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Maria McCarthy Interview

Posted on 23 February 2007. © 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 Maria McCarthy

Tell us something about your background.

I started off as a press officer for a variety of charities (MIND, Shelter) and wrote copy for their leaflets and reports. From my mid-twenties I made intermittent attempts at fiction – first for Mills and Boon, then a schlocky (and I mean that in a good way) romantic suspense novel. I had ‘encouraging rejections’ but never got any further.
In my early thirties I started sending off ideas and features to women’s magazines as a way of generating some cash. I’ve never had any formal journalism training or worked in-house at a magazine so just had to figure out how to approach editors and put a feature together as I went along. Eventually what started off as a sideline grew until it became my main source of income and I now write for a range of magazines including Cosmopolitan, Company, Red, Prima, Woman and Top Sante.

I wrote The Girls’ Guide to Losing Your L Plates – how to pass your driving test published by Simon and Schuster because it was the book I’d longed to read when I was struggling to pass my own driving test. I’d learnt from friends that I wasn’t the only one to find parallel parking hellishly difficult or feel completely mangled by driving test nerves. I wanted to provide a book that was informative and supportive but also entertaining – an alternative to the usual dry driving guides.

I teach freelance journalism at Bath University and give workshops on Writing for Publication (the nuts and bolts of approaching editors, getting an agent, money, copyright issues etc). I love teaching as it gets me out of the house and stops me from turning into too much of a sad git.

How did you start writing?

At 25, I got dumped by a boyfriend and decided to distract myself by writing a romantic novel. Sadly my dreams of getting my own back via the ‘success is the best revenge’ route by producing a multi-million bestseller and embarking on a glittering lifestyle never got further than the first three chapters. Full-length fiction is hard, really hard. I have tremendous respect for anyone who can pull it off successfully.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City series) and Nancy Mitford (Love in a Cold Climate, Pursuit of Love) for being witty, perceptive and kind.
Victoria Holt (especially Legend of the Seventh Virgin, which I’ve read and re-read), Kathleen Winsor and the delicious Restoration romp Forever Amber (again, very much re-visited) for unashamed drama and compelling page-turning quality.
Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential) for reminding me why I worked in catering for so long and loved it so much.
Early Margaret Drabble and Edna O’Brien for creating stories and characters I could relate to when I was an unsure-of-myself twentysomething.
And I’m a fan of Julie Burchill’s journalism – fresh and sharp in a sea of Polly Filler blandness.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

I went to a talk by an agent who said that it was common for agents to leave large agencies and set up on their own – and that this was a good time to approach them as they’d be less likely to have a full client list at that point. I’d read in the Bookseller that Luigi Bonomi had left Sheil Lands to set up on his own, approached the agency with the first three chapters and synopsis of The Girls’ Guide to Losing Your L Plates and got an email the next day inviting me to come in for a meeting.
Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted!

What's the worst thing about writing?

Getting started.






And the best?

The final edit – all the tough groundwork has been done and it’s just the lightweight altering and fiddling stuff left.



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



EmmaD at 15:09 on 24 February 2007  Report this post
Great interview, and lovely to hear from some one who grew through the how-to-get-revenge-and-make-a-million stage, and still met with success in the real book world.

Maria, you gave a great seminar on Effective Publicity in Bristol - really practical, but also understanding of the emotional complications of being (or trying to be) published - so it's good to know that you do lots of other courses too!

Emma

Account Closed at 17:59 on 24 February 2007  Report this post
Hi Maria

just wanted to let you know that I saw your book advertised in Mslexia. I had just failed my fourth driving test at the time, was sick of how to drive books, but ordered it anyway. It was the only book I've ever read about driving (and I've read all of them, I think) that made me smile.

Blackbird

P.S Passed sixth time lucky two weeks ago!

MariaM at 10:23 on 25 February 2007  Report this post
Hi Emma -
Yes, I remember you from Bristol. That workshop was really enjoyable to run. Was good to be among other authors and to acknowledge the fact that being published isn't a 'happy ending' any more than a wedding is - it's a fabulous event, to be sure and one to be celebrated.
But it's also a beginning - which involves
the ongoing work of making your book as successful as it can be - and ensuring a commission for the next one!

Hi Ladyblackbird
So glad you succeeded at last and that my book was able to provide some light relief. Congratulations!

Gillian75 at 16:31 on 17 July 2007  Report this post
Really enjoyed reading your interview and congrats on your success so far!

Steerpike`s sister at 21:48 on 18 July 2007  Report this post
Thanks for the interview - Girls' guide has at last arrived in our bookshop, so am going to shelf-talker it a.s.a.p.!


MariaM at 09:38 on 19 July 2007  Report this post
Thank you Steerpike's sister! So glad you've got it into the shop.

What does 'shelf-talker' mean btw?

all best

Maria

little monkey at 15:10 on 20 July 2007  Report this post
This was an excellent interview - I found getting dumped got my creative juices flowing.


Congratulations on your success too!


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