The Bestselling Mother
AUTHOR SINÉAD MORIARTY’S AUTHOR SINÉAD MORIARTY’S CAREER WAS GOING WELL, BUT NOW THAT RICHARD AND JUDY OFFICIALLY LOVE HER, THE SKY’S THE LIMIT!
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
mother Mary Moriarty wrote children’s books
Mad About You, published by Penguin, is out now