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Author Interviews: Fionnuala Kearney

We’re thrilled to share the first of a series of interviews with some of our wonderful authors and illustrators.

We often post about the successes, publications and rights sales of their books, but we wanted to do more to celebrate them as writers. We will therefore be sharing one interview each month, giving a little glimpse into their lives, inspirations and writing process.

So without further ado, we’re kicking off with Irish Times bestselling author, Fionnuala Kearney, whose third novel, The Book of Love was published in the UK yesterday by HarperCollins. As the title suggests, the novel is an epic romance following the lives of Erin and Dom, who navigate the ups and downs of married life with the help of a notebook…

Fionnuala Kearney (pronounced FINOOLA CARNEY) lives in Ascot with her husband.  They have two grown-up daughters (both with deliberately simple monosyllabic names).

One of seven children, Fionnuala likes to write about the nuances and subtle layers of human relationships, peeling them away to see what’s really going on beneath…

Fionnuala has two previous novels. The first, You, Me & Other People was published in March 2015, and her second novel, The Day I Lost You was published in February 2016.

What inspired you to write?

Ever since I was a little girl, I wrote stories. I was also a voracious reader, losing myself in the world of books, often re-writing different endings for Aslan or The Famous Five in my head. Latterly, I fell in love with Irish writers such as Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes – who introduced me to characters that I really empathised with.

All through my early motherhood years and a previous career, I dreamed of writing a novel; of creating my own characters with their own stories, of feeling my finger run along the spine of a book with my name on it. I thought it might be something I could do when I was ‘grown-up’ and, indeed, was well into my forties when I was first published.

Around that time, everything I was reading in ‘women’s fiction’ seemed dominated by female protagonists and the idea of writing from a male point of view really appealed!

What’s your favourite book/piece of literature?

Gosh, only one?! I can’t possibly pick one – it’ like choosing a favourite child! If really pushed, I’d choose Wuthering Heights. I love the atmospheric sense of place in the writing and Heathcliff was such a tortured soul. He’s probably one of the reasons I love writing about flawed men!

Where do most of your good ideas come to you?

I love walking by the sea; love its sounds and moods and find it completely inspirational so I often travel there while in my ‘thinking of a new novel’ stage. A gem of an idea might come on such a walk, or nearer home (where I’m landlocked!) It could be listening in on a conversation on a train, or a via newspaper article or television show and from that initial spark I ask, ‘What if…’ Real life is, after all, brimming with conflict and tension and jeopardy.

Starting a novel, for me, always begins with characters arriving in my head and demanding to be written about. (Yes – voices in my head!) I start with the players in the piece and ask who they are, where they are, why they’re there etc. Their story usually flows afterwards.

The picture below was painted by Fionnuala’s late mother, named “Regatta” to always remind her of her love of the sea:

Where do you write?

One of the bedrooms in my home is my office and I love it. It looks out onto trees and garden and has a big picture window. I only wish it had more wall space! I have pictures all over, some to do with work, some family and on two walls I have two white boards, one enormous one, where I do a lot of planning.

What is your writing process?

I start with the main characters, have a general idea of theme and where the book is going, and then I write the first draft. The first is always a mere fledgling draft, just getting familiar with the characters and the story on paper and then many drafts follow before the final one! I use the white board a lot during second and following draft stages and a lot of coloured ‘Post-Its’. A lot of writers use spreadsheets for this but I’m not an Excel girl. I love to visualise the whole thing and stand back, looking at it with a ‘birds-eye’ view.

Where did the idea come from for The Book of Love?

I knew I wanted to write a love story – the story of a married couple who are together for a long time through many ups and downs. The initial inspiration came from a song I love called ‘If I Should Fall Behind’ by one of my favourite artists, Bruce Springsteen. One of the lines in it is, ‘So let’s make our steps clear, so the other may see,’ and I think it speaks so simply of communication between two people. In my experience, this is an area where a lot of couples struggle in real life, where one is saying one thing and the other hears something completely different… With ‘The Book of Love’, I wanted to explore the idea of a forum where my characters Dom and Erin could write down the things that might be hard to say or tough to hear, hence their ‘book of love’.

Ultimately their story, though it covers the highs and lows of a long-term marriage, is about the importance of communication and the power of enduring love.

How do you relax after a day of writing?

Reading helps me unwind and lately I’ve really got into audiobooks, but I think after a long day, a large glass of wine and some T.V. that doesn’t require too much concentration is just the thing. I’m also an avid cinema goer. Basically I like to move from my pretend worlds into other people’s pretend worlds!