The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Blarney, famous for the Blarney Castle, the Blarney Stone and the ‘gift of the gab’. So you won’t be surprised to hear I like to talk a lot. I’m the third child of six and, as with all big families, it was a bit chaotic. You had to be the fastest, loudest, strongest – otherwise you’d miss out. Not surprising either then that I’m pretty competitive. I went to primary school in Blarney, but for secondary my parents sent me to the ‘city’ to North Presentation Convent School – which was only five miles away, but could have been another planet it was so different. The principal was Sister Stanislaus, a ferocious nun who had quite an impact on my early career (see below). In 1995, after being heavily influenced by the blue skies and stunning beaches on Home and Away, I moved permanently to Sydney.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve I wanted to be a music teacher. I loved playing the piano (despite my brothers and sisters screeching at me to stop because they couldn’t hear the TV properly).
When I was eighteen I wanted to be an accountant. This was due to a very one-sided career counselling session in Sr Stanislaus’s office when she told me I’d make a good accountant, and I wasn’t inclined to risk my life by disagreeing.
When I was thirty, I had written my first novel and even though I actually enjoyed my job as a Finance Director (Sr Stanislaus was right – I did make a good accountant), all I could think about was being published, and ideas for other novels.
It was such a delicious treat to read Worlds Apart! Ber Carroll has given us a cast of warm, engaging characters in a sparkling story that effortlessly crosses the globe between Ireland and Australia. I enjoyed every page of this touching, authentic, contemporary novel.
If you love Maeve Binchy and Cathy Kelly, I can guarantee you’ll love Worlds Apart – New York Times, No 1 Bestselling author, Liane Moriarty.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
When I was eighteen, I believed that most human beings are logical, level-headed, and fairly predictable. Now I know that’s not true at all. Even the sanest person I know can be, on occasion, irrational, unpredictable and downright peculiar . . . Human beings are capable of anything, and this both horrifies and delights me.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I’m one of those people who always has her head stuck in a book, and I could easily pick a hundred books that have influenced me in one way or another. Maeve Binchy’s early novel, Echoes, stands out. I read it when I was about thirteen (I used to steal books from my mother’s bedroom!) and the storytelling had me completely hooked – I read and read and read, until my eyes were red and sore and my stomach rumbling for food. Marian Keyes also had a significant impact in my early twenties. I really admire how she balances comedy with darker themes, and Anybody Out There is an all-time favourite of mine.
Music is such a positive influence too. I love all kinds of music – from classical to rap – and I listen very closely to the lyrics. To me, good lyrics can be like poetry, or a condensed story, and they can change how I feel that moment, and how I write. Right now I love The Script and One Republic.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
When I was younger, I had three great ambitions: to write a novel, compose a song, and complete a major artwork. Given that my piano playing didn’t progress past my late teens, and my artistic abilities were questionable, I started with the novel. What I didn’t realise is that writing is addictive, and writing one novel would never be enough.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Worlds Apart is a story of belonging, bravery, diversity and love. It has characters from all over the world, but at its heart there is an Irish family, and Erin and Laura who are cousins and best friends. For different reasons, both Erin and Laura feel terribly trapped, and they are desperately trying to find where they belong: in their family, in their careers, and in the wider world. A surly Polish nanny, an elusive Spanish husband, an uneducated Afghan girl, a Nigerian refugee, and a rather hyperactive Australian man all play small but important parts in Erin and Laura’s quest for belonging. But what the cousins don’t know is that someone in their family is keeping a secret. When revealed, this secret will change everything as they know it and ‘belonging’ will take on a totally different meaning.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope people come away from my novels with the taste of another country and/or another life. I hope my characters stick around, and don’t leave their heads straight away. Surprise is important, and I hope to have achieved that in some way throughout the novel. Most of all, I hope my readers are satisfied and happy and finish with a smile and the desire to read my other novels.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Other than Marian Keyes and Maeve Binchy, who I’ve already mentioned, I absolutely adore Maggie O’ Farrell. I love the rhythm of her writing, how she sketches her characters, her dialogue, her plots, absolutely everything about her novels.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My ambitions are pretty modest. I want to continue to write. And I want every book to be better than the last one.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
My advice is to read, read, read . . . and keep on reading. Because nothing or no-one will teach you to write as effectively as reading does. My second piece of advice is to stop talking about it and get started. It doesn’t have to be perfect, there is plenty of time for editing later on – and this might be stating the obvious, but there will be nothing to edit if you don’t get something down on paper to start with. Lastly, seek out honest feedback, and be brave, strong and committed enough to take the feedback on board.
Ber, thank you for playing.