It’s an incredible process, writing. There you are typing away and someone, seemingly out of nowhere, pops up on the page. A name, a character… becoming more realised with every tap of your finger. As a writer, you are never quite sure what or who is going to appear, a distant memory, a story someone told you once, a funny thing that happened to a friend… or a moment in your past right there, on the page, often whether you like it or not.
When I wrote my first book, Friends Like Us, I was going through a darkish time in my life. Darkish because it wasn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone and there were lots of amazing things happening to me as well (stand up, daughter!).
But this thing was consuming. It took over my life, it was all I thought of. It stopped me going out to see friends, being myself. Managing it was horrible but I began to write about it, in a disjointed, unconfident way and somehow it helped me. What you read on the page, is not the situation exactly but it is there very clearly. And writing it down, writing it away, even, gave me power over the situation, forcing my character to act in a way I wished I could.
And it worked. The weird but brilliant therapy that writing often can be, worked. Now I’m out of that situation and I don’t feel powerless anymore, I feel free and happy and excited by life. The book acted as a way of me channelling all my anger and frustration and sadness and disappointment into this storyline and it was so wonderfully freeing.
I hope the book is joyful and funny and likeable and warm as well but there are real threads running through. The dark and the darkish. We know, as women, how we get through life and how every difficult experience makes us stronger. Now I’m on the other side, I realise what I have gained. A little more strength, a tiny bit more wisdom, a small amount of self-knowledge. And writing coupled with time, was how I got through.
The way you can manipulate your characters to be braver than you might ever be or to experience something you would like to but feel too scared has to be a very good thing indeed. I’ve had my characters take huge risks, giving up careers, walking out of marriages, going on stage, heading off to Australia and meeting some surfing hunk (that’s just a personal fantasy, a hangover from watching too much Home And Away). Facing your past mistakes or traumas, no matter how great they are, is something we all have to do at some point or other. And in my books I often make my characters confront something from their past, a hidden shame, unfinished business with an old lover, an unrealised dream.
One of the story threads in Friends Like Us was that of a woman, a mother of one of my main characters, Steph, who has a secret which she thinks is a terrible one, so awful that she cannot talk about it and, as a result, has shut down and turned to that great comfort alcohol. The secret is one that many Irish women have kept to themselves over the years, something they were made to feel so ashamed of, something that was never their fault, yet they were punished by the church and by society, so much so that in many cases internalised the shame. In writing about it, I wanted to give a voice to the women who have suffered in that way.
In my latest book, Always and Forever, Marietta is the mother of my narrator Jo. She’s a strong and successful woman, lady captain of the golf club and recently retired from running a business, and yet she has something she needs to see to the end. Something that has niggled away at her all her life. A man. Before she was married and when she was still a teenager, she was passionately in love with Patrick Realta.
When they meet again, now both older and greyer, the passion is still there but is he her happy ending? I wanted to show that although we do gain in strength, wisdom and self-knowledge, we never quite get there. We never have all the answers and at any age we are still vulnerable to our feelings, the flights of fancies that makes life often wonderful but sometimes unbearable.
Writing is a particular privilege because it helps us experience our own lives from a different direction. I have never been able to write about myself overtly but it always creeps in. At the moment, in my new book, I am toying with one of my closest and most difficult relationships and I’m giving myself a happy ending.
Writing this storyline is helping me come to terms with my feelings, organising them, forcing me to be coherent. And I feel happier as a result. It’s my avatar, a better, nicer, wittier version of myself, riding off into my constructed sunset. But in real life, then the sun rises again the next day, there’s always another day for self-improvement and a chance to learn and to live better.
About Always and Forever
A warm, witty, compelling and emotional novel about love, family and coming to terms with your past. Perfect for fans of Jill Mansell, Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain.
How can you find yourself again, when you can’t face what you’ve lost?
Joanna Woulfe is looking to get her life back on track after her husband John leaves their family home. Once a high-flying PR Director, Jo now looks after her son Harry and seeks support only from her mother Marietta and her best friend Nicole. But Nicole’s own marriage is facing its greatest ever crisis, and Marietta, too, is distracted by the reappearance of an old flame, ex-Showband-singer and lothario Patrick Realta.
Soon Jo enrols with a colourful local amateur dramatics group and begins a flirtation with the handsome young Ronan Forest. But is she really ready to move on from her old life – and from her years of marriage to John? And what was it that happened three years ago that sent the couple into free-fall?
Before long Jo will realise that is only by looking back that she will ever truly be able to move forward…
Siân was born in Ireland and grew up in Wales and works as a radio producer. She now lives in the seaside suburb of Dalkey, Dublin, with her daughter.
Always and Forever can be ordered here