Wednesday 28 June 2017

Book of the year: Nominee reflects on winning start

Australia's Monica McInerney comes full circle from her big break in Ireland to the Book Awards, says Andrea Smith

'I'm really fond of my first book, because it's very sweet and enthusiastic, but as I get older, I can almost trace what has happened to me in my life through the books," says best-selling Australian author Monica McInerney.

"I'm 45 now, my father has died, my friend was killed in the Iraq war, and sad things have happened to my brothers and sisters. I hope my books are stronger and more layered as a result, although I still put as much fun as possible into them."

Monica is from Clare Valley in South Australia, where her late father was a railway station master. While she was always writing short stories and sketches as a child, she has had a varied career. This included being a wardrobe assistant and scriptwriter on a children's TV show, assistant to Vince Power at the Mean Fiddler pub in London, and national press officer for Virgin Records in Australia.

She then got a job as a marketing assistant with Penguin Books, where she looked after writers such as Roald Dahl. As Monica was still writing sketches and short stories as a hobby, she found it a joy to immerse herself in the world of books and writers.

And now that Penguin is her publisher in Australia and New Zealand, the fact that she worked with them must surely help with the publicity side of things? "The fact that I worked there 23 years ago means that I'm very well-behaved," she laughs. "I know how it all works, so we can talk very openly with one another and I know how to read between the lines."

Monica met her Irish husband, journalist John Drisland, through a mutual friend. They ended up living in Tasmania in 1996, as John was working there. While Monica was working in PR, she began writing for pleasure in the evenings, managing to get three short stories published along the way.

One of Monica's Irish friends told her that Poolbeg had launched a Write a Bestseller competition in Ireland, in conjunction with a national newspaper. She decided to enter a book she had written and came runner-up. Her debut novel A Taste for It was published as part of a three-book deal.

Monica has just released her eighth novel, At Home with the Templetons, through Pan Macmillan in Ireland, and like her other books, it's a great read. While she started off writing romance, the author soon realised that her interest lay in family dynamics, which she says was borne of growing up as the middle child of seven children.

"It gives you a really good crash course in dealing with the world, as you have to get on with so many different personalities," she smiles. "Ours was a big rowdy family, and there was a constant flow of people in and out. I would sit up on the roof to read, and hear all of the conversations from below and dramas unfolding. That's why my books are so dialogue-rich."

The challenges of Monica's life include losing her father to pancreatic cancer in 2000 and being unable to have a family of her own. This was particularly poignant as both she and John come from large families.

"We would have liked to have children, but it didn't happen for us and that was sad," she says. "I'm fine about it now, although I wasn't at the beginning, of course, but you can't spend your life wishing that things were different, because they're not. I've turned 45 now and I've realised that nobody gets the perfect life, and there are lots of ways to keep your life rich and full. I've been very lucky with John, because he's great. He makes me really happy."

Monica is hugely successful in Australia, and she is considered by many to be the Aussie Maeve Binchy. On that basis, and although she has lived in Dublin for several years, would it be fair to say that she hasn't achieved quite the same level of penetration as an author here? Although, of course, the fact that she has been nominated in the Eason Irish Popular Fiction Book of the Year category in the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards 2010 may just change things here for her.

"No, I haven't," she agrees, adding that she is delighted with the nomination. "Maybe it's because of the Australian settings in some of the books, or perhaps it's because I'm a very small fish in a big pond here in terms of contemporary women's fiction. There are so many brilliant Irish writers and I'm only learning.

"It's fine, though, because when I sent that box off to the competition 10 years ago, I never dreamed for a minute I would be here now, working full-time as a writer."

At Home with the Templetons, by Monica McInerney, is published by Pan Macmillan, at €13.99



AMY HUBERMAN

Actress, best-selling author and national darling, there seems to be no end to Amy Huberman's talents. She is best known for her role as Daisy in the hit television drama The Clinic, but has since given notable performances in other dramas both home and abroad.

Her first novel Hello, Heartbreak tells the story of Izzy Keegan, a girl in her late 20s who finds herself in the unenviable position of hating her job and being dumped by her boyfriend.

But Huberman isn't as unlucky in love as her heroine, as she married Ireland rugby captain Brian O'Driscoll earlier this year.

Huberman's debut novel was well-received by critics and topped the bestsellers list. This is her first Irish Book Awards nomination.

CATHY KELLY

With 12 successful novels under her belt, Cathy Kelly deserves her title as one of Ireland's most celebrated authors. She worked as a journalist before becoming a novelist, and puts her position of prominence to good use in her role as an ambassador for Unicef. She lives in Wicklow with John, whom she married earlier this year. The couple have twin sons, Murray and Dylan.

A master of women's fiction, her latest novel, Homecoming, revolves around the stories of four women of different age-groups and backgrounds who live in Golden Square, a pretty Victorian garden square.

SINEAD MORIARTY

Beautiful, talented and successful, it's hard not to be jealous of Sinead Moriarty. Her sixth novel Pieces of My Heart shot straight in at number one. It tells the story of Ava, who is running on empty as she struggles to handle life around her, but events dictate that she simply has to persevere, or risk losing something precious.

Moriarty was inspired to become a novelist by her mother, who was a children's writer. She worked as a journalist before writing The Baby Trail, a bitter-sweet comedy of a couple struggling to conceive. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three children.

Sheila O'Flanagan

Sheila O'Flanagan was somewhat of a late starter to the world of writing, but that hasn't stopped her making her mark on the literary landscape during the past decade. To date, she has written 16 novels.

In Stand By Me, the prolific Dublin-born author tells the story of Dominique Delahaye, who has led an altogether charmed life -- until her husband disappears and her life is thrown into disarray.

O'Flanagan worked in finance before becoming an author, employed as a dealer in a commercial bank, eventually being promoted to chief dealer (the first female CD in the country).

PAUL HOWARD

Twelve books on and it seems we still can't get enough of the phenomenon that is Ross O'Carroll-Kelly. Award-winning journalist and author Paul Howard satirically tapped into the snobbery and elitism that defined a generation in Ireland. If you need a laugh, then Ross O'Carroll-Kelly is the recipe.

Such are the books' popularity, they have even been translated into sell-out plays. In Howard's latest offering The Oh My God Delusion, Ross is forced to cope with the recession, impending divorce and a wayward son. For critics, the latest book is even funnier than what we've come to expect from Howard.

Aside from the Ross O'Carroll-Kelly books, Howard has written several non-fiction books, and was also awarded Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.

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