Irish Mists And Histories Local intrigue on a global scale
By Rowdy Rhodes and Julie A. Pierce
Born in Dublin, Ireland, Rose Doyle has been writing for most of her life. Journalism has been her bread and butter, and to this day Rose continues in this field as her day job. She has also penned thirteen novels, short stories, plays for radio, TV documentaries, and short film scripts.
With a BA Mod. in English Literature and Language from TCD, Rose has received both a Hennessy New Irish Writing literary award for a short story and a Bisto Book of the Year award for Goodbye Summer, Goodbye, her novel for teenagers.
Rose has recently joined other Irish writers in the Open Door series of literacy novellas and books published by New Island. Just published also is Trade Names, a collection of pieces from her long running and continuing series on Dublin's traditional traders and shopkeepers in The Irish Times.
Rose has taken a turn through historical fiction with great success and now returns to contemporary murder, betrayal, and love with her latest novel, Shadows Will Fall. Set in the seaside town of Dun Laoghaire, it opens with the stark, early morning discovery of a young woman's body in the doorway of the morgue.
Join us in Ireland as we find out more about this fascinating author.
IN: How and why did you begin your writing careers in journalism and novel writing?
RD: The beginning is buried in the mists of time and childhood! As a child I was forever writing – mostly stories. Life got in the way of a writing career, too much to be done, to see, to experience, so I was coming up to 40 before an attack of panic made me sit down and begin writing in earnest. My first novel was for children between 8 and 12 years. I've been chronically unable to stop writing ever since.
IN: Who have been the most influential people during your writing career and why?
RD: Hard to say – a lot of the discipline that helps me write comes from my training in journalism. Nothing concentrates the mind quite so well as the prospect of a deadline! The Irish storytelling tradition, which was all around me growing up, was an influence I wasn't even aware of until I began writing.
IN: Which writers have influenced you most in your writing career?
RD: To claim that Joyce, Beckett, O'Casey, O'Faolain, O'Connor, Elizabeth Bowen, and others on the bookshelves of the rural libraries of my youth were the reason I came to writing wouldn't be a lie. It wouldn't be the complete truth either. An early inclination to read anything I could lay my hands on meant, in a country that is nothing if not chauvinistic about her writers, that these and other greats of the Irish literary canon were what the shelves yielded and my unformed and uninformed curiosity devoured. I grew up reading and writing and convinced I would be a writer. What I became, of course, was a teenager filled with doubts, fears, and an unwelcome awareness of reality with a need to make a living.
Those writers who gave me comfort and excitement in the wilderness years of wanting to be a writer were often masters of the short story – Canada's superb Alice Munro among them, but John Cheever too and Dickens (over and over) O'Faolain (again) Bernard Malamud, Carol Shields – the list is long, eclectic and, sad to say, partly lost to memory.
A great fear that I would lie regretful on my deathbed, lamenting a life and stories unchronicled moved me at last to write. There was no bolt of lightning, nothing more dramatic than an insistent urge, a sense that I should be writing and annoyance that I was not.
My first book, a romance of sorts, was briskly sent back. "My heart," the publisher's reader said, "clearly wasn't in the subject matter." Radio being close to my heart I wrote a radio play. It was broadcast within the month, beautifully performed too. I followed with a couple of novels for children between 8 and 10 years, which did well, but this being the early 1990s, didn't make money.
An adult novel, my publisher said, was the way to go. So I wrote Images, a tale of Dublin's growing, newly rich middle-class. It became a best-seller and, greatly encouraged, I've been writing ever since.
Along the way I've sought wisdom and encouragement from writers on writing. The wisdom of Stendhal who said: "I know only of one rule: Style cannot be too clear, too simple." Of Faulkner who said: "Teach yourself by your own mistakes. People learn only by error." Aristotle, of course and with all his flaws, probably said it best of all: "To write well, express yourself like the common people but think like a wise man."
IN: Your past writing has been primarily historical fiction why the jump to contemporary fiction (murder/mystery/romance)?
RD: Well, it's more a case of a jump from novels of suspense/romantic intrigue to historical fiction and a move from that to the contemporary story of murder, betrayal, and love.
Some years ago, idly reading, I came across a reference to an outlawed community of women in the Ireland of the mid-1900s. They numbered between 60 and 120, depending the time of the year, and they lived on the bleak, midland plains known as The Curragh, a part of Ireland ravaged by the north wind for most of the year, home to sheep and a racetrack and, then, to some 10,000 British army soldiers living in the huge training camp set up in 1855.
The women were known as Wrens, after the small bird of the same name, and they formed a community on the plains, living in four feet deep holes in the ground, which they covered over and called nests. Their story was an extraordinary one of courage and pride and terrible brutality towards them on the part of a cruelly hypocritical wider community.
No one had written about them and they were lost, literally, in the mists of time and official histories. I, literally, became obsessed with writing their story. Historical novels weren't fashionable but my publisher's arm was twisted when I agreed to a contract for four historical novels – in this way, the theory went, a readership for historical novels would be built up.
