Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Irish Fiction Week Debut Spotlight: Fionnuala Kearney

Today the debut spotlight shines on Fionnuala Kearney whose debut novel You, Me  & Other People was published last month in Ireland and is also available as an eBook and will be published in paperback format here in the UK in June.

Fionnuala discovered, age six, that she had in fact been christened Ann (that’s Ann with no ‘e’) and that her parents had decided, for some reason, to saddle her with a life of dealing with unnecessary vowels. At twenty she moved to London and marrying Mr. Kearney proved to be the best thing she ever did, apart from the fact that the vowel thing escalated further. Two daughters, both with deliberately simple mono syllabic names followed.

She worked, for many years, in London as a home search agent (like Phil and Kirstie without the cameras) until she decided, one fateful day, that it was time for a change – time to pursue the dream of being a writer.

Seven years on; time spent in her garret learning her craft, she is often found talking to herself with yellow ‘post its’ stuck to her forehead. She likes to write about relationships: couples, a mother and child, siblings, best friends… She likes to peel away the layers and see what’s going on beneath and then tell you all about it.


But what happens when you open the door and they won’t stop tumbling out?

For Adam and Beth the first secret wasn’t the last, it was just the beginning. 

You think you can imagine the worst thing that could happen to your family, but there are some secrets that change everything. 

And then the question is, how can you piece together a future when your past is being rewritten?

Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel You, Me and Other People? 
It tells the story of a marriage in freefall, the ripple effects of betrayal and secrets within a family and it’s told from both the wife, Beth’s and the husband Adam’s point of view. It explores themes of love, loss and grief and I hope it’s an honest portrayal of real life when things crumble and unravel. I love writing about imperfect, flawed characters and it was a challenge to try and get into the head of an errant forty three year old male but I was surprised at how much I loved doing it!

To be honest though, since some of my favourite literary characters are tortured males, Heathcliff from the classics and Dexter from contemporary fiction, it was something I was always going to try. Being in both Beth’s and Adam’s head was definitely the best way to tell their particular tale. I hope they both manage to portray that sometimes it’s our flaws as well as our strengths that make us human. You’ll probably laugh out loud a few times during the story (at least I hope so) and you’ll probably shed a tear too… 

The story features a family that are rocked by hidden family secrets, where did the inspiration come from to use this as a theme for your debut novel? 
To be honest, in this case, I started with the characters, knowing only that they had split up and knowing that Adam was the ‘wrongdoer’. I suppose, not that unusual a scenario? The theme of betrayal is one that I think most of us resonate with in some form, at some time in our lives, but I wanted to write about the layers underneath – how we really feel when things hit the skids.

How long did the writing process take from start to finish until you were happy that your novel was ready to be submitted to publishers? 
Gosh, I think from start to finish before submission was just over a year. I think the first draft came quite quickly but what is it they say? “A novel isn’t written but re-written” and this one certainly was! That said, I don’t think any writer ever gets to a stage where they wouldn’t change ‘just one more little thing’. Even finished, they’re a constant work in progress in my head!

How did you celebrate when you found out that HarperCollins wanted to publish You, Me and Other People?
I danced around the kitchen like nobody was looking. In fact, I was alone, so nobody was looking!  I literally skipped with joy (a bit like that ‘ska’ dancing back in the eighties!) It’s such a momentous moment and for me came in the form of a call from my agent at about ten thirty in the morning. For me also, it was the culmination of a long apprenticeship, a long wait for the validation – but it was so worth it. That evening I went out to dinner with my husband and think I may have celebrated with a couple of glasses of something with bubbles #notsparklingwater  

What can we expect from you in book 2?
I’m currently writing book two which has a working title of ‘It’s Who We Are’. Again, I’m digging under the skin of two characters; one female, single mother Jess Powers who has just suffered an enormous personal loss (no spoilers) and her good friend (platonic) Theo Pope.  I deal with similar themes of love, loss and transformation. The story asks if love can ever be unconditional, and if it is, should it be and do we ever really know the people we love?

How did your writing journey start?
I have been scribbling for years! Ever since I could hold a pencil; since I knew I could make up stories. Though I dabbled over the years in some short creative writing courses, I only took up writing seriously about eight years ago, when I had the opportunity of giving up my job. I had a big dream and the time to pursue it, so no more excuses. It took a while – I wrote three other novels before writing ‘You, Me and Other People’ but somehow during that process knew I was writing ‘The One.’ 

What is the best writing advice you have received to date?
Persevere! Keep going, never stop! Keep writing. Write every day if you can, even if it’s only ten lines of something. Writing, like anything, gets better with practise. I have one particular writing mentor who refused to let me give up. And there were many moments en route where, after one rejection too many, I wanted to...

Do you prefer to write in the mornings, afternoon or evening?
Mornings and afternoon. I’m not great creatively in the evenings, preferring to lose myself in some good television drama or a book. In fact, I’m a slob in the evenings! Don’t like to move much after 8pm!

Are you a plotter or do you prefer to see where the story takes you?
A bit of both, really. I do some plotting; all done on a huge whiteboard on my office wall, in a sort of pictorial way - lots of diagrams and arrows. But it’s also important to me to allow the characters the freedom to take me where they need to go, within reason. Sometimes, within the plot structure I have planned, they need to be reined in, but other times, the places they take me really surprise and work out better than anything I could have planned. One of the joys of dealing with fictional characters!

Are you going to treat yourself to something nice to celebrate publication day?
The first edition of You, Me and Other People, in trade paperback form, was released in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand on 26th February 2015 with mass paperback release in the UK due this coming June. For the TPB, we had a launch with family and a few friends in my home town of Dublin, which was wonderful. On the way back to London (where I’ve lived for many years), I treated myself to a bottle of my favourite Jo Malone perfume. I also signed some stock in WH Smith in Dublin airport which, to be honest, was an even bigger treat! I hope that feeling never wears off…

1 comment:

  1. I have this book on my shelf hoping to read it soon