One Night Only with Author Emma Heatherington
The County Tyrone author talks about her latest novel, juggling jobs and using Northern Ireland as a literary backdrop
Emma Heatherington is a very busy woman. No one knows this better than me, as its taken the best part of two weeks to set up this interview; we’ve been dancing around each other with the elegance and poise of two characters in her novels; star-crossed and doomed, never to be together until the closing pages (or, in this case, on discovering auto reply on the phone).
Heatherington's newest novel, One Night Only, is her seventh in only six years (at one point she was writing one every six months). Added to that the fact that she works full-time as an arts sector PR and freelance writer, and is a mother of three, and it’s easy to forgive her for being somewhat elusive.
The 37-year-old's workload is varied and would kill a pack mule: she is a commissioned scriptwriter for the Bing Creative Network, and facilitates educational drama workshops on a freelance basis. 'I’m lucky to have such variety in my work,' she admits.
'I write for all sorts of genres in my day job; it could be a dark theatrical piece about mental health or a children’s puppet show.'
But always there are the books ticking away in the background; the lyrical, frothy romances under her own name and grittier, suspenseful page turners under the name of Emma Louise Jordan, which she likens, felicitously, to a boy band releasing an indie record.
One Night Only tells the story of four women in their 30s, each looking for some sort of release from the hum drum, and not so hum drum, domesticity of their lives. They all have their problems: brutish husbands, low self esteem and, surprisingly, voluntary childlessness.
Yet they manage to find a kind of redemption on a day trip to Donegal through a series of lightly comical set pieces and some girls-together camaraderie.
Heatherington, who hails from Donaghmore in County Tyrone, doesn’t have to look far for the inspiration for her writing. 'I think it’s just the plight of women in their 30s,' she says. 'I have four sisters, all at different stages of our lives, though the characters aren’t based on them. Women have so many roles – there’s home, work, being a mother, being a good daughter. You feel sometimes as though you’re on a hamster’s wheel.
'The book is really about four women taking a break to get away from all of that, even if it’s just for a day. So they set off to Donegal and learn things about each other and themselves. Women can be quite hard on each other, quite bitchy, and that’s reflected in the book. But the girls realise they all have flaws and weaknesses, and when they return they have a totally different mind-set.'
Does the author ultimately see her herself in the characters? Is there an Emma 'manqué' in the cast? 'Not really,' Heatherington laughs. 'Though it is an interesting concept. Ruth was this mysterious character at the start. She’s been away a long time and she’d been the class bully when they were all kids, but now she’s returned she’s a wreck, and she’s looking for another chance.
'I could really visualise her and started to root for her, whereas at the start it was Polly – she’s running around with Cheerios in her hair – a normal mum, perhaps a bit unappreciated by the family. And they all change. Sometimes it is just a case of stepping outside your normal routine and looking at yourself. And hopefully having a friend who can do the same, because they’ll see things you can’t.'
One Night Only, like all of Heatherington's books – such as Crazy For You, Since You've Been Gone and Playing the Field – is anchored very firmly in Northern Ireland, in the people she knows and the places she loves. Not for her the upper-class London social scene, or glitzy New York setting.
'I love everything about where I live,' she declares. 'I love the Causeway. I should work for the tourist board! There’s something about the people here too, the warmth in our sense of humour, our ability to laugh at ourselves, the sense of ease, of family...'
All of that, of course, is also reflected in her latest novel, which is, fortuitously, already in the shops in time for the holiday season. Heatherington is not pretentious – she admits that seeing her books on the shelves is gives her an enduring thrill. Yet, for her, it's not enough. There is always the next project to turn to.
Having achieved so much, are there any further unfulfilled ambitions? 'My longstanding dream is to write a feature film. I’m going to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in June. It’s a writers retreat, and I want to have it all planned before I go so I can work on the screenplay there.' For some, the thought might be daunting. For Emma Heatherington, 'It’ll be bliss.'
One Night Only is out now, published by Poolbeg Press.