Adele O’ Neill has just completed the first draft of her debut novel Accidental Secrets. Having written in secret for years she has only recently admitted to being a writer as she prepares for the submission process. She lives in Wicklow.
What are your earliest memories of writing and when did you realise writing was going to mean something in your life?
I loved the creative part of English in secondary school. I remember writing an essay for the Inter Cert exams and feeling extremely proud of it. (I’m showing my age by citing the Inter Cert but in my defence, the Junior Cert was introduced shortly afterwards.) It was entitled ‘No Person Is Completely Free.’ I would love to read it again and see if my fifteen year old pride was justified! I didn’t have the confidence then to say that I wanted to be a writer. Actually, I’m still under the radar, so to speak with only my closest family and friends in on my writer secret. I should set up a support group called Writers Anonymous.
You say your love of literature came from your father?
You could say I served my reading apprenticeship with my dad. He was an avid reader across many genres. I remember from the age of nine, he’d dispatch me to the local library to pick books that would suit him. I quickly learned what would charm a busy mind as I scanned through the blurbs of thousands of books through the years. The librarians became complicit in my endeavours by allowing me to inscribe a secret symbol in the backs of the books that I had chosen so as not to bring home the same book twice. I still look in the back of books today to see if it was one of my choices from years ago. I would love to find one. I’ll dedicate my first novel to his memory.
What is your writing routine?
I write on my laptop when the house is silent, which is usually when both my teenage daughters are in school, while drinking copious amounts of black tea.
You sold a successful business to concentrate on your writing. How did you come to that decision and how have you found it since?
I sold my Montessori business in 2012. The timing felt right for a change and I had been thinking about writing a book for a couple of years. After I closed the business, however, I continued to think about it and before I knew it, three years had passed. When it comes to word count, the old adage ‘it’s the thought that counts’ doesn’t really apply so I have been writing in earnest since July 2015 and I love immersing myself in my characters and my imagination. I have been known to be late for school collection because I was in the middle of a plot!
Tell us about the literary critique you won in an auction at Curtis Brown? How did it work exactly and how did you find the feedback, was it helpful?
I was nearing the finish of my first draft in December 2015 and had started to research agencies in Ireland and the UK. It was here that I came across Curtis Browne’s support of Patrick Ness’s ‘Save the Children Campaign’. Literary agent, Sheila Crowley had offered a reader’s report to the winner with the highest bid for the charity. Unfortunately though, only UK residents were eligible. Following a tweet I sent, wishing that Irish writers could be eligible, Sheila Crowley graciously offered to do a reader’s report for me separate to the competition and invited me to lunch to discuss it.
It was immensely helpful and insightful to get professional feedback from such a renowned agent. She said my novel had ‘the architecture of a great story, but needed a sharper hook to appeal to publishers’. She also said that it was ‘clearly the work of a writer with a gift for story telling that reminded her in parts of the work of Emma Hannigan’. Receiving the feedback, even though in parts critical somehow validated me as a writer, in my opinion. It was only after this review that I had the confidence to turn off the stealth writer mode and allow the radar to pick me up.
Tell us about your novel and the stage you are at?
Accidental Secrets is a multifaceted story about family secrets, sibling loyalty and triumph in the face of adversity, just like life. I’m currently working on finding a more compelling edge that will hook the reader even more. In terms of drafts, I’m in my second(ish) draft. It really is imperative to make your book the best it can be. There are some passages in my first draft that still make me cringe.
Have you ever entered any writing competitions?
I submitted to Date With an Agent in March but wasn’t selected and I also entered into a Curtis Brown’s #PitchCB competition on twitter, from which I was invited to submit directly to the agent who liked my pitch. I’m still waiting to hear back on that one. Other than those two tentative forays on to the competition circuit, I haven’t entered into any other writing competitions. One of my main objectives for 2016 is to submit some short stories.
How difficult is it as an unpublished writer to keep the confidence up knowing that there is a sea of aspiring authors out there?
The sea is a vast space and I think there is room for all of us. I really do believe that writing is what I was meant to do. Naively, I measured my literary success in terms of how long it takes to get published. I have to trust that I will get published at some stage. I am committed and patient and I love and believe in my story so hopefully someone out there will love it too. Like the character, Dory in Finding Nemo, you have to keep repeating, ‘just keep swimming, just keep swimming’. Unfortunately, I can also draw a comparison to Dory’s short term memory, or lack thereof.
What do you do when you’re struggling for inspiration? Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I have a tendency to declutter and organise when I’m suffering with writer’s block or struggling for inspiration. Somehow putting order on a different type of chaos gives me the clarity I need to write. You should see my colour coded utility room!
What do you like to read?
I have a particular fondness for stories that are relatable and realistic. I read almost anything but my all-time favourite book is A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle. It’s an epic Irish novel set in 1916 that deals with our Island’s history in a very personal way. Read it before the centenary is over!
Where do you write?
I write at home in Arklow overlooking the Irish Sea. Being a native of Arklow, and having lived and worked in Dublin and the UK since college, I convinced my husband that we should move back for my first maternity leave. That was fourteen years ago!
Follow Adele on Twitter @Adeleoneill10
LadyNicci comment: When I started the How I Write series I had a very clear idea that I wanted to feature writers at all different stages of their writing careers. Adele represents a massive cohort of writers who write in secret for a long time before finally taking the plunge and putting it out into the ether that they are ‘writers’. This is a difficult thing to do, particularly if you don’t have a history of writing or a circle of friends who are doing the same thing. Writers notoriously lack confidence and even using the word ‘writer’ as a label for yourself can seem presumptuous. Adele has been lucky to receive professional feedback at this early stage, but her experience emphasises the need to ensure you have finished and polished your work as much as possible before seeking a home for it. I love Adele’s positive and steady attitude – she’s in this for the long haul. Just keep swimming Adele, we’ll be right behind you.
I made the leap to calling myself a writer last year. You can read about that here.
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.