12 August 2009

Author Interview: Sheila O'Flanagan

Sheila O'Flanagan, one of Ireland's best authors, has been writing books since 1999 when her first title Suddenly Single was published. 10 years and 15 books later, Sheila's new book The Perfect Man is due for release next month in the UK (September 2009), and the paperback of her 14th novel Someone Special (which I loved!) shot to the top of the UK bestseller's list! We had a chance to ask Sheila some of our burning questions, and she was lovely enough to answer them for us. So here is the our author interview with the lovely Sheila O'Flanagan!

Q1. Tell us about your latest book in a sentence.

Romy is very happy working in Australia and away from her difficult extended family, but having to come back to Ireland to take care of her mother after an operation means that the problems she'd left behind have to be dealt with.

Q2. What inspired you to write about an archaeologist in 'Someone Special'? Do you have an interest in this subject?

Actually yes. - I'm very interested in ancient civilisations like the Romans and the Egyptians. Programmes like Time Team have made archaeology more relevant to a lot of people too. But it can be very painstaking work and I don't really have the patience for it. I went to Egypt a number of years ago and there was something amazing about seeing all those ancient monuments and tombs, knowing that they were part of such an advanced society. And more interesting than tombs of the pharoahs  were the tombs of the workers which were painted with pictures of them going about their daily lives - so there were paintings of bakers carrying sheafs of wheat, for example. But the research I did for Someone Special was on the type of dig Romy does, which are very common in Ireland and the UK. Most local/national authorities now commssion digs before they allow new building projects or roads etc to go ahead so that historical remains aren't destroyed. As I mention in the acknowledgements, the archaeologists at the site were very helpful, but I visited in February which was really cold and not very glamorous but nevertheless very, very interesting.

Q3. Where do you get your ideas for your books?

That's one of the questions I 'm asked a lot but find most difficult to answer, because I'm not entirely sure. Sometimes just seeing a person walking down the street will trigger a thought about the type of life they might lead; sometimes I pick particular themes such as bereavement or betrayal because they are so interesting. I suppose I like asking 'what if' questions about life and the books are a way of answering them.

Q4. You've written 15 books so far, with the latest 'The Perfect Man' published in September. Are you constantly writing one book after another or do you take time out between them?

I'm not constantly sitting at my laptop writing but I'm constantly being bombarded with thoughts and ideas about writing. Generally, I write my novels between October-June. Then in July I do a final edit.  I don't start another novel straight away because I have to let new ideas settle in my mind and also let the characters and situations of the last one fade away.

Q5. Could you pick any of one your books as your favourite? If so, which one and why?Each time I finish a book it's a favourite and each book has an individual meaning for me because something different motivated me to write it. Of my earlier books Isobel's Wedding is one I particularly liked, because some of the action is set in Madrid, which is a favourite city of mine. Yours Faithfully was a book I'd wanted to write for ages because the idea had been with me for years but I wasn't confident about getting it down on paper so I was delighted when I finally did. The Perfect Man might be a favourite too - because it's about a novelist (who very definitely isn't me) and it was fun to put in some bits and pieces from my writing experience. But with all of my books I tend to remember them by the name of the main character and not by the title - the characters are like family to me.

Q6. How did you go from being Ireland's first female Chief Dealer in a bank to an author?

I  always wanted to write even though I enjoyed my career in finance. My dream was to have a novel published one day, but I didn't really have the discipline to sit down and write. Then a colleagueasked me to  rewrite a manual for home study students on foreign exchange and financial instruments and I agreed. When I realised that I actually could make myself sit down for a couple of hours every evening and write something (even though obviously this was very boring) I told myself that I could put this time into writing something I wanted to write instead. So I sat down and began to write Dreaming of A Stranger.

Q7. What authors do you enjoy reading yourself?

I like lots of different types of books and many different authors. I think that most authors really love reading and have a very eclectic mix of novels on their shelves. When I'm writing myself I like to read very different sorts of books so I usually go for non-fiction or crime. (I was in the airport once and buying a book in the store there. My friend asked me if I was looking for anything in particular and I said 'the bloodier the better' which made a man standing nearby walk away very quickly.) I like Michael Connolly, Harlan Coben and Lee Child for thrillers: and Phillipa Gregory for her historical novels;. Anita Shreve is another favourite and I do like many of my Irish contemporaries. Sophie Kinsella is great fun too (I also like the books she previously wrote as Madeleine Wickham). When it comes to non-fiction I like popular science books  by people like Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking.

Q8. What is the best thing about being a successful author?

Not having to commute. My office is in my house.

Thank you ever so much, Sheila! For more information on Sheila, see her website.

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