CREATIVE writing courses have never been more popular and everyone, it seems, harbours a secret desire to see their name in print, though not everyone can realise those dreams.
Roisin Meaney is one person, however, who has, reinventing herself as a successful writer of women’s fiction and creating her own market niche in the process.
To this end, she has written 15 adult novels and two children’s books. Seven of her novels have made the top five in the Irish bestseller list, one going all the way to the top.
Indeed, by now, her writing has been translated diversely into German, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Italian, Norwegian and Russian. Her books have also been published in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand.
Her 16th novel, The Birthday Party, marks a return to the fictitious island of Roone, where three of her previous books have been set.
“I love to write about Ireland because I’m Irish, and it’s in my blood,” explained Roisin. “I love the way we interact, the way we talk, the way we think. I couldn’t write with conviction about anyplace else without living there for a considerable period of time, and I love Ireland too much to do that. I don’t think there’s any danger of people not wanting to read books with an Irish flavour — they seem to be popular the world over.
As for the genre, I generally describe them, when asked, as commercial or women’s fiction, or ‘slices of life’. The good, the bad and the ugly, just as in real life. I steer clear of graphic writing, whether it’s violence or sex; it’s just not me. Each writer to his own, and I have to follow my gut.
Roisin has done more than her fair share of nine-to-five jobs to keep the wolf from the door down through the years. A teacher by training, she taught in Ireland and Africa before becoming a copywriter in London.
However, placing the day job on hold shortly before 9/11 (one of the doomed flights was like her own outbound from Boston!), she travelled to be with her brother in San Francisco where she finally wrote her debut novel, The Daisy Picker (2004).
The story, revolving around a woman in a rut, won a publisher’s ‘Write a Bestseller’ competition and a two-book deal with Tivoli, a new fiction imprint of Gill and Macmillan.
Putting Out the Stars (2005) was her follow-up novel but it was back to the drawing board after that when her publisher went into receivership.
Always at her best in adversity, Roisin’s third novel, The Last Week of May (2007), won her a new two-book deal with Hodder Headline Ireland. It went on to top the fiction bestseller list in Ireland with the following, The People Next Door (2008), making it to number two. Next came Half Seven on a Thursday (2009), and The Things We Do for Love (2010), which secured a US publishing deal, along with its successor, Love in the Making (2011). However, it was her eighth book, One Summer (2012), which delivered her greatest commercial success.
“I’ve been with Hachette Books Ireland since they published The Last Week of May,” Roisin said. “I’ve been lucky enough also to have had the same editor, Ciara Doorley, for all of that time and her advice is invaluable. I have a simple rule when it comes to writing: I start with a character and the plot follows on from that.
“I don’t keep a notebook by my bed because I never dream — or if I do, I never remember them. I never force myself to write — I’ve tried; it never works. I don’t panic if ideas are slow to come: I trust something will occur eventually, and so far, so good.
“Sometimes I’ll use my own experiences to inform my plots: the inspiration for Half Seven on a Thursday came from my involvement in an amateur drama group. The charity shop where I volunteered for a few years cropped up in Two Fridays in April (2015) while a school reunion led to The Reunion (2016).
“If something occurs to me I’ll make a note of it on my laptop, in a file called; ‘Ideas for future books’. I’ll go through that when it’s time to start thinking about a new book, sometimes something jumps out, and sometimes it doesn’t!”
Roisin still gets a buzz from it all. This generally occurs around the 10,000-word mark in a book, when she’s reasonably confident that she’s on the right track, and everything begins to move along more smoothly.
That said, she acknowledges the solitary nature of the task; but says that she is very comfortable working alone. She is, however, lucky enough to have plenty of pals who haul her out every so often for a dose of social life. Fred her ginger cat, meanwhile, is a constant if jealous companion.
Ciara Doorley, editorial director at Hachette Books Ireland, specialises in commissioning, acquiring, and editing fiction, and non-fiction works, including women’s fiction.
She commented: “Roisin’s skill is to transform the ordinary into something extraordinary. Writing with real warmth, she conveys a genuine love for her characters which easily transfers to readers who invest heavily in it from the very first page.
“There has always been a market for deep, intelligent, and emotive, women’s fiction. It’s a genre through which fans can identify memorable characters and lose themselves in the plot. The latter love her writing and every new book from Roisin Meaney is hugely anticipated.”
Roisin likes to joke, that what motivates her to keep writing is the thought that the money will dry up if she stops. She also admits to hankering after some recognition by way of a writing prize of any sort, or at least a nomination, but to date it hasn’t happened.
“Realistically, my kind of book isn’t generally well regarded by judging panels — not dramatic enough, not shocking enough, not innovative enough — so I don’t hold out any hope of winning a big gong but I’m OK with that,” stated Roisin.
If I were to advise young writers I’d say what I always say when asked: ‘Write for yourself, not for anyone else. Write what comes naturally to you, not what you think the market is looking for.’ Genre will come from that — I believe that writers are always drawn naturally in a certain direction, be it crime, historical, young adult, or children’s stories.
Indeed, she harbours a secret passion to write more of the latter and regularly pitches ideas to her agent. One option would be for a picture book for young children, as she tells stories to that age group regularly at her local library.
It’s a tough market, though, competition is fierce, and even if the word count is far lower than with adult books, every one of those words has to work even harder. In terms of commercial sales there are, it seems, few JK Rowlings around.
Roisin concluded: “Writer’s block can be daunting but I don’t let it bother me. I ignore it and do other stuff while I think about my story — eventually I get going again.
“Books can be a great escape from life but the stories have to be grounded in reality, that is, true enough to life that readers can believe in the characters, but also interesting enough that they command attention.”