Pauline Lawless chats with writing.ie’s Sarah Downey about getting published, her brand new novel and why there are just never enough hours in the day!
Pauline Lawless was born in Dublin and is the author of the bestselling books, Because We’re Worth It and If The Shoe Fits. Her new novel, A Year Like No Other, set in Paris, is due to be published this summer.
At the age of 62, having raised five children and run two successful businesses, most people would sit back, relax and settle down into retirement. But not Pauline Lawless. “I’d often wondered if I could write” and now that she finally had some time to herself she was going to find out. Pauline set about penning her first book, which would later become her bestselling debut novel, Because We’re Worth It and prove after all that she is most definitely a writer.
With her first book finally under her wing, she embarked on the daunting task of securing a publishing deal.”I quickly found out that it’s more difficult to get an agent than a publisher. Some of them didn’t have the courtesy to reply and others said they weren’t interested.” So Pauline took the bull by the horns and contacted the Publisher at Poolbeg, Paula Campbell. “When I had almost given up they emailed me to say they liked it and would be willing to publish it. I was over the moon.” After a lot of editing, she got her hands on a copy of her first book and hasn’t looked back since. Pauline was then offered a three-book contract and recently signed on the dotted line for another three-book deal withPoolbeg.
Pauline has certainly led “a fairly exciting life to date” by all accounts and this has given her a diverse wealth of experiences to draw from. She believes it’s good to start out writing about what you know and luckily for Pauline, she has plenty of stories to tell and endless material. She’s worked for Aer Lingus and CIE, studied French, Spanish, Italian and Turkish and even qualified as a wine lecturer. Her first novel was set in the intriguing world of the slimming club, familiar ground for Pauline who founded and ran theSuperslim slimming club for over twenty-five years. “My second book If the Shoe Fitsis about women working for a direct-selling company”, she worked as an area manager for Avon Cosmetics, “but I have my women selling designer shoes rather than cosmetics!” Her latest offering is due to be published in the Summer, “A Year Like No Otheris about four women who get to spend the year in Paris- a city I love and know very well!”
Once Pauline has decided on a setting, she begins to sketch out her characters. “I jot down the names of every character I create, so that I don’t call them something else further down the line (something I did in the first book!). I try to make their names match their characters and to keep them distinguishable.” From there she builds up a picture of each character by carefully choosing their physical and personal traits, such as hobbies, favourite foods, drinks and personal style.
This means when Pauline finally sits down at her computer to write, she knows each and every character inside out and they “seem like old friends” to her. “They almost take on a life of their own and go in directions that I never imagined or planned. It’s fun and I’m often amazed how it all ends up.” For Pauline it’s wonderfully freeing to create her characters and be in charge of their destiny. “When you live with them every day, for six months or more, you actually get inside their heads and they become almost real. I always feel a great sense of loss when I finish a book- like I’m saying goodbye to my best friends, but I’m always delighted when readers write to me to say they feel the same way.”
Yet, Pauline learned that making all the characters too nice just doesn’t work. “Life’s not like that and everyone has flaws so that has to be reflected in the people you write about. Actually, writing about the nasties is much more fun.” She found that Diane in her first book, the proverbial bitch, was the most fun to write. “As I was editing the book, six months after I’d finished it, I found myself laughing at her antics, even though I’d written them.” Pauline has a fondness for all the women in her books, as they’re all so completely different and fascinating in their own way. She especially admires the character Kate in her first book, “She is the quintessential soft earth mother who became strong in the end, while maintaining her femininity. I couldn’t resist bringing her into my second book- in a small way.”
Pauline has always been an avid reader and loves devouring books. “I love historical novels and read all I can get my hands on.” Her eclectic taste ranges from the likes of Jeffrey Arthur, Patricia Cornwell, James Michener to Sophie Kinsella and Stieg Larsson. “My favourite character in a book is probably Jimmy Rabbitte Sr, in The Snapper and The Vanby Roddy Doyle.” She’s also addicted to cooking books, “I must have close on a hundred!”
Is there anything else she’s dying to explore in a novel? “I’ve a children’s book simmering in my mind and would like to write it while some of my seven grandchildren can still enjoy it. Even though I’m retired, there are still never enough hours in the day.” Pauline is also hoping to write a historical novel but has to finish what she’s working on first- she has three books to finish yet!
What are the keys to good writing and success for her? “A good grasp of the English language. Nothing is as frustrating as a book that is badly written and no publisher will touch it with a bargepole.” She also believes that characters need to be real, have depth and readers must be able to identify with them. “I spend a long time rounding out the characters in my books and giving them some complexity.” But most important, “you need a good story. I think a good imagination is essential in writing novels and I’m lucky that I have a vivid one!”
What’s the best part of being an author later in life? “It’s given me a new lease of life. It’s wonderful to think that I can give my readers a little of the pleasure and enjoyment that I get from the books I’ve loved. I receive quite a few emails from my readers and each one lifts up my heart and inspires me. I’m on a constant crusade to get people to give writing a try, especially when they tell me they’ve often thought about it!” Pauline proves it’s never too late to give writing a go and urges others to grab their pens and get writing.
Pauline’s mantra for writing is: “just sit down and start”. She adds modestly, “If I can do it, anyone can!”