Saturday 24 February 2018

Author Maria Duffy: It's written in the stars

This time last year Maria Duffy was a full- time mum who dreamt of one day becoming an author. Twelve months and one Twitter addiction later and her dream has come true. But how did it happen and how does she juggle childcare with writing? Bernice Mulligan

Maria Duffy believes in signs. "I look for them; I believe in fate," she explains, as we chat together on a rainy afternoon. And listening to the mother of four from Dublin talk about her rollercoaster year culminating with the publication of her debut novel Any Dream Will Do, you'd have to say she has good reason to.

"i was always a scribbler," she continues, as she reflects on her early writing career. "i loved writing essays at school. and later on i was always the one writing the funny poem on the birthday card at work."

However, her choice of career in banking rather than pursuing a career in the arts made her think for years that she was not worthy of being a writer. "i didn't use big words; i didn't have a degree in English – i just thought, who'd be interested?"

Despite this, she did write the first seven or eight chapters of a novel, but then motherhood took over entirely.

"i had six pregnancies in six years – two were miscarriages. and so i had four children under the age of six. Life became too hectic but i was still eating books. i was a huge fan of people like Marian Keyes, Cathy Kelly, Patricia Scanlon."

Duffy's life changed one day when she was listening to the Gerry Ryan Show on RTÉ radio and heard about a show RTÉ was putting together called Five Women Go Back to Work.

"at this stage i had left my job in the bank and i rang up to inquire about it. They sent me for interview, and, speaking of fate, on the day i was to go for my interview my daughter handed me a pair of shoes with the letters VIP written inside them, which was the same name as the production company putting together the show. i really thought it was meant to be."

in a funny way it probably was, but not in the way Duffy first thought. "i got down to the last 10, but i didn't make the final cut. i was disappointed obviously, but the whole process had given me a lot of confidence. it was a turning point; i began to think ' i can do this'."

"This" was finishing her novel, which she did. "i really got into it in earnest once my youngest child Conor started school. i suddenly had those hours to myself."

Not knowing a thing about the publishing process, she stumbled across the inkwell Writers website and got to know founder Vanessa O'loughlin. She encouraged her to attend a 'How to get published' workshop, which she did, and met irish uber- agent Sheila Crowley.

after the workshop, Duffy sent her manuscript to an irish publisher who liked it but ultimately decided not to go with publication.

"So after that rejection i decided not to send the novel to anyone else. i realised i wasn't ready. i hadn't quite found my voice."

What she did do was really hone her craft, writing across all genres, including poetry, short stories and even beginning a new novel. She also began dabbling in social media, especially Twitter.

"Even though i was dragged kicking and screaming to it at first, i absolutely loved it. i wasn't trying to be high brow. i enioyed just being me."

Duffy also started writing a blog for Hello! magazine called Stars in the Twitterverse. "i interviewed Eamon Holmes, Keith Barry, and, more recently, Carol Voderman. i found i had a knack of getting in touch with celebrities over Twitter." Then, about a year ago, she received a call. "it was Sheila Crowley asking if i wanted to meet for a cuppa. She said she'd been following me on Twitter and that she loved my voice. She reckoned if i could channel it into a novel, it would be a success."

Needing no further encouragement, Duffy set about writing the novel Any Dream will Do, which uses Twitter as its backdrop and which Crowley loved. Just a few weeks after sending it out to publishers, Hachette came back with an offer.

"i think something clicked with me as i wrote this book. The words spilled out of me."

But the question remains how does she manage to combine writing with four children ( Eoin, roisín, Enya and Conor), aged between eight and 14?

"Sometimes, when i have a lot to do, i pull an all- nighter. i find it helpful to invest in a pair of pyjamas that look like tracksuit bottoms because then you can do the school run in them!"

Once they are in school, she writes between 9.30am and 2.30pm, pulling down the blinds and trying not to get too distracted with housework.

"Well i do the basics, i wipe the toilet seats – after all i do have two boys!" she laughs. "But my saving grace is that i have a fantastic husband, Paddy. Often he will come home from work and take into a basket of ironing; he's always been great around the house and he's so encouraging of my writing."

Duffy has just finished her second novel, and hopes to be writing for a long time to come.

"First and foremost i am a mother – that will always be the most important thing. But after that, writing is what makes me tick. i feel i've finally found my voice."

Mother & Babies

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