I recently chatted with Roisin Meaney, one of Ireland’s most successful authors, who has just seen her latest novel, The Reunion, top the Irish bestsellers list for six weeks in a row.
This prolific author’s career will soon hit an even greater high, when she becomes even more of an international sensation, with offers of translation deals from Russian and Norwegian publishers in the pipeline.
“I already have adult books in the US, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, so it’ll be great to have two more territories to add to the list,” said Roisin.
Author of thirteen adult and two children’s books, Roisin shows no signs of slowing down, as she is currently in the process of writing her fourteenth novel which will be published in June 2017.
Always on the lookout for new storylines, the inspiration for her latest book came from a reunion at the last place she taught, the Limerick School Project.
“I spent the evening talking with parents of children I’d taught over the years, and one of them remarked that a reunion might make a good theme for a book, and so it came to pass,” said Roisin.
Prior to her success as a writer, having qualified as a primary school teacher, Roisin taught in Dublin for a number of years. Then she moved on to teach English in Zimbabwe, after that she worked as an advertising copywriter in London, and then returned to teach in Ireland.
In 2001 she decided to try and write a book, but was unsuccessful with her first attempt, which was a collection of stories for children. At this point she took a writing course given by David Rice at the Killaloe Hedge School in Clare.
It was while on another break from teaching, while staying with one of her brothers who lived in San Francisco, that Roisin wrote, The Daisy Picker, the book which launched her career when it won Tivoli Publishers ‘Write a Bestseller’ competition. The prize was a two book deal, and on the strength of her win she got an agent.
When she returned to Ireland she resumed her teaching career, and wrote her second book, Putting Out the Stars, in her spare time. In 2006 she signed up with Hodder Headline Ireland, now Hachette Books Ireland, and in 2008 Roisin gave up teaching to concentrate on her career as an author.
A disciplined writer, who always meets her deadlines and plans her writing, Roisin prefers to work at the kitchen table. She structures her day as a normal work day and then takes the evenings off. Her first draft would usually take six months then she spends the next four to six months fine-tuning the text.
Roisin conducts research for each of her books, in order to thoroughly know her characters and make them true to life, she interviews people who work at jobs that her characters have.
“I’ve spoken with doctors, nurses, barristers, guards, sheep farmers, social workers and artists. I signed up for a life drawing class when I was writing The Things We Do for Love, and I spoke with the model during the break. I’m currently looking for a musician to chat to about my work in progress.”
Roisin enjoys writing compelling stories with interesting characters and usually starts with a plot, “but some of my plots are pretty sketchy so it’s a case of growing the story as I write it, and this can go in a direction I didn’t expect. My first book in particular, The Daisy Picker, turned out very differently from what I had planned.”
Roisin believes her writing style has evolved since she was first published, and feels she is learning a little more with each book she writes. She becomes emotionally involved with her characters when writing, and recalls crying while writing a scene in her novel One Summer where a character dies, “I love writing that’s unexpected, that you don’t see coming. And also writing that moves you, in any way.”
Roisin enjoys the glitz and glamour of book launches, but equally enjoys an escape away to the sun, or relaxing with a glass of wine or cup of tea, with a book by the fire where she competes for space on the couch with her two cats Fred and Ginger who snuggle up beside her.
She loves to read and write general fiction and mostly enjoys books about ordinary people, “I don’t mind which era the novels I read are set in, as long as the storyline keeps me hooked and the characters are ones I can warm to. If a book doesn’t grab me in 50 pages I toss it aside. Life’s too short.”
Roisin’s top three favourite books are Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Ann Tyler and 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. She has just finished reading, All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan’s, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
Of all the books she has ever read Roisin wishes she had written, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s got it all – humour, pathos, heartbreak, joy.”
One of Roisin’s favourite films is Love Actually, “It has its corny moments but on the whole it’s a joy from start to finish. I love all the different stories and the connections that become apparent gradually.”
Not one to suffer from writer’s block, if Roisin is ever stuck in her writing, she will go for a walk or do a bit of gardening. But why does she write?
“That’s easy, because I love it. Even when it’s hard I love it. I pinch myself regularly to make sure I’m not dreaming. Sometimes it seems too good to be true that I’m getting paid to make stuff up,” she smiled.