Writer’s Block With Melissa Hill

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to MELISSA HILL, one of IRISH CONTEMPORARY FICTION’s most popular international talents …

 

Melissa Hill is not only a top Irish Times and USA Today bestselling author of fifteen novels, but her work has been translated into a staggering twenty-five languages so far, with over half a million copies sold in the UK and Ireland alone.

Melissa first arrived on the book scene in with Something You Should Know in 2002, and she has held a captive audience ever since. With her use of unique plot twists and empathetic characters, it’s no wonder that Hill remains at the top of her game.

Her new novel, Keep You Safe, courageously tackles the hugely controversial vaccination debate, as mothers Kate and Madeleine decline the measles inoculation for their children. With both women facing their own moral dilemmas, the central question stays constant – what if your choice for your child could harm someone else’s? Great success is afoot for the absorbing tale – crime fiction star Sinead Crowley revealed to the Irish Times that Keep You Safe is on her reading list – and the buzz continues to build. Melissa now has Hollywood knocking at her door with not one, but two screen adaptations of her novels in the works. Something From Tiffany’s (2011, Hodder), has been optioned for a major studio production and A Gift to Remember (2014, Simon&Schuster) will show this Christmas on the Hallmark Channel, one of America’s most-watched television networks.

Melissa Hill lives in County Wicklow with her husband and daughter. She is currently writing her next novel.

Keep You Safe (€14.99) is published by HarperCollins and available now from all good bookshops.

On roots

I’m originally from Cahir in Co Tipperary, a small heritage town with a magnificent Norman castle right in the centre. I have huge affection for the place, am still great friends with most of my childhood buddies, and the community has a very unique and supportive feel and is full of interesting characters. So much so that I tried to capture that community spirit in my book The Hotel on Mulberry Bay, which is about a group of locals who work together to save a much-loved local hotel that’s about to close. South Tipperary County Council also recently bestowed the most incredible professional honour, by hosting a Civic Reception/presentation for myself and various other creative/sports achievers from the area. Cahir is a town filled with great people, amazing memories and wonderful experiences, and even though I don’t live there any more, I still feel very much a part of the community.

On local haunts

Because I write mostly during my daughter’s school hours, I tend to restrict myself to the desk at home from morning ’til early afternoon. But if I do decide to skive-off on occasion, I head for Avoca Mount Usher in Ashford. As well as my own books, I co-write thrillers with my husband, and whenever we need to brainstorm plot ideas or exchange editing notes, this is typically where we head. On warmer days, it’s a joy to sit out and enjoy a coffee in the al fresco seating area under a ginormous cherry blossom tree, and on cooler days you still get beautiful views of the surrounding gardens from inside. Mount Usher Gardens are gorgeously picturesque at any time of year, and if ever I get stuck on a project that I’m working on, a walk amongst the trees and nature usually works for untangling errant plot strands and getting me out of fictional blind alleys.

On creating

For many years, I wrote in tight corners in spare rooms on rickety chairs and when I first started, in bed on my laptop. But a couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to design my very own writing space while renovating the family home. It’s a big light-filled room with a huge double-height floor-to-ceiling window looking out over views of the surrounding forest and mountains.

My office is situated on an elevated glass-fronted mezzanine directly overlooking this view, and I’ve filled the workspace with lots of little knick-knacks that make me happy; family photos, scented candles, glitter balls, flamingo & pineapple-themed stuff etc. There’s also a treadmill desk (which I don’t use often enough) alongside my regular desk. The space right below the mezzanine consists of wall to wall bookshelves filled with every book I own, with one entire wall consisting of copies of my own published titles and all my translations. In this area, there’s also my 90s vinyl record collection and player, well as a couple of funky reading chairs and a feature spiral “Bookworm” shelf that I adore. The room is a riot of colour and light, and every morning, I walk in and upstairs to my desk with a spring in my step.

On bookshops

Bridge Street Bookstore in Wicklow town is well-known – not only for its brilliantly curated selection of books, but also for proprietors Hilary and Joanna’s happy smiles and cheerful welcomes, so much so that they won a Bookseller of the Year Award a couple of years back, so it’s not just me! It has a gorgeous location right by the river and the cosy interiors and creative window displays make it not just mine, but also my seven-year-old’s favourite – job done.

On her nightstand

I’ve not long finished Zoë Miller’s A House Full of Secrets. Zoë’s one of my favourite Irish authors and a new book from her is always a real treat. This one was full of intrigue and suspense and I raced through it in just a couple of days. I’ve just started Hazel Gaynor’s The Cottingley Secret – a fictional account of the Cottingley fairies hoax – which I’m really enjoying. Next up is OMG What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen which, as a born and bred culchie myself, I think I’ll appreciate!

On escapes

Sometimes, I feel like the only writer in Ireland who doesn’t head off to a writing retreat to finish a book; I prefer to do it the opposite way – work like a demon at home and then “retreat” to somewhere lovely once I’ve finished.

Up until my daughter started school a couple of years ago, that somewhere was Clearwater Beach, Florida, one of my favourite places on earth. Whenever I finished writing/promoting, my family and I used to spend a couple of months at a beach house in a mostly residential area right on the sand. We don’t get to escape there for as long now that the school term has clipped our wings, but it’s still a family favourite and an idyllic spot with a wonderful beach community. To my mind, there’s nothing more inspirational than a Gulf Coast sunset, which usually ends up filling my head with lots of new ideas and raring to go on another book by the time I get home again.

On vaccination

The idea for Keep You Safe was initially sparked by my own concerns regarding vaccinations for my daughter as a baby. We did vaccinate her, deciding that the risks far outweighed any misgivings, but for my part I was intrigued by the hostility amongst some friends and family (and especially other parents) toward anyone who decides not to. It can be a difficult decision for many, and as everyone comes at it from a different perspective, my own view is that people need to educate themselves as much as possible about it all, so as to make an informed decision.

In the novel, I try to explore via Kate and Madeleine’s stories the varied personal nuances behind vaccine refusal, yet implicitly illustrate the horrific implications – medical and otherwise – of not vaccinating. I hope readers enjoy taking a thought-provoking journey with the characters, and that the Cooper family’s point of view might help tame, for some readers, a little of the hostility and anger surrounding the vaccination debate. Yet at the same time, show that a decision not to vaccinate provokes consequences, and thus comes with responsibilities outside of the personal.

On Hollywood

I don’t think anything will ever quite compare to how it felt back when I first got the call telling me that my first novel would be published, but getting an official email from LA with the words “the movie based on your book has been green-lit” comes a very close second!

Something From Tiffany’s is currently in development with one of the major Hollywood studios, there’s a director and female lead attached but I’m contractually gagged from talking about it until production begins, which is massively frustrating as everything in Hollywood tends to move at iceberg pace. By comparison, I can shout from the rooftops regarding Hallmark, who are currently filming A Gift to Remember. They optioned the book only last year, are filming at the moment in Canada, and the movie is due to air on the Hallmark Channel this Christmas.

The network has a humungous following in the US and a single showing of a movie during the Thanksgiving/Holiday season can command an audience of up to five million viewers at a time which is amazing exposure for any author. The producer has been fantastic with keeping me up to date and is continually sending through photos of the actors on set as everything comes together. I’m still pinching myself to be honest, and still can’t believe this one has been so straightforward when there are typically so many moving parts in the movie/TV industry. As an author, you have no control when (if ever) stuff will get made, and I really can’t wait to see the finished movie in December. I’ve also recently had an offer regarding adapting Keep You Safe for TV, so it’s great to have so many irons in the fire!

@SophieGrenham

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