Having recently read and reviewed Gillian’s debut novel Ruby’s Tuesday and adding it to my list of favourite all time reads, I invited Gillian to Bleach House, Co. Louth to have a further chat about her book, the writing process and the reactions from the readers since its release.
As it was a bank holiday weekend, Gillian was actually visiting friends in Carlingford, Co. Louth and I booked her in for an impromptu interview session on her way home to Dublin.
After some quick introductions to the family and all our dogs, Gillian and I settled ourselves on the sofa in the drawing room of the house, which she said reminded her of the home she grew up in, and got on with the business of book talk.
I was curious to find out where Gillian’s favourite place to write is, as most writers seem to have a nook or certain area that they are most comfortable. She told me that when she was writing Ruby’s Tuesday she was living on Summerhill Road. “That looks right over Dublin Bay, over to Howth and over Dun Laoghaire and that is my favourite place to write. However, I will have to find a new venue now because we have moved from there. I write upstairs in the attic at the moment, so I would say that a lot of time, in the summer, I will write outside of the house, somewhere that has views over Dublin Bay as part of the second novel will be based around Dublin bay again.” We had a discussion then about the amount of writers who are typing away in their attics. It seems quite common and for two main reasons; space and peace…
I wanted to know if Gillian plots and plans her books or if she just goes with the flow as each author has their own writing routine. Ruby’s Tuesday was planned ahead before she sat down to write it and she tends to have a pretty good idea about what she’s writing. “The next book, I had planned before I started writing Ruby’s Tuesday. I have a beginning, middle and end, what all the characters are doing. I wouldn’t know exactly what’s happening in each chapter, but the gist is there.”
I was wondering if writers need complete silence or if they are content to write away regardless of surroundings and Gillian says that she takes lots of notes on the train when she’s going to work each day, but tells me “when I’m sitting down to write, I need absolute silence.” She carries a notebook always, to scribble down “a really good description” of everyday people. And she has been known “to stare at people. It’s really rude!” I love the idea of this, a writer looking at me unawares and perhaps a tiny bit of myself being in a book.
I asked if she had any piece of advice to share with budding authors that may help them finish that novel and approach publishers. There was no hesitation in her answer : “Stay at the desk”. It’s that simple, writers. “Stay at the desk and never delete anything. If you start deleting what you wrote yesterday, you’re never going to get started on today’s word count. It’s an editor’s job to delete.” She explains to me that there were “bits in the novel that I thought were really good and bits that I thought were weak” and yet these appealed to the editor in different ways. “If you are a writer, you should remember that you are a writer, and not the editor. Let somebody else decide whether it should be taken out or not.”
We had a discussion about saving your progress as you go along – Gillian uses Cloud as a back up as well as sending an email copy to herself. I know my computer has a tendency to shut down randomly every once in a while, and this seems like sound advice to secure that precious word count.
The book is a heart-wrenching story that is based on Gillian’s own experiences with loss , so I wondered how important it was to add some lighter, humorous parts into the novel. “The theme of Ruby’s Tuesday is terribly dark, and I don’t even know if anyone would want to buy it if you didn’t have light, humorous scenes in through it”. Having both experienced tragedy in our lives, albeit in different forms, we both agreed that no matter awful things are, and how upsetting things can get , you have to find the humour in there somewhere, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to cope. Laughter can be a relief and ease the tension at some of the hardest times of your life. I applaud Gillian for being able to add humour to a tragic tale and handling the balance between dark and light so eloquently. She revealed, “I found it the easiest bit. It was the bit that I most enjoyed writing. I think it’s really, really important.”
The sea features very prominently in the book, with stunning descriptions of Dublin Bay and beyond. I wanted to know if it had always been part of Gillian’s life. It turns out, this isn’t the case at all. Growing up in Co.Limerick, “nowhere near the sea, we grew up in a big old house, like this one actually,” [ Bleach House is an 1800s property which we renovated ] the only swimming that she got to do was in “a tank at the back” which they would clean out, paint and fill with water. This was her swimming experience as a child. “During my single years, I started sea swimming and went on mad swimming holidays all around the world”. This is where she met her wonderful husband, Gary, whom I had the pleasure to meet and now they go sea swimming together all the time. It’s great to have a common hobby with a spouse as it means even more time together. Ironically, I grew up beside the sea and I never learned to swim. However, when deciding where to live, I didn’t move too far from the nearest beach.
