Martina Devlin is a bestselling author and award-winning journalist. Her eight books include Ship of Dreams, Hollow Heart and the number one bestseller Banksters. Published in September 2014, Martina’s latest book is The House Where It Happened, a novel inspired by a true story. A former Fleet Street journalist, she writes weekly columns for the Irish Independent, and contributes essays to RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany. Her short stories awards include the Royal Society of Literature V.S. Pritchett Prize and a Hennessy Literary Award.
We’re delighted that Martina is directing our 3-Day Creative Writing – Getting Started Workshop during Listowel Writers’ Week, which takes place this year from 27th May – 31st May 2015.
Q. Were you interested in books and reading from a young age?
A. I picked up the basics of reading before I started school because I had two older brothers, and I was fascinated by this magical ability they had called reading. They were very patient, and helped me. So once school began, I was flying. I remember when I was six, the class was each given a story book to take away to read a page or two for homework. But I was so engrossed that I read it all, and in school the next day the teacher heard me telling the other kids what happened in the plot. She asked me how I knew. When I said I’d read it, I was scolded for telling lies. Someone must have read it to me, she said. I was also made to feel it was wrong to skip ahead. Obviously, the injustice still rankles. Mostly because teachers of young children should know better than to apply the one-size-fits-all rule. I try to bear that in mind in other situations.
Q. When did you start writing seriously?
A. I’ve written seriously since the age of 21 because that’s when I became a trainee reporter, and there is nothing more serious than writing to earn your living. But by my thirties I started to realise I’d like to write fiction as well. Journalism, while capable of making a powerful impact, is ephemeral for the most part. I wanted to try my hand at something more lasting. So I wrote my first short story, entered it for the Hennessy Literary Awards, and won best newcomer. And that gave me the confidence to try a novel.
Q. How do you organise your writing day? Do you have a favourite space or time that works best for you?
A. Mornings are best for writing because I’m fresher – afternoons are for editing or research. And on Wednesdays I write a column for the Irish Independent’s Thursday issue, which breaks up my writing week in a useful way. Apart from anything else, it forces me to engage with current affairs, rather than the imaginary world I’m creating for a book.
Q. What are you currently reading?
A. I have a novel by David Park on the go, which he was kind enough to give me when we did an event together recently – we did a book swap. And I got the best of the deal, let me tell you, because I came away with The Poet’s Wives. I’m an admirer of his work: his writing is graceful, honest and shrewd – he has something to say to the reader. This man is the real McCoy. Furthermore, he’s a gentleman. The Poet’s Wives is about three women married to poets, and the sacrifices they make for someone else’s creativity – which includes becoming custodian to the great man’s legacy. One of the women is Catherine Blake, wife to William Blake – I particularly enjoyed that section of the novel because it offered a slant-ways insight into his work. When I’m finished that I’ll be reading Mary Costello’s Academy Street, and I’m looking forward to it very much.
Q. Do you prefer the traditional bound copy or do you use a kindle or tablet?
A. Traditional – I engage with electronic gadgets so much for work that I associate them with work, and prefer to relax with a book. Plus, I like the heft of it in my hands.
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. I’m currently editing a novel called Sisterland, due out in October with Ward River Press. It’s set in the near future and imagines a world ruled by women, in which the sexes are kept stictly apart, with men used for labour and breeding. I’m trying to explore the theme of how an idea with its roots in something good in principle can mutate into a force for evil.
Q. How do your story ideas generally come to you? Do they come in the form of images or words, or a combination of both?
A. My stories originate with the characters. They come to life for me in my mind’s eye, and their dilemma evolves around them. I find my plots change quite a lot in the writing process, so my pre-planning in terms of what happens when is loose. But I never skimp on research. I also find that secondary characters can elbow their way to the front, and I simply have to be graceful about it and give them their head.
Q. What were your impressions of Listowel Writers’ Week the first time you visited?
A. I was struck by how Listowel Writers’ Week isn’t something that happens at the fringes of the town – the town and its people are at the centre of the festival. I loved seeing locals walk about with books under their arms, and I loved it when someone would approach and talk to me on the street, whether about books or my newspaper column, or simply to pass the time of day. A courteous, well-informed and well-read people, in my experience. Listowel reminds me of my home town of Omagh. But with more colourful shop fronts.
Q. Briefly, what will you be covering in your Creative Writing – Getting Started Workshop?
A. Where to find an idea; how to know which idea among several jostling for attention to run with; how to construct a book – balancing plot and character; getting dialogue to ring true; how to edit your work; how to pitch it for publication. The same principles apply regardless of the genre someone is writing in. For me, it’s all about the story. If the story works, everything else can be tweaked or worked at.
You can book a place on Martina’s Workshop here