Writer’s Block With Maria Hoey

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author MARIA HOEY about getting her FIRST NOVEL PUBLISHED, IRISH SECRECY and missing persons …

 

It’s no great mystery how emerging talent Maria Hoey achieved her lifelong ambition of becoming a novelist. With a great love of words and a nurturing upbringing filled with books, the Swords native inevitably began creating her own fiction at eight years old. Maria’s work has featured in the prestigious Poetry Ireland and her short stories and verse have been widely published in numerous magazines. In 1997 Maria won first prize in the Swords Festival Short Story Competition. In 2010 she was runner-up in the Myslexia International Short Story Competition and was also short-listed for the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award.

Maria’s breathtaking debut novel, The Last Lost Girl, has attracted mighty whirls of attention from all over the literary community, joining countless wish lists upon its release this year. The enigmatic tale follows the painful path of Jacqueline Brennan; in her pursuit of the truth behind her older sister Lilly’s disappearance in the heat wave of 1976. The RTÉ Guide has called The Last Lost Girl, “a haunting, mesmerizing first novel with a chilling secret at its core. It will grip and surprise you to the very last page.”

Maria Hoey lives in Portmarnock, County Dublin with her husband Dr Garrett O’Boyd. Maria is currently writing her second novel.

On home 

Portmarnock is famous for its glorious and seemingly endless golden beach. Apparently people come here for golf too, but I know nothing about that… More to my, and my husband Garrett’s, liking is the sense of a village community with the added bonus of an excellent train service to the city. We are only up the road from Malahide with its glut of restaurants, shops, boutiques, library, marina etc, etc…but give me the peace and quiet of Portmarnock any day.

Brezzi’s do the best pizzas in North County Dublin, II Panorama is a wonderfully cosy and welcoming café. Portmarnock has a wonderful greengrocers – Mr Green Freshfood… JW Smyth is an excellent butchers and Rib-Eye Friday is quite the tradition in my house now! Favourite restaurant would be Kinara in Clontarf. We are also spoilt rotten with Jus de Vine as our local off-licence. 

On roots

Swords, during my childhood, was a small town with quite a rural feel really, considering it is only about eight miles from Dublin city. We originally lived in a small house in Rathingle before moving to Glasmore Park. In Rathingle, our back garden was basically a meadow; beyond that were more fields. Of course in memory it was always summer, so the smell is that of freshly cut hay piled into those wonderful haycocks you just do not see anymore. And the cuckoo was always calling and somewhere sheep were bleating and the grass was the greenest green and studded with daisies. Idyllic? Possibly, but that is exactly the way I remember it.

On creating

We live in a ground-floor apartment and I work at home mostly. I have a desk in our living room, right in front of a full length window. It looks out onto a stretch of grass bordered by some trees. Beyond this is a large field where horses graze so it is very, very peaceful and you can believe you are right in the heart of the countryside. The room is stuffed full of bookshelves which in turn are groaning under the weight of books. I need light and warmth in which to write, so this room is perfect. That said, I would like a study/library of my own in which to write.

I work part time in Smithfield, Dublin 7, so a typical workday sees me catching an 8.30am train to the city. But on days when I get to stay at home to write, I sadly must admit to lazing about in the mornings thinking it rather than actually doing it. I fire up round about lunchtime but then hunger takes over. After that, because I do my best plotting when I am out walking. I usually postpone the writing again in favour of a stroll. A ten minute stroll down Links Road takes me to the boardwalk which winds its way between the sand dunes and deposits me on the beach. And getting there is half the fun as Baldoyle Estuary is home to all sorts of fascinating birdlife. I have never seen so many Little Egrets, Herons, Buzzards and Curlews in my life since I came to live in Portmarnock. At home again I will have a cup of tea and some chocolate (chocolate figures largely in my life) and then finally settle down to write. Once I start, great swathes of time pass unbeknownst to me and often I will look up from my laptop to realise that I have been writing for hours, and that I am cramped and starved. It is still the best feeling in the world. When I am not writing, I am reading and I am also an avid TV-watcher, so every evening ends with me glued to the TV and usually with a glass of wine in my hand!

On bookshops

There was a bookshop in Cavan; I think it was called The Cavan Book Centre, which unfortunately closed a few years ago. It was wonderful – the books were all in a glorious jumble but you could find such wonderful treasures there. I have a soft spot for John’s Bookshop in Athlone and The Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar is great. The staff in Manor Books, Malahide are just lovely and that is so important in a bookshop. I lost a great chunk of my life the first time I experienced Charlie Byrne’s in Galway and had the same experience in Blackwell’s in Oxford city. To me, a great bookshop is a place where you enter and lose yourself and you are left in peace to do so.

On her nightstand

To me, nightstand books are about comfort and familiarity. I am a compulsive re-reader of books and the books I read again and again are my collection of Agatha Christie’s, all of Thomas Hardy’s novels, also Jane Austen, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse collection and my favourite book of all time, Jane Eyre. I am also obsessed by Anne Boleyn and so anything well-written on her life goes to the top of the pile. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies are the best so far.

On escape

When I can afford it, I head off to the blissful Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, Co Monaghan. There are no televisions there and the house and grounds and lake cast a sort of spell. I have never worked so intensively in any other place. Every artist should go there at least once.

On Irish secrecy

Are we more secretive than other nations? I’m not sure. This is a very interesting question, because on the face of it, we never shut up, do we? We are always talking, always telling our stories, whether through story or poetry or just everyday banter… And then you look at the awful legacy of the control the Roman Catholic church exerted over the people in this country, the repression of sexuality, the Magdalene laundries, all those dead or stolen babies, all that shaming of women. A lot of our secrets are around sex, aren’t they? I wonder what we were like before we were touched by the paws of formal religion. And we are a proud people too, so maybe that has something to do with it.

On missing persons

People can disappear when they want to and do so very successfully all the time and sometimes for very valid reasons. I imagine it is harder now with social media and stricter border controls but of course it can be done. And I think that one of the hardest things for the family of a missing person to bear, must be not knowing if the loved one has chosen to go away or if they have been abducted or murdered or whatever. If you could know that the missing person was safe, painful as it might be, you could learn to accept their going.

On what’s next

I am working on my next book, in which three little girls go for a walk on a sunny September day and something bad happens. But all is not as it seems and when the three women come together again as adults, danger threatens for some… Then it’s on to book three for Poolbeg. I also have plans for a young adult novel at some stage, hopefully.

@SophieGrenham

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