From Receptionist To Novelist: How Lisa McInerney Changed Her Life
Irish author Lisa McInerney was working as a receptionist when she signed a publishing deal – how did she do it? And what's life like now?
It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill scenario: how many of us work in jobs that are kind of grand to pay the bills, while harbouring dreams of doing something more creative with our time? Answer: loads. But making the leap is never easy – without a safety blanket of sorts (a big savings account or a financially secure family background), it can be tough to make the move.
Which makes author Lisa McInerney‘s story all the more inspiring – meet the woman who did what most of us only dream of (and no, we’re not talking about rocking up to the Billboard Music Awards and slapping Kanye).
Her debut novel, The Glorious Heresies, was released this year – to rapturous reviews from far and wide. But Lisa isn’t an overnight success, and she’s not your average well-connected, financially secure heiress, doodling in notebooks in her spare time.
“I was doing the usual crappy jobs people used to do,” says Lisa. “Before the writing took off, I was working as a recpetionist down in Cork – your average 40-hours-a-week job.” But she’s not down on her day job; au contraire, “it was nice, it was pleasant – but not really a creative outlet.”
Those of you who are social media savvy may even be familiar with Lisa: on Twitter, she’s @swearylady; her award-winning blog, Arse End of Ireland, was hugely popular in the pre-Broadsheet era of blogging.
“I used to work on my blog in the mornings and in the evenings,” Lisa says. “I was constantly working towards [getting published] – but I never got paid for the blog.”
Writing, full-time, for a living, was “always an ambition” for Lisa but, she says, it wasn’t something she always believed would happen for her. “On good days, you’re thinking, I’ll achieve this but, the majority of the time, you’re thinking, how is this going to happen? You’re working towards something with no notion of how it’ll pay off.”
Lisa studied English and Geography at UCC – “most of the people on my course ended up going into secondary teaching” – but left after her second year to take a year out “and figure out what I was doing”. Then fate intervened. “I met my husband and had a baby, so I never went back to college. I have two-thirds of a degree.”
Lisa met her husband at home in Galway, and they lived there until her daughter started school. “I was doing the whole stay-at-home mum thing, and I really focused on blogging and writing,” she reveals. “I did most of my learning how to be a writer there.” When the couple moved back to Cork, “which is a lot more expensive”, Lisa started working as a receptionist.
It was her blog that led to Lisa’s first big break – when Irish author Kevin Barry got in touch, asking Lisa to write a short story for Town and Country, an anthology he was working on. “He’d been a fan of the blog… and that kind of galvanised things for me. I thought, okay, this is good – now put your back into it and stop faffing around.”
A literary scout friend of Lisa’s put her in touch with an agent – and, says Lisa, after the short story was published, “he got me moving, gave me a deadline and said, right, let’s write this novel.”
As for the novel-writing itself? “It was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be,” Lisa confesses. “I say that, but I’m doing it for a decade! It was one of those overnight successes that happened over fucking years. It sounds very convenient.”
Though The Glorious Heresies is Lisa’s debut novel, it’s not the first one she’d written – “I did have one complete novel that my agent read, but it was very grim… and I’d been putting together terrible, unfinished novels, all in one folder or another on my desktop that I never want to look at again,” she says. “I think every writer has that – four or five ghosts of notions, hiding on a hard drive.”
To tell the story – Irish receptionist signs a book deal with publishing house John Murray and quits her job to write full-time – it seems a bit like Lisa might now be lazing around in her French chateau, writing for two hours a day, drinking lots of coffee and rolling around in her banknotes. It may be that we’ve read one too many light romance novels. In any case, Lisa assures us, “I’m not at JK Rowling levels yet!”
The main difference the book’s publication, the book deal and the job switch have made, Lisa reveals, is that “you feel better about staying at home and focusing on creative things. Beforehand, I would’ve constantly been thinking, I’m being self-indulgent or lazy… I should be out there getting a career, finishing my career. In a sense, I’m doing what I was doing before, but the guilt is gone – the burden has been lifted.”
So what’s next? The deal made with John Murray was for two books, “and the draft of the second book is pretty much finished.” But, Lisa declares, “if they keep allowing me to write novels, I’m not going to stop – I’m up to book five.”
Before we bid adieu – so Lisa can get back to rolling in her money and drinking fancy coffee while her Spanish housekeeper takes a dip in the lake (sorry, we got a bit caught up in the Love, Actually plot there) – we have to ask: after years of trying to get to this point, what would Lisa tell her younger self – the woman striving, struggling, trying to become a writer?
“I’d tell her to be more confident, not to think she’s wasting her time,” she declares. “I’d tell her not to be so self-deprecating, and to be a bit more ballsy. I’d tell her not to think, I’m writing novels as an indulgence. It shouldn’t have taken this long – but most of it was because I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. It’s very Irish.
“Have more bloody confidence, work a bit harder and get yourself out there, girl! I should go to America for a while – being confident is so born into Americans.”
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