This much I know: Patricia Scanlan, author

I’ve been blessed with a vivid imagination, says Patricia Scanlan.

I usually hate starting to write a book. It’s a bit like going to a wedding you don’t want to be at and being placed beside people you don’t know, because you know it’s going to be a hard slog. 

Then, as you get to know them, you begin to like them and by end of the wedding, you can’t bear to leave.

I’ve written 24 books in all.

As a child, I could be shy, although, being the eldest, I was bossy.

The best advice I ever received was from Maeve Binchy: “Choosing an agent is like choosing a husband: difficult and individual.”

I began my first book when I was working as a librarian in Ballymun. I had a mortgage and a car that was falling to bits and was desperately in need of more funds. 

I set out to write a Mills and Boon type book but couldn’t keep to the genre. However, it awakened the joy of writing within me. I didn’t give up the day job though. I worked as a librarian for 15 years.

I often worked late nights in the library, so, instead of spending money on heating my freezing cold flat, I’d write in bed with the electric blanket on. It was warm and safe and I’d often write until three in the morning if I was starting work late the following day.

I gave up work to write book three. It was a leap of faith. Sometimes I think you have to be brave and make those decisions. My publishers worked out a monthly payment plan so that I could pay the mortgage, but I didn’t know if I’d make anything extra. 

My parents were certainly surprised I was giving up a permanent and pensionable job, but they encouraged me to do what I thought was right.

I believe in fate but I also think that you make your own luck. I couldn’t have given all my energy to writing if I hadn’t taken that step. Once I did so, the doors opened.

I’d hate to be starting out now as a writer, with ebooks and the devaluation of books in general and reduced shelf space in bookshops. When I started out, you didn’t have to pay to have your book on display, now, you could pay €10,000 for the best spot.

I hate talking about myself. I sometimes meet people who are hesitant to talk to me, as if they are intimidated. 

My public persona is far different from the real me. I’m friendly and like to talk but interviews are not my favourite places to be. Maybe it has something to do with my first ever interview where the journalist seemed nice enough. 

I was going to a wedding on the weekend the piece was due out, staying with my extended family. We rushed to get the Sunday papers. The interviewer had written ‘she writes in a style that is easily accessible to the mentally handicapped.’ I was shocked.

Enthusiasm, the gift of loving the work and of being open to change, are my greatest gifts. You have to be able to deviate from a fixed idea.

Only once did I plan out a book, by writing a synopsis. It took forever, at least a week of my life, and the finished book was nothing like the plan. So I don’t tend to work like that.

I love painting. On afternoons off, I used to paint out in the garden. I did a lot of painting on silk.

My best advice is to keep the day job. Have high expectations for your book, but be realistic.

The trait I most admire in others is kindness.

My worst fault is impatience.

If I could be reborn as someone else for a day, I’d be Claude Monet. I adore the impressionists.

My biggest challenges have been health issues, such as endometriosis. Not being able to have children was devastating at the time. Sitting actually isn’t very good for me. I prop myself up with a cushion.

I’m not religious. I believe religions keep people trapped and submissive. I do however view things from a spiritual view point. You can open your channels to receive something from a higher plane.

If I could change one thing in our society I’d like to see old people being cared for in their own homes rather than in nursing homes.

So far life has taught me that things can change in the blink of an eye.

Orange Blossom Days by Patricia Scanlan is published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd. Out now in all good bookshops.


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