book, that the story of Lilly and her family needed to be told in full and that was where The Last Lost Girl had its roots. The book is inspired by my fascination with the story of real-life missing women in Ireland and how their families reconcile themselves with the horror of not knowing what has happened to a loved one and go on living with that uncertainty. I combined that fascination with my love of all things 70s and set the sections of my novel which take place in the past against the hot Irish summer of 1976. I remember that summer, I remember the heat and the smells and the music. I remember what it felt like to be a teenager and I put all of that into the book. As a result the book has a nostalgic feel to it. But it also has a dark underbelly – it simply had to – I am steeped in Agatha Christie, PD James, Ruth Rendell and The Last Lost Girl was always going to have a chilling secret at its core.
You learn a lot in the process of writing a book. One of the things I learned is that there is nothing quite like writing from experience. In The Last Lost Girl my main character is grieving the loss of a parent. While writing it, I suffered the loss of my own beloved father. That was when I realised that I had not the first notion of what real grief feels like. It took me almost a year before I could return to those passages and then I had to re-write everything I had written. The book is the better for it but I wish I had not had to learn that lesson in quite such a painful way.
Something else I learned – do not listen to the doom and gloom merchants who would have you believe that you will never be published. I was writing The Last Lost Girl which the recession was still in full swing. A glance at the Artists and Writers Yearbook was enough to tell me that very few publishers are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I did not have an agent (I still don’t!) but I decided that it was my job to finish the book – the rest was out of my control. I just had to keep my part of the bargain and trust that my book would find a home. It did – the first publisher I sent it to accepted it. I also had a second publisher express an interest but I had already signed a three-book deal at that stage – nice problem. I am still pinching myself!
The moral of the story: if you want to write a book, write a book. Believe.
And me? I’m busy believing in book number two.
(c) Maria Hoey
About The Last Lost Girl:
Unravelling the past can be dangerous . . .
On a perfect July evening in the sizzling Irish summer of 1976, fifteen-year-old Festival Queen Lilly Brennan disappears. Thirty-seven years later, as the anniversary of Lilly’s disappearance approaches, her sister Jacqueline returns to their childhood home in Blackberry Lane. There she stumbles upon something that reopens the mystery, setting her on a search for the truth a search that leads her to surprising places and challenging encounters.
Jacqueline feels increasingly compelled to find the answer to what happened to Lilly all those years ago and finally lay her ghost to rest. But at what cost? For unravelling the past proves to be a dangerous and painful thing, and her path to the truth leads her ever closer to a dark secret she may not wish to know.
Order your copy online here.