Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Caroline Finnerty

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?


Check out Caroline’s website and her Facebook Page here


Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Martina Reilly

Martina Reilly has had many careers. She’s been a supermarket packer (she knows you can’t put a loaf of bread in with a packet of bleach), a lounge girl (she can avoid a grope at close quarters), she even worked in her local council. Nothing, however gives her as much pleasure as the job she has now – it involves drinking lots of coffee and concocting elaborate lies. No, she’s not a politician, she’s a writer. To date, she has written nineteen novels, including four for young adults. Her books have been translated into many languages and have won prizes (A Bisto Book Merit Award, an RAI reading award, an International White Raven Award, and Something Borrowed was long-listed for an Impac award).

Martina also writes scripts, plays and poetry. She has dabbled in journalism. She acts and has also directed plays (mostly her own, because she’s a control freak) Her long-term ambition is to write a sit-com and in 2013, she and her friends got together and produced a demo dvd of her first venture – Headers. In her spare time, Martina walks her dog, acts with her local drama group, runs with her local athletic club (she was the All-Ireland Masters W3 champion in 2014 in the 200m and held the 60m indoor record). Sadly her knees are letting her down bigtime now! Martina hopes to keep writing in the hope that people will keep reading her books.

Nineteen novels, Martina. Impressive! So tell us, where did it all begin?

I have been writing since I could read. I started ‘seriously’ when I was eight, scribbling little stories into my school copies. When I was fifteen, I wrote a book called Livewire, which was about a boy called Joey who was in a band, much to the horror of his dad who wanted him to study for his exams. Even back then I recognised that there was something special about this story. When I was in my twenties, I had the money to buy a word processor and type it all up. This is the book that was eventually published.

And did you take inspiration from anyone in particular?

Enid Blyton was the first writer I read and I just loved the idea that you could make a living creating stories. I think I was born a writer really, I needed no encouragement!

How would you describe your writing, from a marketing perspective?

My work is marketed in the ‘women’s commercial fiction’ genre. I have no idea what that is as each time I write a book, the stories are vastly different. My latest one ‘That Day in June’ is about a homeless runaway and a mentally ill man. I just like to write about people, what makes them who they are and to allow the reader some understanding of what it means to be human. There are pretty good plots to.

And the length of time it takes you to complete a book?

It depends on the book. On average, it takes about a year, though I did write my second YA novel in two weeks – Fast Car. That was a goodie.

How is your writing day structured?

I write most days between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm – which is when my daughter comes home from school. I rarely write on weekends or during summer. I’ve been lucky so far in that I seem to be always able to finish a book within these parameters. Friends are very important to me so I’m not your stereotypical writer who abandons her friends and morning coffee in favour of an elusive chapter. I really believe that the best of writing comes easy, so a morning off to have coffee with my friend will not derail my work.

Do you have an agent, or think one is necessary?

I do have an agent and yes, I do think, certainly in publishing that you need one. An agent ensures that your work gets read by editors in publishing houses. A lot of publishers only accept manuscripts from agents so the places a writer can send their own work is very limited. Even if a publishing house accepts manuscripts from a writer directly, there is often a long wait before the scripts will get read.

And do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

Absolutely, yes. I think that’s a reflection on the modern way of doing things – writers need to be their own PR machine. It’s not something that I enjoy as I’d much rather be writing, but it can be fun coming up with creative ways to get seen!

What’s your opinion of the publishing trade these days?

Book selling has changed so much in the last while. Ebooks are making their mark, but I don’t believe that printed copies will ever vanish. My route to publication seems hopelessly old-fashioned now – if I had to do it again, I guess I’d have to be a vologger (or whatever it’s called). God help the world then…!

Indeed, Vologging could become a thing! Would you also consider self-publishing?

I think it’s brilliant if done well. Of course I would. I love writing and I will write forever – a bit like that irritating kid who insists at singing at parties whether she’s wanted or not! If I don’t get published ever again, I will self-publish.

And literary competitions and awards?

It’s nice to be recognised but honestly, I don’t put any store by them. I’ve read prize-winning novels and hated them. I mean, really, really hated them. It doesn’t mean they were bad books, but they were not for me. I’ve also read books that have never caused a ripple on the publishing scene and been very moved by them. A good book for me is one where great writing and great characters combine. Sometimes I think books are picked for the cleverness and that irritates me.

If you’ve ever had any: How do you handle negative reviews?

I have had one bad experience with a review. I’ve also had critical reviews. The trick is learning the difference. Critical reviews  enable you to learn. I am always open to people’s opinion of my work, I don’t mind if they dislike it if I find out why. A bad review on the other hand, is an assassination job in which the book is shot down in a hail of smart comments. They sting but as my mother always says, ‘There’s a reason people behave that way. Be kind’.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The best bit of advice I can give, besides ‘just do it’ is – be yourself. Don’t try to ape anyone, don’t try to be funny, or pull at heart-strings, or scare people. Just write and be honest to the story. Put yourself and your voice on the page.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I’m not sure. Starting off it’s good advice, but I tend to write about what I want to figure out, or what I’d like to learn about or what I find interesting. I think better advice – if it interests you, write about it.

Is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

So many….The Poisonwood Bible, What is the What, The Patchwork Planet…

And finally, Martina, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I am doing a book called ‘The Scent of Apples’ – it’s about corruption and evil in a small town. (I think!)


Check out Martina’s website here