One Book Lane’s celebration of Irish fiction continues with a chat between another dynamic duo from the Emerald Isle.
In the second of a series of interviews between Irish authors, Ella Griffin asks the wonderful Rachael English five questions about writing her engaging portrait of modern family life in Dublin, Each and Every One.
Each and Every One is out on 16th July in paperback, ebook and audio. Read an extract here.
I loved the Shine family, Rachael and felt that you really got inside the dynamic of parents and the grown-up siblings. Was it a challenge to manage such a large cast of characters? And what did you love most about writing them?
Thanks, Ella. As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to flawed characters: the sort of people who can’t stop themselves from making bad decisions or from taking advantage of others. So, when I first came up with the idea of a novel based around a wealthy family’s reversal of fortune, I decided that each character should have their own particular flaw. That’s how I came up with Damien – the politician with a secret, Niall who refuses to grow up, Vee who delights in spending other people’s money and Tara who allows everybody to take advantage of her. What surprised me was how fond I became of them all – even poor deluded Vee.
Of course, characters can take on a life you hadn’t expected at the outset. When I started writing, I didn’t plan on Carmel and Ben – ‘the other family’ – becoming such a significant part of the story. The more I wrote about them, however, the more I saw their possibilities. And it was such a joy to write about people who soak up the worst that life can throw at them, and battle on with grace and humour.
You’re a journalist, like Tara. How much did you draw on your own background to write her story?
Quite a lot, to be honest. I’ve read countless books with a journalist character who is either exceptionally glamorous or seediness personified. (I’m sure both types exist!) For a change, though, I wanted to write about the day to day life of an average hack: somebody like Tara, whose work can vary from the incredibly dull to the achingly sad. Also, the handy thing about a character like Tara is that journalism is one of the few jobs where you have a licence to explore people’s lives. Without that, she would never have met Carmel and Ben, and I would have had only half a story.
Your writing has such a concrete sense of place. I know Dublin well and felt as if I was walking along the street beside Tara sometimes! I don’t know Dubrovnik at all but reading about it made me want to go there!
Did you enjoy writing about your settings as much as I enjoyed reading them?
I’m delighted to hear you say that, because I went to a lot of trouble to get a real sense of all the locations in the book. If anybody saw a mad woman pacing Dublin City Centre with a notebook, that was me. I also spent a fascinating – and disturbing – couple of days in Dublin District Court, trying to imagine what it would look like through Vee’s eyes. I was so captivated by the place that I’m now determined to write a book set in the courts.
When it came to Dubrovnik, everything was so spectacular that I had to pare back my descriptions. Otherwise I would have ended up with page after page of description and no plot.
Your writing has a distinctively Irish tone of voice and your dialogue is full of colloquialisms. Can you talk a little bit about that?
It’s a balance, isn’t it? On the one hand, you want the dialogue to feel authentic. On the other, you don’t want to lapse into stage-Irishry or to make your writing incomprehensible to international readers. I did spend quite a bit of time reading Each and Every One out loud in the hope that it would all sound as natural as possible. One other thing that writing has taught me is that Irish people don’t just have a different lexicon, we structure sentences differently too.
You juggle writing with your career in radio. What’s a typical writing / working week like for you?
It can vary, depending on what’s happening at work. I present a breakfast news programme, so when I’m working, I’m up at four thirty. If it’s very busy, or if the news is dominated by a particularly complex story, I don’t tend to have much space left in my brain for book thoughts. In fact, there are days when I’d love to be like Worzel Gummidge who always had a spare head! I find that if I’ve had a few days away from writing, I’m desperate to get back to it. Unfortunately, I’m not particularly speedy; I rarely write more than a thousand words in a day.