I am delighted to introduce the author and broadcaster
Rachael welcome to Jaffareadstoo
Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Going Back?
Three or four years ago, I went for a drink with some old college friends. After a couple of hours, the conversation turned to the summer we spent working in Boston. This was back in 1988 when Ireland could be a pretty grey place and when going to America felt as exotic as going to Mars.
A few months previously, one of the group had had the opportunity to return to Boston. Superficially, he said, a lot had changed. The diner where we ate most of our meals was now a McDonald’s. The dive bar where we drank was long since closed. Despite this, he was taken aback by how familiar the city felt. Without the help of a map, he found our old apartment. Even the smell of the underground was instantly recognisable.
The conversation made me think about how we remember people and places, and about what it would be like to return to a city where you had spent some of the most eventful months of your life.
Tell us three interesting things about your novel which will pique the reader's interest?
Hmmm, that’s a good one. Going Back is told in two parts - the story starts in 1988 and later jumps forward to the present day when we get to see what’s become of all the characters, especially the main pair, Elizabeth and Danny. I’ve always loved books with a ‘time jump ’like this, and, thankfully, it seems that lots of other people do too.
I’ve also been surprised by the amount of 1980s nostalgia that’s out there - even among people who can’t have been very old at the time. The book contains plenty of references to the fashions, fads and politics of the late 1980s, so if you have a fondness for the era of big big hair, stonewashed denim and dubious rock music, you can relive it all.
For the third thing, I’ll quote a colleague, a young journalist where I work (for my day-job, I present a morning radio news programme). He read Going Back on his holidays and afterwards told me that he would ‘never look at me in quite the same way again’.
Did you base any of the characters on people you know?
Not totally, but ... in the book, there’s a character called Donal who works in a five-star hotel in Boston. He invents ridiculous stories about Ireland which he tries to pass off as the truth. He believes that the more he ramps up the poverty and misery at home, the larger the tip he’ll receive from the hotel’s wealthy guests. I know someone who may have dabbled in this practice!
Do you outline the plot first, or do you prefer to allow the story to go wherever it takes you?
A bit of both. With Going Back, I started with quite a detailed plan. Half way through, however, I realised that the plot relied too heavily on coincidence, so I had to make some quite significant changes. I was also surprised by the extent to which characters began to veer off in different directions. Originally, Danny’s family were quite peripheral to the story, but the more I wrote, the more I realised that they had to play a central role.
Something similar happened with my new book, Each and Every One. The main story concerns a wealthy Dublin family falling on hard times. As I wrote, however, I found I was concentrating more and more on a subplot involving a poorer family called the O’Neills. Eventually, I found a way to bring the two stories together, even though this hadn’t been my original intention.
When do you find the time to write, and do you have a favourite place to do your writing?
I’m fortunate, in that I don’t need a specific place or routine. If I only have half an hour, I’ll try to make the most of it. That being said, I did take some time off work this year so that I could write in a slightly more structured way. Like many before me, I’ve found that you never really let go. I might be out for a walk of making the dinner when an idea or a line will pop into my head and I’ll have to scribble it down - or text it to myself.
What books do you like to read?
Just about everything. In fact, I try to read as widely as possible. It really irritates me when people say they would never read a particular genre - I hate book-snobbery. I've just finished Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which I loved. I also read quite a bit of crime fiction. I was in my publisher’s office in Dublin the other day and I managed to nab an advance copy of Michael Connelly’s new Harry Bosch book, The Burning Room. My all-time favourite writer is Anne Tyler. Her writing is so beautiful that reading it feels like singing, but there’s nothing pretentious or clever-clever about her books.
Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?
My new book Each and Every One has just been released, so at the moment, I'm busy with that. I'm in the early stages of writing a third book. It’s about a woman who reaches a turning point in her life and about her decisions affect the rest of her family.
18 September 2014
My thanks to Rachael for being such a lovely guest on my blog and for generously giving away a copy of her book Going Back to two lucky winners.
Rachael can be found on Facebook facebook.com/rachaelenglishwriter
and on Twitter @EnglishRachael