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!
The world of Irish books is a lesser place this week after the death of the incomparable Maeve Binchy. With an incredible 16 novels and 40 million worldwide sales to her name (not to mention innumerable library loans and hand-to-hand book shares!), her writing touched so many readers, and brought Ireland to homes and hearths around the world.
But anyone who has read Maeve’s books or been lucky enough to meet her in person will know that the big numbers are not what was important to Maeve: what she really loved was the personal. Her books – wise, warm and enveloping – are always full of kindness and understanding of even the most awkward characters in life. “ I don’t have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories,” she said during an interview. “ I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks”. Her intelligent eye for detail, her absorbing stories, and above all her capacity to capture the foibles of the human heart, combined to delight fans with every book she published.
The intelligence, wit and empathy she showed in her writing were a true reflection of her personality. The outpouring of tributes since her death shows the warmth of feeling towards Maeve as a woman as well as a writer. As booksellers, we are honoured to have had the chance to know her, and she has been a great friend to us: always with a kind word, a warm gesture or note, and a remarkable memory for every shop and member of staff that she ever met. I was lucky enough to meet her on the very first day of my job in Easons: she insisted I sit down and tell her all about myself while she signed copies of ‘Tara Road’. She signed a copy of it for me too: “Maria – welcome to this mad world! Maeve”. I have it framed in my office to this day. Everyone who met her has a little tale to tell of her thoughtfulness or her impish sense of humour.
Besides the gift of her own writing, Maeve inspired a generation of Irish women writers, and was always warm and encouraging to aspiring novelists. A true touchstone of modern Irish writing, she happily shared her knowledge and experience with a generation of female fiction authors, creating one of Ireland’s most loved genres, not to mention one of our proudest exports.
Maeve, your ‘ugly ducklings’ thank you for everything you gave us.