Friends Indeed told the women's story. Historical fiction proved to be a whole other way of writing. It was fascinating to weave research through the lives of created characters, use past events and places as the bones and structures of their stories. When it came time to write the fourth novel in the contract I wanted to put what I'd learned about playing with time to experimental use so I wrote Shadows Will Fall, a contemporary novel which hugely involves events from the 1950s and 1960s.
I'm writing another contemporary novel at the moment because of a story I want to tell. Back to where I was really, with a good story dictating what the time and type of book it will be.
IN: What are the greatest challenges facing new writers on the path to becoming successful authors?
RD: Getting published. Sadly, it's never been so difficult to get published and books have never had such competition in a world driven by marketing. That said, young writers shouldn't be deterred. The world of writing is constantly changing and stories well told will always be in demand.
IN: How important to you are book tours, readings, and book signings to help ensure success and book sales?
RD: They're more important than they should be! Many authors find them hard to do, others love the interaction with readers, ALL writers regret the time away from writing.
Every book involves a tour, or promotion as publishers would have it, some long, some short. This is enjoyable to begin with but fairly quickly becomes time away from the book one should be writing.
Television appearances are hugely effective when it comes to selling books. I suppose my own most effective promotion was an appearance on a very popular talk show – the book in question sold out within days.
IN: When dealing with publishers, agents, and publicists is there any advice you can pass along to "about-to-be" authors?
RD: Listen to your editor – you're allowed to disagree, of course, but there is always something you need to and can learn that'll be of value. An agent is useful to help you through the maze of contracts, etc. and ensure your book is well and fairly read by a publishing house. An agent works for you, the writer. Not the other way around – so it's important to find an agent you like and are compatible with.
IN: Have you found or learned any primary differences between being published in Ireland/U.K and Europe/North America?
RD: The readership figures are vastly different! A bestseller in Ireland means about 10,000 books sold. Figures for the UK, Europe, and North America are immensely higher.
IN: You have been writing books professionally since 1985, what industry changes have you seen transpire that have affected writers in general?
RD: The publishing industry has become more genre driven. Publishers and booksellers will often promote the genre du jour at the expense of other books. There are far more books published today than 20 years ago – though this doesn't always mean choice and variety has increased to the same degree. That said, publishing is open to ideas from writers and more exciting than it has ever been.
IN: You have your own, personal website at http://www.rosedoyle.com/ How important is it for writers/authors to have an Internet presence?
RD: It's a wonderful way of making contact with readers and other writers. You just never know what'll turn up! It's also, by way of being, a sort of curriculum vitae!
IN: You essentially have two careers, one in journalism and the other in novels. What helps keep you motivated and directed in your writing career?
RD: A chronic need to write, I suppose. Writing puts order on the chaos that's life. Life is a series of stories anyway. Plus, to be boring about it, writing is my livelihood.
IN: How does journalism writing and novel writing differ in serving your need to chronically write?
RD: Writing journalism has to do with delivering facts in accurate, readable fashion for, in my case, a daily newspaper readership. It's immediate, involving, takes no prisoners and allows for the great company of journalist colleagues.
Writing fiction is everything that journalism is not; it's got elements of a parallel dream world to it, is definitely a world over which the writer has ownership. It is, of necessity, a lonely occupation. Balancing both is a privilege.
IN: What would you tell new writers that might help them to establish their own successful writing careers?
RD: Simply put your bum on the chair and start writing. It's not easy at first but in time a clarity about what you can say, and how, emerges. The thing to remember is that there is NO GOLDEN TYPEWRITER! No perfect time or place. None better than now anyway.
IN: What's next for you?
RD: I'm finishing a TV documentary based on a book of mine about an incident in the African Congo of 1961; nonfiction. When that's finished I'm starting a novel that moves between Ireland and Australia, a part of the world I visited for the first time last year.
Shadows Will Fall (Hodder & Stoughton, 2004) Trade Names (New Island, 2004) The Story Of Joe Brown (New Island, 2004) Gambling With Darkness (Hodder & Stoughton, 2003) Friends Indeed (Hodder & Stoughton, 2003) Fate And Tomorrow (Hodder & Stoughton, 2002) Omnibus: The Shadow Player/In Secret Sin (Pan Macmillan, 2002) In Secret Sin (Townhouse/Pan Macmillan, 2000) The Shadow Player (Townhouse/Pan Macmillan, 1999) Perfectly Natural (Townhouse/Macmillan, 1995) Alva (Townhouse/Macmillan, 1996) Kimbay (Townhouse/Macmillan, 1994) Letters From Irish College 1935-1995 (Marino, 1995) Christmas Treasury For Children (Marino, 1995) Images (Poolbeg, 1992) Goodbye Summer, Goodbye (Attic/Cork University Press, 1992) The Invisible Monk (Poolbeg, 1991) Tarantula! (Poolbeg, 1985)
Rowdy Rhodes is the Site Manager of The Freelance Writing Organization International and General Manager of Inkwell Newswatch (IN). He is also known to freelance an article or two when the fancy strikes him. If you are looking for written content for your website, ezine, or print publication, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org he'll get back to you as soon as possible.