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Lucy McCarraher Interview

Posted on 01 September 2006. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Lucy McCarraher, whose first novel, Blood and Water, is out this week, published by Macmillan New Writing

Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing

My first novel, “Blood and Water” has just been published by Macmillan New Writing. The press release calls it “Bridget Jones for the Over 40s”, and “hen-lit” rather than “chick-lit”, because it’s about the complicated life of a middle-aged woman with grown up as well as young children, a second husband, extended family, a group of girlfriends and career she wants to progress. When her husband’s sister asks her to help trace their birth mother – against his wishes – all their lives are thrown into chaos and tracking down the mysterious Caitlin reveals secrets in all their lives.

The title, “Blood and Water” refers to the saying “blood is thicker than water”. But the wide variety of family relationships around these days make that a very questionable statement.

Currently I’m working on a second novel, “Kindred Spirits”, which takes the same main characters into a new situation. I’ve also got two time schemes running in this one, the present and a story from the 1940s which takes place in the same house, and the two eventually come together to resolve the issues in both strands of the plot. I’ve written seven of the nine planned chapters and hope to finish it in the next few weeks.

I have also written a self-help book called “The Book of Balanced Living” with Lucy Daniels, which was published about four years ago, as my day job for the past ten years or so has been as an expert in Work-Life Balance.

Everything I’ve ever done has been a writing job of sorts. I started out as a journalist, living in Sydney when I finished my English/Drama degree. My husband and I started up a monthly national performing arts magazine called “Theatre Australia”, and I was a freelance for other newspapers and journals as well. When we came back to London I did some freelance editing for Methuen Drama, worked for a writers’ agent, Harriet Cruickshank, and then became Head of Development at a television production company called Lifetime. This meant I wrote proposals for televising novels, dreamed up dramas and factual series and ended up writing lots of scripts, including for a children’s TV series called “Runaway Bay” (starring Naomie Harris, currently starring in “Pirates of the Caribbean 2”). In between I also worked as a script-editor, publishing editor and ghost writer.

Even in the area of Work-Life Balance, while I’ve been consulting to organisations, researching for academics and voluntary organisations, the work has all involved writing - reports, presentations, workshops and so on.

How did you start writing?

I always wanted to write novels, but until recently, never felt I had the right material. Then about five years ago, after my second husband and I had adopted our two daughters from Russia, I wrote two thirds of a fairly autobiographical novel. I sent it to an agent I knew, who quite rightly told me it was boring and not very believable. “But it’s all true,” I protested. “That doesn’t make it good fiction,” she said. I rethought, stuck with a few elements, worked out a real plot, found a voice for my lead character and wrote three chapters. Then I got sidetracked by life and the need to earn money and left it.



Who are your favourite writers and why?

This is such a hard question. I’ve always been a voracious reader and I love so many writers’ work. I would say my earliest influences were probably Enid Blyton (for plot), P L Travers (for fantasy) and Dodie Smith (for character – dogs notwithstanding). My father read me “Pride and Prejudice” and M R James’ ghost stories when I was eight, and although I wouldn’t dare compare myself with Jane Austen, I hope “Blood and Water” is something of a modern day comedy of manners, and also has ghost story amongst the plot strands.

I adored Virginia Woolf as a teenager, and find Jilly Cooper compulsive light reading. I found Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” one of the most devastating and brilliant novels I’ve ever read and “The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood” like a delicious, emotional chocolate binge. I could go on for ever: I have been part of a book group for years and read at least one book for that and probably another novel a month, with the odd factual publication and books for research purposes thrown in.

Two major influences, though, both of which I came upon unexpectedly, are Elizabeth Jane Howard’s war-time trilogy about the Cazalet family, “The Light Years”, “Marking Time” and “Confusion”. I love the way she creates a world of such depth and luminosity, with an extended family of characters who take the strengths and flaws through several generations during a historic period. I’m sure my 1940s story in “Kindred Spirits” has been influenced by these. And Susan Howatch’s series of spiritual/psychic novels about Jon Darrow et al, from “Glittering Images” through to “Ultimate Prizes” are gripping and intellectually satisfying on a subject rarely tackled in a populist way. Some of the spiritual issues I’ve touched on some in “Blood and Water” I can definitely trace back to those novels.

What's the worst thing about writing?

With two small children, the village community and some occasional work-life balance commissions to attend to, the only downside is not having enough time to write. Otherwise nothing. Being a full time novelist would be the fulfillment of a dream and so far I haven’t found a downside to the writing itself. So far the publicity/marketing side has been quite fun, but I could get tired and stressed with that.

And the best?

Being your own boss. Being able to give your creative side free rein and seeing where it takes you. Coming back to the computer to find out where the story is going to take you next, like your own private soap opera running in the back room of your life. Being able to use words to create a world and work out a plot.

Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.

As “Blood and Water” hasn’t yet been launched at the time of writing, I’m not sure I can answer this. I have a few trusted readers, some of whom read my work chapter by chapter; others of whom I ask to read the finished novel. So far, responses have been mainly positive, but I take great note of criticisms, editing and suggestions, and change things where I need to. I’ll let you know what happens when the public get to read the book and I hear their reactions.

What was your breakthrough moment?

Getting the letter from Macmillan gave me the confidence to think I actually could complete a novel and believe I could actually be a writer. In terms of the writing itself, I can’t pinpoint a single one, but little ones happen on a regular basis, as a character develops into someone real, or a plot twist suddenly becomes apparent.



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.






Comments by other Members



mermaid at 16:21 on 01 September 2006  Report this post
Great interview, Lucy.

I'm glad that someone else likes The Cazalets as much as I do. I became hooked when I saw the BBC adaptation a few years ago, which seemed to quickly fall into oblivion.


Account Closed at 07:32 on 02 September 2006  Report this post
Good luck with the new book, Lucy! And thanks for the very interesting interview. Lovely to know someone who loved "The Poisonwood Bible" too - I was hooked!

:))

A
xxx

Account Closed at 13:37 on 02 September 2006  Report this post
Very well done, Lucy. My current novel is 'mum lit' which sounds the same as 'hen lit' - i think there's a wealth of material in the middle-aged mum!

Enjoy your moment and may there be many more.

Casey

rogernmorris at 16:28 on 02 September 2006  Report this post
Great interview, Lucy. Looking forward to seeing you on Thursday.

Roger.

EmmaD at 21:31 on 02 September 2006  Report this post
Very interesting interview - thank you. Enjoy the launch. I can't be there, but I'm sure you'll have a good time. I love the sound of your novel, not least (but not only) because I live in Dulwich, with a foot in East Anglia.

Yes, I loved The Poisonwood Bible too. I know the Cazalet Chronicles are very autobiographical: have you come across Elizabeth Jane Howard's actual autobiography, Slipstream? Fascinating, and as you'd expect, beautifully written. A strange life.

Emma

old friend at 10:12 on 03 September 2006  Report this post
An interesting interview with an accomplished writer who has crammed so much into her 28 years -well, Lucy looks about that age.

What I particularly liked was Lucy's modesty and the almost-hidden tingle of excitement that she obviously feels through her success with her novel.

I am sure this will be a 'winner' and I hope it will be the first of many for Lucy.

Len


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