5 December 2009

Author Interview: Patricia Scanlan

Patricia Scanlan is one of the biggest names in women's fiction, and has held her place at the top for a good many years now. I first heard of Patricia because my mum absolutely loves her books, and is always trying to get me to read the City Girl trilogy which I must find the time to read! I recently had the pleasure of reading Patricia's latest book, a Christmas themed title called Coming Home. It was a lovely read, and Patricia was kind enough to do an interview with us, so here it is!

Q1. Tell us about your latest book "Coming Home".

Coming Home is about two sisters who have different perceptions about each other’s lives, Alison Dunwoody’s high flying financial career is on the skids when she’s made jobless due to the financial melt-down, her Upper East Side apartment is now way beyond her means and she’s far from financially secure. But pride prevents her from telling her family back home. Her sister Olivia is finding it difficult to juggle family, career, caring for their elderly uncle, trying to make preparations for Christmas and organize a surprise party for her mother’s seventieth birthday. She envies and sometimes resents Alison whom she thinks has a great life in New York. Coming home is the last thing Alison wants to do especially now that she’s met a rather dishy, sexy, down to earth neighbour who doesn’t believe in ‘non exclusive dating’ unlike her wealthy boyfriend, Jonathan. But family ties are strong and Alison comes home and gets to really know her family again especially her young nieces who are having a magical time, stirring the puddings and making wishes, lighting the candle in the window on Christmas Eve, performing their Nativity play in Church on Christmas Morning, after the excitement of Santa’s arrival, and having a very merry Christmas dinner. Alison comes to realise that the love of her family is far more important than wealth and success, Olivia recognizes how lucky she is to have a happy marriage and three lovely children and how great it’s been to have her sister home to share good times with their parents. At the end of the day, family is more important than anything.

Q2. "Coming Home" is about the things that are important to us at Christmas - love, friends and family. Are your own Christmases quite traditional and do you have any traditions you follow each year?

We were so lucky that my parents made Christmas an absolutely magical time for us. There were six of us, myself, my sister and four brothers. Making the puddings and Christmas cake was great fun and my mother had great patience. We’re all very traditional and love decorating our Christmas trees and gathering holly and ivy. The whole family always has breakfast at my parents after church on Christmas morning and it’s mad. We adults are as noisy as the grandchildren.

Q3. You've been writing a long time, and your first book "City Girl" was published in 1990. How did you get into writing? Was it easy to become published?

I fell into writing due to a ‘cash crises’. I’d got a mortgage and was paying interest at 13% (yes I know all about recession). My car was falling to bits and I was broke so I decided I’d try my hand at writing because I loved writing when I was at school. I tried to write a Mills&Boon. My first book was called Surgeon’s Conquest and the hero of the book was a gorgeous Greek hunk called Nichos Kyranos. Who had broad shoulders, a hairy chest, and a chiselled mouth that women longed to kiss. Ahem! Although I got good positive feedback about it, unfortunately it wasn’t accepted and I was deeply disappointed! However, I did discover the freedom of creating an entire life for someone where I was in charge. By then I was hooked but I didn’t write again for a while. Writing the first novel had taken the guts of a year. But, I’d been bitten by the bug and before long I was back writing. My second attempt also failed. However, it was a case of third time lucky and I did strike success with City Girl, which went straight to number one.

Q4. Where do you get the ideas for your books? Do you take inspiration from things that happen to you or are they all totally fictional?

I write about what people identify with especially the stresses and strains of relationships and family life. All the complexities that make up the tapestry of life. There’s inspiration everywhere! I just observe all that’s going in people’s lives, especially the dramas.

Q5. Do you have a favourite of your books? Are any of your books particularly special for you?

That’s a hard question to answer, as they are all different and when I’m writing about each one I enjoy them. Devlin Delaney in City Girl was very special because she was my first. Cassie in Finishing Touches was special because it was the first novel I wrote after giving up the day job and felt like a ‘proper’ author and I got a huge postbag about her as she was caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s. Francesca in Francesca’s Party was special because it was the first time I wrote about a single character who was in her forties, and it was challenging. I love Lily who is an elderly woman in Forgive and Forget and Happy Ever After? and who’s rising above herself wonderfully not to be selfish, Melissa, in the same novel is a young teenager on the brink of anorexia and I worry about her! Any of them who say ‘let’s put the kettle on,’ when they’re in a crises are the ones I ALWAYS relate to.

Q6. What's next for you? Do you have your next book in the pipeline yet?

Yes I’m writing the third part of a trilogy, which started with Forgive and Forget and its sequel Happy Ever After? I’m writing about the emotional roller coaster of a young woman who didn’t want her dad to bring his second wife and their daughter to her wedding, and then about the relationship that develops between thee two half sisters. I cover marital breakdown, affairs, bullying in the workplace, anorexia, depression and of course, fancying the pants of someone, and falling in love again when you’re heading for forty. Is the story of what happens once the honeymoon is over and real life begins. Newly married Debbie is worried about mounting debts. With wedding bills still to pay and a big mortgage, she’s at her wits end with her new husband who has no desire to give up the high life and become a-stay-at -home husband. Debbie’s stepmother, Aimee whom she can’t stand is ambitious and driven, a career woman to her fingertips, she’s horrified to discover she’s pregnant. She doesn’t want the baby, but her husband, Barry, Debbie’s dad does…is their marriage going to last? One person who hopes so is Melissa their young teenage daughter who is starting down the slippery slope of anorexia. The only good thing in her life is her developing relationship with her half sister, Debbie. Connie, Barry’s ex, has seen their daughter Debbie safely up the aisle and, with an interesting new man on her horizon, is all set to make a life of her own. But Barry and Debbie need her more than ever to sort out their problems just when she’s ready to walk away and leave them all to get on with it, and finally make a fresh start. All I can tell you is…there’s going to be RUCTIONS!

