It’s all about keeping the magic real
NOT long ago, Moira Fowley-Doyle was studying vampires, specifically their habit of turning up in books aimed at teenage readers.
Something in the vampiric art of eternal existence must have rubbed off on her because Moira has found her own way of staying forever young — writing young adult fiction herself.
“I’m an adult who reads Young Adult,” the 30-year-old says without a hint of the apologist tone employed by those who insist it’s just a guilty pleasure they indulge in when not working their way through the Booker long list.
“I read it as a teenager and I continue reading it. It’s such a rich and varied category with so many genres within it.”
It’s also a category that’s going through a golden spell at the moment. Ever since Harry Potter worked his magic on sales, publishers have been looking for the next big thing in teen fiction.
They found it in the Twilight saga and then the Hunger Games series, both of which went on to do similarly spectacular business.
And they’re on the look-out for natural successors, conscious that when teen fiction gets this big, it crosses over into adult reading circles, capturing two markets in one swoop.
“It’s a good time to be a YA author,” agrees Fowley-Doyle. “There are so many great books and great series. It’s making YA gain momentum.”
Her own contribution, The Accident Season, tells of a family hit annually with a freakish array of falls, collapses, collisions and other bizarre mishaps that seem to defy rational explanation.
No-one’s quite sure whether they started with a family tragedy or if the tragedy was the outcome of whatever malign forces continue to torment the household at the centre of which is the 17-year-old narrator, Cara.
It could be a spooky read but Fowley-Doyle wraps the story in intrigue rather than fear, Cara’s impatience and irritation with the annual interruption setting a questioning rather than quivering tone.
A stoicism of sorts is displayed by the rest of the family — Cara’s bohemian once-widowed, once-divorced mother; her older sister, Alice, and Sam, the left-behind son of her mother’s ex-husband.
Their matter of fact attitude sees them secure all shelves, bubble wrap sharp corners, wear extra layers for padding, avoid unnecessary outings, stick together and try to weather the yearly storm.
It works to a degree but teenagers, bubble wrap and confinement are not natural companions and as Cara pushes the boundaries of her freedom, it’s unclear whether she’s dicing with existing hazards or creating dangers of her own.
While all this is playing out, she’s also being stalked by the presence of a mysterious girl who’s gone missing from her school but keeps appearing in snaps Cara takes on her mobile phone.
And to make matters more complicated, she realises she’s falling for Sam — which can’t be right or can it? — and that he might be falling for her best friend, which is even harder for her to accept.
The easy blend, or perhaps confusion, of the real and supernatural makes the book a charming read despite the dark themes that begin to emerge.
It’s a deliberate approach by Fowley-Doyle who likes to keep her characters and her stories rooted in reality even if what’s happening around them is surreal.
“I think that there are probably a lot of readers — I’d be exactly the same — who are somewhere between contemporary readers and fantasy readers.
“I’ll read both but I prefer something that mixes both. I like my magic to be in the everyday. I like books that make the ordinary extraordinary.”
She admires the writings of fellow YA authors, Francesca Lia Brock and David Almond, for the same reason, and particularly because they ground their characters in instantly recognisable places.
“I love how David Almond’s sense of place
is so strong — his work is set in the north of England while Francesca Lia Brock does the same for Los Angeles. I thought, I’ve never read anything like that set in Ireland. I thought, I can do that.”
Readers of The Accident Season become intimately acquainted with Cara’s home town, her route to school, the river walk and her other haunts — pun intended as an abandoned mansion plays a starring role.
“It’s a fictional small town on the Galway-Mayo border, loosely based on Ballinrobe,” Fowley-Doyle explains. “My parents have a little house up there by the lake so I’ve had a lot of weekends there and I do a lot of writing there.”
Well, she used to but she now has two little girls, aged just two and five months, so it’s a case of writing where and when she can.
“I’m writing a lot of my second book on my phone,” she says.
“I have the girls minded in the morning and then I write on my laptop in a more traditional way but if inspiration strikes while I’m walking to the shops or making diner, then it’s quick, where’s my phone?”
Life is hectic, even more so since she’s been publicising The Accident Season in the UK and US, but she’s loving it, in particular because she’s had a chance to meet for the first time the readers she’s primarily writing for.
“Teenage girls are completely fascinating and are so underestimated and so vilified by popular culture,” she says.
“There are a lot of very vocal, very intelligent, very involved teenage girls — probably more so than when I would have been that age. Certainly they have more critical thinking capacity than mass media would like to suggest.”
Nevertheless, Fowley-Doyle’s core audience are still school-goers and that’s something she has to be conscious of when introducing the more serious themes that emerge in The Accident Season.
“You do need to write more discreetly, less explicitly, but I’m a big fan of letting the reader decide for herself what she wants to read and how she wants to take it.
“I don’t spell everything out but the slightly older, more experienced reader will fill in the blanks in a way that the 13-year-old probably wouldn’t be able to but they’ll both understand to a level that’s appropriate to them what we’re essentially talking about.”
She has come a circuitous route to writing. Born in Dublin to a French mother and Irish father, the family lived in France for a time and she returned each year to spend a month in school there to keep up her French. She always wrote for her own enjoyment.
“I wrote my first novel when I was about eight. It was very cute and slim and filled maybe a third of an Aisling copy book,” she explains.
She completed a masters in popular literature in Trinity before going travelling and was back in Ireland studying vampires, writing The Accident Season and expecting her second child when she decided something had to give so, for the moment at least, she’s put the lid back on the vampires and is concentrating on solely on her writing.
“The second book isn’t a sequel but it’s a similar in ways. It has that magic realism again. I think I set out to write the kind of books the teenage me would have wanted to read but that the adult me also enjoys. I think it’s fantastic that YA appeals to older readers too. You never grow out of a good story.”