One of seven children, Monica McInerney grew up in Australia and then came to live in the UK before moving to Ireland where she married. She has won a number of literary awards and published 10 novels, which consistently top the charts in both the land of her birth and her adopted home.
Her latest is Lola’s Secret and is the story of mischievous, computer loving, charity shop fanatic called Lola Quinlan and her family, who run the Valley View Motel in Southern Australia. Lola decides to pack her family off for a holiday and run the Valley View Motel herself. In secret, using the local charity shop, Lola creates an online advertising campaign to fill the Valley View Motel with new friends over the holiday.
Your protagonist is 84, which is unusual. Why did you do that and did you have any concerns about it?
I’m fascinated by older women – in real life and in fiction. Lola Quinlan appeared in an earlier book of mine (The Alphabet Sisters), at the sprightly age of 80 and I had so much fun writing her I wanted to revisit her. I was careful not to go for any ‘grandmotherly’ stereotypes – she’s flamboyant, straight-talking, meddling – but beyond that, no, I had no concerns. I enjoyed every fictional moment I got to spend with her. I didn’t know my own grandmothers and I’m sure that’s where Lola came from – she’s the grandmother I always longed to have.
Charity shops play a big part in the book. Tell us about your experiences of thrift stores?
I’ve been a fan (almost an addict of) thrift stores/charity shops/op shops/second-hand shops since I was a child. It’s the treasure hunt aspect that lures me in – I never know what I might find as I push open that door, or what I might overhear being discussed between the (generally female, generally elderly) volunteers behind the counter. I once found a beautiful cashmere evening coat for £2 and a green marble ring for less than that, both of which I still wear and love. I’ve had great conversations with the volunteers, and heard stories of treasures found in boxes of trash. I’ve also eavesdropped shamelessly on staff and customers – the whole shopping experience is so different in a charity shop. I might leave empty-handed when it comes to items, but I’ve picked up terrific material for future books – tales of warring couples/disobedient children/family scandals…
Yes! I’m the middle child of seven and I know my brothers and sisters read each book with a very careful eye indeed. I think they are starting to relax now, after my 10th novel. I don’t steal (many) stories from our family life, but I do draw on autobiographical emotions for my novels. I like to explore the fun side of families but also the complicated, sadder moments.
Do you have a notebook at the supper table?
Yes, and beside my bed, and in my handbag, and in the car… I get very engrossed in my plotting and ideas come from everywhere. I try to be ready for their arrival. While I was writing Lola’s Secret, I hit a plot tangle and went for a walk to clear my head. Twenty minutes in, the perfect solution occurred to me. I didn’t have a notebook with me, only my ancient mobile phone, so I rang home and left a long, garbled message on our answering machine, talking of thieves and break-ins and robberies. I’ve often wondered what my husband would have made of it if something had happened to me that day and that was the last message he ever received from me.
You sell well around the world. Do you think there is a secret to going down well in different territories?
The secret I’ve learned is that families are the same the world over. No matter where they live or what language they speak, every family goes through good times but also complicated times, and that’s what I love to write about. As the Chinese proverb says, ‘No family can hang out the sign, ‘Nothing the matter here.’
How do you think the 50 Shades Of Grey phenomenon will affect women’s literature?
I hope it will remind women readers around the world that there are many pleasures to be found in books and reading, and not just the kinds of thrills 50 Shades is sparking…
Lola’s Secret is out now.