Today it’s a pleasure to welcome fellow Prime Writer & funny gal (she really is a hoot) to the blog – lovely Irish writer Fionnuala Kearney. We’re talking about her first two novels, both published by HarperCollins. These stories will really twist your heartstrings and keep you guessing. Classy fiction from a writer who understands human frailty so well.
Here are the blurbs for both books:
THEY SAY EVERY FAMILY HAS SKELETONS IN THEIR CLOSET …
But what happens when you open the door and they won’t stop tumbling out?
For Adam and Beth the first secret wasn’t the last, it was just the beginning.
You think you can imagine the worst thing that could happen to your family, but there are some secrets that change everything.
And then the question is, how can you piece together a future when your past is being rewritten?
THE DAY I LOST YOU WAS THE DAY I DISCOVERED I NEVER REALLY KNEW YOU.
When Jess’s daughter, Anna, is reported lost in an avalanche, everything changes.
Jess’s first instinct is to protect Rose, Anna’s five-year-old daughter. But then she starts to uncover Anna’s other life – unearthing a secret that alters their whole world irrevocably …
THE DAY I LOST YOU WAS THE DAY YOU TORE OUR FAMILY APART. How much freedom do you give your characters to make their
own decisions? You’ve said, “It’s important to know when to yank back on their
reins.” How does this work when you’re writing a character’s arc and they start
What a great question! I think various things happen over
various drafts. In first draft, I tend to give the characters pretty much free
rein within an overall idea of their arc. I really find giving them this
freedom to take me places I hadn’t necessarily planned can sometimes (not all
the time) give me a gem within the story. Second and subsequent drafts is when
I yank back! Then I’m like the Mum with kids who want to go out and play and
I’m telling them, “No. Mother knows best.”
 In both of your novels you use a variety of voices, i.e.
male and female, 1st and 3rd person, texts and blogs. I’m
really interested in why you like to write from all these points of view. Does
it come naturally or is it a deliberate intent, in order to explore a
multiplicity of views on the same events?
I like the sound of that – makes me sound a lot cleverer
than I am! I tend to start with the story and ask myself whose story it is and
what’s it about. More often than not, in my head, the story arrives with
various characters demanding to be heard. At the moment, my writing takes the
format that rather than have an omniscient point of view hearing from everyone
en masse, I prefer to give everyone a chance to be heard individually. It seems
to suit the stories I want to tell; those emotional family dramas. As far as
the tense switch is concerned, I think it probably breaks all those creative writing
rules I started out with! Again though, for me, it comes back to story – there
is usually one character in the book, whose head I have to be in, in real time,
to get in under their skin, to tell their part of what’s unfolding and I
usually opt to tell their part from first person, present tense. Others, where I can have a little distance,
third person past works well. I think that very well might be me exploring a
multiplicity of views on the same events!
 Both books deal with secrets. How important are secrets to a
good narrative. And how important is the theme of honesty to you as a writer?
I think, as readers, we all love a good secret unravelling
and if that secret is something where someone has been hurt, we like to see a
sense of justice? Interestingly, the older I get and the more I write, the more
I realise that what is a guilty secret to one person is merely something that
another is hiding – guilt and often conscience free. Both types interest me.
Guilt is a really interesting motif and occurs often in my writing (lapsed
Irish Catholic – what can I say?) Honesty is something that’s hugely important
to me as a person, less so as a writer. As a person, I have one simple and
possibly high standpoint – Don’t lie to me! Whatever it is, I’ll cope with it,
but do not lie. As a writer, I’m not as black and white, preferring to explore
 Following on from the last question, there are revelations
in your stories and information is revealed to the reader in carefully planned
stages. What planning methods do you use in order to control the release of
Again, this isn’t honed until the final draft. And after the
first draft, I use my enormous white board and copious amounts of coloured
post-its. It’s not rocket science and despite there being software out there
that many other writers wouldn’t be without, I prefer this simple method. At a
glance, I have a visual idea of where things go and can also move things around
easily if something’s not right. Post-its. All the way!
 Your journey to publication sounds like it’s been quite a
lengthy one (like many authors, including me!), as you say you went to your
first creative writing class 30 years ago. Can you tell us a little about the
stages of that journey, some of the highs and lows? And what are your ambitions
for the future?
Yes, my husband reminded me of that class all those years
ago when he was describing me to a friend as an
‘overnight-thirty-year-success’. I was horrified and challenged him that it
can’t have been that long ago – but he was right! I have always, always, wanted
to write but being a young mother, raising a family and earning a living pretty
much got in the way for many years. About ten years ago now, I was in the lucky
position where I could give up full time work and decided to give writing a go.
The internet was a huge help, not just from any research point of view, but
also because I realised that there was no longer a need to be frightened by the
solitude of writing. I discovered many helpful forums and indeed, some of the
writers, I met there in the early years, remain firm friends today.
From those first serious moments, I wrote three separate
novels before my fourth was picked up by my agent and subsequently sold in a
three book deal to HarperCollins. Those earlier novels remain in a drawer and
that’s where they’ll stay because since then, I’ve learned so much and now know
why they were never represented. I’ve often described the time as my
‘apprenticeship’ – an intense period of learning while I work.
The two best highs would be both the moment my agent emailed
me raving about my submission and the moment she called to tell me about the
book deal. They’re up there as two of the very best…
The lows were many in the early years – many times when I
asked myself what the hell I was putting myself through this emotional wringer
for. I once got a rejection letter (yes, a letter before they rejected by email)
and it was printed on paper that was slightly off centre. It was as if the
agents had a bad batch of headed paper and they said ‘Don’t throw it out! Use
it for the rejections!’ Yep, that was low…
My ambitions for the future? Just to keep writing. I consider
myself privileged to be doing the job I dreamed of being able to do all those
years ago. If readers want to read what I write and I can continue to write
novels for them – that’s the ultimate ambition. That and a film deal!
 Can you share with us anything about what you’re working on
I’m currently working on my third novel of three for
HarperCollins and knee deep in revisions as my deadline is July! I’m loving this story so much – it’s a little
different from what I’ve done to date in that the timeline of the story spans
over only five days. Where my debut, ‘You, Me & Other People’, I explored a
marriage in freefall and my second novel, ‘The Day I Lost You’ explored
primarily a mother and daughter relationship – this one is about three siblings,
coming back together to attend their father’s wedding. It’s an intense,
claustrophobic, hot house of emotions with a scattering of secrets and lies and
love and loss and grief!
Thanks so much to lovely Fionnuala for taking time out of her hectic drafting to join us on the blog today. It’’s always so interesting to hear how other writers work (post-its and white boards – YES) and encouraging too to understand you’re not the only one who had a long, rocky road to publication (3 novels in my closet). And Book 3′s structure over 5 days sounds fascinating and full of intensity – it’s gonna be a cracker!
You can find Fionnuala online here: