Sunday 15 September 2019

How real-life experiences put authors on the right track

Fiction: Family Business, Muriel Bolger, Hachette €19.60

  • The Importance of Being Me, Caroline Grace-Cassidy, Black & White Publishing €11.20
Caroline Grace Cassidy
Caroline Grace Cassidy

Margaret Carragher

The paths to popular fiction may be many and varied but all provide fodder for plotlines, with authors' real-life experiences adding immeasurably to the finished product. Long before turning her hand to fiction, Muriel Bolger was making a name for herself as a journalist and award-winning travel writer. But although she'd been part of a writing group for many years, it was only when, having read one of her short stories to the group to great encouragement, that Bolger was emboldened to take it further. The resulting debut novel Consequences published in 2011 was duly followed by five more, all inspired and greatly enriched by Bolger's experiences as a travel writer.

True to form, the author uses travel as a device for implementing change in her latest offering. The family business of the title is Dublin-based law firm Cullen-FFinch. As elder daughter of senior partner Maurice Cullen, main protagonist Anne Cullen's career seems set to follow the course mapped out for her at birth by her ambitious and single-minded mother Shelia.

Not for Anne the life of an artist she has always secretly craved, but a soaring career as a barrister-at-law in the family firm. A triumph in her first high-profile court case boosts Anne's status as a legal eagle to watch. Her profile is further enhanced by a budding relationship with a fellow barrister; the handsome, charming and hugely talented Daniel Hassett.

As their romance takes off, Anne's mother, already up to her designer-clad elbows in plans for her younger daughter Gabby's wedding, rejoices in the prospect of another addition to the family. But having moved into her lover's palatial penthouse, Anne discovers that Daniel Hassett is not what he seems, and an acrimonious split ensues. Then a series of cataclysmic events rock the Cullen family to its core, in the middle of which, thanks to an unexpected inheritance, Anne finds herself the sole owner of a substantial country house and vineyard in the heart of Provence. But what to do next? Run a legal firm or a vineyard? Or both? How to cope with an ailing parent and a jealous, resentful sister? And how to learn to trust, and maybe even find love again?

With a diverse and engaging set of characters and a compelling storyline, this is an excellent beach read. But it's when Bolger is in travel writer mode, evoking snowy Alpine villages and Parisian streetscapes and sun-baked Provencal vineyards that she does what she does best.

Likewise, Caroline Grace-Cassidy with The Importance of Being Me. Having trained as an actress Grace-Cassidy landed her first role in the BAFTA award-winning children's programme Custer's Last Stand-Up. She then appeared in various productions for the BBC, RTE and TV3. Turning to full-time writing in 2011, Grace-Cassidy published four novels and is a founding member of an all female film company for which she has written, produced and directed five short films.

Her latest offering opens breathlessly with its heroine Courtney Downey wondering aloud, between forkfuls of home-made banoffee pie, what her ex-husband's new and much younger girlfriend Mar-nee Maguire has that she hasn't. "Botox!" her pal Claire shrieks in reply, pulling her skin taut over her cheekbones as the pair dissolve into giggles. And so the tone is set for a romp that follows Courtney as she hurtles headlong towards the dreaded 40 wondering why she isn't as devastated as she ought to be over her marriage breakdown and her husband David's subsequent dalliance with a nipped'n'tucked bimbo who spends every waking moment Snapchatting Courtney's teenage daughter Susan.

Then there's our heroine's non-existent sex life which she should be worried about but isn't. Ditto her nascent acting career which she happily abandoned to become a full-time mum to her now sullen and uncommunicative daughter.

What Courtney really needs is a change of scene. And what do you know, it arrives out of the blue with the offer of a summer job in sunny Cornwall with its sleepy villages, stunning seascapes and cream teas. So - a new job, new faces, new location, even the chance of a new man - what's not to love?

But Courtney is not so sure. Having devoted her entire adult life to raising her now thoroughly spoilt and thankless daughter can our heroine finally cut loose and put herself first? In moving the action to the Cornish coastal town of St Ives, Grace-Cassidy ups the narrative ante considerably while getting to indulge her obvious passion for prom cuisine like fish'n'chips and 99 ice creams.

Candy floss fiction at its best.

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