Siobhán MacDonald on user manuals, solitary confinement and Daphne du Maurier...
Where and when do you write?
Usually in my study, but I now share it with my husband because he is working from home. I sometimes follow the light around the house. I have no prescribed routine. But I don't like to write after 9pm. If I write too late, I keep thinking about this character and that character, and about the plot. My head would be buzzing.
How have you coped in the pandemic, and is there a chance that it will it enter one of your stories?
Being a writer can be solitary, but usually you are solitary of your own volition. When it's not by choice, it's different. I'm a sociable person and I like to meet friends for a cup of coffee or sit round a table with a few people. I have had an idea for another novel in my head, and I wondered whether I will work in a Covid-19 theme. I think it will give me a solution to a plot dilemma.
When did you start writing?
I am from a generation where we wrote letters all the time. They could be thank-you letters to a granny or an aunt. Then I would write letters home when I was staying with my granny. I went to a school where we learnt everything through Irish, including Latin. I used to write scripts in Irish for duologues at school. I studied engineering at university and became a technical writer, writing things like user manuals. It taught me how to write project plans and I use some of the techniques when I am planning a novel. I had writer friends and I told them I wanted to write a novel. One of them said to me: "Just do it!"
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, apart from "Just do it"?
You have to have a lot of patience, because everything moves so slowly in publishing. Don't send your work out to a publisher too early. Try to get as much feedback as you can before you send it out. Don't be disheartened. If you get criticism back, that may be a good thing, because someone has taken time to critique your work and send it back. I would not take any umbrage at that.
Which books would you take to a desert island?
One of my all-time favourites is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, because there are so many twists and turns. The character of Mrs Danvers is so chilling. It creates a sense of menace and a sense of foreboding. When I used to go on holiday growing up in West Cork for six weeks, I had to bring something big and chunky. Papillon by Henri Charrière was one of those books that kept me going and it is set on an island.
If you weren't a writer what would you be?
It would have to be something creative. I would have liked to have been a painter.
Siobhán MacDonald's new novel 'Guilty' is published by Constable.
There is an anecdote quite early on in the latest memoir of legendary American fashion journalist Andre Leon Talley, The Chiffon Trenches, in which he describes standing outside a party thrown in honour of Diane von Furstenberg, documenting it for the pages of his then employer, Women's Wear Daily. Unable to score an invitation, he knew all the faces, he writes, from years of studying fashion magazines as a child.