Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Author Interview: Shirley Benton

If you'd read my earlier sneak peeks post you'll have seen that I've known Shirley for several years and have watched her journey progress as a published author.  This week sees the publication of her second novel, Can We Start Again?, which I'm sure will be flying off the shelves in stores across Ireland and online. 

Shirley kindly agreed to complete the questionnaire I emailed to her so here's what she has to say... 

Can you tell us a little bit about Can We Start Again? 
It tells the story of the relationship between colour-inside-the-lines Tammy and carefree Alvin. When they meet, it’s definitely a case of opposites attract. It’s not long before they’re mapping out the rest of their lives together, including a Pre-Parental Plan – a list of everything they want to do as a couple before they have children. But no amount of planning could have factored an unthinkable break-up into the process....

Broken-hearted from the split – and Tammy’s refusal to maintain contact - Alvin moves to Australia, while Tammy moves on by blocking out Alvin’s existence and forcing herself to date other men. But as nobody she meets measures up to her one true love, Tammy realises that breaking up was a terrible mistake – something Alvin has known all along. When Alvin returns to Ireland a year and a half later, he has a proposition for Tammy. In a bid to resurrect their relationship, he suggests carrying out the activities in their neglected Pre-Parental Plan to remind them of why they once wanted spend their lives together. 

After all the time she’s spent trying to get over Alvin, Tammy is terrified of the prospect of failing yet again – and yet she finds herself powerless to say no. But can they make things work out this time around, even though all of their old issues are bubbling under the surface?

How long did it take you to get your first book published?
It took the best part of a year to write, and I was offered a publishing deal six months after I submitted it. However, I had been writing for years before that. I wrote a women’s fiction novel and a book for children and neither got anywhere – so you could argue that it took me around six years to get a book published. In hindsight, it was probably a good thing because it was a learning process that made me improve my writing skills.

Do you have a set daily writing routine?
It’s hard to make a two-letter word into a big fat one, but trust me, the answer to this question is a big fat NO. I have two children and I spend most of my time during the day with them. Once they’re in bed, I spend a few hours doing housework before I can settle down to write. The only nod at a routine I have is that I try to start writing around ten at night and stay going for as long as I can, but this is always subject to change. During the day, I try to take whatever time opportunities come my way if the kids are asleep, etc. It’s a bit chaotic, but I always seem to get there in the end somehow!
Have any of your characters in your books been based on people you know? If so, did they recognise themselves?
Oh, no way! I think you’re only drawing trouble on yourself by going down that road! The most I would do is insert an anecdote from real life if it was relevant to a scene and I knew the person involved wouldn’t mind. For example, there’s a party scene in Looking for Leon where someone takes a picture of the Pope and smashes it over his head, and that happened in my house in the college era. The person involved knows who he is!!

How hard is it to keep coming up with fresh ideas for new books?
I find it very easy to come up with new ideas for books, but whether or not they’re fresh is always something I debate endlessly with myself. So many books have already been written in the women’s fiction genre, and while I would agree with the theory that every new writer will approach a particular topic with a new perspective, I personally like to start with a concept that I know I haven’t read too much about before. I want a reader to pick up my book and think there’s something original in this concept that they haven’t explored with other characters in another book. But there are so many books and it is difficult to ascertain if your concept is fresh or not. I do think there are some key themes that quite rightly come up again and again in novels - they come up because they are relevant to women’s lives and we want to read about them. However, I think as writers that we should try to explore those themes in as novel a way as possible.

If you could write another style of genre, what would it be and why?
I’ve always had it in my head that I would write a children’s book for the 9-12 age group. So I’ll have to get cracking on that in the next few years...

After writing a successful novel, how do you manage to keep yourself motivated?
I always feel ill at ease if I’m not at least trying to write every day, and as a result, I don’t seem to ever have to motivate myself because I’m tormented if I feel I’m not making progress! I am very much a trial and error sort of writer, and would never write something and stick with it if I felt it wasn’t working – but as long as I am trying, I’m happy and motivated. If all else fails, I get out my previously published book and visualise the book I’m working on joining it on the shelf.

Have you got a favourite out of the books you've written, if so, which one and why?
Whatever one I am currently working on always seems to be my favourite – temporarily, at least. I was writing my third book and thinking that was my fave, but then I went back to the edits for Can We Start Again? and thought, no, I actually liked that book better. It was the same when I was writing my second book and I did the edits for Looking for Leon. You just have to work so closely with your book at various stages of the process – the actual writing of it, then editing it, promoting it etc. - that it’s hard to choose.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
There are so many things I could say here, but I’m going to take a ‘Keep it real’ approach because these are tough times we’re living in. My advice is this - be realistic and manage expectations about how your life will be if you get published. Building a career as a writer is a long-term process for most people. Keep your income source if you can.

Do you have much spare time to read books? If so, what was the last book you read or what are you currently reading?
Unfortunately, spare time to read is thin on the ground these days. The last book I read was Kathleen MacMahon’s This Is How It Ends, and I’m currently fifty pages into Melissa Hill’s The Charm Bracelet.

If you could have either of your books made into a film, which one would you choose and why? Who would you cast in the leading roles?
I’d choose Looking for Leon because I think it’d be a fast-paced movie with a great location (Las Vegas) as a backdrop. Who would I cast in the leading roles...okay, I’m going to have fun with this! I have to cast someone delicious as Leon, of course, so I think Adrian Grenier would fill Leon’s boots perfectly. I can see Zooey Deschanel as Andie. Any day now...!

If you were going to be stuck on a desert island and could only take 3 books with you, which ones would you choose?
Marian Keyes – Rachel’s Holiday

Douglas Kennedy – The Big Picture

Irvine Welsh - Trainspotting

Can you describe Can We Start Again? in 20 words or less?
A separated couple try to make their relationship work second time around. But can something broken ever be whole again?

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