The Best­selling Mother


The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE -

FOR God’s sake, don’t men­tion ‘chick lit’ to best­selling au­thor Sinéad Moriarty – un­less you want to send her into a tail­spin, that is. ‘The term is deroga­tory,’ she snaps, when I meet her for cof­fee in the Mer­rion Ho­tel in Dublin. ‘Any of the au­thors I know who write women’s fic­tion are very tal­ented and work very hard and this de­means the work they do. What we women writ­ers do is not all high heels and chardon­nay.’

Maybe not, but the cham­pagne was cer­tainly flow­ing re­cently af­ter Sinéad’s edi­tor called her to tell her that her lat­est book, Mad About You, had been picked for the Richard and Judy’s book club’s hugely in­flu­en­tial sum­mer 2014 read­ing list.

Richard and Judy are among the most pow­er­ful pair in pub­lish­ing and ev­ery book that fea­tures in their book club — much like Oprah’s book club in the US — be­comes an an in­stant best­seller.

Richard Made­ley has long been a bona fide fan of Sinéad’s, and gushed praise for her in his news­pa­per re­views for her books In My Sis­ter’s Shoes and Keep­ing It In The Fam­ily, com­par­ing her with Mar­ian Keyes — and all with­out a ‘chick lit’ ref­er­ence in sight.

The Richard and Judy seal of ap­proval prom­ises to un­lock a huge world­wide au­di­ence for Sinéad, much like it did for Ir­ish au­thor Ce­celia Ah­ern, when it in­cluded PS I Love You in 2004. Joseph O’Con­nor was also cat­a­pulted from No.337 in the Bri­tish best­seller charts to No.1 overnight, af­ter his novel, Star of the Sea, was the sec­ond book to fea­ture on the book club, when guest Bob Geldof de­scribed it as ‘a mas­ter­piece’.

‘My edi­tor rang me and asked, “Are you sit­ting down?”’ re­calls Sinéad of the mo­ment she heard the news. ‘I never dreamt I would be picked. I’ve never read a book from the club I haven’t en­joyed as they’re so dis­cern­ing in their mix and choices. I met them and they are such lovely, smart, warm people who love books. Richard was so gen­er­ous.’

Al­though the rec­om­men­da­tion prom­ises to at­tract big­ger au­di­ences to Sinéad’s work, she has al­ready gar­nered a huge fol­low­ing with her pre­vi­ous eight books, which sold more than half a mil­lion copies.

When she ar­rives at the Mer­rion Ho­tel, Sinéad is wear­ing ca­sual black trousers, a blazer and pumps. Later, when the pho­tog­ra­pher ar­rives, she dis­ap­pears into the ladies re­stroom and, Won­der­woman-style, re­turns two min­utes later look­ing im­pec­ca­bly glam­orous in a print dress and im­pos­si­bly high heels.

So, how on earth does a stay- at- home mother- of- three man­age to churn out one best­selling book af­ter the next, ev­ery year for a decade? ‘I don’t mind mess at all,’ con­fesses Sinéad, who is now a proud mum to Hugo, nine, Ge­ordy, eight, and Amy, five. ‘You have to be able to step over the wash­ing. I don’t see the laun­dry or care if the house is a mess. When a laun­dry moun­tain starts block­ing your way, then you get around to it.’

Sinéad met her hus­band Troy — the son of Jackie Lavin — when she was a first year lan­guages stu­dent at Trin­ity, where he stud­ied busi­ness, eco­nomic and so­cial stud­ies. They mar­ried when Sinéad was 29 and when the cou­ple moved to Lon­don a year later for oil trader Troy’s work, she de­cided it was time to take her writ­ing more se­ri­ously.

‘I came to the point in my life when I re­alised I’m hap­pi­est when I’m writ­ing and it was time to get se­ri­ous.’

While she is thrilled to have turned her hobby into the ca­reer she dreamed about since she was a girl grow­ing up in a book- mad house­hold in Boot­er­stown, there were some stum­bling blocks along the way.

