Any Tweet Will Do – Maria Duffy on Twitter and The Terrace
Best-selling Irish author Maria Duffy’s second novel, The Terrace, has just hit our shelves and it is a hugely enjoyable read about the lives of residents on a Dublin street as their world is turned upside down by a missing lotto ticket. Maria first came to prominence last year with her debut, Any Dream Will Do. The novel itself is fantastic but it was her online presence and modern approach to getting published that got everyone talking. We join Maria on a tour of the ‘Twitterverse’ to find out how it all came about.
Maria, in your first novel, Any Dream Will Do, we see thirty-something Jenny drunkenly inviting her Twitter friends to stay with her in Dublin, only to realise that she won’t be able to hide her not-so-glamorous life behind her computer anymore. What a fantastic concept for a first novel! How did you come up with it?
Thank you! The concept for Any Dream Will Do came to me after I was contacted by Sheila Crowley, a literary agent with Curtis Brown in London. She’d been following me on Twitter and told me that if I could write a book using my Twitter voice, I’d have something special. At that stage, I’d been hankering after that elusive book deal and didn’t have an agent. She told me to write something fresh and send her a few chapters. It seemed that a story centred around Twitter was the obvious choice and I started to build the idea and characters in my head. Sheila loved what I sent her and signed me up. Soon after that, I had a two book deal with Hachette Ireland – a dream come true!
What a great way to start out! Did you join social networking sites such as Twitter just to publicise yourself as an author or had you been dipping your toes in the water already?
To be honest, I was dragged kicking and screaming onto Twitter! I know you’ll find that hard to believe, considering my seventy thousand plus tweets to date. I was told that there was an ever-growing number of writers, publishers, readers, etc. who were tweeting and it was the place to be to meet like-minded people. I did as many do and dipped my toe in with a “Hello, is there anyone out there?” and I think it was probably a few days before anyone responded! I hated it! I wondered why anyone would bother. Then I started looking up authors and people I knew and before long, I’d built up a following and began to enjoy my daily tweeting. At first, I tweeted mostly about writing but as I got to know more people, the Twitterverse became a place where we chatted about everything. Nowadays, watching The X-Factor or the Eurovision wouldn’t be the same without tweeting our way through it!
So true! We can’t imagine our lives without Twitter. It seems to be the medium that has really worked for you – how do you think it has helped you to evolve as a successful author?
I think there are upsides and downsides to being an author who tweets! The biggest upside in relation to my writing career is the wonderful contacts I’ve made. As I’ve already said, I may not have linked up with my agent without Twitter. I’ve also become part of the wonderful circle of Irish authors, which may not have happened as quickly without Twitter. Irish authors are warm and generous and always willing to share their experience and time. I’ve learned so much from them – from reading links they tweet or from attending workshops and talks they give.
The other thing Twitter has done for me is it has opened up a whole bank of knowledge for research. Honestly, it’s amazing how quickly you can find something out. You only have to tweet a question and before long, there’s a flood of tweets – there’s always someone who knows or someone who knows someone who does!
As for the downside of Twitter, it’s only really a downside if you don’t control it. Twitter can suck you in and hold on to you for dear life. My writing day usually starts when all the children are in school and I write until I have to collect them at three. If I dare to peep in at the Twitter machine while I’m having my morning cuppa, I sometimes find it’s lunchtime and I have no writing done. You need to learn to be disciplined with it. When I’m writing, I try to use it as a reward for getting my word count done and then I can relax and tweet to my heart’s content.
The Twitterverse is obviously a great place for you to unwind but you also had your own blog (writenowmom.wordpress.com) before your writing career took off. Do you find blogging about your own life and current events a welcome escape from the fictional worlds you spend your days in while writing your novels?
I’ve sadly been ignoring my little blog lately. But yes, I do like writing about real life stuff and sometimes it’s good to just get things off my chest. When I started the blog, it was more about motherhood and the juggles we have but it became a place where I wrote about anything that was on my mind. Sometimes 140 characters just aren’t enough!
Nowhere near enough! We all find it difficult to sum up our thoughts in such a small space. You also write a blog for Hello! Magazine online, interviewing celebrity tweeters. Many of them have a LOT to say! How did you get into that?
