Clare Valley summer inspires novelist
Thursday, 6th October, 2011
By Jennifer Chapman
SYDNEY - Monica McInerney is like a magpie - she picks up shiny bits of life and uses them in her novels.
The Australian writer also describes herself as similar to a compost bin - she steals ideas from everyone she meets for her characters.
“I always describe myself as a walking compost bin; everything I experience goes in and it mulches away and I use it in some way”.
Many of her stories are based in Australia because, she says, she knows the country better than anywhere else in the world. That’s despite living in Dublin with her Irish husband.
McInerney started writing her latest book, Lola’s Secret, while it was snowing one Christmas in Dublin. Although she was watching flakes fall past her attic window, she was writing about a 40-degree Celsius Deceber in the Clare Valley.
“In my imagination, in my head, the heat I was feeling wasn’t from the central heating or the hot water bottle on my lap,” she laughs. “It was a really unusual writing experience but I really enjoyed it.”
McInerney, 46, often writes about places far away and says writing about Australia from Ireland helps cure homesickness. She also tends to set her books in Ireland when she is at home in Australia. It’s part of writing in a visual way, she says.
“I think in a funny way I find it easier to write about a place when I’m not there because I’m not distracted by what’s actually going on about me; it’s up to me to picture exactly what that landscape looks like.”
Lola’s Secret is the sequel to the best-selling The Alphabet Sisters, with the story picking up four years later.
It is about an 84-year-old Irish woman Lola Quinlan who decides to give her family a Christmas to remember. It’s three weeks before the big day and it’s very hot. She sends her family away and invites some mystery guests to stay at the motel she runs.
“She thinks she’s just doing a simple act but it’s the chain of events that gets set into motion because of her hatching that plot,” says McInerney.
“It’s a book all about connections within families and within groups of people that don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other; it’s about families and Christmas and sadnesses and all the layers of life that come to the surface at Christmas time.”
Family is the common thread throughout McInerney’s books but early on in her career she believed she needed something much more dramatic.
When she was in her 20s she was working as a book publicist and meeting authors such as Roald Dahl and Tim Winton. She assumed they had extraordinary lives and thought she needed more experience before she write novels.
“And then I realised that actually what fascinated me and always had done was, from the surface, what looked like ordinary lives, family lives, but once you get inside that’s where all the extraordinary stories are I think.”
She has now gone on to publish eight novels and five collections of short stories.
“Everything I do as a writer is because I’m a reader; I write the kind of books that I want to get swept up in myself,” she says.