Sinéad’s f i rst two books, one a his­tor­i­cal novel, failed to hit the right note with pub­lish­ers. ‘ They were just aw­ful,’ she says. ‘They were re­jected by ev­ery­one in ev­ery con­ti­nent. I was clue­less, think­ing if it’s not to their taste it will be to some­one else’s but the truth is they just weren’t any good. I cr inge now when I think about them.’

At the time, Sinéad was work­ing in the soul-sap­ping world of trade jour­nal­ism.

‘I was writ­ing about re­ally bor­ing sub­jects and spent a lot of time look­ing at cogs. But I wrote [my books] ev­ery spare minute of the day, tin­ker­ing away ev­ery lunchtime.’

For Sinéad, the idea of be­ing a pub­lished au­thor was not an out­landish one as her mother Mary Moriarty wrote and pub­lished chil­dren’s books.

‘I re­mem­ber she took me, my sis­ter and brother along to the Wax Mu­seum and when we didn’t recog­nise the Ir­ish his­tor­i­cal fig­ures like Yeats and Grainne Mhaol and Jonathan Swift she was ap­palled so she de­cided to do some­thing about it and wrote a se­ries of books about these fig­ures for chil­dren. I saw her writ­ing at the kitchen ta­ble and re­mem­ber go­ing to her book launches so it made me re­alise it could be done.’

The break­through came when Sinéad asked her boss at the trade mag­a­zine where she worked for Fridays off so she could con­cen­trate more on her writ­ing. ‘Not work­ing Fridays meant I took a 20 per cent wage cut so that re­ally fo­cused me and I got more se­ri­ous about it and de­cided to give it a go. You need to force yourself to take it se­ri­ously.’

De­spite get­ting knock­backs for her first two books, Sinéad re­fused to give up on her dreams and joined a cre­ative writ­ing class at an adult ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre in Lon­don. It proved to be a trans­for­ma­tive ap­pren­tice­ship.

‘I was very pri­vate and never showed my writ­ing to any­one but you need feed­back as you can’t be ob­jec­tive about your own books. It was nerve-wrack­ing and a bit tor­tur­ous but ev­ery­one in the class felt the same way.’

And it was here Sinéad dis­cov­ered how to write in her own voice, about a sub­ject very close to her own heart. ‘I was strug­gling to have chil­dren for four years so I had the idea to write about that. I fig­ured out my own unique voice and it seemed to write it­self. Ev­ery­one was en­cour­ag­ing and the tu­tor said to me: ‘I think you’re on to some­thing here.’

She was right. The Baby Trail, a bit­ter­sweet com­edy about a cou­ple strug­gling to have a baby, was snapped up by Pen­guin.

The book made a big splash in 2004 as it was the first time an au­thor wrote so hon­estly about the sub­ject — and it was made all the more poignant by the fact Sinéad her­self was strug­gling to have a baby when she wrote it.

‘I had a lot to get out of my sys­tem when I wrote it — in­fer­til­ity is an is­sue a lot of women strug­gle with, and I did for a few years. I al­ways wanted to have chil­dren and when you’re go­ing through this it feels like an eter­nity. I re­ally be­lieve writ­ing it helped me to get preg­nant — when the book came out I was preg­nant and in a great place.’

The Baby Trail went on to be trans­lated into 25 lan­guages and prove an un­likely hit with men. Al­though Sinéad es­ti­mates about 90 per cent of her read­ers are women, she re­veals: ‘I’ve had men email me say­ing The Baby Trail helped them as it’s not only women who strug­gle through that ex­pe­ri­ence.’

Af­ter The Baby Trail, Sinéad set off writ­ing her sec­ond book A Per­fect Match, fol­lowed up a year later with From Here to Ma­ter­nity, com­plet­ing the Emma and James tril­ogy. By then Sinéad and Troy had moved back to Dublin, and Sinéad was writ­ing full­time from home in Lough­lin­stown.

Sinéad cred­its her pro­lific ca­reer with a strict dis­ci­pline that sees her sit down at her desk once her chil­dren are gone to school at 9am and work steadily un­til 3pm ev­ery day.

‘Some­times it’s a big strug­gle and very tricky and like draw­ing blood but you have to tough it out. Start­ing out I read Stephen King’s amaz­ing work on writ­ing — he sets him­self 2,000 words a day and I try to achieve that. I might end up delet­ing 1,500 words the next day but it’s about keep­ing the story mov­ing for­ward.’

