“Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?” This is the philosophy that Ciara Geraghty inherited from her grandmother and it is a philosophy that has put Geraghty up there on the best-sellers list among her heroes Marian Keyes and Helen Fielding. Geraghty is the author of three wonderfully successful novels – Saving Grace, Becoming Scarlett and the recently released Finding Mr Flood.
Having worked in insurance for ten years the notion of making a living as a successful novelist never crossed Geraghty’s mind. But that was until she signed herself up for a creative writing course and her thoughts began to spill out. The story goes that Geraghty intended to put her name down for a pottery class but somehow ended up enrolled in creative writing. But she laughs off this version explaining that the class was not the result of a wonderful accident. Her initial motivation was to get out of the house and meet new people so she went to Plunkett College that evening with the intention of doing something creative whether it was to be acting, writing or crafts. She never expected it to open such an exciting chapter in her life, a chapter which has made Geraghty responsible for three immensely successful novels to date.
Geraghty explains that although there were times when she tried to emulate her heroes ultimately “attempting to write like someone else is as hopeless as trying to look like someone else”. Reading her comfortable, chatty style of writing leaves you with the feeling that you have been hanging out with your own friends rather than a group of fictional characters and it is this sense of truth and reality that ensures Geraghty’s work oozes with authenticity.
As far as she is concerned “character is king” but that does not detract from her view that “plot is paramount”. The tug of war between plot and character is a struggle that most authors believe will never have a definitive outcome – one is as important as the other. Geraghty explains how in the case of Saving Grace it was the character of Grace that first set up home in her mind. Grace lived there happily for a year before Geraghty developed a plot that she was happy to allow Grace to become embroiled in. In the year that Grace spent in Geraghty’s mind she was pushed from place to place while her creator attempted to find out her story and it was only following a visit to the Listowel Writers Week that the elusive story finally became apparent. On the other hand Becoming Scarletthad its storyline while the character of Scarlett was still just a twinkle in Geraghty’s eye. She explains how films out at the time – Juno and The Waitress – and her own experience of pregnancy while she was writing evoked the plot into which she then introduced the character of Scarlett.
Ideas for a character or a plot can come from anywhere and Geraghty urges those looking for inspiration to be aware of everything happening around them. The plot of Finding Mr Flood came from a story Geraghty heard years before on a radio phone-in show. A lady called to talk about how her husband had gone to park his van and never returned home and this mystery stayed in Geraghty’s mind until it flowed out as the story of Mr Flood.
Character name – in the case of Mr Flood in particular – is very important to Geraghty. She basically trawled through the phonebook and finally, for numerous reasons decided Flood was the perfect surname – it is a Cavan name suited to the Bailieborough native; it denotes disaster and with regard to the title it has an alliterative value. Despite her efforts while searching for this name, Geraghty confesses that she hates research. As such she tends to include as little technical detail as her story will allow. This brings us back to the mantra of not allowing facts to take away from the magic of a good story. Geraghty does concede that there are times when research is critical and the condition of Angel in Finding Mr Flood is one such time. Angel’s renal disease led Geraghty to seek the advice and experiences of the staff and patients of Beaumont Hospital. She explains that writing brings its fair share of responsibility and the writer has a duty to correctly and compassionately describe conditions and situations that are affecting the people who may read his or her books. As a result Geraghty included very little detail about Angel’s condition – the less said then the less said wrong.
Writing down your thoughts and producing them in novel form for the critics to pounce can be daunting and Geraghty likens it to “taking off all your clothes in the middle of O’Connell Street and asking people to give you marks out of ten” but it comes with a great sense of achievement all the same. Before unveiling her work and presenting it to her publisher and the general public Geraghty picks good bits and reads them to her husband but because his criticism – although constructive – can sometimes wound her sensitive writer’s persona it is her sister to whom she turns for an opinion during the writing process. The inescapable reviews that a book attracts will rarely be positive every time and as a result Geraghty admits that she is becoming less sensitive to opinion with the release of each of her novels. When I ask her if she tries to avoid reading reviews Geraghty compares it to listening in on people talking about you – it might not always be want you want to hear but you simply cannot tear yourself away.
Although it was not always her ambition to be a published writer Geraghty admits to having imaginary conversations with radio interviewers in the style of The Commitments’ Jimmy Rabbitte. She laughs at the idea that the girl who received a D in honours English had two major publishers interested in her first offering. Both Poolbeg and Hachette Ireland were keen to publish Saving Grace but it was the overseas exposure offered by Hachette that eventually won Geraghty over. Despite the great interest in Geraghty’s work, publishers will always have their control and she found herself having to fight for the title of her recent offering. Hachette were not particularly enamoured by the title of Finding Mr Flood and to Geraghty’s dismay they suggested among others – “Expectations and Complications”. The title was vital to Geraghty however and she bargained with her publisher and offered to trade complete control of the cover and the blurb on the back in exchange for her choice of title.
Light and airy chick-lit will always have its place on the shelves but Geraghty’s debut novel proved itself to be more than that and Saving Grace (Hachette Books Ireland 2008) is a story that readers can relate to about characters that they can identify with. In 2010 Geraghty followed her first novel with another of equal success and her readers were introduced to the terribly organised Scarlett who finds her life turned upside down in Becoming Scarlett. And now, just a few weeks after the release of her third book Finding Mr Flood, Geraghty is already teasing out an inkling of an idea for her fourth – due to be published in spring 2012.
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