Where does your inspiration come from? If I had a euro for every time I’ve been asked that question since I started this writing lark, I could give up the writing lark, retire to somewhere sunny and coastal, and read the rest of my days away. The trouble is, I can rarely come up with an answer that satisfies the asker, mainly because I find it nigh on impossible most of the time to pinpoint the source of an initial book idea. For me, inspiration can literally come from anywhere – a chance remark, overheard or otherwise, or an interaction I might witness, maybe without hearing a word of it (those ones can be good, where I have to read the faces and the body language, and fill in my own words). It could come from a news item on the telly or in the paper that grabs my attention. It could simply be a place, or a moment in time – I recently passed a dilapidated farmhouse on a walk, and it’s currently lodged in my consciousness, lying in wait for its chance – and sometimes my brain combines a few of these things and bubbles them about for a while before eventually spitting out a germ of an idea which I then have to knead and coax into a plot. It sounds messy: it often is. Inspiration, far from being the wondrous miracle its name suggests, can be a sludgy bugger of a thing. Sleep gets disrupted, family and friends go neglected, the house becomes even more dishevelled than usual as sweeping and mopping take second place to head-scratching, erratic laptop keyboard tapping, inappropriate mealtimes and occasional cursing.
Once in a while though, I find a smoother and more straightforward entry into a story. One Summer, which centres around the comings and goings of a small island community, came into being after I’d relocated to Kerry’s Valentia Island for a month, determined not to go home without a new plot. I hadn’t intended to use the location itself, I was just hoping the unfamiliar surroundings would kick-start my brain – but I ended up shamelessly stealing that beautiful place, and after that the main storyline just followed on naturally. The Reunion, centring around two sisters who end up in the same Leaving Cert year, and who receive an invitation twenty years on to attend their school reunion, was prompted by my own attendance at a reunion. I generally avoid them like the plague, being cursed with a rubbish memory for both names and faces, but I’d been persuaded to turn up for this particular one – and over the course of the evening I realised that it provided perfect book fodder. The structure came ready-made: begin at the end, with the invitations arriving, and then rewind to track the course of the sisters’ lives after they left school. Something in Common, the story of two women who correspond by letter and email for years without meeting, had two clear sources of inspiration: the first, a pair of real-life penfriend relationships, mine and my mother’s; and the second, a rather dramatic encounter I had on a bridge with a troubled woman, a doctored version of which became my opening sequence.
So what inspired The Book Club? Good question. I do remember that my starting point was a desire to write a book that would lift people out of the covid-19 world of high anxiety, a story with lots of warmth and hope and distracting drama in it. I needed that escape for myself too – I began writing it during our second lockdown, when my own fears and worries were still very much colouring my days. I wanted to get away from the whole pandemic brouhaha, so a happy book was definitely on the cards. But of course I couldn’t start out happy, or I’d have nothing to write about. My characters would have to travel from sad, would have to journey through regret and grief and anger before they found the courage to confront the demons of their pasts and stare them down. Again, because I didn’t feel I was in the best place to write directly about the bad, I set the story in the aftermath of the various tragedies and traumas that had brought the characters to where they were. I introduced them to the reader in their broken forms, and sent them on their respective healing journeys, steering them into and out of each others’ orbits, throwing the usual challenges and twists in their paths, guiding them towards resolution and peace of mind, helping them to rediscover joy.
One source of inspiration I can easily identify was the fact that I’m currently a member of two book clubs, one that predates the pandemic by a couple of years, and another that was borne out of The Hope Foundation charity’s efforts last year to raise funds when covid-19 shut off a lot of their usual routes. The idea was ingenious: they set up an online book club which members paid to attend, in return for the presence each month of the author whose book they’d just read. I was drafted in to help round up a few authors, and I also became a member myself, attending the monthly meetings. So, two book clubs: it was a no-brainer to feature one in The Book Club, and it was also a very handy way of bringing my characters together once a month. Strangely, the title, which you’d think would be another no-brainer, didn’t occur to my editor or me until the story was almost written; just one more example of inspiration taking its own sweet time, choosing its moment to jump up and say ‘here I am!’ Just as well I’m a patient soul.
(c) Roisin Meaney
Incidentally, if anyone feels like joining The Hope Foundation book club, it’s about to launch into its second year with a fresh crop of authors, and new members will be most welcome, with different signing-up options. All details here.
About The Book Club:
A tragic accident leaves the tight-knit book club in the small seaside town of Fairweather reeling. Then stranger Tom McLysaght arrives in the community, and the members of the club find their lives changing in ways they never could have imagined.
None of them realise that Tom is hiding a secret. On the surface, his move to Fairweather was to escape his highflying life in London and to put some much-needed distance between him and his ex-fiancée – but deep down Tom knows that there are some things he cannot run from.
As the months pass with book club gatherings, secrets are shared and hurts begin to heal. New friendships might be the last thing on their minds but the members of the book club are about to discover that opening themselves up to other people might be the only thing that will help them all to live, and to love, again.
Order your copy online here.