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  That Gallagher Girl

The O'Hara Affair by Kate Thompson

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what made you decide to write?

Desperation! I was hitting a dodgy age for an actress, and knew that I had to find some alternative way of earning a living. It was a complete long shot. I hoped that being in the public eye in Ireland might help me get to the top of the editor’s slush pile, but in fact people are generally wary of ‘celebrity’ novels.

were you rejected, and how did you cope with it?

My very first attempt at writing - years and years ago - was rejected by Mills & Boon,  but it didn’t really surprise me. I was trying to write to formula, which is a bad idea. When I had another stab at writing (with It Means Mischief) I bawled crying like a big baby for an entire afternoon when it was rejected by the first publishing house I approached. If it hadn’t been for my husband Malcolm’s encouragement, I would have given up there and then. Having said that, I was very lucky, because I got back from the publishers what is called a ‘considered’ rejection – the manuscript had a reader’s report attached - which gave me some idea as to how I could make the book work.  

do you have a regular routine?

I do now. In the early days things were more erratic. If I had time off from a television storyline I often wrote seven days a week - sometimes up to thirteen hours a day - and I'd be really, really wrung out in the evening. Nowadays I spend the morning pottering, doing household chores, taking in some exercise, playing around with my characters all the time in my head. They’re rarely out of residence once I get stuck into a book! Around midday I make myself a big pot of coffee and stay in front of the screen until seven or eight in the evening, without a break.

where do you get your ideas?

People ask this question all the time! Ideas can come from everywhere and nowhere. A leather hat lying on a stranger’s doorstep gave me a rather lovely idea for Living the Dream. And feedback’s incredibly important. Malcolm reads my work when I finish every evening, and has come up with some terrific ideas when I get stuck. Weaving a plot is really just a prolonged exercise in lateral thinking. Sometimes I’ll spend an hour at my computer wondering exactly how I can get my heroine from A to B when she doesn’t have a car, or how so-and-so gets to see a letter that isn’t intended for her. You get there in the end!

Incidentally, there are no new ideas under the sun. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve opened someone else’s novel and gone ‘Oh no! That happens in my book too!’

what about research?

Spending time in the South of France to get the ambience right for The Blue Hour was a joy. The only really tough research I did was when Ella - my heroine in Going Down - decided to embark on an advanced course in scuba-diving. I had already certified as an open water diver, but in order to do the advanced course I had to spend a freezing Saturday morning thirty metres underwater in a flooded quarry in practically minus visibility. It was grim - but diving reefs is as near to heaven on earth as you can get. In the name of research, I also took a course in Complementary Healing Massage while writing A Perfect Life because one of the heroines of that novel is a certified masseuse. It's actually a fantastic skill to have - a massage is a wonderful gift to give to a friend.

Generally speaking, I write before I research, and it’s amazing how accurate your instinct can be. Picking people’s brains has to be the best way of confirming facts. I often write a list of questions and then take an expert out to lunch. For The Kinsella Sisters I enlisted the help of an estate agent and an architect friend, as one of the major characters is in the property game.

are your characters based on real people?

At the top of all my books my publishers have very diplomatically stated that: ‘All the characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.’ I will confess that some of my more peripheral characters – particularly the horrible ones! - may initially have be been based on flesh and blood people, but they soon develop their own idiosyncrasies. You might find an amalgam of real life people in one character – so-and-so’s hair, such-and-such’s bad breath, eeny-meeny-miney-and-mo’s flamboyance, greed, sense of humour (or lack of same) - or even his/her shoes!

It sounds weird, but sometimes characters walk into my head without asking permission. The O'Hara Affair was originally intended to have just two narrative voices, Fleur and Dervla, but a third - Bethany - was so appealing that I couldn't not write her. And Cat Gallagher simply demanded to be written!

do you get emotionally involved with your characters?

Intensely. I laugh out loud at their pratfalls and really hate having to manipulate their misfortunes. I cheer their victories and weep buckets at their calamities. I was in floods of tears once, writing a death scene, and was beyond relieved when the phone rang that it was my agent who was on the other end. I’m not sure that anyone else would have understood – apart from another writer.

do you have many writer friends?

