Jane Corry is author of the new psychological suspense everyone’s talking about – My Husband’s Wife. Here she tells us how her experience working in a high-security prison provided inspiration for her debut novel, and she also provides some invaluable pearls of wisdom for aspiring authors… read on!
What led you to write your debut thriller My Husband’s Wife?
It was a mixture of prison and marriage! After my first marriage ended, I took a job as writer in residence of a high-security male prison. This involved going in two days a week, over three years, to help headline criminals write short stories, novels, life stories, poems and letters. The reasoning behind it was that writing can help people come to terms with the past and do better in the future. I then got married again which made me consider how prison can affect marriage in lots of different ways. Many of ‘my men’ found it hard to keep their relationships going. And I also began to think more deeply about the relationship between a first and second wife…..All these factors began to weave a story in my head.
Today we’re joined by the brilliant Livi Michael who explains how her upbringing influenced her first novel, the difficulties of combining motherhood with writing, and how overwhelming it was to get published for the first time.
Her new novel Accession, the final in her critically acclaimed War of the Roses trilogy, will be published on August 4th.
Over to you, Livi…!
Thank you for asking about my first novel – it’s lovely to write about it after so long!
Under a Thin Moon is based on the council estate on which I grew up. It became a ‘sink’ estate and no-go area, famous for unemployment, violence and drug abuse. The tower block in which I lived had initially won an award, in the sixties, when these architectural developments were seen as beacons of hope for the working classes. They were otherwise condemned to slum housing with no bathrooms etc. But as unemployment increased during the Thatcher years the tower block estates became places where people who could not be housed elsewhere were placed. This particular estate was rife with gangs, drug-users, people newly-released from prison. There was even a short documentary made about it by a director from World in Action, and featuring Yours Truly!
Alan Glynn, the novelist behind the phenomenally successful Limitless, tells us about overcoming rejection, the “amazing sensation” of getting a book deal, and how a movie deal changed his writing career. Alan’s fifth novel Paradime is out now.
You’ve been with the literary agent Antony Harwood since 1997. Did it take you a long time to get an agent, and how did it come about?
By that point, 1997, I had spent a couple of years sending the manuscript of my first (still unpublished) novel out to Irish publishers and getting nowhere. Either I’d get a reply after six or nine months saying they hadn’t read it and didn’t have the time or resources to do so, or I wouldn’t get a reply at all. I think I got one response from a person who’d actually read the book, but it “wasn’t for them”. And by “sending out” I’m talking about expensive photocopying, padded envelopes and postage. Then I started an assault on UK publishers. Response times were quicker, but still no luck. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I should have an agent, but then a friend passed my manuscript to writer Douglas Kennedy, who very kindly showed it to his agent, Antony Harwood, and soon after that Antony took me on. It was a favour for Douglas to read the book, but it wasn’t a favour for Antony to take me on, because he runs a business.
Jackie Burke explains why she turned down a traditional publisher and decided to self-publish her debut novel instead
What led you to write your first novel The Secrets of Grindlewood?
I’ve always loved reading and writing and used to “dabble” in writing short stories and poems from an early age. Most of my stories were about animals and magic, which were also the kind of stories I liked to read. When I started writing Grindlewood, it began with a small idea about a dog, a cat, a rabbit and a fox. Once I started to write, I realized I had a huge story in my head that simply had to come out! My first draft was enormous. It became the basis for the first two books, with piles of notes and ideas for the rest of the series.
Did you find it difficult to find the time to write? How did you balance it with other demands such as your day job?
I was lucky in a way that I was at home, having taken voluntary redundancy from my previous job, so I had the time. Perhaps that’s why the story popped into my head – I had the time to think, as well as write. Strangely, though, there hadn’t been any definite plan to become an author and publish books, it just happened once I put pen to paper (and eventually on to the computer), and I knew I had a story to tell.
Gilly Macmillan explains how her debut novel Burnt Paper Sky became Piatkus’ ‘superlead’ title for summer 2015
What led you to write your debut novel Burnt Paper Sky?
I began to write Burnt Paper Sky because I found myself at a point in my life where I had a bit of time on my hands for the first time in years. My children had just all started at school and although I knew I needed to get a job sooner rather than later, I thought I might be able to finally have a go at writing a book. I’d written bits and pieces before but life had always got in the way somehow, preventing me from working on anything large-scale, but the ambition was still with me.
Did you find it difficult to balance writing with the demands of family life and raising young children?
Yes! Raising a family is something that’s always difficult to juggle with other interests, professional or personal. However, writing can fit very nicely with raising a family, especially as my children are not very young any longer. Sitting in the car waiting to pick up children, for example, is time you can use to think about ideas, or read a book for research. I have become very adept at using my time usefully! On the other hand, I think that raising a family teaches you a huge amount, and that experience can be very useful when you’re writing, so it’s a very positive thing to combine the two things, as well as having its challenges.
