Then and Now: Maria Duffy, author of The Letter

The Letter by Maria Duffy small

It’s July. The sun has finally put his hat on and loads of lovely new books are hitting the bookshelves in time for lazy summer days reading on the beach. So, for July I am delighted to welcome contemporary women’s fiction author, Maria Duffy, to Whims & Tonic. Maria has just released her third novel THE LETTER, which follows the great success of her previous two novels, ANY DREAM WILL DO and THE TERRACE.

I’m always intrigued by the life of a writer, so I asked Maria to tell me all about the process of writing ‘book three.’ Over to Maria ….

Where were you with your writing this time last year?

This time last year I was ‘between books’ – roughly translated as ‘I’d better get my bum into gear because this book won’t write itself’. My second novel, The Terrace, was to be published at the beginning of August and I was riddled with excitement and terror in equal measures. Getting my first book deal and seeing my first book in print was a dream come true and I couldn’t believe that just nine months later, I was releasing my second one. The first had been a great success and in a way, instead of it making things easier for the next, it added to the pressure. I so badly wanted The Terrace to do well. I didn’t want to be called a ‘one trick wonder’ or hear people say ‘ah she must only have one decent book in her’! But I needn’t have worried because August arrived and The Terrace made it to the top ten in Ireland.

What was causing you the greatest challenge with your writing?

My biggest challenge this time last year was to get those first words of book three written. I probably have a slightly unusual way of writing in that I almost completely write the book in my head before I write a single word on paper. I profile all the characters and then I take them with me when I go out running, in the car, in the shower…! I live with them in my head until they act out their story and only then I begin to write. But for some reason – I don’t know if it was fear or just plain old writer’s block – I couldn’t seem to get started on the writing, even though I knew the story well.

What important decisions did you make in the last twelve months?

Well, let me see. Ah yes, I changed from the iPhone to the Samsung Galaxy. I also decided to let my hair grow because I was going to get it c… oh hang on… do you mean writing decisions? The one thing that springs to mind straight away is my decision to completely rewrite book three. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do but it was a huge learning curve. I think, as writers, we know when something just isn’t working. My editor and agent agreed that all the elements were there, but it just didn’t feel right. After making the decision, I mourned my lost words and then I suddenly felt empowered. It was the right thing to do and The Letter was going to be my best book as a result!

What was the pivotal moment for you in the last twelve months? 

Without wanting to harp on about it, the pivotal moment for me in the last twelve months was definitely the realisation that starting book three again wasn’t a bad thing. I wasn’t going to die from it, the world wasn’t going to end but I was going to learn so much from the process.

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What was the high point of the last twelve months?

I think the launch of The Terrace last August was a high point for me. My first launch was wonderful but I’d been so nervous, a lot of it went past in a blur. This time I was determined to take in every last moment of it. As I was getting ready for the big night, our house (as well as most of the country) came to a halt to watch Katie Taylor win gold at the Olympics. It was a very special moment. Then only hours later, Eleanor Mc Evoy launched my book with a wonderful speech, beginning with: “What a day for Irish women…!”

What is the most important thing you have learnt about your writing during the last twelve months?

I’d say that the most important thing is something that I already knew but I may have forgotten along the way, and that’s to be true to myself. To write as me and nobody else. To write from the heart. It’s these very things that secured me my agent a few years ago but while striving to be a better writer, I think I lost a bit of confidence in my own voice. But once I sat down to rewrite The Letter, I became me again and fell in love with the writing process all over again.

What are your hopes for the next twelve months and what do you have coming up?

The first thing I have to look forward to is the launch of The Letter which is happening next week. I regularly have to pinch myself when I see my books in the shops and I can’t believe number three will be there soon too. From now until Christmas I’ll be writing book four which hopefully will be launched in the summer of next year. On a more personal side, I’m looking forward to a more relaxed year at home. For the last two years, I’ve had teenagers doing state exams in the summer so being the typical Irish Mammy, I’ve felt like I’ve been doing them too!

Any other positive experiences you’d like to share from the last year?

My whole year has been full of positive experiences, writing and otherwise, so it’s hard to pinpoint any in particular. But having said that, one of my favourite things about writing books is hearing from readers. This last year, I’ve had hundreds of emails and tweets from people, telling me how much they’ve enjoyed my books. They tell me who their favourite characters are and what they think of certain plots. They give me advice, which I gladly take and they sometimes even tell me about their own lives. It really makes the whole process worthwhile.

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Thanks so much to Maria – she’s certainly one busy lady! THE LETTER is available now in bookshops and is also available on Amazon.

Follow Maria on Twitter @mduffywriter or check out her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/maria.duffy

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