Yesterday, I was very lucky to meet and interview English author, Rachel Joyce. Rachel is the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and the new companion book, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (as well as her novel, Perfect). She was in Dublin as part of her promotional tour for the new book.
I adored The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and am already engrossed in Queenie Hennessy so I was really intrigued to meet the author herself. Since publishing The Girl Who Came Home, I find myself increasingly fascinated by other authors. I want to learn from them. I want to see how they present themselves, how they respond to readers, how they read from their own work, how they react to reviews. I want to know how they juggle their writing with family life. I want to know how they write, where they write, whether they ever think they are writing complete rubbish (or is it just me?!)
With a two-million copy worldwide best seller to her name, not to mention a Booker long listing, Rachel Joyce has every reason to be shouting from the rooftops and demanding only the purple ones from a tin of Quality Street. But she doesn’t. Not at all. She is quietly gracious about her success, and I have so much admiration for her because of that.
Listening to her speak during our interview, and again at a public event in a local theatre that evening, I was so struck by her humility. She describes her life as ‘hum drum.’ She told us that when she got the phone call about the Booker long listing, she was in M&S with her teenage son buying new pants (fluorescent ones no less) for their holiday! She is wonderfully grounded about her success and I find that incredibly refreshing and inspiring. ‘I am always very conscious that success has a flip side – failure,’ she said. ‘So I try not to think too much about either.’
In an age where we feel compelled to have a running commentary on our lives through our social media pages (Look at my hilarious cat! Look what I made for tea tonight! Look at my fabulous holiday apartment! Look at my messy house! – yes, I am guilty of them all and yes, I totally get the irony that I am writing about this and sharing through social media), it is very tempting for writers to feel obliged to blurt out every single positive review and nice comment about our books. Heck, everyone else seems to be doing it, so maybe I should too? Personally, I have always felt uncomfortable with this, and I preface every good news post with the questions: ‘Am I over-sharing?’ and ‘Does anybody care?’ More often than not, I post my good news with a slight wince and a grimace and I run away from the desk as soon as I hit ‘Publish’ and distract myself with hoovering or finding lost Lego heads. It isn’t because I’m not delighted or grateful or excited about positive news and reviews (I completely am!), but it’s because I don’t like to brag (I’m from Yorkshire, after all. Yorkshire folk don’t do bragging), and that’s often what it feels like. Listening to Rachel Joyce yesterday reminded me that sometimes (perhaps more of the time) we need to let our writing and our books do all the talking (and bragging) for us.
Spending time in the company of this incredibly talented lady, I was also reminded of two very important things. Firstly, that I love being an author because I love writing and I love books. It is for that reason alone that I do what I do; it is for that reason that I push on through a muddled and messy first draft and seek out the story I am trying to tell. And secondly, I was reminded that sometimes those who are the quietest are the ones we listen to the most.
If you don’t know of Rachel’s books, I can highly recommend them. I will be writing up a full interview on Rachel Joyce and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy for writing.ie