One of the great things about being a writer is it is such a portable occupation. I spend many hours alone in my attic in Dublin writing my novels, but the true work goes on in my head, whether I am at the computer or not. Long before I write the first line of a novel, I have spent hours imagining the characters, picturing the locations, hearing the dialogue.
My new novel, The Trip of a Lifetime, is sparked by the main character, 85-year-old Irishwoman Lola Quinlan announcing out of the blue that after 65 years in Australia, she wants to return to Ireland.
When I first began writing the story, I had no idea what would happen after her announcement. Would there be a happy ending or not-so-happy surprises waiting for her in Ireland? Would she regret making the long journey from the Clare Valley of South Australia to County Kildare in Ireland? The only way to find out was to write it.
I worked on The Trip of a Lifetime in many different places over eighteen months, in Ireland and Australia. I hope you enjoy my Trip of a Lifetime photo album.
I first wrote about Lola in The Alphabet Sisters in 2004, and then in Lola’s Secret in 2011. Both books have been published all around the world, with different covers and in many different languages. Lola is flamboyant, wilful, kind, complicated and one of my favourite characters to write.
I made several trips to research possible locations in Kildare, Lola’s home county. The book is set in May (the same month I did my research) when the Irish countryside is lush and green. One of the main fictional settings is the real village of Ballymore Eustace.
I wrote the first draft of The Trip of a Lifetime with a broken wrist, my arm in a cast, after tripping and falling over cobblestones while on my way to visit the Jane Austen Centre in Bath.
I edited it while on a surprise weekend away courtesy of my husband in the beautiful Castle Leslie in County Monaghan. The majestic, high-ceilinged library with its desks and antique lamps was an ideal spot to proof-read.
I did another edit in one of the locations itself – the Clare Valley of South Australia. I was back home on a flying family visit, and brought the manuscript with me.
I was also very happy to share an early draft of the novel with my Mum during that visit to South Australia. I’m a writer because I’m a reader, and I’m a reader because of Mum, so it always means a lot to me to have Mum read my stories as early as possible, and for her to see newly printed editions too.
I started writing the novel on 1 February, 2016. I received my first proof copy on 3 March, 2017 and then my first finished copy on 12 June 2017. Even after twelve books, it is still a very special moment to see my story between two covers for the first time.
The Trip of a Lifetime is dedicated to my dear Irish-Australian friend, Sarah Duffy, who has lived in Kildare for more than 30 years. Sarah helped me so much with my research in many different ways, including introducing me to her aunt Sheila, another remarkable Kildare woman in her eighties, who shared many details of Kildare life with me. These photos are of Sarah seeing the dedication in the final copy for the first time.