Q7. Which authors do you enjoy reading yourself? Do you have any favourites?

I read a wide variety of books, fiction, popular and literary, non-fiction, biographies and autobiographies, and metaphysical books in an effort to find out what’s life all about anyway. I’m waiting impatiently for a new novel from a very talented author called Ciara Geraghty who wrote Saving Grace. She’s perceptive, observant and you laugh out loud reading her. A young author I mentored, Ruth Gilligan has also written a terrific novel, Can You See Me, set in Cambridge, about a student who is date raped. Ruth is an author who will go far.

Q8. You're involved with the "Open Door Project". Can you tell us a bit about that?

Open Door was my brainchild. And I’m incredibly proud of it and feel it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. They’ve sold more than a quarter of a million books. Before I became a full-time writer, I worked in Dublin Public Libraries. I was aware of literacy problems, meeting people who could neither read nor write, but who wanted desperately to learn to do both, and also, emergent readers who wanted to improve their literacy skills. I felt the frustration of handing a 50-year-old man books more suited to seven-year-olds, which were frequently all we had in stock for adults with literacy problems. While I was working on my second, book Apartment 3B, a literacy tutor jokingly said to me that I should write a novel for my local literacy group. It gave me food for thought. Could I write a book suitable for people who were improving their literacy skills that would engage their attention and, most importantly, wouldn't patronize them? It was a daunting task. I spent a long time writing Second Chance. In some ways I felt it was the most important book of my career, a true test of an author. I approached New Island Publishers in 1998 with a view to publishing a series of literacy novellas written by well-known Irish writers. Fortunately I have several writer friends, so Deirdre Purcell, Marian Keyes, Cathy Kelly and Sheila O'Flanagan, agreed to contribute. I wrote to Roddy Doyle, and Joe O'Connor, among others, as we wanted to keep a gender balance. The response was gratifying - the Open Door series was born! We have thirty-six books including a poetry book published and rights sold in many countries. Several years ago, the CEO of Random House phoned me to inquire about them and I spent an hour telling her how we went about making Open Door such a success, as a result of that conversation and one with Edwin Higel, the Publisher, she instigated Quick Reads which too have become a great success, so we are very proud that people in the UK are following our lead from what was a very simple idea, and that we Irish Authors were the first to do it. Q9. Finally, what's the best thing about being an author, and do you have any advice for any aspiring writers reading this? One of the best things is that you can write anywhere, anytime, day or night and if the sun comes out you can close the laptop and make the most of it. My advice is to keep at it. Once you enjoy writing, keep going. Unfortunately getting published is not easy. Most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts so it’s important to get an agent. Go to your local Library and read the Artist’s & Writers Yearbook, which is very helpful and detailed in all areas of trying to get published. When my second offering was rejected I did say ‘never again.’ But writing those first two books, led me into writing and into the commitment to it. Part of the experience is learning and as a writer writes, a writer learns. Also, find a genre that suits you. When I moved from the Mills Boon formulaic type books, I found great freedom writing what I liked especially when I began writing about families. That was very liberating. So, the advice is to write what you want to write about. When you have that figured, that’s where your imagination can come in and take over. It’s very important to allow your imagination to flow. The trick is not to give up. Always be optimistic and always believe in yourself. Also, write in your spare time. Don’t give up the day job until you can be sure of your financial future. For a long time I worked late into the night and I worked weekends. I remember when I had given up work on my third book; I used to get paid fortnightly. I’ll never forget that first payday and there was no cheque. The advance on City Girl had only been one hundred and fifty pounds. I thought ‘Oh my God, what have I done? I had a big mortgage at the time but I but took a leap of faith and it worked out. People need to remember that, although it happens, it’s not the norm to be an overnight success.

Thanks so much Patricia!


  1. Oh thanks for this review. I love Patricia Scanlan!

  2. Love her too and this is a grate interview!!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview. What a lovely photograph of the author.
    A few years ago I borrowed Promises Promises from my sister-in-law and have been hooked on Patricia Scanlan since. I've read all her books and can't wait for the the sequel to Happy Ever After. I have to admit that sometimes I've read her books more than once and always feel that I've learnt something from each one. Friendship between women is a wonderful thing and I've retained friends from my childhood even though I left my home in Wales and lived in Africa for some 30 years. Like everyone I've had ups and downs in my life but my friends have always been there for me. Thank you Patricia for many hours of enjoyable reading. You books are a wonderful read and I love the humour you introduce into them.
    I have recommended you to so many people.

  4. Robyn Colledge29 June 2010 at 00:58

    It was great to read your interview. I am an avid fan from Australia. I have to buy most of your books on ebay, and eagerly await each new book with impatience. I do beg a favour though. My favourite book so far was Apartment 3B and I must plead with you to bring out a sequel soon. I have been waiting and am really surprised that it hasn't happened yet. Thanks again for bringing myself and my friends so many hours of pleasure.