Monica McInerney on Covid-reading, back-up singing and the motivating power of bad reviews
As a longtime fan, it gives me great pleasure to welcome Monica to the blog this month! I've been reading Monica's Irish-Australian stories for many years and was thrilled to get my hot little hands on an early copy of her new novel, The Godmothers, which hit the shelves on September 29.
Another rich tale about family, love and friendship, The Godmothers takes readers from Australia to England, Ireland and Scotland as Eliza Miller tries to track down her lost past. Flanked by her loving godmothers, and spurred on by snippets, secrets and stories from her late mother, Eliza embarks on a whirlwind adventure with a cast of flamboyant characters in McInerney's trademark style.
Five fast minutes with Monica McInerney
Do you have a good luck charm or a special token that sits on your desk/in your office?
I have dozens. For the past 20 years, I’ve collected objects connected with the themes of my books. The Godmothers is my 12th novel, so its tokens (ring-tailed lemurs) jostle for space beside foxes from when I was writing The House of Memories, robins from Hello from the Gillespies and a beautiful tea-cup from when I was writing Those Faraday Girls. I’m currently writing a children’s book series starring a black cat, so there are now black cats appearing everywhere too.
Favourite exercise to counteract all the hours sitting at the keyboard?
Walking. I live in Dublin, not far from the Royal Canal and several small city parks. As often as possible, I also drive the short distance to the Phoenix Park and have a big walk along its chestnut-tree lined paths. It’s one of my favourite parts of Dublin and appears in several of my novels.
What’s your go-to weekday dinner dish?
Currently, it’s a quick, delicious one involving tuna slowly warmed in olive oil and lemon juice, served on mashed white beans, garlic, red pepper, zucchini, spinach and parsley. I’m going to have it tonight, having just written that.
Which career would you choose if money wasn’t a factor and writing wasn’t an option?
If lack of talent wasn’t an obstacle, I’d love to have been a backing singer for a huge band like U2 or The Rolling Stones. All the fun and magic of performing to huge crowds, none of the pitfalls of being a famous singer.
Favourite book from your childhood?
The Railway Children by E Nesbit. I grew up in the Clare Valley of South Australia, where my dad was the railway stationmaster. My six brothers and sisters treated the station and the tracks like our playground. We were very possessive of the title ‘The Railway Children’ so I approached the book with some disdain, then fell in love with it. I still read it every few years.
Which jelly bean do you eat first, and which do you leave until last?
I don’t eat jelly beans, thankfully. I don’t have a sweet tooth. Salty things are my downfall.
Have you done anything special with any of your advances?
I like to buy a small piece of art each time I finish a book. It gives me great pleasure to look at while I’m writing the next book. It also reminds me that I finished one book and I can do it again, if I keep at it.
Which of your books would you love to see converted to TV or a movie, and who would play the leads?
I’d love to see my trilogy The Alphabet Sisters, Lola’s Secret and The Trip of a Lifetime made into a TV series. If I could turn back time, I’d cast the late Ruth Cracknell as my Irish grandmother, Lola Quinlan. I’d also love to see Claudia Karvan as Anna, the oldest Alphabet Sister, Celia Pacquola as Bett, the middle sister, and Lucy Durack as Carrie, the youngest.
You’re snowed in on the side of the Swiss Alps with access to only one novel and one electronic device. Which do you choose?
I’d choose a classic novel, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I read it for the first time this year and marvelled at every page. It’s a masterclass of great writing, and I’m sure I would learn so much by reading and re-reading it. Gadget wise, I’d choose some sort of portable battery-operated heater.
Favourite Aussie book so far for 2020?
I’ve found myself unexpectedly living in Australia for most of 2020, after becoming one of the COVID-Stranded in March 2020 while here on a family visit. The borders closed and my flights to Dublin were cancelled. Apart from special time with my Mum and family here, I’ve had the big pleasure of reading many new and brilliant Australian novels. It’s too hard to choose a favourite, but the list includes The Bluffs by Kyle Perry, Who We Were by Ber Carroll, The Application of Pressure by Rachael Mead, The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke, Melting Moments by Anna Goldsworthy and A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville.
Best one-line sentence from one of your book reviews?
Can it be the worst-best? In 2000, my first novel, a romantic comedy called A Taste for It, set in the food and wine world, was reviewed by a hip UK magazine. They summed it up in one line: A load of old plonk. It stung at the time, but I consoled myself that at least from there the only way was up.
‘I don’t want two wishy-washy godmothers,’ Jeannie had said that afternoon in the country hospital when Eliza was only a day old. ‘No dolls. No pink dresses. Just lots of adventures. Lots of spoiling. The pair of you like two mighty warriors protecting her at every step.’
Eliza Miller grew up in Australia as the only daughter of a troubled young mother, but with the constant support of two watchful godmothers, Olivia and Maxie. Despite her tricky childhood, she always felt loved and secure. Until, just before her eighteenth birthday, a tragic event changed her life.
Thirteen years on, Eliza is deliberately living as safely as possible, avoiding close relationships and devoting herself to her job. Out of the blue, an enticing invitation from one of her godmothers prompts a leap into the unknown.
Within a fortnight, Eliza finds herself in the middle of a complicated family in Edinburgh. There’s no such thing as an ordinary day any more. Yet, amidst the chaos, Eliza begins to blossom. She finds herself not only hopeful about the future, but ready to explore her past, including the biggest mystery of all – who is her father?
Set in Australia, Scotland, Ireland and England, THE GODMOTHERS is a great big hug of a book that will fill your heart to bursting. It is a moving and perceptive story about love, lies, hope and sorrow, about the families we are born into and the families we make for ourselves.
Find Monica online
Contest to win a copy has now closed. Thanks to Penguin Random House for providing the giveaway and review copies. Congratulations to Stacey Houllis.