Niamh Greene is a well known Irish author, who had always dreamt of being a writer. Now, her dream has come true and she lives in the countryside with her husband and two children. “Rules for a Perfect Life” is her fourth novel.
- Niamh, to those who aren’t familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing?
Well, I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I always had my nose in a book as a child and I was that really annoying girl in class who loved writing essays in school. I even went to UCD to study English so I could read and write for three solid years and pretend I was somehow studying. But, once I graduated, a funny thing happened – I bottled it. It was the early 1990s, all my friends were getting sensible jobs and admitting that I wanted to write for a living seemed a little silly. Plus I knew I didn’t want to be a journalist and the idea that I could actually write a book seemed completely ridiculous. And so I went to work in a tour operator’s and spent my days haggling with cranky bus drivers and persuading tourists that kissing the Blarney Stone would not give them incurable diseases. I had other careers after this too – in retrospect I had a classic case of “putting-it-off-itis” which is pretty common among us creative types apparently. I took it to another level admittedly, although I was still writing in secret – hiding short stories under my bed like a big child.
And then I actually had children and realized that someday I was going to die and I would never have been a proper writer at all. This frightened me for all of five minutes until I decided to procrastinate a bit longer – naturally not wanting to break the habit of a lifetime. Then my children went to school and it was a toss up between getting serious about writing or facing the mounds of dirty washing smirking at me from the landing. I literally forced myself to sit at my computer. Amazingly, the publishers liked what I wrote and I got a deal quickly, to my complete and utter shock. My first novel, Secret Diary of a Demented Housewife was published in 2007, went to Number One and was nominated for two Irish Book Awards. That was followed by Confessions of a Demented Housewife, Letters to a Love Rat and Rules for a Perfect Life. All of them have been widely translated – and I’m still sort of pinching myself about it all.
- “Rules for a Perfect Life” is your fourth book and tells the story of Maggie, who longs to have the perfect life, no matter how many rules she has to break along the way. What inspired you to write this story?
Perhaps because I write comedy, I’m always intrigued by the “best laid plans that go awry” types of situations (see question 1 above – ahem).
Maggie, the heroine of the novel, wants everything to be perfect – but life has other ideas unfortunately. She is a glamorous city girl who ends up working in the countryside with animals and small children – her worst nightmare frankly! It was great fun to write.
- What author do you admire?
I admire many authors, but I have to say that Maeve Binchy is a favorite.
I’ve been reading her novels since I was a teenager and dreaming of being a writer myself (way before the hardcore, dedicated procrastinating kicked in obviously).
There’s something about Maeve’s writing – her voice is so warm and chatty – that gets me hooked every time. I had the great privilege of reviewing a book of hers for the Irish Times once – my claim to fame! It was a real dream-come-true moment for me. Sadly I’ve yet to meet her – although I have seriously considered sitting outside her house and then accidentally on purpose bumping into her when she appears…genius eh?
- Out of the many books that you have read over the years, which one would you have liked to have said “I wrote that”?
There are hundreds and hundreds of books I wish I’d written – but the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Age 13 and 3/4s sticks out because it was one of the first to make me howl with laughter. I love a book that makes me laugh out loud – and Sue Townsend is a genius. Actually, a reviewer once compared my work to hers – I almost fainted with delight.
- What was the first book you have ever read?
Some of my childhood favorites were the “My Naughty Little Sister” books by Dorothy Edwards – I just loved Bad Harry! When I was older I loved the Malory Towers and St Claire’s series by Enid Blyton. I begged and begged my parents to let me go to boarding school so that I too could give beastly Gwen a good slap or have a midnight feast with Darrel and the gang but sadly they never gave in. I still haven’t tasted proper ginger ale….
- Did you read any writers guidebooks during your career? Are there any that you would recommend?
“The Artists and Writers Yearbook” is a goodie – and packed with lots of information – as is “From Pitch to Publication” by Carol Blake. Stephen King’s “On Writing” is also excellent. Beware of falling into the trap of reading so many guidebooks that you fail to do any writing though. I’m surprised, with my track record, that I didn’t fall into that trap myself actually – I employed every other avoidance tactic I could! My top tip would be to read one or two of these guides and then make a decision to write a little and often – every day if possible. Some days you will rather stick pins in your eyes than sit at the computer. Some days nothing and no-one will be able to drag you away. Annoyingly, this does not change when you get published.
- How do you feel about the current state of the publishing industry? Do you feel it is an exciting time for authors?
As a professional sticker-of-head-in-the-sand, I have to admit that e-books scare me a little. I have yet to touch a Kindle or an iPad, bizarre as that may sound to the youth of today! I guess I’ll have to get used to them – that’s progress after all, but I cannot imagine ever giving up my precious paperbacks – I love the feel and smell of a proper book. I am glad that self publishing is growing though as this gives lots of excellent writers a path to publication (and probably millions in the bank too from what I read – maybe I should look into it!).
- Here on the handwrittengirl website, I would like to be able to offer potential writers like myself advice. Are there any areas you would suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
c) Keep reading
d) Keep writing
e) Try not to get distracted by Twitter
f) Try not to make endless cups of tea to avoid working
g) Try not to panic when you read what you’ve written and realize it’s probably terrible
h) Have hope
i) Keep reading
j) Keep writing
k) Be kind to yourself
l) Be proud when you write something good
m) Keep reading
n) Keep writing
o) Repeat all the above
- If you were ever stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
That’s not a fair question! Off the top of my head – “To Light a Penny Candle”, “Middlemarch” and “Little Women”.
- I’m always reading and I’m always on the look out for book recommendations from reliable sources. What are you reading at the moment and would you recommend it?
I’ve had some time off recently and I’ve used it to read loads of Irish women writers – I really believe they are the best in the world! Melissa Hill’s “Something from Tiffany’s”, Patricia Scanlan’s “Love and Marriage,” Clare Dowling’s “Just the Three of Us”, Cathy Kelly’s “Homecoming”, Sheila Flanagan’s “Stand by Me”, Sarah Webb’s “The Loving Kind”, Maeve Binchy’s “Minding Frankie”. All wonderful, funny, emotional, meaty reads!
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
Tea and lots of it (see question 8). Thinking about it, this could be linked to my procrastinating problem – I do go up and down the stairs to boil the kettle a lot.
- And finally Niamh, do you have any new projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the blog?
I’m busy writing my fifth novel – which will be out next year. I’m also trying to get to grips with Facebook and Twitter (but not too much – see question 8 above) and am working on some top-secret writing projects – watch this space!