Sophie Grenham speaks to author SINÉAD MORIARTY about her latest novel, Seven Letters …
Sinéad Moriarty is one of Irish popular fiction’s household names, with 14 novels published in her career so far. One rarely passes through a bookshop without spotting at least one of her works displayed prominently, usually topping the bestseller lists. For 15 years, Moriarty has won the hearts of readers with her widely relatable stories about love, family and friendship, starting with The Baby Trail in 2004. Since then, she has sold upwards of 700,000 copies in the UK and Ireland with over 25 language translations available.
In 2015, after making the shortlist eight times, Moriarty received much-deserved recognition with the Popular Fiction Book of the Year accolade at the Irish Book Awards for The Way We Were. Originally a journalist, she lived and worked in Paris and London for nearly a decade before moving back home to Dublin. She writes a column for the Irish Independent, regularly chairs literary events and is one half of Sinéad and Rick’s Eason Must Reads team, with broadcaster Rick O’Shea.
Moriarty’s latest novel, Seven Letters, brings us more of her magnetic warmth, humour and empathy. Never one to shy away from dicey subjects, this time she treads the terrain of intensive care units and life support machines. It begins as a tale of two sisters, Mia and Sarah, who are the best of friends. They have differing attitudes and motivations but they’re together through thick and thin. When Sarah successfully becomes pregnant following a series of miscarriages, she is only delighted to give her seven-year-old daughter Izzy a sibling. All goes according to plan, until one tragic day Sarah collapses and suffers a brain injury. Meanwhile, the heart of her unborn baby continues to beat. What follows is a medical and moral debate which threatens to tear her family apart. Who gets to decide Sarah’s fate and that of her child? Based on a true story, Seven Letters is a hugely topical and often hair-raising read about life’s cruelties, hope and the tireless human spirit.
Sinéad Moriarty lives in Monkstown, Dublin with her husband Troy and their three children.
Seven Letters (€14.99) is published by Penguin and available from all good bookshops.
I moved to Monkstown in Dublin this summer. I now live beside the sea and can walk down the pier whenever I want to and look out at the infinity of the sea. I love being close to the water. I even swim sometimes, although only when it’s warm. The village has lots of cafés to choose from. I sometimes take a break from writing and walk down for a coffee and take 20 minutes to try to work out a plot line or just get away from my desk for a while.
I lived close to the sea growing up in Dublin, which is why I think I love it so much. It’s such a treat to live in a capital city and be only a walk away from the seafront. Walking along by the coast, breathing in sea air and the sound of seagulls all remind me of my childhood. On my first morning in the new house in Monkstown I woke up to the sound of seagulls and felt ridiculously happy about it.
On formative years
I grew up in a house falling down with books – literally. There were towers of books piled up beside my parents’ bed and books on every surface in the house. My mum would read while cooking, and often got so immersed that dinner would be “well done.” Both my sister and I do that too. I use it to explain why I’m not a very good cook.
My mum is also a writer. She wrote books for children on Irish historical figures like James Joyce and WB Yeats. I remember watching her researching and writing on notepads at the kitchen table. I saw how hard she worked to make the books come to fruition. I was under no illusion that being a writer was easy.
On early reading
My mum always read to us when we were small. My older sister became a voracious reader, so I followed her example. I always think of Enid Blyton when I think of childhood reading. I also love the Noel Streatfeild books. I adored her book, Ballet Shoes. I wanted to be a ballerina after reading it, but when I moved from ballet slippers to pointe shoes, the agony of walking on bent toes put paid to that dream. I used to stagger around my bedroom counting to ten and wincing. I don’t know how ballerinas do it, it’s so painful. So I never became a famous ballerina. I blame it on the pointe shoes and, to be fair, the fact that I had no natural ability.
In my new house I have a very small office. My desk faces the wall, this is an attempt to stop me being distracted. The window to my right, faces the road. I can hear people chatting as they walk by. I like the sound, it’s soothing. The walls are covered in bookshelves. I, like my parents used to, have stacks of books piled high all over the room. I never seem to have enough bookshelves. Above my desk is a cork board with inspirational quotes, a treasured note from Maeve Binchy and photos of my kids when they were babies.
On independent bookshops
I absolutely love Hatchards in Piccadilly, London. One Christmas, when I lived in London, I popped in on my way home from work. Inside there was a choir of boys singing on the stairs. Mulled wine was being passed around and in one corner John Simpson, the journalist, was signing copies of his book, in another was Jilly Cooper. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
I also love Shakespeare and Co in Paris. When I lived there I used to hide away in a corner and read for ages without any staff members ever bothering me. It’s iconic. In Ireland I love the Village Bookshop in Greystones.
On her “To Be Read” pile
Since I started the Eason Must Read book club with Rick O’Shea, I read about two or three books a week. We get sent a long list of books every three months and then we choose our eight choices from that list. I read a huge amount and always have a big pile of books beside my bed – making me slightly panicky as I wonder how I’m going to get through them all. I love doing the book club, it’s an absolute joy to promote books and reading.
The Tyrone Guthrie Centre for creative artists at Annaghmakerrig in Monaghan is a haven. I try to go there once or twice a year. I only ever go for three or four days but it’s always worth it. It’s so peaceful and conducive to working. You also meet the most fantastic people. It hosts artists working in all different art forms. I’ve met choreographers, dancers, composers, musicians, visual artists, street artists, actors, directors… and fellow writers. There is something magical about it, I always get so much work done when I am there. I never want to leave. The staff are so lovely, and the food is amazing too, which helps.
On Seven Letters
About five years ago I read about a case where a pregnant woman was declared brain-dead and how her family fought for her to be allowed die with dignity and not be kept alive as a human incubator. The case stayed with me for years. I knew one day I’d write about something similar. Seven Letters is about a family divided by a medical, moral and ethical dilemma. I love choosing really difficult issues and placing them inside the heart of a family and seeing how they deal with it. In life we all get dealt difficult choices, but what would you do if you were faced with a choice like this? I wanted to see what a family would do and so I wrote Seven Letters.
On familial themes
We all come from families. Whether you like your family or not, they are your family. We all have complications within our families. We all have to face difficult times and everyone in the family does not necessarily react the same way when faced with challenges. I find it fascinating to see how different members react in different ways. Your family is a huge part of your life. It defines who you are. Every family has a story to tell and it’s never dull.
On what’s next
I’m working on a children’s book which I hope will be something children respond well to. It’s a work in progress. I’m still not ready to talk about it yet. I’m also working on a new adult novel and recording the reviews for the Eason Must Read Summer Selections. There are eight fantastic books on the list. Something for everyone. I’m also working with Arthritis Ireland to raise awareness of Rheumatoid Arthritis. We are asking people around the country living with Rheumatoid Arthritis to send in their stories to Arthritis Ireland so we can publish a book of short stories in the autumn. I was diagnosed with RA three years ago, so it’s a campaign very close to my heart.
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