Dinah Jefferies, whose latest novel The Tea Planter’s Wife has been selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club, talks agents, book deals, and falling in love with writing
Did you always want to be a writer, or did you come to writing later in life?
I definitely came to writing much later in life, but I’ve always loved reading. It was only when we were living in a tiny mountain village in Northern Andalusia, that I decided to write my first novel. It was far too hot outside, so while stuck indoors, I used the time to write. I didn’t expect to fall in love with writing, nor the success I’ve subsequently had. It has been a whirlwind.
Where did the idea for your debut novel The Separation come from, and how long did it take you to write?
When I lost my teenage son in an accident, it was the most awful thing that could have happened to me. But years later I felt it must be even worse to have your child go missing and never to know what has happened to them. Your mind would continue to imagine dreadful scenarios. The thought of that really tugs at my heart. The story of Lydia and her missing children developed from there. The novel is set in Malaysia, and as I lived there as a child, I drew on that experience. It took about a year to write.
SJ Watson on his childhood dream coming true when his agent secured a book deal for Before I Go to Sleep, the psychological thriller that went on to become a phenomenal international success
Is it true you started roughly 20 novels while working as an audiologist before writing Before I Go to Sleep?
Not exactly! I’d started a few – but with some I’d only got as far as a title or perhaps an opening scene. They were hardly novels, more ideas I was playing with. The number 20 arose when I fell foul of a fact-checker following an American interview I did. She wasn’t happy with ‘a few’ so forced me to give a figure. ‘Fifty?’ she said, and I said, ‘No, fewer than that.’ ‘What, five?’ ‘More than that.’ Eventually we agreed on ‘twenty’ but little did I know that the figure would be reported as fact, and then find its way into my biography. That’s the power of the internet….
I’d sent nothing out to anyone, though. I wanted to wait until I felt I was ready.
During your talk at the Mountains to Sea book festival in Dún Laoghaire earlier this year, you mentioned that you were on track to get a promotion at work but instead opted for a more junior position so that you could focus on writing. Was this a very difficult decision and what did your friends and family make of it?
Not really. By that point I knew I wanted to be a writer, and to devote much more time and energy to it than my full-time senior position would ever allow. My family and friends were always supportive, because they knew how much writing meant to me. A few friends of friends took it upon themselves to warn me that it wasn’t a good career option, and tell me there’s no money in being an author, and wonder whether I was making a stupid decision. But they clearly didn’t know me very well.
Former RTÉ journalist Kathleen MacMahon found herself in the limelight in 2011 when she landed a €684,000 advance as part of a two-book deal with Little, Brown. Here she talks about coping with the attention, quitting the day job, and overcoming ‘difficult second novel syndrome’.
How did you go about getting your agent, Marianne Gunn O’Connor?
I had been secretly writing a novel for years, before I finally forced myself to send it to someone I knew who worked in the book business. I assumed that the poor guy would sit me down and find a kind way of telling me that I was wasting my time, but he came straight back and told me he was sending it to Marianne. She had a few people look at it before reading it herself, and then she signed me up.
What happened with your (unpublished) first novel, and why did Marianne make the decision to withdraw it from the 2009 London Book Fair? Would you consider trying to get it published now?
That first novel was a near miss, in that a publisher was very interested in buying it, but some logistical problems intervened and Marianne made the decision to withdraw it. It was the best thing that could have happened, because whatever about the merits of that particular book, I wasn’t ready to be out there as a writer. I was hugely relieved when it didn’t happen and I got the opportunity to go back and marshal my resources in preparation for the next time. It acted as a really valuable dress rehearsal and allowed me to prepare myself for the real thing. I wouldn’t ever want to have it published. It’s firmly relegated to the past.
Eimear McBride on getting her critically-acclaimed novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing published after five years of rejection
How long did it take you to complete A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and how many drafts did you write?
I wrote it very quickly. I did three drafts in six months, which was all the time I could afford to take away from temping.
Is it true that your house was burgled and all your long-hand notes for the novel stolen? How did you overcome this set-back?
Yes, that’s true. I overcame it by starting again at the beginning. Happily, what I had thought was an utterly catastrophic event turned out to be the best thing that could have happened because I approached the novel with a fresh pair of eyes, which was exactly what it needed.
Award-winning writer Mary Costello on overcoming self-doubt to complete her debut novel Academy Street.
I started writing in my very early twenties… I had a couple of short stories published, but I was teaching full-time so after a while the writing slipped into the margins. I never gave it up but I didn’t send work out all through my twenties and thirties. I kept the stories to myself at home. I was just writing quietly myself in the suburbs.
I did try and give up writing… It felt like a burden in some ways, an interruption to life. I just wanted to get on and live a normal life without this sort of weight on me, but the stories would push up and I would write them.