Winner of a three book deal with Poolbeg Press, Siobhán McKenna is an inspiration to anyone out there dreaming of being a published writer. Despite following the sometimes disheartening but always essential path of approaching publishers and agents it was her success in the TV3 Morning Show with Sybil & Martin/Poolbeg Write a Bestseller competition that eventually brought McKenna the much deserved book deal and the opportunity to do what she had dreamed of since she was a child.
With a background in the manufacturing and distribution of sleepwear and lingerie, it is not surprising that her entry to the competition and the bestseller due to be her debut novel has been given the title of The Lingerie Designer. The insider’s angle to the clothing trade that she is fortunate to have acquired gives McKenna a great vehicle through which to deliver her story. Much of The Lingerie Designer is set in South East Asia – Siobhán spent time working there and she explains that although research is essential, recounting the details of the Asian clothing trade was easy for her.
Siobhán emphasises that “without research, I believe a story would lack credibility”. The main character in The Lingerie Designer has a family connection to the Vietnam War, an element which required a significant amount of research despite its relatively small contribution to the content. Currently researching her follow up novels, her inescapable love of “beautiful fabrics and embellishments” will continue to contribute to her work, but she says herself that we’ll “have to wait and see how prominent they remain in my writing.”
With a burning ambition to become a writer, an ambition Siobhán McKenna has had since childhood, she explains that for a long time she didn’t have the confidence to pursue her dream. Describing a crossroads in her career, and her tendency to keep her writing private, Siobhán voices her concern that “we often let our fears rule and we end up paralysed by inaction rather than going after what we truly want”. It was a chance meeting with Deepak Chopra, a public speaker and writer on spirituality and mind-body medicinethat inspired Siobhán not only to become a Chopra Certified Instructor, but also to have faith in things working out. Looking back, McKenna realises that “it was a series of coincidences or synchronicities that eventually brought me to pursuing the writing career I’d dreamed of.”
A great believer in things unfolding as they should, the only thing Siobhán tells me that she would do differently with respect to her writing career is “write more consistently and pursue getting published earlier”. Like many aspiring writers, it was always Siobhán’s aim to get published, but until her success with the “Write a Bestseller” competition her relationship with publishers consisted of a mixture of rejection slips and moments of praise and encouragement. Siobhán McKenna’s biggest tip for budding authors is to “be passionate about your writing because if you aren’t, no one else will be either”. She goes on the add something that she recently read that she believes is great advice for all writers – “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” (Samuel Johnson)
Inspired to write by the messages conveyed in the books of Deepak Chopra, Siobhán cites The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success as the non-fiction book that she could read over and over again while her fiction choice would be Macbeth. Naming Bridget Jones as her favourite character from fiction I asked Siobhán to describe what she believes is required for a character to be believable. In keeping with the character of Ms Jones, she explains that “they definitely need to have a few unflattering traits – as we all do.” For McKenna, main characters come to life before the plot surrounding them is really known to her however the supporting characters evolve as the plot develops and although she draws on her own life in order to arrive at character and plot she finds that “as the story progresses the characters and plot take on a life of their own.” Therefore the twists that keep a story alive come as much of a surprise to McKenna as they will to her readers.
Only two character names remained fixed from the outset in The Lingerie Designer and Siobhán explains how the story evolved from them. She describes how “Helen Devine was named so as to portray her struggle of balancing her love of material things with a yearning for a deeper meaning in life – the light and the dark – Hell and the Divine” while Poppy Power was a neglected child named after her parents’ favourite opiate – she is a redhead with a wild streak.” In these instances character name is extremely important and symbolic but Siobhán reveals that “practically every other character went through a name change as the story evolved.”
Working best in her home office with affirmations pinned on the wall behind her monitor alongside cards, notes and gifts from loved ones, Siobhán describes the structure she needs when it comes to writing. McKenna describes herself as a master of procrastination and explains how she has to treat writing as a regular job. When working on a manuscript she aims to write between twelve hundred and two thousand words per day and advises tentative writers everywhere to rid themselves of distractions, “turn off your mobile phone and surround yourself with everything that will remind you of your goals”
So what was it about this book that made it a winner? Paula Campbell, Publisher at Poolbeg told www.writing.ie that incredibly, “The Lingerie Designer was the very first manuscript I read and I knew that it was in with a great chance of winning. It set a very high standard for all the other manuscripts. Siobhan researched her story incredibly well. She has all the elements in her novel for a best seller; the exotic locations, behind the scenes details, very strong characters that are easy to identify with and the magic of synchronicity”
And the story? Helen Devine is a lingerie designer; but no ordinary one. Her eye for style and detail has made her a director of one of the UK’s leading lingerie companies, Eden. The job comes with a great salary, travel and prestige. But Helen’s life is not without complications. Coming home to Dublin from London at the weekends brings her the comfort she needs, but inevitably, she becomes
entangled with her ongoing childhood sweetheart Rob. For the past 20 years, it was all she wanted, but now is it enough?
After a hectic work trip to Hong Kong with her Boss, Helen realises she needs some ‘time out’. When Helen approaches her best friend, Poppy, the 100% holistic, karma loving red head about going on a much needed holiday the two take off for Vietnam. It was there that Helen’s dad died during the War when she was a baby and she wanted to see the country and search for much needed solace. The journey was eventful. Not only did she find the red silk she was so looking for but she found true love in Jack Taylor. It was to be short lived. When Jack turned over in bed to find Helen gone, he wondered could he ever trust a woman again. Not knowing that an emergency phone call from Dublin found the two women back home sooner than intended.
Would they ever reunite? Would the past catch up with Helen and help her choose the right path?
The Lingerie Designer is in shops now!