I think you all know that Monica McInerney is one of my favourite authors. We’ve talked about At Home with the Templeton’s through the Book Club here.
The Alphabet Sisters is an amazing book, based in a country town, in SA called Clare. I grew up an hour and a half north of Clare and know it pretty well. One of the characters in that book, is Lola, an eccentric, wise and funny lady and Grandma to the three sisters in The Alphabet Sisters.
Lola’s Secret came about because of a Jennifer Byrnes’ necklace. True!
But I’ll let Monica tell you how…
One of the things I love to do after each of my books is published is think back to where I was when I started it. I began writing Those Faraday Girls in a holiday cottage in Donegal. I started At Home with the Templetons on a car-journey to the goldfields of Victoria. I wrote the first notes for my new book Lola’s Secret in the story’s actual setting, the Clare Valley of South Australia, on an unexpected overnight visit caused by something even more unexpected – Jennifer Byrne’s necklace.
Last year I was on a publicity tour around Australia, talking to groups of people in libraries and bookshops. The tour was promoting At Home with the Templetons, but along the way, I was often asked about my novel The Alphabet Sisters. I was very touched, as it’s always been a special book to me – it’s set in my hometown of Clare, South Australia, revolves around three feuding sisters and also features an Irish grandmother, Lola Quinlan, who was one of my favourite characters to write.
In the final week of the tour, I was at the ABC TV studios in Sydney, as one of the guest reviewers on Jennifer Byrne’s First Tuesday Book Club. The following day, I was due to be the 11am speaker at the Rural Women’s Gathering in Melrose in the far north of South Australia. The travel schedule for myself and Rachel, my publicist, was tight, but manageable, if it all went to plan.
The recording was great fun. Then, just as we were about to leave the studio, the floor manager made an announcement. It seemed that during the taping of the introduction, Jennifer’s necklace had moved against her microphone, which meant the intro needed to be re-taped, which meant filming went just a few minutes longer than expected, which meant my departure from the ABC was delayed, which meant we missed our flight from Sydney to Port Augusta, which meant we had to fly to Adelaide instead, hire a car and spend an unexpected night in Clare, the halfway point to Melrose.
I was lucky to be in the company of Rachel, who stayed calm throughout. That night, I went to sleep in my motel room thinking about being back in my home town and about The Alphabet Sisters. I woke up the next morning at 5 o’clock, with the entire plot of Lola’s Secret in my head.
I got out of bed, made a cup of tea, got my notebook and for the next hour, wrote page after page of notes. As soon as I arrived back in Dublin, I went straight to my computer, opened a new file and began writing. For the next six months, the story poured out of me. I fortunately/unfortunately developed insomnia, so would lie awake each night from 2 am-4.30 am, thinking about the story, writing dialogue in my head. I’d get up at 7am, go to my computer and write down all I’d thought through during the night.
Looking back now, I realize the book itself reflects the circumstances of its beginnings – Lola’s Secret takes place one very hot December in the Clare Valley, four years after all that happened in The Alphabet Sisters. At the heart of the story is 84-year-old Lola Quinlan, plotting to give her family a Christmas to remember, while also inviting a series of mystery guests to her country motel. What she doesn’t realize is her secret plan is about to spark a whole chain of unexpected events.
Life is always like that, of course – one moment or decision leads to another, then another. We’re not always aware of the consequences of our actions, or how we come to find ourselves at a particular stage in our lives. In this fictional case, though, I can trace my story right back to its starting point.
So thank you very much, Jennifer, and special thanks to your necklace too – if it wasn’t for you both, I might never have written Lola’s Secret.