Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Grace Wynne-Jones, aged sixty four and love a good quote, such as’To be young, really young, takes a very long time.’ Picasso
Fiona: Where are you from?
Ireland, my mother was born in England and my father in Wales.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I was born and brought up in Ireland and my early years were spent in a big rambling rectory in the Irish countryside because my Dad was a clergyman. Our menagerie, at different times, included tree frogs, ground squirrels, a tortoise, a goat, hens, birds, many dogs, a cat, a pony, and a chameleon. (No wonder animals often find their way into my books, for example a key character in ‘Ordinary Miracles’ is Rosie, a wise pet pig.) Merrylegs, a piebald pony, was my first big love.
My Mum and Dad met when they were both living in Grenada, in the West Indies. Both of my parents spent long periods in exotic places. Dad was the author of some educational books (yes, writing runs in the family) and, in her later years, Mum wrote a fascinating memoir, In Ruin Reconciled: A Memoir of Anglo-Ireland, about life in a Big House in Ireland, and exotic periods abroad.
Born in Eastbourne, as a tiny girl Mum had been unofficially adopted by the rather grand de Vere family, who lived in Ireland. She never discovered who her birth parents were, such a sad mystery. Perhaps this secret inspired me to include a mysterious missing relative in The Truth Club. Families, and their secrets, can be so layered and intriguing, so poignant. It is a theme I have often returned to in my writing.
Mum and Dad have passed on, what splendidly colourful characters they were, and so, sadly, have two of my four older brothers. I live in a seaside town in Ireland (love a stroll along the prom), and I have also lived in Africa, the US and England. I get a great kick out of finding bargains in charity shops and love a cosy cappuccino with pals. I have a deep interest in psychology, spirituality and healing (have been on lots of intriguing courses) , and I love to celebrate the strangeness and wonders of ordinary life and love.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I have reached the final chapters of a new novel with lots of colourful characters and, of course, some lovely animals, including an adorable, and wise, horse.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was keen on writing as a child, in the rectory it was regarded as a routine activity. The tap tap tap of the typewriter was often in the background as my mother, and father, composed heartfelt letters to The Irish Times. I carefully typed my first ‘book’ when I was about eleven, it was called ‘Stories For Everyone’ and was a self-published work with a print run of one copy. The cover was constructed from thick cardboard, magazine cut-outs and glue and featured a woman, a horse and a puppy on the front cover, and the singer Paul Jones on the back. It contained two stories, one was about my pony and the other was about the joys of nature, so it didn’t quite live up to its title!
I was at boarding school when my first short story was published. It was about a girl meeting a handsome, free-spirited young man, at a dance. Delicious though the mutual attraction was, he was a wanderer and so he wandered off shortly afterwards. The romance was spectacularly brief, but found its way into print. The publication was Jackie: pop stars, romance, crucial tips about blue eyeshadow, a variety of riches! And there, amidst the cornucopia, was my fiction, though now oddly retitled ‘A Reader’s True Experience’.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
At first my writing was mainly journalism, so I got used to the idea that writing can be a job. (I once had a column called ‘Hardware Retailer Of The Month’ in a trade magazine. Turns out there are lots of things you can say about shelving!)
My feature articles have appeared in many magazines and national papers in Ireland and in England, and my short stories have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and Australia, and have also been broadcast on RTE and BBC Radio 4. I have also written some plays. But as for writing novels, that came a while later. While working for two London publishers, doing junior editorial jobs, I’d noticed many people wrote books that didn’t get published. (This was long before technology transformed self-publishing.) Anyway, what would I write about? Would anybody want to read what I’d written?
Little did I know a confiding character can come to you, share the details of her life with such urgency, such candor, that you feel impelled to write them down. That’s what happened to me with Jasmine in Ordinary Miracles.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Dear Jasmine did, she’s in a dodgy marriage and quiet desperation and I really wanted to get to know her, have an intimate and quirky adventure with her. As for Rosie, the dear pet pig who is an important character in the book, I’d seen a most upsetting photo of a factory farmed pig and wanted to give my pig a far happier life.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Sorry, I don’t remember, think it just came to me.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
What’s left out can be very powerful in a novel, though the process of deciding what has to go is a complex craft in itself. Sometimes paragraphs I really like simply don’t serve the tale.
I’ve found that each book seems to have its own character and it helps to let myself be guided by what it wants to express. Yes, it can be quite mysterious! ‘A writer writes many a thought he didn’t know he had’ is a great quote, though I don’t know who came up with it. As for ‘genre’, I try not to be too limited by that and allow myself some freedom. But it is important to ask myself, ‘Is this a page turner?’
I like my writing to be intimate and entertaining, and I love it if one of my books feels like a friend. I learn a lot while I write, characters can be great teachers! Many of them go on quirky journeys of self discovery.
I usually become very fond of the characters in my novels, and it’s lovely to let them develop and inform the storyline. But, occasionally, I come across a character who seems a pain in the arse when I first ‘meet’ them. Ava Lavelle is a case in point, I thought that she was a bossy, highly opinionated woman in her seventies and that her awfulness would be entertaining.
Ava, however, had other opinions about this view of her. She sturdily informed me that she was a complex woman and much misunderstood. Her match-making abilities were not respected by her single daughter, and her husband did not seem to appreciate her high standards in housekeeping. Surely it was only reasonable to demand that mats should be used whenever beverages were placed on a table.
