Saturday, 9 March 2013

Irish Fiction Month Interview: Shirley Benton

Ireland has a vast array of fantastic authors that have proved a hit with readers worldwide and one of the newer crop that I've had the pleasure to interview previously is Shirley Benton.  Having read both of her previous books, Looking for Leon and Can We Start Again?, I cannot wait to read her third book once it's finished and published.

Shirley kindly agreed to an interview for my Irish Fiction feature month so I'll hand you over to her... 

Why do you think Irish Fiction has become so popular worldwide?
I think Irish writers were lucky enough to have people like Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes open the global doors for the rest of us. The world was introduced to a taste of Ireland through these writers and when it liked what it saw/read, it was willing to take a chance on more Irish writers, who in turn continued the popularisation of Irish fiction. 

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
I did, but I knew it wouldn’t pay the bills either so I did a postgrad in IT after studying English and French in college. Writing was something I always knew at the back of my mind I should be doing, but real life took over and I didn’t actually start writing until I was in my late twenties. 

If you weren’t a writer, what career path would you have chosen to follow?
I’m still on that career path even though I’m a writer - I work part-time as an editor on a freelance basis. 

Do you have a set daily writing routine?
No – I tend to grab time here and there when I can. If I am going to get a slot of a few hours to write, it’ll be at night when my children are in bed. If I’m doing freelance work though, that is usually done at night and I’ll have to make time during the day to write. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your current book?
It’s about boomerangers - people who’ve had no choice but to move back in with their parents as a result of redundancy, the unavailability of jobs, etc., and specifically one such boomeranger, a woman named Holly. 

Can you describe your latest book in 20 words or less?
It ponders the question: how would you cope if you lost everything and had to move back to your parents? (20 on the nose – phew!)

Which of the characters that you’ve created is your favourite?
I actually think Holly is because she’s worked so hard in life and has overcome major adversity – but I do wonder if the main character in the book a writer is currently working on is always their favourite when they’re asked this question, because that’s the character you’re spending most time with and getting to know the best at that point in time! I usually really like all of my main characters. It would be very hard to spend the best part of a year with a main character I disliked. 

Would you say that any of your characters are like you? If so, which one(s)?
That’s a very hard question to answer because I deliberately try to create characters who aren’t like me – this is fiction, after all, and I don’t want to bring myself or my life into a work of fiction – and yet a writer can’t but bring some of themselves into characters, even on a subconscious level, because we’ve created them! I don’t think any one character is hugely like me. I tend to give my characters interests I have myself because it cuts down on research, e.g. Alvin in Can We Start Again? loves 90s indie music, as do I. 

Have you ever had writer’s block?
What usually happens to me is that I start a new book, map out where it’s going, then realise when I’ve done a good bit of the word count that it’s not the right book for me to write and I start from scratch again with a brand new idea. It’s the worst kind of writer’s block because it means I’ve done a huge chunk of work that goes nowhere. My third book has taken ages to write because I started a few other third books before the one that I’m now (thankfully!!!) nearly finished and I wasn’t happy with any of them. Just because you have a great idea for a book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work when you get down to the specifics of it. I always think that if it’s not working for me, it’s not going to convince a reader either. I’d prefer to spend longer writing my books and put something out there that I’m happy with than write a book I feel half-hearted about.

Are there any books by Irish authors that you wish you’d written?
Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes would do me very nicely, thank you! Of all the chick lit books I’ve ever read, there’s never been one that trumped Rachel’s Holiday as my favourite.

Which Irish authors, if any, inspired you to become a writer?
Definitely Marian, but I was a big fan of Cathy Kelly, Maeve Binchy and Patricia Scanlan in the nineties too.

When you’ve finished writing a book, do you treat yourself to a reward?
Not really, no. I usually dole out the rewards to myself along the way – in “Well, I’ll be up late tonight now finishing this scene so I might as well buy a bag of Fun Size Crunchies to keep me going” mode!

Where would be your idyllic Irish location for a writing retreat?
Dingle or Kinsale would be fantastic, but to be honest, anywhere I could get total peace and quiet would suit me just fine, even if it was just a hotel room down the road! I’d probably end up enjoying the pubs in Dingle and Kinsale too much anyway and not get enough writing done!

What was the first book by an Irish author that you can recall reading?
I think it was a Maeve Binchy book – Light a Penny Candle. There was such a buzz about it and I remember my mother and her friends talking about it. I was only six when it came out though, so I didn’t read it until many years later! 

If you'd like to know more about Shirley and her books, why not visit her website or follow her on Twitter

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