People ask me where my characters come from. Honestly, I ask myself the very same thing. I’ve created a few casts of characters over the six books I’ve written and with hand on heart I can say that not one of them is based on any one person I know. There are bits of me, bits of friends, brothers, sisters, old school friends and people I might have met only briefly. I cherry pick traits and situations and I throw them all together in a pot and see what happens.
Writing is like some sort of weird alchemy. When I finish a book, I am filled with wonder about how the hell I did it. Not because they’re worthy of any literary merit or award, but because I’ve managed to put 90,000 words together in such a way that they form a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. My real job requires, demands even, zero creativity so when I finally produce ninety thousand words when lined up in sentences and chapters bring people to life on the page, I almost don’t believe I had anything to do with its existence.
I never dreamt I’d write a book. My mam used to bring me to the library in Ballymun when I was small. I remember getting my first library ticket. It was my most prized possession and I kept it safe at home behind the clock on the mantlepiece, checking every so often to make sure it was still there. Ah look, it was the 1970’s, there was feck all else goin’ on! I read every book Enid Blyton wrote. Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the Dog were like my best friends at one stage. I longed to have an Uncle Quentin but had to settle for Uncles Pat, Phil and Charlie. When I had devoured all the Famous Five, I moved onto Mallory Towers. I was then obsessed with going to boarding school and having midnight feasts. Subliminally, the material I was reading was telling me I could never write a book. I lived on the North side of Dublin in the nineteen seventies and would never get within an ass’s roar of a midnight feast never mind a boarding school.
Then when I was a teenager, something mad happened. I read a book that mentioned one of the roads near where I lived. There was a bit in the book about a woman who was waiting at a bus stop on Pappin’s Road. I did a double take. She’d walked down Stormanstown Road to get to the bus stop. Oh my God, she was talking about Wadelai, the estate where I lived. The same street where I caught the bus to school in Eccles Street and into town on a Saturday. Up to then I didn’t think you could write about ordinary places. I thought streets had to be called Sunset Boulevard or Fifth Avenue. I didn’t know you could drop in a name like Pappin’s Road and get away with it.
My mam got sick in 1999. Unfortunately the prognosis was so dire that she died two years later. It was awful. I had three small children and I was running a hotel in the country too. Looking back now, I don’t know why I thought it would be a good time to write a book. I poured all of my pain into it. I remember copying it on to several floppy discs, typing a cover letter and sticking it in the post to Paula Campbell in Poolbeg. Poor Paula! I’m mortified now thinking about what I wrote. All that grief and self-pity. A response came back. Not surprisingly it was a ‘No’. Still, I was a bit gutted. OK. A lot gutted. Paula was kind and didn’t say how terrible it was. I’m still grateful to her for that.
Fast forward twenty years and I put another envelope in the post to Poolbeg. I didn’t believe that I’d get published this time either. Weeks passed and I didn’t hear anything. I sent Paula an email. I was expecting another polite rejection but instead I got a request for the completed manuscript. That had to be good? Right? Yes? No? Maybe? Anyway to make a long story even longer, several more emails back and forth resulted in Paula agreeing to publish Something Old, Something New. I mean I was over the moon. I loved Trish and Karen. They had become my friends and meant a lot to me. I couldn’t believe that somebody else would like them as much as I did. I’ve now got a book deal with Poolbeg and they have just published my second book, the aforementioned When Life Gives You Lemons.
I wish my mam had lived to see me get published. She would have been so proud. She was a writer too. She wrote pieces about her childhood on a farm and Millhouse in Moate, Co. Westmeath. She was the youngest of thirteen children so there was a wealth of material to draw from as they all ran wild around the countryside. I especially loved that my prim, proper and very strict aunt used to hide in the fields, smoking cigarettes at the grand old age of eight! Mam’s words evoked images that leapt off the page and revealed to me the child she was in the 1930s. She instilled in me a love of books and more importantly inspired me to write. Thank you, Mam. As the fella says, I didn’t lick it off the ground.
(c) Lorna Barrett
About When Life Gives You Lemons:
When you think you have everything figured out, Life has other ideas.
Diane has it all. A great career, a beautiful home and a lavish lifestyle. When all that changes overnight, she is left with some very difficult decisions.
Suze feels invisible. Neither family nor friends seem to have noticed her gradual disappearance. She desperately needs to escape from the trap her life has become, but is there any way out?
Sarah’s world is rocked when her husband of over twenty years makes an astonishing admission. Everything she thought she knew is a lie. What will it take for her to accept the past and move on?
Laurie waits at home while her actor boyfriend Kevin goes to Hollywood for auditions. Then a devastating call from a stranger turns her world upside down.
Four best friends. When life lets them down, at least they have each other.
Order your copy online here.