Niamh Garvey is an emerging author who writes novels, stories and poems, mostly for young adults and children. She lives in Cork with her husband and two young daughters. She works, very part time, as a nurse.
How did writing come to mean something in your life?
I’ve always written here and there, including a rather awful children’s novel when I was 19. I grew up in a very creative, arty family, and then I went against the grain and studied nursing, and mostly stopped using my creative brain. I started writing seriously when I was on maternity leave with my second daughter. My whole life revolved around caring for my babies, and I needed to do something for myself again. I decided to take up writing every day for Lent in 2014, as a will-power test. By the end of Lent, the habit was formed, and I’ve never stopped since. I think if you have a creative streak in you, you get a bit suffocated if you don’t use it. When I started really writing, it was like a sigh of relief to my mind.
You made a special effort over the past two years to become accomplished in the publishing world. Where did this decision come from and what steps did you take?
I thought getting published would be the easy part of writing. My dad was a writer, but he died when I was nine, and I always remembered these normal people around his life who were writers. So I had this idea that anyone could be a writer, the same as any job. When I was half way through my first YA novel, I decided to go along to a ‘Get Published’ talk by Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin at the Cork World Book Festival. It opened my eyes completely to the business of books, and how hard it actually is to get published. I went home that day with a new hunger. The challenge was set. I started dedicating a lot of time to learning how it all works. Sometimes the greatest satisfaction comes out of the things we know we have to work for.
What is your writing routine?
When I first started writing, I would write for about an hour when the kids went to bed. But the more involved in the writing world I got, the more I realised that I needed to make time if I was ever going to get through the dozens of drafts each book needs, and to get involved in the social media and networking side of things. So, my New Year’s Resolution this year was to get up at 6:30am, and write until the kids wake around 7:30am. It’s got to be the first resolution I’ve ever kept. I allow myself a morning off each week, but only if I’ve had occasion to be up late the night before, or if I’m really overwhelmed with exhaustion (like when the kids are sick). The benefit of this routine is that my mind is very fresh in the morning, and then I still have the hour or two in the evening to top up my writing, without pressure. This gave me the chance to start yoga one night a week, catch up on Twitter and online articles and blogs, and even the odd (very very odd) social night out. It was nice to get guilt-free evenings back.
Describe your urge to write, what happens if you are prevented from writing?
Writing is like a multi-vitamin tablet to my mental health. It keeps my mind focused, and much happier. I gave up my permanent job in December to mind my kids full time, as they have high medical needs. But this can be tiring and challenging. Writing gives me a focus and passion outside my kids and the family; something to look forward to, no matter how hard the day is. I like having something to work towards, and I love the feeling of achievement every time I know I’ve written something well. I have noticed a huge improvement in my mood since I started getting up early to write. It means I start my day with creativity rather than crying children, a sense of satisfaction rather than the demands of hungry mouths. I’m a better mother, and a better me, because of my writing.
How have writing events and publishing events helped you?
They have helped in two ways. Firstly, they’ve introduced me to a whole community of writers that I didn’t know existed. That is, I thought writers were solitary workers. I loved learning that they mingle, and share stories and mutual support. I’ve made some lovely friends at these events. Secondly, they’ve helped me learn how the business works, from the submission process to editing to publishing. And that rejection is part of the process.
At what stage are you at with your book?
I’m about one draft away from abandoning edits and starting a serious round of submissions with my YA novel.
Have you had any success in writing competitions?
I only once entered a kids’ book into a competition, and when I looked back I knew it wasn’t ready. I’m not mad about competitions of any kind; they’re so subjective, and can dent your pride. Maybe I’ll try more in the future. I did get through ‘Date with An Agent’, which is a different kind of competition. It was a great boost to my confidence and I learnt a lot from it.
Have you ever suffered from writers’ block?
Not completely. I’ve got stumped on chapters or story-lines, but I just go and write something else when that happens. I do get stuck with plot regularly, and find a break from it helps, like a big walk or a shower.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m always working on a few writing projects at a go. I started writing my current YA novel a year and a half ago. I always put it away between drafts, and have used the time to write two kid’s chapter books, and to edit a middle grade fantasy book (that still needs a lot of work). I recently started an adult novel while doing a writing course, but I put it away for now to speed up my YA novel editing. My main love and passion is my YA, but I like experimenting with styles and genres. I often tinker away at poetry too, both for adults and kids. I’d love to get good at short stories, but I find them a real struggle. I find it easier to write novels than short stories.
How does your blog, which features posts about your journey to getting published, support your writing habit?
I guess I see it as a way to get my name out there, plus my journey. I find it really helpful when other emerging writers share their stories, especially rejection ones! My blog is a very different style to my novels, since my novels are for teenagers and kids, but I think any exercise of the writing muscle is good practice. I love getting feedback on my blog too, it’s lovely seeing that people do actually read it, and hearing when the posts mean something to someone.
What do you like to read?
I usually have two or three books in different genres on the go at any one time, and I dip in and out of them depending on my mood at that particular minute. I only started reading YA when I started writing it, and realised I’d been missing out. In the last year I’ve l particularly enjoyed reading YA fiction by Sarah Crossan and Kim Hood, Middle grade that makes me laugh including Nigel Quinlan, Shane Hegarty, David Rudden and E.R. Murray. For adults Jojo Moyes, Charles Dickens, David Nicholls and poetry by Doireann ni Griofa. I’ve recently found a love for non-fiction, including books by Alana Kirk and Jim Lucey.
Where do you write?
We moved house in February and my husband and I prioritised making a study, an adults only room. It’s messy, disorganised heaven, with an unused but beloved piano thrown in for good looks. My desk is in front of the window, looking out at Blarney Castle when the trees are winter-bare, and woods and blue bells at the moment. I do dream about writer’s retreats, but that won’t be a reality in my life for a very long time while the kids are small. Whenever I get the chance to go to writing festivals and events, I try to get the train so I can spend a solid few hours writing. Pure bliss!
LadyNicci comment: Maybe it’s because Niamh is in a similar position to myself, coming to writing during maternity leave and juggling working, child rearing and writing, I feel such a connection to this interview and also to her blog, which describes in detail, her work towards getting her writing and novel published. I am taken aback at her dedication though; to stick to a 6.30am alarm clock is something that I can’t see myself being able to do, although my brain is much fresher in the morning. I like that she addresses the business that is publishing – that’s it’s not just the matter of writing a book – it’s about learning how the publishing world works too. I also like how she highlights what writing does for the soul – and it’s something people who don’t write perhaps may not understand. That it’s a need, not a want. And that it makes us feel better, even if what we’re producing will never be exposed to the world. That writing, in many cases, is good for your mental health.
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.