Emma Hannigan

 All About Emma


Emma Hannigan is the author of Desiger Genes, Miss Conceived, The Pink Ladies Club, Keeping Mum and Driving Home for Christmas. Her memoir, Talk to the Headscarf is the stirring tale of her battle with cancer. In 2005 Emma discovered that she was carrying the BrCa1 cancer gene which meant that she had an 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer.

She decided to have surgery (removing both breasts and both ovaries) to prevent cancer striking. Since then she has battled cancer eight times - and won.  She lives in Bray with her husband and children and is currently working on her next novel.

You can find Emma on her website on Twitter or on Facebook.

Emma, tell us about your latest book and how it came about?

Driving Home for Christmas by Emma Hannigan (cover)
Driving Home for Christmas by Emma Hannigan (cover)

My latest novel is called Driving Home for Christmas and guess what? It’s about Christmas! My favourite time of year. I am the queen of tack and love anything that sparkles, so it was a no brainer for me to immerse myself in all things Yuletide for a few extra months! Driving Home for Christmas is the story of a family coming together as they realise what’s really important in life…

How long did it take you to write?

It took five months in all. I tend to write quite quickly, especially when the story flows.

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?

I am seriously disciplined when it comes to writing. I started off writing at home, but that can be very distracting especially as I have children. So in May I made a very grown up leap and moved to an office! Eek! I work from 9.00 – 3.00 Monday to Friday there and often do a couple of hours in the evening. Needless to say my hours can be longer if I’m in the middle of an edit.

Do you use a computer or write long hand?

I’m an apple chick all the way! My desktop is synced with my laptop and phone. In fact my handwriting is so bad now it’s drunk spider territory.

Are you a planner - do you plan your book before starting?

Yes I definitely plan. I don’t think I could sit down to write a book without knowing the bones of my story. But that’s all I begin with – bones. I pad out as I go along and my characters develop as the word count rises! When I’m writing a book, the story lives in a little pocket of my mind. As I go about my day ideas and snippets come to me and I mentally slot them into place. I love when that happens. They’re the days I end up sitting on my chaise longue (God that sounds very posh doesn’t it? It’s not really, it lives on the upstairs landing and I’m usually joined by the cat!) and typing for half the evening.

Do you edit as you go along? Or at the end of the first draft?

Both. I write then read over what I’ve done. Once I’ve written ‘The End’ I start reading it all over again.

Do you do a lot of research? Do you find the internet useful? What research tips can you give writers?

Yes, I’d always research a topic I’m not sure about. Having said that, I’m a real believer in writing what I know. I tend to draw from my own experiences mostly. But there are always issues or scenarios that require some delving. I use the internet for sure, but I’m always careful of the source. Just in case it’s someone’s opinion rather than fact. Readers are incredibly knowledgeable and I try to avoid major mistakes. Although I’m sure I’ve still made many!

Are there any books or websites you would particularly recommend for writers?

There are many fantastic books on writing but if I had to choose just one it would be ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King. A wonderful website is The Inkwell Group & www.writing.ie

Has your life changed since writing your first book? Or since becoming a full time writer?

Hell yeah! I began writing when I was diagnosed with cancer. So writing has been my therapy and friend for my entire journey. I’ve emerged from sickness with a whole new career! I adore writing and can’t imagine doing anything else. I hope I never have to!

How did you get your first book, Designer Genes published? Was it difficult?

I was incredibly lucky. I sent off my manuscript and had two offers almost immediately. I knew I was so fortunate to have positive responses from publishers, but the more I write and learn about the industry, the more I realise how steeped I was to get my foot on the ladder. It’s so difficult to break into the market now. Each book that comes out fills me with pride and fear in equal measure. It’s such a precarious business and I always feel like hiding in the back of the wardrobe for fear that nobody will enjoy what I’ve written!

The book was based on your own experiences, how did you find the personal questions during press interviews?

I don’t have a problem talking about BRCA 1 or cancer. I wish people would talk about it more! I’ve learned so much from readers as a result of telling my story. Each and every day wonderful people contact me via my website and share snippets of their lives. It’s such an amazing privilege.

Do you have an agent now? And if so, how did you find her/him?

Yes, I have a fantastic agent. Her name is Sheila Crowley of Curtis Brown, London. We met just after Designer Genes was released. She believed in my work from the beginning. That’s so important as writing is creative at the end of the day, so I think it’s vital to have a team of cheerleaders. I am so fortunate with the incredible people I have at my back.

What are you working on at present? When will it be published?

I’ve just finished my next novel which is due out in early summer 2013! I’ll keep you posted on that one! The title hasn’t been decided but I’ll let you know!

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 read commercial fiction! Plain and simple! There’s always a toppling pile of books on my bedside table. I’m reading Marian Keyes ‘The Mystery of Mercy Close’ at the moment. If I had to pick a favourite book of all time it would be Roald Dahl’s ‘The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories.’ It’s quirky funny and so brilliantly ironic.

And finally, do you have any advice or tips for writers?

Be yourself. Don’t set out to be the next Sarah Webb or Roald Dahl. If you write from the heart and believe in yourself you won’t go far wrong. Most of all only write if you enjoy writing! Don’t take yourself too seriously either. I reckon a bit of tongue-in-cheek goes a long way in life in general. Oh and eat lots of chocolate and drink lots of coffee. It helps the writing process immeasurably – of course.

Thank you, Emma for sharing your writing life with us.