Two staunch allies and very dear friends are Marian Keyes and Cathy Kelly. They have been incredibly supportive, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have found them. I am also blessed to have had Deirdre Purcell as a mentor: she was extraordinarily generous to me when I was starting out, and remains a good friend to this day.

while surfing the net recently, I discovered that you've written some very successful children's books.

That's a different Kate Thompson! She writes children's as well as adult fiction. The strangest coincidence is that she too lives in Ireland. There's a link to her site on my Links page.

do you miss acting?

Once upon a time I would have said absolutely not. The insecurity is crippling, and I always suffered from chronic stage fright that was getting progressively worse. But recently I realised that - after a decade spent away from my 'tribe' - I badly missed the camaraderie. Writing is an incredibly solitary profession. So, on running into a radio producer friend at the theatre one evening, I asked if he might have a tiny one- or two-liner for me in his next production. The answer was yes: the play in question happened to be by one of Ireland's foremost playwrights, Thomas Kilroy (Tom wrote a version of The Seagull in which I starred with Ciarán Hinds many years ago). And that's how I ended up back out in the radio building in RTE, recording with a gang of actors with whom I had worked years ago. It was the best fun I'd had in ages, and rather unsurprisingly I got smitten again by that acting bug. So I duly got on to my agent to ask if anything else suitable might be in the offing. Serendipity struck! I landed a role in Ireland's premier soap opera Fair City as a rather flamboyant character called Justine Lennox. Since then I have joined the Fair City team as a script writer.

would anything persuade you to go back on the stage?

Oo-er. I really doubt it. I do miss voice-over work though. The last sustained voice work I did was when I recorded the audio book of The O'Hara Affair.

where do you write?

In Dublin, I'm lucky to have a dedicated study, but I also spend a lot of time writing in the west of Ireland on a fantastically beautiful site on Clew Bay. A battered mobile home has stood on the shore there in splendid isolation for the past thirty years, and every time I visit I expect to find that it’s been blasted away by the wild winds that come in off the Atlantic. It’s obviously not possible to work there in the winter months, so I often rent a place in Connemara then. It has an equally beautiful view that can prove very distracting!

The photograph at the foot of about kate shows me sitting on the sea wall of the Clew Bay site, doing my favourite thing. I'm cradling my Burmese cat (now sadly deceased - he's been replaced by a minx called Miss Leeloo Caswell), I have a glass of white wine to hand, and I'm reading a book. My idea of heaven!

how many novels have been published to date?

Thirteen. Eight have been published by Transworld, two by New Island, and three by Avon HarperCollins in a series known as the Lissamore Trilogy. Please go to www.lissamore.com to find out more.

and you’ve been translated?

Yes. Into several languages. It’s a weird feeling to see the books in Greek. Although Rory is still pronounced with an ‘r’ sound, in Cyrillic he becomes ‘Popi’! And in Czech my name is Kate Thompsonova - v. diva-ish!

you've also had a novel published under a nom de plume?

Yes! My pen name is Pixie Pirelli. Pixie is actually a character - a chick-lit writer - in my novel Sex, Lies & Fairytales. Since she doesn't exist, I decided to write her book for her. I'm delighted to say that her novel - Hard to Choos - has received all-round rave reviews!

certain characters turn up on a regular basis in your books: should they be read in any particular order?

The books are really all stand alone, but in order of publication they go: It Means Mischief, More Mischief, Going Down, The Blue Hour, Striking Poses, A Perfect Life, Living the Dream, Sex, Lies & Fairytales, and Love Lies Bleeding. It would be a lot of fun to read Pixie's Hard to Choos after reading Sex, Lies & Fairytales. The Kinsella Sisters, The O'Hara Affair and That Gallagher Girl comprise The Lissamore Trilogy.

you've had a lot of fantastic press feedback for your books: what makes them so successful?

I read to escape, and I write to escape. I think there is so much awful stuff going on in the world that escapism is essential from time to time.

how do you spend your leisure time?

The usual suspects. Reading, eating out, walking beaches, running beaches, lying on beaches, swimming off beaches, and - rather more unusually - scuba-diving. I spent my best Christmas day ever diving a reef in Jamaica. And I've recently taken up hill walking with two other author friends, Marian Keyes and Hilary Reynolds, and our respective (if not repectful) spouses. 

© 2011 Kate Thompson

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