Welcome to my stop on the Weightless blog tour! Thanks so much to Bloomsbury for organising the tour and allowing me to be a part of it. And thanks to Sarah Bannan for answering my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Weightless – where did the original ideas for the story come from?
WEIGHTLESS began as a voice in my head. And I couldn’t let it go.
A group of girls, sitting in bleachers at a football field, watching another group of girls – cheerleaders – and analysing anything and everything about them. They know every girl’s waist size, her bra size, her relationship status, and the “watchers” are fascinated by the girls they are watching. But also envious. And judgmental. And then, in the distance, the girls see something – someone – new. The new girl. And they can’t look away. Their attention is drawn towards her, and they think that she’s perfect.
So, I had this voice. And then I had my own high school experience. I moved to a small town in Alabama when I was thirteen and it was a culture shock.
And then I started writing. And at the same time, I was coming across a lot of articles and stories about online bullying among teenagers.
All of this was swirling around in my head when I began writing WEIGHTLESS. The voice. My own school. These cases. And then I let my imagination take me places, create the characters of Carolyn Lessing, Brooke Moore, Shane Duggan. And the voice led the story.
2. Do you have a set writing routine that you follow?
I work full-time, and I have a three-year old daughter. I was pregnant when I first started writing WEIGHTLESS and then continued to work on it after my daughter was born. So writing has to be done when the moment becomes available. And the only time that I can really count on is early in the morning.
I try to get up between 4.30 and 5 am. I set the coffee machine to go on at that time, so I hear it when I wake up. And then I pour a cup of coffee and get my lap top and try to write until 6.30, which is when I need to start to get ready for work.
Our house is incredibly small and there are two places where I work. The first is a little desk that’s in a corridor between our bathroom and the kitchen. I actually have to climb in to start work and it’s difficult to get out – which I think is a good thing, as it keeps me at work!
The second – and the place that I’m using now – is my daughter’s iron frame bed. She wakes up every night around 2 am and we bring her down to our bed. And in the morning I take hers. I find it’s a comforting place to write, and I’m not sure the reason for that.
I’m on a sabbatical from work now – for nine months – to allow me to finish my second novel. This lets me write more during the days, which is great. But I still do the early mornings, as that’s when I’m most creative. I read somewhere recently that sleep deprivation is good for creativity and I totally believe that! Something about the mundane tasks of your everyday life not creeping into your creative brain…
When I write during the days I leave the house and either go to the library or a coffee shop. I find this is good because you have to walk between places, which is good for thinking through problems. And when you’re at the computer in a coffee shop, or in the library, you can’t get up because people could rob your stuff!
For me, it’s all about putting little limits or targets in place. Nobody asked me to write a novel, so I had to pretend like I had real deadlines all the time to make sure I actually finished.
3. What is the hardest thing about writing?
Confidence, I think. Lack of confidence, usually. (Although sometimes over confidence is a problem, too!) Fear of failure. Writing is so un-testable. You can’t check to make sure it’s in tune, like you would a piece of music or an instrument. You have only yourself to rely on. Only yourself to blame.
4. A lot of readers who follow Words Read and Written are aspiring authors, do you have any advice for them?
Read lots. I try to read a novel a week. Old and new. It’s amazing how helpful it is to see how other writers have solved problems, how they’ve approached voice or time or place or character. Now that I have slightly more time for writing, I try to write until lunchtime and then spend any other time reading. (With the odd bit of Netflix in the evening with my husband – dramas like THE WIRE and BLOODLINE are structured like novels, so that’s helpful too!)
5. What are your three all-time favourite books?
Not possible. But here goes:
THE SPORTSWRITER by Richard Ford
SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray
THE VIEW FROM CASTLEROCK by Alice Munro
6. What is the most surprising thing you’ve learnt from the publishing process?
I’m still learning so much as I go along!
I was naïve, I think, about the level of time and dedication and hard work on the part of so many people that goes into each and every book. I’m amazed by the enthusiasm of everyone I’ve met in publishing. How genuinely passionate they are about books. How many people put their hearts and souls into a single title. The number of hours spent on planning marketing and promotional strategies. Sales strategies. Cover design. Production design. The thought and meticulous attention given to editing, line editing and copy editing. I felt like my book should have a million people’s names on the cover.
7. Who is your favourite character in Weightless?
That’s difficult! I probably feel the most intensely for Carolyn Lessing, which is hardly surprising, and I love her so much, and sympathise with her the most deeply. I also love the narrators, and probably identified with them a bit too closely! But my favourite to write was probably Stephanie Simpson, the English teacher. She was an amalgamation of half a dozen teachers I had during school, and a bit of myself, and she has this kind of lame enthusiasm for her teaching and for her students that I found touching and hilarious and cringe-worthy.
8. What are your writing goals?
My only ambition right now is to finish my next novel by the autumn. And for that novel to be of high quality, to be achieving something new. It’s covering very different territory from WEIGHTLESS, and my goal is to pull it off! The first novel was a real challenge in sustaining the first person plural voice, and this one comes with another set of challenges…as I’m sure every novel does … but I’m too superstitious to reveal what those challenges actually are!
9. What do you get up to when you aren’t writing?
We live in the inner city of Dublin, which means that I can get to the theatre or to a book launch or reading in no time, which is fabulous. But that means being away from my husband and daughter…and we basically try to spend as much free time as possible together. This means lots of trips to the playground and to the beach in Dublin, followed by lots of hot chocolate and/or ice cream.
My husband and I used to go to the cinema all the time before we had a child, and now we’ve been a total of three times in three years! So, hopefully that will become a pastime again in the future. But in the meantime, we are always engrossed in one box set or another. We just finished the second series of VEEP and loved it. And we binged on THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT and now we’re onto BLOODLINE. All superb.
I’m also a pretty dedicated runner (I’ve run eight marathons) but I haven’t done quite as much since having a child and taking on this novel-writing business! But I do find it really good for clearing my head and getting ideas.
10. Do you use critique partners to get feedback on your work?
I took a novel-writing course in 2010 and critiquing each others’ work was a key part of the process. I found it really helpful, but my writing was at a really early stage then.
My husband reads my work sometimes – which I always hear you should never do, ie share your work with your partner – but he’s honest, and kind, and he usually just asks me questions rather than suggesting how I might change things. And the questions he asks lead me places.
I asked a few writers to read a draft of WEIGHTLESS before I submitted it to agents and they were really helpful. Mostly they just gave me confidence, but they also asked questions that prompted me to make some small but important changes. And then my agent, once she signed me, did something similar before we submitted to publishers.
I’m not sure how I’ll approach it this time – it certainly feels too early to me to share the work with anybody. But I know eventually I’ll run a few things by my husband and then I’ll submit the novel to my agent, who has an incredibly keen eye.