Underneath these remonstrations I sensed that Ava was, indeed, not the woman I thought I knew…and she was clearly not content with an unflattering walk-on part in her daughter’s romantic endeavours in ‘Ready Or Not?’. She had much affection to give, but she didn’t know how to offer it. She wanted an adventure and she wanted love. And most of all she wanted to feel she was enough, enough just as herself, a tenderness developed between us.
I like to include quite a bit of humour in my novels and get a real buzz when something I’ve written makes someone laugh. But it is so important to include some sadness too because life, and love, can be very mixed experiences. Plastering on a smile can sometimes feel so lonely.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I find that getting to know fictional characters can be very intriguing, and pleasurable, and they do not need to be based on people you know. Creativity and imagination are, obviously, crucial for fiction. Also, we all have many aspects to us and we can draw on this variety when creating very different characters and storylines.
That said, the colours, flavours and telling details of real life experiences and encounters are obviously influential. They can be respectfully disguised, so they are not exploitative of others, and incorporated in the way an artist makes a collage, using bits from here and there.
Here I should probably admit that Wise Follies was greatly helped by a long ago and somewhat ridiculous crush (unreciprocated). The man was a very bendy yoga teacher with a great smile, and the setting was beautiful, a holistic holiday on a Greek island. Jasmine in Ordinary Miracles also goes on a holistic holiday, and has a far more sultry encounter than I did. Cringey romantic stumblings can become useful ‘research’!
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
Turns out that travel has helped my writing quite a lot, though it was not necessarily undertaken with that in mind, sometimes it was just an intriguing holiday!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
They were commissioned by the publishers.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I value intimacy in ordinary life, people who seem to understand, or at least try to, kindred spirits I don’t have to pretend with. I also love writing about men and women who long for intimacy, that sense of being truly seen, heard, and known. How often we wear social ‘masks’, smile when sad. So I love getting under masks, it helps us discover that many of our secrets are so similar. ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ C. S. Lewis Big fan of a great quotation!
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Was very impressed by Sally Rooney’s powerful novel Normal People, so brave and honest and masterfully written. She’s a great, and relatively ‘new’, author. There are so many authors I admire! Anne Tyler is one of my favourites, she has a forensic eye for telling detail and there is a deep wellspring of emotional truth in all her books. I love books with lots of heart, an underlying sense of kindness. David Lodge offers that, along with some crispness and great laughs. Had many a chortle while reading his Changing Places. Also a fan of Barbara Pym, her Excellent Women is cosy in the nicest way, also so perceptive, a wonderful comedy of manners. How well she describes social silliness!
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
My agent, Lisa Eveleigh, has been a wonderful help, supportive, encouraging, kind, and very savvy.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Even though many improvements could probably be made, I try to accept a published novel as it is.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Yes, lots of things, too many to list here, one of them is patience because it has taken longer to write than I thought it would, I’ve reached the final chapters. Another teaching: the importance of making time for other things I value, and the nourishment of gratitude.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I think Ryan Reynolds would make a great Nathaniel (The Truth Club).
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
I am going to share yet another quote because it is insightful and expansive, we have the great Irish novelist Joseph O’Connor to thank for it: ‘There is only one trait that writers have in common….They watch for the extraordinary magic that lies in the everyday….Not willing inspiration but just being open to the world. This quiet looking and thinking is the imagination. It’s letting in ideas. It’s trying, I suppose, to make some sense of things.’
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Thank you for reading my books, I so hope you enjoyed them and were as intrigued by the characters as I was. (Who knew that Ava Lavelle’s husband would move into the garden shed!). Big Internet hugs to those who have written lovely reviews, so kind and encouraging.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
‘An Amateur Marriage’ by Anne Tyler.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No, the first book I loved was The Wind in the Willows.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Many things, such is the rich tapestry of life. I wept during ‘A Star is Born’, so poignant! When one has lost someone grief may go so deep it takes a while for the tears to get through the desolation, but they are so healing when they flow. I love a good giggle with pals about something silly, especially if it once seemed serious. Laughter can help you cut through the bullshit.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
My maternal Grandmother, don’t know who she was because my mother was adopted.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Many hobbies, including painting and drawing, reading, animals and nature adoring, baking a nice cake, walks, travel, tv, gardening, finding bargains in charity shops, love horse riding but don’t have a horse.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Comedies, art programmes, great dramas, films, nature documentaries, The Graham Norton Show, and much more. Hot priest in Fleabag was great. Also a fan of The Big Bang Theory. Love the film Before Sunrise.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Favourite colours vary according to mood, but I adore colour, have lots of bright colours in my house. Van Morrison, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Annie Lennox and Joni Mitchell write and sing great songs, and should definitely be included on the favourites list. I lived in California for a while and my favourite meals were in a small, and inexpensive, Vietnamese restaurant. Their Spring Rolls were fabulous!
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Many things, including painting and drawing.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time
Lots of ‘I love yous’ and prayers, and who knows what else.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
No headstone, want to be cremated.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
www.gracewynnejones.com My website
My Amazon author page
The links to books, I do hope you know how to shorten the very long URLS, sorry!