Q&A with Antoinette Tyrrell

Today iI’m pleased to be joining the second part of the SpellBound blog tour for International Women’s Day. I’m sharing my Q&A with Antoinette Tyrrell, author of The Secrets Left Behind with thanks to Zoe O’Farrell and the team at SpellBound Books for inviting me on the tour and to Antoinette Tyrrell for answering my questions!

Have you always wanted to write?

Yes, definitely. I was an avid reader from an early age, so writing came naturally to me. English was where I excelled at school, and I studied English and History at University. I attempted many novels and completed two, but it was with my third one, my debut novel, Home to Cavendish, that I finally managed to get published. 

What were your previous jobs? Have they helped you with your writing process?

My career has been varied but it has always involved writing. I started out as a broadcast journalist, and then moved into public sector PR in Ireland. One of my jobs was running the press office of a highly controversial organization that almost brought down the Irish Government in 2014 and so, that taught me to write to very tight media deadlines – it means I am disciplined in my writing which definitely helps. I now run my own business writing consultancy – I see it all as practice. Of course, my preference is writing fiction but the more I write the more I improve, no matter what the content is. 

What was your inspiration for The Secrets Left Behind?

The idea for this novel had been percolating for many years before I got it down on paper. I found myself becoming increasingly angry the more I learned about how the Catholic Church treated women in Ireland up until very recently. Anyone looking at Ireland now sees it as such a progressive society, so it is hard to believe how much it has changed in recent decades. I also wanted to look at the capacity of people to hide their deepest secrets from those closest to them, particularly within the confines of a marriage.   

How do you construct your characters? Do they have traits of people you know?

I am boringly methodical when I construct my characters! I write down a physical description, height, weight, build, hair colour etc. I build a history, who are those most important to the character, how would the character react in specific situations – I really enjoy that process, the more I write the more I uncover about them.  It feels as though they take on a life of their own, independent of my imagination… Of course, I steal from real life, my own characteristics and those of people I know. 

What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I am definitely a plotter. I map from start to finish and when I begin writing I think I know exactly how it is going to end, however it always changes throughout the writing process. I have learned that one of the most valuable things to do as a writer is to have some space between me and my manuscript. I get the awful first draft down and then I take a break and let that process in my head. It is usually then when I least expect it, or am doing something horribly mundane like cleaning the toilet, it will occur to me what needs to happen to improve the story and my imagination will take off in an entirely unexpected direction and that’s when the magic happens. 

How did you research The Secrets Left Behind? Did you enjoy it?

I do like to research, I always start with simple things but ones that really interest me for example the fashion trends of the time. The I have a clear image of what my characters look like, the type of buildings they are in and from there, I set to work reading and researching. For The Secrets Left Behind, the research process was quite harrowing as the story is set against the backdrop of very disturbing real-life events. I also had the opportunity to talk to some women who had been impacted by forced adoption and I am eternally grateful that those amazing women were prepared to share their stories with me. 

Who are your favourite writers? Are you influenced by them?

It’s a question I can never answer, I read so much, I don’t have favourite writers but perhaps writers that I like to return to. Rosamunde Pilcher and Mary Wesley’s family sagas are like comfort food. I love my fellow Irish writers particularly John Boyne – A Ladder to the Sky is one of my favourite books of all time, and of course the magnificent Donal Ryan and Sally Rooney. Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, the heartbreak and the waste that could have been avoided – it stayed with me for years afterwards and definitely gave me some inspiration for Kate and Hugh’s marriage in The Secrets Left Behind – a relationship defined by all the things that were left unsaid. 

If you could invite three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why?

I love this question… Anne Boleyn because I want to know, was she manipulated, did she know exactly what she was doing, did she do what she did because it was her only way to survive… I don’t think it would be the most relaxing dinner party for her. Then I’d like Michelle Obama because her positivity is so beautifully tempered by a recognition of the harsh reality of life, and who wouldn’t want to listen to her all night. She could also give Anne Boleyn some good advice on how to better handle being married to a political leader. I’d put Bruce Springsteen at the top of the table because we need some gender balance, and he could provide the after-dinner entertainment! 

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?

Donald Trump…. Christ, I know that’s the obvious answer but seriously, that overpowering, entitled energy in a small space. I am breaking out in a rash just thinking about it. 

Who would play the main character/s in a film version of The Secrets Left Behind? 

Because it is set in Ireland, and we all know (thanks to Wild Mountain Thyme) that the Irish accent is not the easiest to master so, Saoirse Ronan would play Alice, Nicole Kidman would play Kate and Michael Fassbender would play Hugh – because he’s Irish but also because obviously I’d have to go on set to meet him. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I recently moved to the South of Spain where my partner and I have bought a magical house embraced by the most spectacular mountains and sea view, so I spend all my spare time outside, walking my new rescue dog, Dokey, going for coffee and lunch, and sitting in my garden reading. I sound like a plonker, I know, but I swear it was a freckin’ struggle to get here and so I am determined to enjoy every second of it.

What is next for you?

I am working on a fictional account of my own experience of exiting the traditional world of office work and starting a new life, in a new country, past the age of 40. I was trapped in a toxic work environment and could see no way out which ultimately led to mental health issues, and I am writing about that – how making life altering changes is not impossible and can be done without having a trust fund or being retired – you just need to be prepared to take risks and get comfortable with the fact that you will be terrified 99% of the time. The story is very much a work in progress, but it explores how the traditional measures of success can make some people really miserable and what happens when you start to explore an alternative way to live. 

Favourites:

Book? On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Film? When Harry Met Sally 

Band/Singer? Bruce Springsteen

TV show? Changes weekly – Anything written by Sharon Horgan works for me. I love her! 

Colour? Blue

Place? Villajoysa on the Costa Blanca, my new hometown

Biscuit? Toffypops – I’ve had Type 1 diabetes since I was a child so unfortunately, I can’t indulge that often but I like to go wild occasionally. 

***

The Secrets Left Behind is available from Amazon.

You can follow the rest of the blog tour here:

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