Jenny Q, Stitched Up: Pauline McLynn | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews

By Jane Travers

Pauline McLynn bursts onto the phone and begins talking nineteen to the dozen. I’ve been told that she’s just come from a radio interview, so I’m expecting her to be a bit fatigued, but nothing could be further from the truth.

‘I was just talking to Anton Savage,’ she informs me after barely stopping to say hello. ‘I’ve told him I’m going to knit him a pair of purple cashmere underpants. He doesn’t believe me that cashmere is soft enough to wear next to your skin.’

I am slightly nonplussed. ‘Will he model them for you too?’ I ask.

Pauline laughs raucously. ‘Chance would be a fine thing!’

I titter nervously and wonder how on earth to move from the subject of Anton Savage’s cashmere-clad privates to the rather more sedate questions I plan to ask Pauline. Instantly, though, she is all business and ready to listen.

Pauline’s new book, Jenny Q Stitched Up (Penguin), is her first foray into writing for teens. I’m curious to know why she chose to write a teen novel now, and whether her decision has anything to do with the growing fashion for YA literature.

‘I was burned out,’ says Pauline. Her previous novel, The Time Is Now, was a hugely ambitious project that moved through different time periods and required a large amount of research. ‘I just didn’t have an idea for another adult book to go to,’ Pauline explains. ‘I didn’t want to stop writing though, because it’s very easy to get out of the habit.’ In the end, Sarah Webb suggested to her that she try writing something for young teens. Pauline had a character in her head, an ordinary teenage girl called Jenny Quinn, and she took it from there.

‘I wanted it to be quite funny,’ Pauline explained. ‘Teenagers are embarrassed by everything, so I just wanted to show how all these embarrassing things can happen to her. I really enjoyed that.’

Pauline found certain challenges in writing for teens instead of adults, the main one being pace. ‘Teenagers are busy people!’ she laughs. ‘If you don’t move the action on fast enough, well, they have other things they can be doing and other books to read. If a character is contemplating going through a door, a teen reader doesn’t want to know that the door was made in 1862 by master craftsmen; they’re like, just go through the damn door!’

Given the recent controversies revolving around YA literature and the darker themes that many novels cover, I thought it was interesting that Pauline’s chief protagonist was only thirteen. It turns out that that was a very deliberate decision on her part.

‘If you’re writing for kids of fourteen-plus these days, you’re getting into the area of sex. I’m not qualified to talk to teens about that! I’d die if someone said to me “My kid tried that because it was in your book.” All I want kids to try is a bit of knitting.’

Although she has no desire to write grittier novels for teens herself, Pauline does agree that there is a place in YA for reflections of the grimmer realities that teens often face, so long as the writer isn’t preaching. ‘I don’t like feeling manipulated,’ she says, ‘so there needs to be great lightness of touch. If you can see the effort in a book you’re not going to enjoy it as much.’

I have plenty of other questions to ask about her writing, but by now my subconscious is screaming at me. ‘Ask her about Mrs Doyle! Go on, go on, go on, go on…’

‘I can’t ask her about Mrs Doyle!’ I hiss back at my subconscious. ‘I’m sure she’s sick of that!’

‘Ah go on,’ says subconscious. ‘You will, you will, you will, you will, YOU WILL!’

I try to phrase it like a proper question, and not sound like I’m just desperate to talk about Mrs Doyle.

‘So Pauline,’ I ask, ‘to what degree is it a help or a hindrance to be so well known as Mrs Doyle before beginning a writing career?’

There, I think, that doesn’t sound too bad.

Pauline laughs. ‘I remember the first review I ever had, about twelve years ago. The woman writing it just couldn’t believe that I wasn’t going to be Mrs Doyle for the rest of my life and that I had the audacity to write a book. I mean, how dare I?! But, you know, I can’t stay Mrs Doyle forever. Most actors have another job because you can’t live on what you make as an actor. I just tried something else and I kept going!

‘I still love Mrs Doyle. Every year there are new fans coming to the show. I did a teen event at the Dalkey book festival at the weekend, teens came up after and told me they love Mrs Doyle and I was thrilled! Finally though, people are starting to get used to the fact that I do other things.’

Interestingly, it transpired, it was through Father Ted that Pauline first began writing. Writing had never been her ambition, much less something she’d ever planned on doing. When she was in London working on Father Ted everyone around her seemed to be writing something. Publishers had begun approaching comedians to write funny books for them, and it was suggested that Pauline might give it a go.

‘I’d been daydreaming about an Irish detective called Leo Street so I just tried it. It was only to see if I could do it, it wasn’t a burning ambition at all. Now, twelve years later, I couldn’t imagine not writing, I think I would feel bereft if it was suddenly gone. If someone actually enjoys [my books] as well, sure there’s no better feeling in the world!’

Much to her regret, Pauline doesn’t write every day. With the best will in the world, she admits that it’s close to impossible to combine a filming schedule of long days and learning lines with a writing schedule. Now, though, she has a few weeks off from filming and is looking forward to submerging herself in her writing for the next Jenny Q book.

‘It always flows easier if you can write every day, it’s like if you take a break you forget where you are in your characters’ heads and you start tweaking instead of moving forwards.’

Pauline is unsure what lies ahead after the second Jenny Q book, but thinks it will be another novel for adults. She only ever has one idea in her head at a time, a state of affairs that most writers will envy. As she says herself, ‘If I had two ideas at a time I’d go mad and give up!’

After twelve years and nine novels, this accidental writer has proven that she has what it takes to transcend the legacy of Mrs Doyle. I ask her for the advice she would give would-be writers.

‘Nothing beats writing the story down! You can talk yourself out of anything, so just keep moving on and finish it. You meet people who tell you “I have a great idea for a book,” and I say “I’ll stop you there. Don’t tell me about it, write it down.” It won’t be a book till you write it down. Writing begets more writing.’

Jenny Q Stitched Up, about a thirteen year old with a passion for knitting and an embarrassingly pregnant mother (which proves that her parents still “do it!”) is available now from all good bookshops. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read for young teens, as well as having one of this year’s most gorgeous covers!

About the author

(c) Jane Travers July 2012


Jane Travers is a connoisseur of all things delicious. Learn more about her recipe book Tweet Treats in her interview with


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