Today we’re joined by Avon author Amy Gaffney (who writes as Rosie Hannigan) who reveals how a Twitter friendship led to the publication of her debut novel The Moonlight Gardening Club…
Have you always wanted to be a writer? What led you to write your debut The Moonlight Gardening Club?
Since I was little, but more specifically, since I read Little Women, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I was always making up games when I was young, and the games always had to have a story. I copied down poems, read everything I could get my little hands on, especially Enid Blyton’s books which were the fuel for a lot of adventures and stories that I made up for my siblings, which I suppose was the beginning of trying to compose a story.
Do you have a set writing routine? Do you find it hard to fit writing in around your other commitments?
I studied in UCD as a mature student and it was around then that I decided to turn the spare bedroom, the tiniest room in the house, into a space where I could study and work. I write four to five days a week, but never on weekends as that’s the only time I have to catch up on household chores and spend time with friends and family. That’s the space where I write all the time, although I do have a notebook I take with me for poetry writing and I will take notes and voice notes on my phone if I’m out and about and something strikes me. I prefer to write in silence but there are some spaces where the noise doesn’t bother me. In fact, sometimes those spaces help the words flow.
My aim is to write five hundred words a day, and that way I feel as if I’ve accomplished something and that my project is advancing.
If the words are flowing I let them flow so that some days my word count can be anywhere between five hundred and two thousand. I know I’m getting tired because my writing becomes disconnected, spellings and tense mistakes abound and my shoulders begin to rise up.
Did you ever doubt yourself or your novel and, if so, what did you do to keep yourself motivated?
Doubt is always lurking in every creative’s mind, I’m sure! It takes a lot of energy and determination to silence it. It speaks up when you’re on the right track hoping to lead you astray because Doubt likes its comfort zone and when you’re writing you’re tapping into a myriad of memories, emotions, and not all of them are happy or welcome. Doubt hates having to feel, it hates the status quo being rocked. Early in 2022 I was beginning to question my writing, I was sure I was doing it wrong, or doing something wrong, yet I knew that I could write and that my work was good.
I have a few novels sitting on my desk that need a home and they’re good, yet I was beginning to think they weren’t and that I should maybe not focus on writing so much.
I asked myself if I should just stop writing but I knew that I couldn’t. It’s a part of me.
That led to the question: then what do you want from your writing? I already knew the answer (write a super-duper bestseller that either Michael Fassbender or Reese Witherspoon wants to make a movie of), but I just didn’t know how to get there. I decided that even if I didn’t know the pathway to Michael or Reese, or even a published book, all I had control over was my work and the quality of it. That was what I needed to focus on first because my chance would come, and I needed to be ready for that. So I kept on writing and imagining a future where I’d be published. Now I’m imagining the next stage even harder … Michael? Reese? I’m on Twitter if you need to find me for a chat!
You completed the MA in Creative Writing in UCD. Could you tell us how that helped you on your journey to publication?
I loved my time at UCD. Some of the most amazing people came into my life from there, and you should keep an eye out because they’re going to be great writers. I studied for my BA in English and my MA in Creative Writing as a mature student, and will always treasure and think fondly back on that time as a wonderful period where we wrote, discussed and dissected each other’s work, felt free to explore form and different mediums. I’d never considered poetry before then, and now I adore it.
Without a doubt it carried me towards publication.
Some of the work I did during that time has been published which boosted my confidence and inspired me to keep going.
Did you go down the agent route or pitch directly to publishers? Did you encounter many obstacles/rejections along the way?
After writing the words The End on my second completed novel, I began querying agents and submitted my work (far too soon) to the publishers who accepted unsolicited manuscripts. I’m mortally embarrassed at those queries! They were sent out too soon and full of errors and hope. There were so many rejections; some came with a nice email and others were just a standard ‘no’, or ‘your work isn’t right for us’. Which stung at first. I was so hopeful and excited and scared submitting to anyone that I’d almost hold my breath until I got a reply. Then I realised how busy agents and publishing houses are – they’re on the go nonstop and don’t mean any harm in sending out a standard rejection. After that, a rejection was just a rejection and there was nothing I could do about it so I just let it go and kept on going.
Eventually I did get an agent, but we amicably parted ways during the pandemic which allowed me to enter other competitions and so on that were only for un-agented writers.
I’m still searching for an agent, and writing query letters is my least favourite thing in the world! I’m lucky to have some lovely writer friends who’ve coached me.
How did your book deal with Avon Books (HarperCollins) come about?
I joined Twitter over a decade ago purely with the intention of finding out more about writing and writers. As a stay-at-home parent it was my main connection to the world that I wanted to inhabit, and it taught me so much, and brought me many wonderful friends. It gave me the courage to attend book launches and meet Twitter friends face-to-face. That’s how I met Hazel Gaynor, a wonder writer who has consistently encouraged and championed my writing since we met. Hazel knew my ambitions, and she knew my love for gardening, so when she saw a tweet from an editor looking for an Irish writer who loved gardening, she knew it was perfect for me and alerted me.
As chance would have it, I was at my desk and the Zoom meeting I’d been waiting for had just been cancelled. I messaged the editor, we emailed back and forth that evening, and over a couple of weeks of chatting and researching for the idea of The Moonlight Gardening Club it all became real.
There was definitely something magical at work because right from the moment I read Hazel’s message I felt that this was what I’d been waiting for.
Can you remember how it felt when you found out you were going to be published? Did you do anything in particular to celebrate?
I was in my parent’s house when the email offering me a two-book deal came in, and had to sit down before I fell down! Physically, my stomach tumbled over like stones in a cement mixer. My legs turned to jelly and my mouth dropped open. Luckily there was a chair behind me. I read the email over a few times before it really sank in. I can’t remember how we celebrated, but I know we did! It was a bolt from the blue at a time when I was feeling low about my writing, and as soon as I’d decided to accept the offer all I wanted to do was to get writing.
What would you say has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
This book! Writing and working with the Avon team has been such a wonderful experience. There’s a huge joy in seeing my work out there, reaching readers all over the world.
Have you any advice for aspiring authors trying to get their big break into publishing?
Don’t give up. Keep writing, try out as many genres and forms as possible. Find other writers, they are your tribe, and in my experience, are wonderful, warm, and generous. Be polite and curious – the writing community is simultaneously tiny and immense, you never know who you might be talking to about cats and socks – they may turn out to be the top dog of a Big Five publishing house (this may have happened to me).
Go to events because the inspiration you’ll get is amazing. Try to write as often as you can, that’s how you hone your style and craft. Read lots and when you find a passage, or a poem, or a novel that you particularly enjoy, try to figure out what’s working in that piece. And read for pleasure too. There’s nothing better than that!
The Moonlight Gardening Club is available for purchase from Amazon here.
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