It’s funny; although I’m quite shy in real life (yes, really!), on Twitter it’s easier to talk to people. I began to seek out the celebrities I like and tweet to them, often getting responses. Before long, I had a number of celebrities following me and a friend suggested I should apply to some magazines to do a celebrity column. I thought it would be a good idea to do something Twitter-related so I pitched the idea for Stars in the Twitterverse to Hello! Magazine online. I did my first interview with TV Presenters Mikey Underwood and Angellica Bell, who I’d been chatting to on Twitter and it went from there. I’ve been lucky to interview some fabulous people to date.
Wow, sounds like a great side project! Would you say online self-promotion is a vital part of an author’s career today? As a medium for engaging with your readers, it must be crucial.
I think there has to be a balance. Twitter is a great place for self-promotion but I’m always very careful about that too. I’ve built up a good following, a lot of whom I’ve now met in real life and are friends. I like to tweet about everything and anything. My Twitter friends often know what’s going on in my life because I wear my heart on my sleeve and sometimes that’s enough. Having said that, I like to run competitions on Twitter on publication day and give away books. I think it’s good to create a buzz and to reach out to people who may not have heard of me before. But there’s nothing worse than someone who joins Twitter solely to promote their books. They come online and tweet links to their books, links to reviews of their books and do very little else. It has to be a two-way street and they need to engage with people too.
In relation to readers, I love the fact that we all have such easy access to each other on Twitter. When I read a book I love, my first reaction is to see if the author is on Twitter and tweet to them about it. I’ve had so many tweets from readers who’ve enjoyed my books and my heart soars every single time I get one. Not only that, when the book is first published, I constantly get tweets from all over the country with pictures of it in book shops. I love that. I was away in Spain when The Terrace first arrived in the shops a couple of weeks ago and I was getting pictures tweeted to me of the first sightings!
Ah yes, your new book – congratulations by the way! The Terrace focuses on a mixed bunch of characters in a Dublin community. Did the inspiration for these characters come from anywhere in particular, either online or ‘IRL’?
The inspiration for The Terrace came from both the street I grew up on and the street I live on now. I grew up in a wonderful, real Dublin community, where I felt safe and loved. Fast forward to today and I’m lucky to live on a similar street that seems to have brought a little bit of the 1970s to 2012. I’m a Dublin girl through and through and love the wit and warmth of the people. On both streets, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some fantastic people and I just wanted to write about a similar street. Obviously, none of the characters in The Terrace are based on real people but the idea of the close-knit street has come from my own experience.
Finally, you probably have one of the most prolific online presences among Irish authors today. Which authors do you like to follow and who or what sites do you recommend for both fellow writers and readers?
Oh gosh, there are so many wonderful Irish authors on Twitter at the moment, all of whom share their knowledge and experience willingly. I’d have to give the first mention to a fairly new addition to Twitter but a lady who’s definitely made her mark! Her tweets are hilarious and she’s built up an amazing following in a short space of time. That, of course, is the one and only Marian Keyes (@mariankeyes).
We couldn’t agree more, we LOVE Marian on Twitter!!
There’s also the lovely and talented Emma Hannigan (@msemmahannigan), young adult writer Denise Deegan (@denisedeegan), the fabulous Cathy Kelly (@cathykellybooks), funny and clever Michelle Jackson (@mjacksonauthor), brilliant crime writer Niamh O’Connor (@crimethrillers) and so many more – @sheilaoflanagan, @rflong, @cathryanhoward, @claireallan, @clodaghmmurphy, @zoemillerauthor, @roisinmeaney, @clare_dowling, @martinareilly, @melissahillbks, @colettecaddle, @carrollclaudia, @sarahwebbishere – I could go on and on!
There are a lot of sites out there giving advice to both readers and writers but sometimes we can get bogged down with so many. There are two particularly good sites I’d recommend – www.inkwellwriters.ie and www.writing.ie. Both sites are packed full of information, whether you want to further your writing career, read about your favourite authors or simply find a recommendation for a good book.
Wow, we’re off to follow some more authors! Thanks Maria, see you in the Twitterverse!