Keep­ing her com­pany at home is her hus­band Troy, who works from his home of­fice, and the fam­ily’s black cat, who they called Lilly be­liev­ing him to be a girl. By the time the vet re­vealed Lilly was ac­tu­ally a boy, the name had stuck, ex­plains Sinéad.

As for work­ing in such close prox­im­ity to Troy, she smiles: ‘Ac­tu­ally, it’s re­ally nice to be at home with him — much bet­ter than be­ing at home on my own. I can bounce ideas off him and he’s good for ad­vice, par­tic­u­larly for male char­ac­ters. I spend so much time locked away in my of­fice writ­ing that I love to chat and have a cup of tea with him but then some days we get so ab­sorbed in our work we don’t see one an­other.’

As for how Sinéad gets on with her mother in law, Jackie Lavin, and whether she is a fan of her books, Sinéad laughs: ‘Now I haven’t sat down and grilled Jackie on the books but she’s great and I’m so lucky to con­sider them fam­ily. We’re very close and I’m as proud of them as they are of me, they’re great cheer­lead­ers. It has been a dif­fi­cult time for people and fin­gers crossed we take a turn­ing point for ev­ery­one — there is a feel­ing of change.’

Sinéad de­scribes her books as ‘ fic­tion and funny but with a very se­ri­ous is­sue at the base of them’.

‘I like to write about ev­ery­day is­sues that are uni­ver­sal,’ ex­plains Sinéad. ‘ I think ev­ery­thing I cover has touched ev­ery­one’s life — we all know some­one who has dealt with cancer or eat­ing dis­or­ders.’

In Mad About You, Sinéad re­vis­its Emma and James ten years down the line as, she says, she ‘al­ways wanted to know what would hap­pen next’. The idea for the plot came to her in an un­usual way.

‘There is a stalker el­e­ment in it. I met a woman through a friend and she told me she was hav­ing a ter­ri­ble time with some­one chas­ing her hus­band and I thought it would be in­ter­est­ing to take Emma out of her com­fort zone. James loses his job so they move to Lon­don and she’s try­ing to set­tle in, and she’s lonely and vul­ner­a­ble and it’s about how these things can es­ca­late.

‘ They’ve been mar­ried for a while and en­joy the na­ture of mar riage and the peaks and troughs. I ex­plore the themes of trust, both within a mar­riage and also is­sues

I be­lieve writ­ing helped me to get preg­nant

around how as moth­ers we en­trust child­min­ders with our chil­dren with­out know­ing very much about them.

‘Also I ex­plore emi­gra­tion and how that af­fects fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als. Ev­ery­body knows some­body in my books. I’m care­ful not to mine my own life but I use it for in­spi­ra­tion and I find that there are ideas and in­ter­est­ing sto­ries every­where. The harder you work, the more cre­ative you be­come. Gen­er­ally speak­ing when I’m im­mersed in a book I get the idea for the next one.’

By book num­ber six, Pieces of My Heart, Sinéad was go­ing straight to num­ber one in the Ir­ish book charts, and was nom­i­nated for the Ir­ish Book Awards, a trend that con­tin­ued with her sev­enth and eighth books Me and My Sis­ters and This Child of Mine. Sinéad’s first eight books sold half a mil­lion copies but Mad About You looks set to blow that com­bined fig­ure out of the wa­ter now that Richard and Judy have given it their stamp of ap­proval. There’ll cer­tainly be more glitzy launch par­ties and plenty of high heels and chardon­nay but for Sinéad, she will re­main hap­pi­est, locked away from it all, at home, tap­ping out her next best­seller.

‘It’s not hard when you love what you do and I am at my hap­pi­est when I switch off from it all and go into my lit­tle of­fice and write. I’m so lucky.’

High praise: Sinéad’s book Mad About You is on Richard and Judy’s 2014 sum­mer read­ing list

Fam­ily: Sinéad’s

mother Mary Moriarty wrote chil­dren’s books

Mad About You, pub­lished by Pen­guin, is out now

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