New books & the challenges of success: Marése O’Sullivan talks to Sinead Moriarty for writing.ie
Sinead Moriarty’s latest novel, Mad About You, focuses on the relationship between Emma and James Hamilton, who featured in her first international smash hit The Baby Trail. As their marriage becomes tainted by the attentions of a mysterious stalker, the couple are forced to re-evaluate what they really mean to each other.
Sinead told me “I wanted to look at lots of issues in the book, but particularly trust in a relationship and when that trust is broken, how you work back from that.” The novel explores what happens when James begins to receive texts from an anonymous source, and what happens as they get steamier. “It’s also,” Sinead told me, ” about the trust between a mother and her childminder. When you think about it we leave our most precious bundles with what can be virtual strangers. You have a reference from somebody and you meet them, but then you walk out leaving then with your children and the keys to your house for eight hours.”
“I like to take an issue with each of my books and build a story around it – I’ve written about cancer and infertility, anorexia and mixed race relationships. I hope they are modern and I try and inject humour into my books as I think its really importance to have lightness and darkness. Mad About You is also about emigration. James loses his job and they have to move to London, then he’s so paranoid about losing his job again that he works all the hours God sends, and Emma finds herself pretty much on her own.”
“The idea came to me when I called over to a friend’s house for coffee and her neighbour called in,” says the Dublin-born author. “She began to tell me the story of what had happened in her life when her husband had been stalked by a ‘stranger’. I thought the story was fascinating, how one anonymous person can literally turn your life upside down. I was surprised to find the number of people I knew who had been stalked – and it’s interesting that one person’s gentle flirting can be seen to be much more full-on by someone else. In today’s world of Facebook and social media, this is a big grey area – where is the line? What is innocent and what is suggestive? You often hear of people checking out old boyfriends and girlfriends on Facebook and what that can lead to.”
The issue of who you leave your children with is a core part of the story – Emma finds herself needing childcare in a hurry and as Sinead says “the story becomes quite dark.” Life inspires Sinead to write – she finds people and their different stories and experiences fascinating. “Fact is truly stranger than fiction!” she laughs.
The close bond she had with her protagonists was tricky: it meant she had to balance her insight into their lives with her emotional attachment to them. “I found the scenes between James and Emma as their marriage really begins to fall apart very difficult. This is a couple I have written about already (in The Baby Trail) – I really like the characters and think they are a lovely couple, so when things begin to go awry, it was hard to see them under so much pressure. On the other hand, I had a ball writing the scenes with Babs, Emma’s sister, when she was presenting her make-over show and being so critical of the poor guests.”
Sinead always works on her laptop – “my handwriting is completely illegible” – and says she’s really quite grumpy when she isn’t writing, it’s truly her passion. She works to a quite detailed plan, a chapter by chapter breakdown that doesn’t have all the details in it – she’s still open to a character walking into her book that she doesn’t expect – but it gives her a framework. This means that she’s able to see the peaks and troughs in the novel and see if it’s “sagging a bit in the middle” and needs something key to happen to lift it. Sinead edits each chapter as she writes but then does an extensive re-write at the end, as she explains, “you don’t truly know your characters until you get to the end of the book, and you have to go back to the beginning to make sure that they are consistent.” Sinead spent many years working as a journalist and that sort of deadline-oriented background is valuable for her when it comes to writing books. “I worked on weekly and monthly publications and I always met my deadlines. Respecting deadlines, and using them to spur you on and motivate you, is something I find very useful. I think I would take longer and be less focused and disciplined without deadlines.”
Sinead is keen to support new writers and provides the feminine touch to the National Emerging Writer Programme, launched by writing.ie in January this year. Her advice there is invaluable – from ensuring that your character names are all different (and begin with different initials) to ignoring the housework and getting on with the writing. In Telling the Story Sinead says, “Voice is very important and I think a lot of people make the mistake with their first book of trying to be in this box or this box, or trying to be too literary. It’s really important that you’re true to yourself. People write in the voice that they hear in their head, and it’s important that you put that onto the page. There’s no point in being too flowery or using words that no-one can spell or pronounce. Everyone has a unique voice – the way everyone tells a story is unique, so don’t try and be something you’re not, trust it and stay true to your voice. Be who you are and it will ring true.”
Sinead wanted to be a writer from a young age – partly thanks to her mum, who wrote children’s books at the kitchen table. That said, she admits herself that her first book was rejected all over the world, and it was only when she joined a creative writing group that she was able to find her own voice. The Baby Trail, in fact her third book, followed, to international acclaim. Sinead’s tips for aspiring authors show just how much she still enjoys the writing process. “Enjoy it, immerse yourself in it, find time for it and lose yourself in it,” she advises. “If you get rejected, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and keep going. My first two novels were rejected by everyone but I loved writing so much that I just kept going. Stick with it!”
Mad About You is Sinead’s ninth book. With her international success, numerous nominations for the Irish Book Awards and regularly topping the Irish charts, does her success make her feel more relaxed when she’s working on a new novel? “Funnily enough, I feel more pressure,” she reveals. “You would think it gets easier, that your confidence would grow with each book and facing a blank screen is no longer daunting…you would be mistaken! Each book becomes more difficult to write. Why? I think it’s because, as a writer, you want each book to be better. You strive to grow as a writer. You want to engage your reader. You want to grab their attention and keep it.”
(c) Marése O’Sullivan
Marese O’Sullivan is a writer and journalist. She graduated from NUI Galway with a B.A. Honours degree in English, French, and Creative Writing and spent a year writing a historical novel as part of her course.
Marese completed the Copy-Editing Skills course at The Publishing Training Centre in London and her poetry has been published by the Aids West Newsletter. She loves interviewing amazing authors for writing.ie and hearing their advice!
After working as a blogger and social media assistant with The Alliance of Independent Authors and The What I See Project, she’s now embarking on the Masters in Newspaper Journalism at City University London, where she’ll take the helm as Editor of the student magazine. She’s on the lookout for freelance writing and editing opportunities! You can tweet her @MareseMartha and have a read of her blog at mareseosullivan.wordpress.com.