Ciara Geraghty is the author of three novels, Saving Grace, Becoming Scarlett and Finding Mr Flood. She lives in Dublin with her husband and three children. Find Ciara here.
Ciara, can you tell us about your latest book and where the idea came from?
My third novel Finding Mr. Flood, is out in paperback at the moment. It’s about Dara Flood, a young Dublin woman who works in a dog pound. She says the most interesting thing about her happened before she was born. Her father went out for a packet of cigarettes and never came back. 27 years later, Dara’s sister – Angel – falls ill and urgently needs a kidney transplant. Dara employs the services of failed-policeman-turned-private investigator, Stanley Flinter and together, the pair of them set off on the trail of the elusive Mr.Flood . . .
The funny thing about Finding Mr. Flood is that the story is inspired by a segment on an Irish radio phone-in show I heard years and years before I ever thought about writing. A woman rang in to the station, distraught. Several days before she rang in, her husband – a lorry driver – pulled up outside their home. She was waiting at the front door. She told him that a piece of flat-pack furniture had been delivered that day and she needed his help to lug it up the stairs. He said he’d park the lorry up the road where he always parked it, and be right back. He drove up the road and she never saw him again. The story intrigued me. I often thought about him. Why did he leave? Did his wife ever see him again? Did they have any children? Where did he go? Did he ever come back? I never forgot the story and it returned to me at odd times during the preceding 15 years. That formed the basis for the idea of Finding Mr. Flood.
How long did it take you to write?
About a year and a half.
How do you organise your writing day? For example, where do you write? And at what time of the day are you at your writing best?
The answer to the question ‘where do I write’ has changed. Virginia Woolf said that for women to write fiction, you need ‘a room of one’s own’. I got one of those for Christmas. It’s in the attic and it’s got a desk and a chair and most importantly, a door and a lock. Before Christmas, I wrote at the kitchen table which is of course ‘grand’ but not a patch on ‘a room of one’s own’. It’s the first time I’ve had a room to myself since 1992! I may never come down. I write in the morning, from about 9.30am to 3pm. I usually take 40 minutes out to walk my dog and husband (who also works from home) on the beach. So I mostly write in the daytime but my favourite time to write is the night-time when the house – and everyone in it – is asleep. You get the feeling that you’re doing something just a little clandestine.
Do you use a computer or write long hand?
Computer mostly. I learned how to type properly so I can type faster than I think which comes in handy in this game. What I mean is, you can outrun your ‘inner critic’ who sort of sprawls at the top of your brain – legs: crossed, mouth: set in a sneer, expression; amused. If you can type faster than you think, you can get the words down before inner critic has time to say ‘eh, awfully sorry to cut your ‘flow’ – hahaha – but darling -’ (NOTE: patronising version of ‘darling’, not to be confused with intimate-if-a-little-dated-version) ‘darling, surely you’re not seriously thinking about putting that sentence in? Now? Or ever? Dear, dear me, poor, deluded soul…turning to talk to your conscience who happens to be a distant relation…’ isn’t she great to be as good as she is? Hope I’m not there when the critics tear her limb from limb, the poor lamb, etc, etc, etc. So yeah, computer mostly.
Do you edit as you go along? Or at the end of the first draft? Do you find rewriting difficult?
Yes, I edit as I go along. So whatever I’ve written yesterday will get edited today, before I start with ‘the blank page’ which is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced, and you’re talking to the woman who watched Silence of the Lambs and then went home (to her own apartment, where she lived ALONE) and found the most GIGANTIC moth on the fridge. SMILING at me. Like it KNEW. And yes, I edit at the end of a first draft. And a second draft. And the third one and fourth one. I edit after every draft I do. I think this is very important. Editing. Even when you’re just talking out loud to someone.
Are there any books or websites you would particularly recommend for writers in general?
The Artists and Writers Yearbook (updated every year) – I found my agent in this book. Her telephone number, I mean.
Page after Page, by Heather Sellers. A lovely little book that you can fit into your handbag (always an important consideration for women, and for men who carry ‘manbags’. And there’s nothing wrong with manbags. Samuel Beckett had a Gucci one, by all accounts!!). This book is full of inspiring ideas for people who are brilliant at coming up with fantastic reasons as to why they cannot write.
On Writing by Stephen King. A brilliant and inspirational book for people who want to write stuff that gets published. Apart from the section on ‘grammar’ which I thought was superfluous. You don’t have to be good at grammar to be a writer. You just need a story. And a way to tell it. And the stamina to keep telling it until it’s done. Editors will sort the grammar. And the spelling. Don’t do them out of a job!!
What are you working on at present? When will it be published?
I’m working on my fourth novel at the moment. About 70,000 words in so there’s no going back now. It’s due out in September 2012 but more importantly, it’s due to my publishers by the end of March - *chews fingernails down to the quick in spite of New Year Resolution* It’s the story of Dublin woman, Kat Kerrigan whose chickens come home to roost, all at the same time. Not good if you’re a chicken, or indeed the woman who owns the chickens, as Kat turns out to be. The story is told by Kat herself, and by Milo McIntyre, a ten-year old boy who lives in Brighton. I can’t say much more than that because I don’t want to give it all away but I will say that I’m enjoying the writing of it at the moment (people who know me will know that this is really quite unheard of). The working title is Having Faith but Editor says it’s time to stop with the whole ‘Present-Participle-Plus-Proper-Noun scenario’ and I think she has a point. The Title Department (ie. my mother) is working on it, as we speak.
What type of books do you like to read? What books are on your bedside table at the moment? Do you have a favourite book?
I like fiction mostly (apart from cook books which, to be fair, could come under the umbrella of ‘fiction’ – the end result never has any bearing on the picture in the cookbook. Not in this house anyway. But I like them all the same. The photographs. The tidy kitchens. The possibilities). I always have a couple of books ‘on the go’ at any one time. For example, at the moment, I’m reading How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran on my Kindle (which I know is ‘non-fiction’ but is also exceptionally funny and honest and sharp and clever). I’ve LOL’ed several times and once, I nearly stood on a chair in Starbucks and shouted ‘I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST’ out loud, on a Saturday morning in December. I didn’t in the end because the chair I happened to be sitting on was a bit rickety to be honest , and the floor was one of those unforgiving, ceramic tiled ones - but if the chair hadn’t been rickety and the floor had been carpeted, I swear there would have been shoutin’ and roarin’ inside in Starbucks.
And I’m reading Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist because I recently saw the film and it was brilliant and it made me want to read the book but – and I hardly EVER say this – the film is actually better than the book!! I swear to God!! I also have a book of short stories in my handbag (A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, by Yiyan Li). I like having short stories about my person. Handy, say, if you’re queuing for a drink on St. Stephen’s day (apparently – and understandably - the busiest day of the year in the pub trade), or if you’re waiting to see Santy at the Pavillions in Swords. Enough time to read a short story from start to finish. A ‘window’, as they say, in your schedule. And if you’re lucky enough to read a short story that is not merely good but exceptional, then, by the time the woman at the top of the queue pokes a long, bony finger in between your ribs and says, ‘Santy will see you now’ something has happened to you. Something good. You are changed in some way.
And finally, do you have any advice or tips for writers?
Have this as your mantra. It worked for Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’