One of our favourite interviews yet!
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
I so want to fib here, but I'll be honest. My average writing day involves far too much noodling about on the internet, far too much tea drinking, far too much Jeremy Kyle and far too much looking out of the window 'thinking'. Somehow, in amongst these various activities, I write. I take my daughter to school, then return to have breakfast and do what my Mum used to call 'putting the house to rights' i.e. make beds, beat cushions, throw things in the dishwasher. Then I settle down at my laptop. I have a study at the back of the house, tiny but pretty, and I'm usually in situ by 10 or thereabouts. I write all day. It's as simple as that. Some days I have to shop, or meet a friend, or go to town for publishing-y reasons, but mostly I just write and write and write. It's how a book gets done.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I wouldn't call it inspiration, but I do tend to cast my male love interest in my head. In my latest book, Why Do We Have To Live With Men?, I fashioned Will in to a convincing copy of Matthew MacFadyen. The character of Hugo, an older, rakish man, had a look of Bill Nighy. In the book I'm working on now, the male lead isn't based on anybody famous. Having sunday lunch at my best friend's house the other day, I realised my male love interest was her husband, Steve. I went a bit red then confessed. He was flattered, I think. And just a little scared.
What is your favourite Irish Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
The Queen, nay Empress, of Irish fiction is Edna O'Brien. She manages to combine earthy poetry with compelling human characters who are frail and who fail and who inspire great love in the reader. The Country Girls is a mighty book, one that was famously burned in her home town. When I was younger I ran barefoot through all Maeve Binchy's work. She has such an easy, unruffled style that sometimes you forget the formidable intellect click clacking along beneath it. Marian Keyes is outrageously talented, I think, and a gifted natural storyteller. I can rely on her to make me laugh, which is my number one requirement of a human being, but I also admire her liberal stance on, well, just about everything. She's positive about being a woman, and I like that.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first of dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Even hearing the words 'dive in' makes me hyper ventilate. I plan, then I rewrite the plan, then I cry over the plan, swear at it and start another plan. When I'm happy with the plan, I create a 'Character Sheet' for each of the main characters, setting out in order all their plot points. I'm extremely disciplined about this, as I can only let rip within the confines of a sensible plan.
What was journey to being a published author?
I feel rather a fraud. One day I'll create a heart wrenching fib of how I toiled for years in a garret, supporting myself by shop lifting and a little light prostitution, but the truth is not so colourful. I used to have a proper career, with a pension and a Travelcard and all that stuff. I sold the occasional short story to magazines and the first few chapters of a novel languished in a drawer. When I got married, my husband dared me, more or less, to put my money where my mouth was and actually write a book. (I was fond of saying that I'd do it 'one day'.) So I did. I started my first book on the first day of our summer holiday at a villa in Provence. (Sounds more glamorous than it was … insects the size of men clambered over us in bed and the pool was, well, let's just say it wasn't clean and leave it at that.) By the end of a fortnight I was obsessed. I came home, finished the book within six months and asked my friend, who was a literary agent for playwrights, who I should send it to. She suggested an agent called Annette Green, so I sent the first three chapters and a covering letter, and tried to put it out of my mind. Nobody, I told myself, ever gets taken on by the first agent they try so don't be downhearted when the inevitable rejection letter dribbles through the letterbox in three months time. The next evening there was an answerphone message from Annette asking to see the rest of the novel. She added – and this is the bit where I swooned to the rug like a Victorian Miss - “I absolutely love it and I know I can sell it.” She was as good as her word, selling it to the first publisher she approached.
See? Not inspiring at all. Far too easy. Next time I'll fib.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That it's easy. And that it's all about the book. Disappointingly, it's as much about marketing as it is about your beloved, precious tale.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Do it. Just do it. I know you don't have enough time, I know you're tired, but you have to do it.
How does Ireland inspire your writing?
reland is an inspiring place, almost self consciously so. It's wreathed in myth and legend, and writers are respected there. I love the humour that the Irish find in the darkest of times, and the humanity that always wins, despite the strong hold that petty morality has had on the people thanks to the Irish brand of Catholicism. The scenery can move me to tears, and when you live in another part of the world, going 'home' and walking the actual ground where your forefathers trod is very moving. And emotion inspires, always.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am reading through my seventh book, which isn't titled yet. It's set in Ireland, coincidentally, and concerns an Irish woman going back to her birthplace after many years, to discover how its changed and how its stayed the same. The next step is to hand it to my editor and nibble my fingernails to the quick as I wait to see if she loves/hates it.
Visit the website of Bernadette Strachan