Monica McInerney, one of Australia’s most popular contemporary authors (now based in Dublin, Ireland), has released a new novel this month, and I can confidently say she has another bestseller on her hands. The Trip of a Lifetime (Michael Joseph/Penguin Random House) reacquaints Monica’s readers with one of her most popular characters — the feisty and flamboyant Lola Quinlan, matriarch of the family that featured in the hugely popular The Alphabet Sisters and its follow-up, Lola’s Secret.
In the new novel, Lola, now 85, is melancholy and restless, feeling little pleasure in her daily life in South Australia’s picturesque Clare Valley. It has been more than 60 years since she left her home town in County Kildare, but she finally feels the time is right to return to her roots — and she’s determined to take her granddaughter, Bett, and great-granddaughter, Ellen, with her. The tale of that trip “back home” is brimming with all the love, laughter, surprises, treasured memories and family squabbles you’d expect from such a journey, all revealed in Monica’s evocative, poignant, warm and witty way.
I’ve been so very lucky to have the opportunity to interview Monica for Good Reading and The West Australian, and she was kind enough to answer my questions and share photos of some of the bookshelves in her Dublin home for this latest Shelf Aware blog post. Monica is touring Australia this month to promote The Trip of a Lifetime, and you can find out where she’ll be — and when — on this link. In the meantime, sit back with a hot cuppa and enjoy her guest blog post.
Q. Monica, how would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. I write big novels about big, complicated families, in all their comedy and drama. I also write short stories and non-fiction articles. I spend many hours alone in my attic writing, editing, deleting, rewriting… I also do a lot of walking while talking to myself, as I figure out plotlines and characters.
Q. What projects are you currently working on, or do you have in the pipeline?
A. I’m currently writing newspaper and magazine articles to coincide with the July publication of my twelfth novel, The Trip of a Lifetime. I’m also in the early stages of my thirteenth novel, at the exciting but also fragile thinking and researching stage. I’m several chapters in to a series for children aged 10-12, that I’ve been having fun with for some time now. I’m also co-writing a TV drama series with my journalist husband.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)?
A. We have books in nearly every room in our house. I’d have them in the bathroom too if there was a way to stop the pages from steaming up.
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. They are slightly organised. Downstairs at least. One room is fiction, the other room is non-fiction. But upstairs all of our bookshelves (and the piles of books beside the bed) are a complete mixture.
Q. What sorts of books predominate? (ie general fiction; specific genres such as romance, science fiction or historical fiction; non-fiction; reference books; short stories; novels; poetry; drama; children’s or young adult fiction; picture books etc)
A. Absolutely all of the above. I read everything and anything.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. In bed. I’ve banned myself from having my smart phone in the bedroom. It was badly affecting my reading, I’d find myself wasting hours online each night and morning rather than picking up a book. Since the ban, I’m reading much more and I am so much happier.
Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?
A. I’m reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. A good friend recommended it to me and I am loving it. Next I’ll be reading a proof copy of a new historical novel by an Irish writer friend: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor. I’m honoured to be launching it for Hazel in Dublin this September.
Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?
A. My list of favourite books is long and ever-growing. Recent additions are Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Dry by Jane Harper.
Childhood favourites were The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott and all of Enid Blyton’s books. My favourite authors include John le Carre, Rosamund Pilcher, Anne Tyler, Carol Shields, Maggie O’Farrell, Helen Garner, Roddy Doyle (especially his Booker-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha), Margaret Mahy (especially The Tricksters), David Sedaris, Maeve Binchy, Tim Winton, Eleanor Lipman, Geraldine Brooks, Kristan Higgins, Clare Chambers, Miles Franklin, JK Rowling, Curtis Sittenfeld, Garrison Keillor…
Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them?
A. (1) An illustrated book of Russian Folk Tales that my Uncle Phin gave me for my 7th birthday. I read it so many times as a child I nearly memorised it. It’s travelled with me on every house, city and country move in the 45 years since I was given it. It’s battered but beloved.
(2) A collection of linked short stories called Lake Wobegon Days by the American writer Garrison Keillor. I love his wit, wisdom, generosity of spirit, wry eye and decency. The first night I met my husband-to-be, we had a long conversation about books and authors we both enjoyed, and discovered we had this book in common. (That sealed it for me in regard to my husband.)
(3) I have many signed copies from authors I met when I was a book publicist back in the 1990s and from other authors I’m now friends with. They are all on two shelves in our living room – I’d quickly choose one of those at random and apologise to the ones left behind.
Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?
A. Instead of sitting down with them, I’d rather be the waitress and eavesdrop. I’d invite Enid Blyton, JK Rowling and Jane Austen. I’d like them to talk about their characters, their plotting, their working day, their politics… I would deliver many pots of tea and plates of sandwiches, try to be invisible and hang on every word they spoke.
Find out more about Monica here: