This interview originally appeared on Singing Librarian Books.
I started writing when I was very young, and wrote my first novel when I was eleven (it was shockingly awful, but the characters wouldn’t leave me alone and for years I tried to re-write it). I always had some story on the go, which usually didn’t grow up to be anything special. I’m inspired by everything from poetry to music to other authors.
Not counting my first novel and its various revisions, I’ve written three, with one more that’s not yet finished. Two of those were young adult; the others mainstream fiction.
3. What writing projects are you currently working on? Can you tell us about these projects?
Every November I take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This year’s project is another young adult novel, Say Nothing. It is set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and it chronicles Catholic Moira Heaney’s transformation from blasé 15-year-old to political activist. The title comes from the Seamus Heaney poem, Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, as well as the general fear during The Troubles that political talk could cost lives. It’s my first historical work, and I’m enjoying it so far.
4. What does your writing process look like?
My novels usually begin with a sentence or image that comes to my mind. I scribble these down as soon as I get them, and characters form around them. I usually have characters fully formed before I even think about the plot. Then ideas for specific ‘scenes’ come to my head, and I put them together. I write the scenes on index cards and pin then to a ideas board at my desk, where I can shuffle them around to form a plot. I don’t write chronologically; I write whatever I feel like at time and piece it together,
5. Where is your favorite place to write?
I’ve established my own little ‘writing nook’ in my bedroom. It’s so-called because I only write there: anything else I do at my computer (sometimes homework, usually time-wasting) is done at the kitchen table. My nook is decorated with quotes to inspire me, and one of my favorite passages from scripture. It’s got my all-important ideas board. There is a little lamp to give me soft mood lighting and a few writing-themed decorations, such as my great-grandfather’s ink well and a vintage book called How To Write Correctly.
It depends on the novel, really. On very rare occasions, my characters are named after real people. Sherice in The Thread That Binds gets her name from a stranger who showed me incredible kindness. Other character names come to me when I brainstorm. Sometimes, heavy research is involved: in Say Nothing, for example, I’ve tried to give the characters authentic names that you would see in Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 70s. To research this I’ve looked at census records, marriage records, you name it. Those are great resources for authors to use.
I love Toni Morrison. She has such a beautiful, poetic writing style. The Bluest Eye is not for the faint of heart, but it’s an incredible book.
8. Where is your favorite place to read and why?
My ridiculously comfy, squashy, oversized recliner; because my 65lb hound dog will climb up into my lap and snuggle me while I read.
I’m a true history nerd. so it’s impossible for me to narrow it down to one period. I go through phases of interest. The current fascination is the history of Irish-British relations: hence Say Nothing. But recently I’ve gone through (healthy!) obsessions with the presidency of John F. Kennedy; the First World War; the Civil Rights movement; Native American history; and apartheid-era South Africa.
Oooh. I’ve always wanted to meet Chris Hemsworth. I’d have to write a character especially for him. *Starts making character notes* Other than that, I’d love to have Liam Neeson as Mick Heaney, Moira’s father in Say Nothing.
11. What inspired the idea for The Thread That Binds?
I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think to put this in the dedication, but that quotation (attributed to Plato, Philo, John Watson, or Ian MacLaren, depending on who you ask) “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. I thought about what people go through behind the scenes; the burdens that they carry that we would never know about if we met them on the street or in the doctor’s office. I thought, what would happen if we connected with a stranger one day, and found that they were really struggling? Just likethat, The Thread That Binds was born.
12. What other hobbies do you enjoy when you are not writing?
I run, terribly, for general fitness and health. I could be much better at it if my other hobbies didn’t include drinking beer and baking. I don’t have TV but I’m a huge rugby fan, so I watch a lot of that. I also love to cook and sew.