All About Martina Reilly (in her own words!)
I’m thirty-eight, married and live in Kildare. I have two kids – a boy and a girl - and one cat. I come from a family of six and all of us have been involved in drama, acting and writing at various levels throughout our lives. As well as being a writer, I’m also a qualified Drama teacher with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Acting wise, I have taken lead roles in The Plough and the Stars, I do not Like Thee Dr Fell, Sive, Bar and Ger, The Wizard of Oz (playing the Wicked Witch as I can’t sing!). I have also done the One Act festivals around the country and have won Best Actress. As well as the novels, I write plays, two of which have been done by professional drama groups – The Journey, a ten minute short was produced as part of the Fishamble Shorts season in 2003 (see drama) and Dirt Tracks, based on my teen novel of the same name was done by Barnstorm as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2004.
Martina, can you tell us about your latest book, ‘summer of secrets’, and how it came about?
Summer of secrets is about a girl called Hope, who has major problems keeping a steady job. Having just been fired from her sixteenth job in eight years, she decides to get some prespective on her life by travelling around the world. Events, however, take a tragic turn and instead of lolling about on a beach, she finds herself back in her old home town with her two friends, Adam and Julie, by her side. As the summer unfolds, the three friends discover that there is a lot more to each other than they originally thought.
How long did it take you to write?
It took me around eight months to write, including edits.
Is it based on personal experience?
The theme of Post traumatic stress disorder is taken very loosly from my own life. I was knocked down by a car at age eleven and for a number of years afterwards I was unable to cross roads without obsessively checking that they were clear. When I was fifteen, a motorbike unexpectedly raored out in front of me while I was in the middle of a road. I froze, the motorbike ploughed into me and once again, I was knocked down. From then on, I relaised that I had to relearn to cross roads and get used to traffic. Hope's journey in Summer of secrets is a little like that.
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?
Unfortunately for me, I'm at my writing best at around one in the morning! However, as I have to be up at seven thirty, I force myself to write from around ten am until one thirty every day (while the kids are in school). I used to write sitting on my bed, propped up with pillows but a severe case of bad posture syndrome and copious amounts of physio have put paid to that. Now I'm in a box room in front of a desk.
Please describe your study or writing area
Books everywhere, pens everywhere, stickers on the walls, CD's, floppy discs scattered around, boxs of stuff I think I might need but never look at, ink cartridges, a printer, reams of paper and the walls adorned with posters for my books. Messy but I love it.
Do you use a computer or write long hand?
I use a laptap. I like gadgets and my laptop is top of the range with a cool screen and gaphics. Again, more stuff I will never use!
Do you use notebooks?
Never - I reckon that if it's a good enough plot or funny line, it shouldn't need to be written down, I will remember it.
Do you plan your characters on paper before writing, or do you just let them develop?
I let them develop. I like to get to know them along with the reader. It feels more natural to me.
Do you edit as you go along? Or at the end of the first draft?
I edit all the time. Most of the time, by the time I get to the end of the story, it's very clean with no more work left to be done.
How many words do you write a day or at each writing session?
It depends how far along in a book I am. Usually I fly along coming up to the end as I know exactly where the book is taking me at that stage. That's what I write for - the buzz of that is great.
Do you use the internet for research? Do you find it useful? What other research tips can you give writers?
I do use the internet, it's great but I still think that there is nothing like talking to people for that little gem that makes something come alive. For instance, in my book Flipside, I had read all that there was to read about cancer and treatment but it was only when I was talking to a lady who had lived with cancer and she said to me that her first dose of chemo scared her a lot. I couldn't believe this and said so. "But it was curing you," I said. She shook her head. "It was poisoning me," she replied. No research on the internet could have given me that insight. Writers should not be afraid to appraoch people for help as most people will only be too glad to talk. And those that don't want to, all they can say is 'no'. Accuracy is important in order to make a book believable.
Do you interview people to get background info?
Yes, but only as I am writing. I never do it beforehand becasue I'm afraid I'll have too much info and feel obliged to stuff it all into the narritive. I only ask people what I need to know.
Are there any books or websites you would particularly recommend for writers?
No as the websites I look at are so diverse. Google would be the best search engine though.
Has your life changed since writing your first book, or since becoming a full time writer?
Not really - I was at home with my kids when my first book came out. The only difference is that now I get better paid for being int he house! I was also a drama teacher up until recently, but I have now given that up too as the writing has become more demanding.
How did you get your first book published? Was it difficult?
It wasn't too difficult. I sent a ms off to Poolbeg - a story I had written when I was fifteen. They replied saying that the writing and story had potential but that it needed serious editing. My sister edited it for me (that was her job at the time) and I resent it back to them. It was published eighteen months later.
Do you have an agent? And if so, how did you find him/her?
I do have an agent. I found her when my previous agent told me that he didn't like my new book. I didn't agree and told him that if he didn't believe in me that we should part ways. We did and after the shock had worn off, I began to panic wondering what the hell had I done. Then your good self (Sarah) waded in with her agents contact details and I rang Ali Gunn, who read my book and sold it within six weeks!
Why is having an agent important?
For me having an agent is really important. I'm a hopeless business person and would never manage to get a contract on my own. I'd probably give my book away for free. Having an agent also lets potential publishers know that someone is taking you and your work seriously and makes publishers more open to reading what you've done. A lot of publishers won't read anything unless an agent has OK'ed it.
Do you mind doing book publicity?
I don't up to a point. I will go anywhere, talk to anyone and sign anything. However, I would draw the line at using my personal life to sell my books. I don't see how telling everyone my own personal story (unless I've written about it) is relevant to what my books have to say.
What’s the most odd or personal thing you’ve ever been asked?
As I go to a lot of schools (my teen books are still surprisingly popular) I always get asked about how much I earn.
What are you working on at present? When will it be published?
I have just finished a book that will be published in October. The theme this time is revenge and forgiveness. It's called 'Second Chances'
Martina, you have two children. How do you juggle being a mother and being a writer? Do you find this difficult?
I don't find it hard at all. I write when they are in school and that's it! Summer holidays are for all of us, so I do nothing then. However, at present I'm WAY behind so maybe it'll become more fraught in September.
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 anything I can get my hand on. At the moment, I'm reading "The Shakespeare Secret" which is a thrill about Shakespeare! I've also got an Amy Tan and a Mark Haddon lined up. I've also just bought Claire Dowlings new one - Going it Alone which I can't wait to read.
As for a favourite book I couldn't say - The Cat in the Hat, One Flew over the Cookoo's Nest, Wuthering heights, The Poisonwood Bible, A Thousand Splendid Suns . . . the list goes on forever . . .
And finally, do you have any advice or tips for writers?
Just sit down and write and go with the flow. It's all a question of waiting to see what happens in your story. And enjoy. . .