As part of Harper Impulse fortnight I'm delighted to welcome the wonderful Carmel Harrington to Little Northern Soul! Here we talk about her second book, The Life you Left, her writing process and how it feels to be a published author... so here we go!
1) Hi Carmel! Welcome to Little Northern Soul. To start with, please can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi Laura, thank you for taking the time to put together such great questions. I’m from Ireland, living in a small, beautiful coastal village in Co. Wexford. My husband Roger and I have two small children - Amelia (5) and Nate (3) who keep us on our toes! In addition to writing novels, I also freelance write feature articles for a number of Irish national newspapers and magazines. And I’m one of the panelists on TV3’s daily chat show, Midday. (Think Loose Women, Irish style).
2) Could you tell us about your writing journey so far?
I’ve always been a writer, scribbling away in a journal, or making up stories in my head. I was chronically shy though, I never shared anything I’d written with anyone. I wrote Grace’s story and stuffed the manuscript in a box under my bed for years. I was just so full of self-doubt. Then in 2012, thanks to the wonderful nagging and encouragement of my husband, I decided to self-publish my first novel, Beyond Grace’s Rainbow. To my joy it was an eBook bestseller, which led to me signing with Trace Literary Agency and in turn a two book deal with Harper Impulse. Pinch myself kind of territory. In 2013, Beyond Grace’s Rainbow received what I like to call a face lift and was republished by Harper Impulse, with a new cover and a professional edit. In 2014, my second novel The Life You Left was published. Now, I write full time- or at least, full time around my children’s hours! I’ve written my third book and am busy writing my fourth. I’ve just signed a new deal, the details of which will be out soon.
3) Where were you when you found out you had a contract with Harper Impulse? How did you feel?
I was on a weekend break with my family to celebrate Fathers Day. I’d been without email contact for days, as there was no wi-fi in the wooden lodge we were staying in. But then, I got a feeling that I should find a way to check my emails. I found a signal, at the top of the stairs by holding my iPad up in the air. Hey presto, an email from my agent! I screamed, my husband thought I’d fallen, but instead found a slightly manic wife. He confirmed I wan’t seeing things. Then, all four of us did a conga around the house, singing, Mummy’s got a contract, mummy’s got a contract, lalalala ….
That night when the kids were asleep, there may have been G&T’s taken.
4) The Life You Left is your second book published with Harper Impulse - can you tell me a bit about it?
It’s about Sarah, a mother, a wife, whose life is turned upside down by the disappearance of her husband Paul and the appearance of a childhood friend Edward, whom she hasn’t seen for over twenty years. Edward gives her a message that will ensure that life is never ever the same again.
Sarah must come to terms very quickly with her new normal, with the help of her twin brother James, who is her rock.
5) I must admit, I hadn’t expected the story to follow the theme it does (with guardian angels and psychics), but they play a huge and fantastic part of the story - what gave you the idea to incorporate this theme into the story?
I’m so glad you enjoyed this aspect of the story. I didn’t set out to include it. Initially my idea was to write Sarah’s story, that of a mother, whose husband disappears and her reinvention of herself in his absence. But then two things happened, that changed the story. A walk on our local beach, early one morning, where the wind played havoc with my imagination, inspired the storyline of a body found brutally murdered on a beach and the mystery around her death. The angel storyline came from an actual event that happened to me a few years ago. A woman walked up to me in a shopping centre and told me that I was surrounded by the love of angels and that my guardian angel was currently watching over me. While she spoke to me, I was convinced she was trying to scam me out of something. To my shame I held on tight to my purse, thinking she was going to steal from me. But she wanted nothing from me. She just wanted to give me a message of love and hope. I learnt a lot from that. Sometimes people are kind and want nothing in return. That’s lovely. Sarah’s character stemmed from that meeting.
6) Did you have to do research into this topic? If so, what research did you do?
I did a lot of research. On the subject of guardian angels, psychics, murders, police procedures, private investigators …. there was a lot! Thank goodness for the internet!
7) My favourite character in the story was James, I loved how protective and supportive he was with his sister Sarah. Who was your favourite character?
I loved James too. He is a cheeky but very loveable character and was a dream to write. But equally, I think Sarah is a great character, with huge inner strength.
8) What’s your writing process - do you like to plan it through or just start to write?
I always tell my writing group, to just write, get the story down in its entirety, then go back and edit. Don’t keep editing every line you write, because that way you may never see ‘The End!’ I seem to do three rewrites with each of my books. Three is the charm!
Once I have an idea or concept of a story, I like to get started and just write and see where the characters take me. I will know the beginning and the end, but often exactly how the protagonists will get there!
Quite often, as I’m in the middle of a scene, inspiration will hit me for the next part and the high I get from those ‘eureka’ moments is incredible!
9) Your stories have plenty of funny parts in them, do you have to think the humorous bits through or do they just flow naturally?
I love that you asked this question. So many readers talk about my emotional scenes and I love those. But I like to think I make my readers smile and giggle the odd time too! The humorous parts just kind of happen, I don’t plan them ever, I’m not sure you can force humour. It just organically occurs courtesy of my characters. Some of which, just lend themselves to funny situations!
10) How do you get your ideas for stories?
I’m inspired everyday by so many different things - a song, a quote, a news story, a remark passed by a friend. I have a big imagination, it never rests, always flipping from one idea to another. It’s easily fuelled!
11) What’s your favourite thing about being an author?
Oh, I love so much about being an author, but if I had to pick just one, it’s when a reader contacts me and tells me that they have enjoyed my book. It’s an incredible feeling. I cherish every reader to takes time out of their busy days to get in touch.
12) If you could be any character from literary fiction, who would you be and why?
There are so many answers I could give here - Lizzie Bennett, Jo March, Hermione, Scout, Nancy Drew…. But as I’m reading this book EVERY night for my 5 year old, I’m all about Cinderella right now. So, yes, I’ll be Cinders please! She’s gorgeous, rocks a blue gown like no other and has a fairy godmother for goodness sake. What’s not to love?
13) Can you tell us anything about your upcoming novel?
I’ve two new books in the writing/editing process at the moment. What I can tell you is that my next book, will actually be a Christmas book! And it will be out in October. I cannot wait to share this story with you all. I am a Christmas nut, my favourite time of the year, so it doesn’t feel like work at all, getting this story written. Silver bells, silver bells ….
14) Finally, when you’re not busy writing how do you like to relax?
With Rog and the kids. We live near the sea, so go for a lot of walks on the beach. The children adore collecting sea shells. The amount of times I’ve reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a shell and handful of sand! I read a lot, always have at least one book on the go, sometimes more than one, because I also listen to audio books. I find complete escapism in a couple of favourite TV shows - The Walking Dead, Poldark and Grey’s Anatomy. And there’s nothing nicer than a gossipy evening with friends, drinking wine, eating good food and laughing over nothing.
Thanks for having me on your blog Laura.
Anytime Carmel, it's been a pleasure to have you!