Q&A with Mhairi McFarlane
I was talking to a friend the other day who said I dish worse and worse things out to my heroines, so, trauma, it seems! Who’s That Girl? is about 30something Edie, who becomes a social pariah after an incident at a wedding and is thrown out of her Instagrammable London life, back home to Nottingham, where she has to contend with unfiltered reality. Whereupon she meets hot new star, actor Elliot, who’s handling being famous, while Edie is coping with being infamous. Antics ensue.
2. One of my favourite things about your books is your heroines. Which of your characters is the most like you?
Ooh that’s a good question. Probably Rachel in You Had Me At Hello, if that’s not too obvious an answer. I’m an ex journalist who loves Manchester, and like Rachel, an arch procrastinator who can’t make her mind up about anything. Obviously the plot of that book is not autobiography though! When I wrote it, I was somewhat tired of chick lit heroines being lovely angels who are assailed by bad luck, when lets face it, most of the time, we have a big hand in making our bad luck. So I definitely gave Rachel plenty of my flaws. Her habit of getting out of difficult conversations by making crass jokes…yeah…I didn’t stretch a million miles to write that. Like Rachel, I had a great time at university and made some lifelong friends, too. The idea for that book came from me thinking what a powerful nostalgia those years gave me, and wondering: wow, what if you’d met your love of your life during those years, and not seen him since? Imagine THAT. For me, fiction starts in a truth, a jumping off point for playing the What If? game.
3. What’s been your best moment as an author so far?
Hmmm let’s see. The funny thing is, you spend so long dreaming of getting a book deal and once you have one, you wait for it to ‘land.’ I’ll be honest, I thought there’d be a key moment – possibly holding a cocktail, on a villa balcony, watching a setting sun – where it’d dawn on me ‘OMG! I AM AUTHOR!’ but it never happened. I still don’t quite believe it and fully expect to wake up and find myself late for a shift on my old job (I still have that anxiety dream.) I can’t pin one best moment, really: a call from my agent to say I’d had a pre publication offer for my first book from Germany was an absolute ‘I don’t believe this happening’ swoon. I ran home and shouted up the stairs to my boyfriend ‘We can get the fridge!!’ (I had an obsession with getting a green Smeg. Yes, I am a dreadful person.) I hope that answer doesn’t make it sound like it was all about money because it absolutely wasn’t, but knowing I had enough funds for a while to call it my official job? That was incredible. And seeing the cover artwork for You Had Me At Hello, with my name on it. My editor emailed me it and I was screaming at the thumbnail photo before I’d even opened it. And then there’s the day you get a box of books…your own book. Best job in the world.
4. You’re known for writing smart, funny women’s fiction are there any authors who influenced your writing style?
Thank you! Oh God, plenty. Marian Keyes is the don, of course, for humour, storytelling smarts, and that wonderful voice you could read all day and night. Oddly, also, I’d have to say Joss Whedon made all the difference to me. Watching Buffy was when I realised that genre could tell really impactful, adult stories: so many people dismissed Buffy as teen fluff and it was a total Trojan horse for some stunningly inventive, mature ideas. It gave me the confidence to bend a few of chick lit’s unofficial rules.
5. Where do you get the ideas behind your books?
I start with a challenge or question that interests me. So for example, with Edie in Who’s That Girl, it was, what if someone good at managing her image, found it all crashing down in one day? You know, so much of our self worth is now bound up on these social media sites which we look at constantly on glass computers in our pockets. What if you had all that torn away and had to confront who you were, without all that superficial affirmation? When I plan a book, it doesn’t start with ‘who’s the boy?’ Although that question follows shortly behind…
6. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I have so much I never know what to pick! The most basic I can find is: never write ‘into the market,’ ie, try to second guess what will sell. Always, always start with the story that grabs your guts and won’t let go. If yours doesn’t do that, scrap it and find the one that does. Enthusiasm is palpable in the writing, and contagious: if you love your book then so will other people. NB: I am talking about the initial concept, NOT the process itself. You will hate your own writing five times a day and tell yourself you’re useless and awful. I’m afraid the self doubt never goes away.
7. What’s the last great book that you read?
Right now I’m reading Sarah Pinborough’s new thriller Behind Her Eyes and it’s a belter. So, so tense! Will be a film I reckon, I’m calling it now.
8. Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?
My fifth novel! Readers can expect: a northern city setting. A big shock. Loss. Lots of messy emotion. More social media and mobiles messing up our lives. My first BLONDE heroine, a barmaid with attitude called Georgina. Probably the same amount of swearing. A love interest or two. No spoilers.
Thank you so much for being on the blog today Mhairi!
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