Caroline Finnerty is the author of the novels ‘In a Moment’, ‘The Last Goodbye’ and ‘Into The Night Sky’. Her fourth novel ‘My Sister’s Child’ will be published in September. She lives on the banks of the Grand Canal in County Kildare with her husband, three young children and their dog.
When did you first begin to write, Caroline?
I have memories of making little books complete with illustrations as a child; I would staple them together and ‘design’ their covers. I also remember in secondary school being really excited when our English teacher gave us essays to write while everyone else was groaning but it wasn’t until I reached my early twenties that I had an idea for a story that I thought it would make a great book. I started writing it but ultimately I never finished it however I had caught the bug and have been writing ever since. I was probably writing for about 8 or 9 years on and off before I got my publishing deal.
And do you write everyday?
As much as I’d like to, I have to be honest and say that currently no I don’t get to write every day. My children are quite young so I’m still trying to squeeze it in around family life. I do think though that if you can, writing every day really helps to create flow and momentum so I strive to achieve as near to it as I can.
So, how long, on average, does it take you to complete a book?
Usually around a year, although the book I’m currently working on has taken 8 months for a first draft and another 8 months of rewrites.
Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?
I Disagree. Not everyone will experience everything in their lifetime. That’s the whole point of fiction – you have to make it up. How would Harry Potter or Twilight have ever been written? What we do know though are feelings – we know how it feels to want something desperately, to be scared or sad or happy or disappointed. If you don’t have direct experience with something you need to draw on your knowledge of your feelings from a similar encounter and try to put them into your work.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t let the self-doubt put you off, keep going until you reach the end of a first draft, then you go back to the start and revise but don’t be put off by your initial drafts. Everyone thinks that their own work is awful.
On negative reviews – if you’ve ever had any – how do you handle them?
It’s hard. Generally, (even if it kills me) I will try to recognise constructive feedback and use it to improve my writing. If I find myself really upset by something somebody has written I always remind myself that even my favourite books have had bad reviews. Sometimes it can be hard if somebody gives you a bad review because maybe you have used swear words in your book or if they don’t agree with the viewpoint expressed. For example with my book ‘The Last Goodbye’ somebody left me a scathing review on Amazon because the characters in it, Ben and Kate were having a child out-of-wedlock even though the book is set in 2012 . . .
Are there any books by other writers that you wish you had written?
The Snapper by Roddy Doyle because it’s side-splittingly funny. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson because it’s so bloody clever.
The agent question, Caroline. Do you think it necessary to have one?
I am represented by the lovely Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates. I don’t think it’s necessary to have an agent – I signed my first deal without one but if you want to make a career out of writing and to negotiate the best possible contract & sell your work internationally, then I think it is necessary. Also they are a good sounding board to air your thoughts and ideas to. It’s also nice to have somebody in your corner, rooting for you.
How about the marketing and PR of your work – do you contribute?
Absolutely. Social media, organising launches, contacting journalists, coming up with PR angles – it’s all part of the job nowadays. Authors are expected to do a lot of the marketing/publicity themselves.
From an author’s point of view, do you think it essential to get involved with social media?
Admittedly I’m not great at it but nowadays publishers expect it. The days of the reclusive author, sitting by a typewriter and making the odd appearance a couple of literary festivals a year are gone.
The publishing trade in general seems to be transforming, would you agree?
I’m only recent enough to it but from what I see, the world of publishing is changing rapidly. Publishers are playing it safe and aren’t willing to take a punt on debut authors like before. It’s not just enough to have a good book; they want people who have already built a ‘platform’. I know of several self-published people who are proactive about marketing their own books and as a result have been approached by agents/publishers about their work. Also, when you go into a bookshop you will see so many different authors from all over the world whereas previously the range was much narrower and these books wouldn’t have made it to Irish shelves. Traditionally published authors are also competing against self-published ones so it can feel very hard to stand out in the crowd.
And self-publishing? Would you consider it?
I definitely would consider self-publishing. I think many traditionally published authors are now trying the hybrid model, where they do a bit of both.
Finally, Caroline, can you share with us what you are working on now?
I’ve just sent back edits for my next book ‘My Sister’s Child’, which will be out in September. ‘My Sister’s Child’ is the story of two sisters, and one huge question. Jo is the elder sister, responsible and hardworking. Isla is carefree and has always avoided being tied down. The sisters have always had a strained relationship, but when Isla asks Jo for something that rocks the very foundations of the family that Jo has worked so hard to have, Jo is horrified. And, as Isla’s demands become relentless, Jo is threatened with losing the one thing she holds most dearly in the wreckage. Can the sister’s fragile relationship withstand Isla’s request or will they ever be able to recover from the fallout?