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Rachael English: Being A Writer

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Fiction | Interviews
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By Rachael English

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Like lots of people, I always wanted to write. When I was a teenager, I wrote all the time. I kept a diary; I loved composing school essays; I scribbled notes about everything that interested me. And then I stopped.

I’m not sure why I gave up on writing, but I think a lack of confidence may have had something to do with it. Sometimes, the discussion around fiction writing can be off-putting. You read in the papers about the amazing achievements of wonderfully talented people who have written three novels by the age of twenty-two and have agents and publishers clamouring to sign them up. And you say to yourself, ‘Well, I’m never going to be like that, so what’s the point?’

Then, three or four years ago, a friend asked me a question: what did you love doing as a teenager that you never do now? Her argument was this: as teenagers most of us are passionate about playing sport or singing or painting or something. We revel in being creative. Then life intervenes – and we stop. But why shouldn’t we get the same enjoyment from those activities when we’re in our twenties or thirties … or even older?

rachael_english_aug_2014 140x210So, when I started writing my first book, Going Back, I thought of it as revisiting an old hobby. Save for my mother and my husband, I told nobody. To be honest, I didn’t know whether I would be able to write a novel. What if the idea lurking at the back of my head wasn’t strong enough? What if I didn’t have the discipline to come home from work, sit down at the kitchen table and write?

I won’t claim writing came easily to me. I gave up more than once. Sometimes I looked back over the previous day’s work, cringed and pressed delete. What I hadn’t appreciated, though, is just how addictive it becomes. There were days when I practically ran home from work to get stuck into a new scene or to play about with a tricky paragraph.

The more I wrote about the characters, the more real they felt. Writing one scene made me cry so much I had to go and fetch a box of tissues I was embarrassed to admit this until I read an interview with Jojo Moyes in which she said that crying over the pain you inflict on your characters is perfectly normal. After all, if you don’t obsess about them, how can you expect a reader to care about their fate?

And yet, even after I’d completed five or six drafts, I remained reluctant to talk about what I was doing, It was only when I got an agent and he sold the book to Orion that I started to think of it as an actual novel rather than a hefty file on the computer. At that stage, I realised that not telling people was pretty silly. Worse, it was bordering on dishonest. Still, I wish I’d recorded the moment when I broke the news to my colleagues on Morning Ireland. You can guess their reaction by the fact that I had to keep reassuring them that this wasn’t some sort of hoax.

This may sound a bit naive, but when I was working on Going Back, I never gave much thought to what ‘type’ of book I was writing. All I knew was that I had a group of characters I wanted to spend time with and a story I loved telling. I also wanted to try and capture a time and place. Oh, and I was spurred on by one particular image: a girl I’d seen on a train who was enjoying her book so much that it was practically welded to her nose. If the train had gone up in smoke, she’d probably still be sitting there quietly turning the pages while chaos unfolded around her. I hoped that if I got my book ‘right’, somebody somewhere might react to it in the same way.

And that is the very best thing about having a book published. When you meet a reader and they want to talk about the story or the characters, the feeling is just brilliant. What’s especially great is when they make a really astute observation about a character, and you find yourself wondering why you never thought of that.

If anything, writing a second book was harder than the first. Not because I lacked ideas – the basic plot for Each and Every One had been with me for quite a while. Nor was I particularly fazed by having to complete it within a year. I’ve been a journalist for more than twenty years; I can cope with deadlines. I think what made the process more difficult was the fact that, second time around, I was so much tougher on myself. I wanted the dialogue to be snappier, the observations sharper, the writing more fluent. I was also anxious not to turn it into a rewrite of the first novel. In a strange way, though, this sense of constantly having to question yourself is one of the joys of writing. If it wasn’t such a challenge, would it provide quite the same kick?

Going back to when I first told people about getting a publisher, I remember several responding with, ‘I never knew you were a writer.’ My immediate reply? ‘But I’m not really.’ I saw myself as a journalist who’d tinkered around with words and ideas until I had something that I wasn’t scared to show people. A writer had to be an altogether more exotic creature, surely?

So when do you start describing yourself as a writer? When every spare moment you have is spent in front of the laptop? When other people first read your work? When your book is on the bestsellers list? Even now, with Each and Every One out in the world, there are times when I feel like an imposter; when I half expect someone to tap me on the shoulder and question my credentials.

At work the other morning, a colleague told a story about a TV wildlife programme with no budget to shoot outdoors. Animals had to be brought into the studio which, needless to say, resulted in pandemonium. When I stopped laughing, my first thought was that material didn’t get much better than this. So I did what any sensible person would do and pulled out my notebook. It was only as I jotted down the details that the thought occurred to me: I must be a writer.

(c) Rachael English

About Each And Every One

Your family are always there for you…aren’t they?

For Tara, Vee, Niall and Damian, the children of the Shine family, their parents have seen them through thick and thin. In fact, Gus and Joan’s lifetime of hard work has given their children the luxuries they never had when they were growing up – a comfortable home in a leafy Dublin neighbourhood, gap years that never seem to end and an open chequebook for life’s little emergencies. Unfortunately, although the children have grown up, they have got a little too comfortable with the well-feathered nest: now it’s time to learn a few home truths.

When a twist of fate means the bank of Mum and Dad can no longer bail out the younger generation, suddenly the whole family must find out who they really are – but sometimes the truth isn’t easy to face. Uncovering the secrets they all hide will show them a different side to the city they call home and mean finding allies in the most unlikely places.

Warm, wise and witty, Each and Every One is a novel about the lessons we learn in life – and the ones we never do.

Each And Every One is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.

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