Considering Gillian is part of the extremely talented Binchy family, I was wondering if she thought Ireland has a disproportionate amount of talented writers or is it merely a myth? She doesn’t think it’s a myth at all. “There’s a huge amount of hugely talented writers and I am very lucky that I am one of the few who has broken through. It’s such a pity that there’s not more support, assistance and more guidance for young writers. To help them through, to actually get them to that stage”. We then had a little rant about the lack of awards available to Irish writers if they are not with an international publishing house and how we would love to see more options available for emerging Irish Authors.
I often wondered if authors sneak a peek into bookshops to see if their book is displayed. It was a resounding “ Oh Yeah” and then she told of how Maeve Binchy, her Aunt, used to go into bookshops and move her book to the very front of the displays. I loved this story as this action now has a name….Book Ninja. I have been guilty of it myself, moving some of my favourite reads to the forefront. I was also dying to know if she has encountered any strangers reading her book and to my delight, she has! Once on the train and once at a supermarket checkout. As promotional budgets for books are almost non-existent, we all have to do our bit, however, Gillian is lucky to have Cormac Kinsella on her team along with Poolbeg and their Ward River Press division. The discussion then turned to the benefits of social media and book blogs in promoting books and Gillian admitted to only recently realising how important it is to have a presence online. Previously, readers were depended on the review sections of newspapers or on recommendations from a friend, where as nowadays, there are so many book review sites available and most have a star rating system, making it a double edged sword for the writers, I’m sure.
I inquired what the nicest thing that anyone has said about Ruby’s Tuesday and she told me of the touching emails that she has received from readers, who have gone through a similar situation as herself. These were moving descriptions and found their way into Gillian’s heart, who greatly appreciated them. Just to know that she is not the only one out there who had to go through that pain and come through the other side, made the book seem even more special.
I finished up by asking what book Gillian is currently reading herself and seems we have very similar taste. She is reading Transatlantic by Colm McCann as well as Roddy Doyle. Two amazing Irish authors whom I greatly admire.
I was delighted to be able to welcome Gillian and Gary into my home, and was honoured to have my copy of Ruby’s Tuesday signed by the author. I then gave her a quick look at our library and she spotted her father, Dan Binchy’s book Fireballs on the bookshelf, which she assures me he will be delighted to hear about.
I am really looking forward to reading Gillian Binchy’s next novel and hope to catch up with her again in the near future for more chat and giggles……. She is a truely warm and genuine person with a great sense of humour, who despite a huge loss in her life, continues to be a positive role model in the world of writing and is a true inspirational character, a real life one at that!
(c) Margaret Bonas Madden
Gillian Binchy grew up on a farm in County Limerick. She studied in UCD, UL and Dublin Institute of Technology. Her love of travel and the outdoors, plus a passion for sea-swimming, inspired much of this debut novel. Gillian has worked both in Ireland and abroad in the travel and tourism industry for many years. She is married to Gary and they live in County Dublin. The loss of their daughter in May 2013 motivated her to write this book.
About Ruby’s Tuesday
What would you do if you were told that your unborn baby will be profoundly handicapped? What choices would you make? With her husband Luke away on an extended business trip to China, Afric Lynch goes for a routine ultrasound and is told this terrible news. Fearing that Luke will not have the strength to cope with the truth, she chooses not to tell him while he is so far away. Afric must face her dilemma and make her decisions alone…alone but for her little unborn companion who is with her every step of the way. Raw, painful, and often hilarious, this novel takes the reader through a kaleidoscope of emotions, on a mesmerising journey of love and heartache.
Ruby’s Tuesday is in all good bookshops, or pick up your copy online here.