My Writing Process
I’m usually excited on a writing day. I’ll eat something quickly, make a cup of coffee, check that I’m warm enough, and then lock myself into the room I’m working in. I’m very sensitive to noise when I’m engrossed in writing so I’ll often wear earplugs or noise cancelling headphones. I’ll turn off the internet if I’m feeling virtuous, but I do enjoy a music break every now and then.
I begin with fragments. Strings of words. An observation. I will write around these fragments and build on them. The ideas that come to me are often to do with images and locations. I’m quite driven by the visual components of a story, like scenery, body language, etc. I’m interested in abandoned ruins, the supernatural, and magic realism, and I like to weave these elements in with everything else.
I started out writing short stories and I think that’s helped me to question every word and every sentence. If it’s not right, if it doesn’t fit, it has to go. The more practice you get, the better you are at identifying what’s working and what isn’t. You develop an intuition. You know when something isn’t quite right. Sometimes the words you write are just placeholders until something better comes along.
I’ve deleted tens of thousands of words at a time. I’ve deleted characters and entire subplots. You pick things apart and put them back together again. The word count goes up, the word count goes down, but there’s no use in fretting over it. Better to have the right words in the right order or you’re only fooling yourself.
My usual writing stint would be five to six hours by which point I’d nearly break the door down for a sandwich. There are the rare days when I’ll put in twelve hours and write a mad amount of words. That’s once in a blue moon, but you just sit it out and see what arrives. You’re delirious by the end of it, high off being in the flow state for an extended period of time.
I believe that writing a book is 50% skill and 50% psychology. If the intent is there, and you follow through, you will write your book in time. Maintain the intent and you’ll do it.
There’s a book by Seth Godin called The Dip. The gist of the book is that it’s very easy to begin a project but there’s that bit in the middle where you start to slow down and question yourself and become discouraged. You have to be able to get though The Dip. You have to see it coming, grit your teeth, and charge through it.
I have a Post-It on my computer screen that says JUST GET ON WITH IT, and another one that says ANY ‘AUL EEDGIT. The latter Post-It was inspired by a stressful period in my life when I was learning how to drive. I confided in a friend about my anxiety around driving, and she scoffed and said, “Sure, any ‘aul eedgit can drive.” I thought about it and realised that she was right. Any ‘aul eedgit can drive. There are thousands, if not millions of eedgits driving around the place at any given moment. It wasn’t long before the Any ‘Aul Eedgit philosophy crept into my life and took it over. I thought, if any ‘aul eedgit can drive, maybe any ‘aul eedgit can write a book, and maybe I can be that eedgit. So here I am.
When I set out to write You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here, I was interested in writing about the dynamic between a group of young people who explore abandoned buildings and ruins together to pass the time. I love so many of the locations in Stephen King’s novels and I was inspired to play around with unique locations myself. I wrote about a quarry, an abandoned cottage, a burned-out nightclub, a handball alley, and an expanse of mysterious bogland. The themes I enjoyed working with included charismatic people and creative rivalry, and I wanted to write bad girls too. Girls with depth of character and a capacity for malevolence.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt is my benchmark for storytelling. I love the different characters in the book and the way she explores group dynamics. Her writing inspires me to build my own characters until they feel tangible, authentic and unforgettable. I am also a Patricia Highsmith enthusiast. I love the enigmatic character of Tom Ripley who inspired the character of Maeve in You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here.
My Path to Publication
I’d written a couple of short stories back in the day that had been received positively, and I was shortlisted for a few things, but I was ferociously ambitious and wanted to write novels. I ended up applying for a Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford University. I wanted to get high level feedback and to see what I could produce under pressure. I was bowled over to be accepted and I started in September of 2015. I wrote the first twenty five thousand words of my novel, and by the end of the programme two years later I was in a position to speak to a couple of agents who expressed interest in my work and wanted to represent me. I met Marianne Gunne O’Connor here in Dublin who has a great track record. We met and had a strong connection and she made an offer of representation that I accepted. I spent about two years preparing and polishing the manuscript. It took time, but eventually there were a couple of sniffs of interest and finally Oneworld Publications made an offer.
(c) Frances Macken
About You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here:
Katie, Maeve and Evelyn – friends forever, united by their childhood games and their dreams of escaping the tiny Irish town of Glenbruff.
Outspoken, unpredictable and intoxicating, Evelyn is the undisputed leader of the trio. That is, until the beautiful, bold Pamela Cooney arrives from Dublin and changes Glenbruff forever…
Told from Katie’s witty, quirky perspective, Frances Macken’s debut beautifully captures life in a small town and the power of yearning for something bigger. Filled with unforgettable characters and crackling dialogue, You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here takes a keen-eyed look at the complexities of female friendship, the corrosive power of jealousy and guilt, and the way that life can quietly erode our dreams unless we’re willing to fight for them.
Order your copy online here.