Muriel Bolger is a freelance travel journalist and and won the Dublin City of Literature travel writer book of the year in 2011. She has written five novels, with her 2014 release, the Pink Pepper Tree currently making it back into the Irish Times Bestseller List in January 2016.
You came to writing later in life. Tell us about this?
I fell into journalism after a very swift and unexpected marriage break-up at the age of forty. Three young teens saw me working from home, which was quite uncommon then. I worked for everyone around town, doing feature and travel writing. As well as having a ‘First Person’ column in the Evening Press I wrote about trucks and fitted kitchens; roof tiles and family dramas which, I think entitled me to call myself a scribe – writing for other people – for money!
You said you used to be in awe of writers who wrote books. Can you believe you are now a best selling author yourself?
I worked in Easons, O’Connell Street, for two summer school holidays and we used to get a discount on our books. By the end of these stints I had amassed a mini library. I used to fantasise about having a title of my own on the shelves, but I genuinely never saw myself as an author and could never imagine sustaining a plot and several story lines through hundreds of pages. I didn’t go through life as an angst-ridden author though and am still surprised to find that It happened in spite of that.
Tell us about The Pink Pepper Tree?
The Pink Pepper Tree is not my latest. It was published in 2014 and recently made a very unexpected appearance in the Irish Times bestseller lists for a few weeks. It was inspired when I saw some pink pepper trees for the first time in Alentejo in Portugal and there and then I thought what a great name for a book. That says a lot about me really – usually the title comes last!
How does your travel writing lend itself to your fiction writing?
My travels certainly play a role in all my books, but they are not travel books. Consequences takes the reader through the fallout from a holiday in Spain to the EU headquarters in Brussels. Intentions weaves the contrasts of life in India through one of the central characters, who came to Dublin to study medicine. The Captain’s Table speaks for itself. It’s set on a luxury liner, where groups of solo travellers of varying ages find themselves getting to know each other as they drop off in various places in the Med. For obvious reasons The Pink Pepper Tree has a Portuguese connection and a Dublin bistro of the same name. I went a bit off-piste with Out of Focus, which is a family saga affecting four generations and is mostly set in the west of Ireland and in Dublin. That’s the one I want some rich producer to discover…
How long does it take you to write a book?
I wrote five novels in five years and took a bit of a break after Out of Focus. I’m back at it again and am working towards an August deadline.
As well as your five fiction novels you have written non- fiction books. Do you have a preference which you prefer to write?
They are very different disciplines, but I really enjoyed writing them all, especially Dublin City of Literature. Through research I learned so much about my native city when working on that one.
What is your writing routine?
Well, it’s not a routine! I am very undisciplined. I like to work in the morning and try to do the usual one thousand words. I always begin by reading back what I wrote at the previous session – that gets me back in the characters’ moods and into the scene.
I read that you are inspired by conversations you overhear and cruise ships can be gold as far as inspiration is concerned. Tell us about this?
That was probably after I wrote The Captain’s Table! I have really good hearing and have no problem listening to conversations across a busy restaurant. Recently I heard in a crowded bar in Dun Laoghaire – “I told her she was wasting her money on that big wedding. It wouldn’t last, and was I right or was I right? Eight months for f*** sake and she’s back living at home with Nancy and they’re all broke.’ How could such a snippet not inspire a story?
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
No I’ve been lucky unless it can also be termed bouts of procrastination, overdoses of caffeine, mild addiction to Facebook, and attention deficit disorder to my plot and characters. If a plot slows down I start another chapter and work it in backwards at a later stage
Is having a good social media presence important?
I’m not sure. I know it’s part of the marketing machine and we authors are told to self promote, and I do, but it doesn’t sit easily on me. I don’t like doing that and it can take up far too much time. I can lose hours looking at cutesy dog and cat pictures or things other people think are funny, sad or heart tugging,
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new novel with the potential title of Ripples. It’s halfway there and I’m happy with its progress so far.
What do you like to read?
The list is eclectic. I love biographies of people who have lead interesting lives, not sports personalities or celebs. I really enjoyed Running with the Bulls by Valerie Hemingway, and The Bolter by Frances Osborne, but equally I got lost in Nancy Horan’s auto fiction Loving Frank (Lloyd Wright) and in the novels The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies and Rosie Thomas’ The Kasmir Shawl.
Where do you write?
I move about for variety! Parts of all my books have been written at airports and in hotels, all over the place. In summer I write in the conservatory, in winter in my office, but more and more frequently at the breakfast bar – in close proximity to the kettle and the cookie jar.
The Pink Pepper Tree, along with Muriel’s other novels are available in bookshops published by O’Brien Press and on Amazon.
LadyNicci comment: I love that Muriel discovered writing later in life and is so successful. It shows that the craft probably always lurks within us and perhaps we all have a ‘time’. Her comments about eavesdropping remind me of something Maeve Binchy once said, that inspiration is all around us, we just need to look and listen. Her travel experience is interesting; when I’m writing myself I find my characters are drawn abroad to add colour, depth and adventure to the story. I can really only write about places I have been to. I’ve also cruised and it’s a fantastic way to kick back, relax and get some reading in. Next time, I’ll be listening too, for fodder for my own novels!
How I write is a blog post series published on Sundays on www.ladynicci.com. The posts aim to give a voice to writers, published, unpublished and everywhere in between, to help and encourage other writers. If you would like to take part email firstname.lastname@example.org with How I Write in the subject line.