Monica McInerney: Thank you very much. It’s the story of an unexpected homecoming – 85-year-old Irishwoman Lola Quinlan returning to Ireland after 65 years in Australia. It’s also about the drama and comedy of family life, rifts and rivalries, the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.
BR: What is the inspiration behind the book?
MM: At the age of 52, I’ve now lived half my life in my native Australia and half overseas, mostly in my adopted home of Ireland. Recently I’ve been preoccupied with the meaning of ‘home’, of how it feels to be an emigrant, pulled between my Irish and Australian lives and families. The question ‘Where is home now?’ sparked this new book, explored through the eyes and life of one of my favourite characters, Lola Quinlan, a flamboyant, wilful, complicated older woman. I don’t write factually autobiographical books, but they are all emotionally autobiographical.
BR: Why did you choose to write a novel based in Ireland? How did you go about researching it?
MM: I first wrote about Lola Quinlan in The Alphabet Sisters in 2004, and then Lola’s Secret in 2011. In those novels, I referred to her coming from Ireland before making a big, action-packed life for herself in Australia with her son and granddaughters. I began to wonder what had happened to her during her early life in Ireland. What had prompted her decision to emigrate to Australia? Had she ever been homesick or wished she could return? I wrote the novel to answer those questions.
Research-wise, I did many trips to County Kildare, where most of the Irish section of the novel is set. Fortunately, it’s only a short car journey from my home in Dublin. My first task was to find a real village for my fictional Lola to have grown up in. After ‘auditioning’ several other Kildare towns, I drove into the small village of Ballymore Eustace and knew immediately it was my setting. It has some modern houses and shops, but it still has a small village mood and appearance, exactly what I wanted. From there, I pinpointed other important landmarks and locations nearby, visiting each of them while layering my fictional story on top.
I also had brilliant help from an Irish-Australian friend, Sarah Duffy, who has lived in Kildare for more than 30 years. Sarah acted as my guide to the county, helping me find all the locations and buildings I needed for my story. Sarah also introduced me to her aunt Sheila, a remarkable Kildare woman almost Lola’s age, who shared many wonderful memories of her own Kildare childhood and teenage years. Their help was invaluable to me.
The Australian setting is the Clare Valley of South Australia, my own home place. I go back there every year, so I only had to close my eyes to be able to instantly picture myself in the Clare Main Street, or in the Town Hall, or at one of the many winery cafes. They all make an appearance in this story too.
BR: How do you write about the experience of older characters at a different point of life to yourself?
MM: That’s the joy of being a novelist. In my twelve novels, I’ve put myself into many different character’s shoes, from five-year-old Maggie and widowed father-of-five Leo in Those Faraday Girls, ten-year-old Ig in Hello from the Gillespies, Ella’s sixty-something uncle Lucas Fox in The House of Memories. To imagine life from Lola’s 85-year-old perspective, I also drew on conversations with and observations of my older relatives and family friends.
Lola feels very familiar to me. After writing about her in two previous novels and also a short story, ‘Sweet Charity’, I know her very well. I can always imagine exactly how she would react to events, what would surprise her, what would shock her and what would give her great joy and solace.
BR: The Trip of a Lifetime explores the idea of homecoming. Why is that important to you?
MM: I’m sure it’s because I have two homes, Australia and Ireland, and I am constantly pulled between the two of them, physically and emotionally. I know how it feels to be homesick and I also know how it feels to enjoy living in a new country. All of those emotions appear in The Trip of a Lifetime.
BR: Many of our readers are also aspiring writers. Could you tell them a little bit about your writing process?
MM: My advice to aspiring writers is always simple. 1. Read, read, read. 2. Write, write, write. 3. Edit, edit, edit. Writing is a verb – you have to do it, day after day. Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. It never is. You are creating something out of nothing and it will take time, mistakes, hard days as well as great days. But it’s worth it, I promise. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of your story coming into being.
BR: What did you want readers to take away from reading your book?
MM: I hope they’ll be entertained, amused, moved, and feel like they have been by Lola’s side as she travels across the world, and back in time. I also hope they will want to visit my homeplace of the Clare Valley of South Australia, and perhaps even Ireland too!
BR: And finally, what’s in store next – another book, perhaps?
MM: I’m in the early stages on my thirteenth novel, and hoping 13 is a lucky number for me! I’m working on a children’s series I’ve been having fun with for some time now. My journalist husband and I are also co-writing a TV drama series, a murder-mystery set in the food and wine world. I have to confess that the fictional ‘Murder in the Vines’ TV series in The Trip of a Lifetime is based on our TV series.