Desima Connolly discovers what inspires the broadcaster and novelist from Co Tyrone
I’m interested in how you evolved from broadcasting to fiction writing, what was the impetus that transformed microphone to pen?
Twenty-five years ago, when I was working as a reporter for the BBC, there were at least eight current affairs documentary series on television and radio. Ranging from 20 minutes to one hour in duration, they told well constructed stories focused on contemporary issues at home and abroad. I worked as a reporter, producer and director on most of them and learned to catch and hold the audience’s attention, choosing enticing and structured narratives.
Working as a reporter on the BBC Radio 4 series File on 4 was an especially productive apprenticeship. Radio listeners are rarely sitting down and yet you have to make them listen, paint pictures for them and draw them into lives and events.
In the 1990s, these current affairs series began to disappear and I missed them. I enjoyed storytelling and began to think about writing fiction, particularly screenplays. For someone like me who had directed television documentaries, it seemed the natural form. I didn’t consider writing a novel which seemed daunting . . . all those words!
Around that time I took up golfing and became fanatical. Writing a book on the activity seemed an ideal way to combine reporting skills and passion for the game. Happily, John Murphy of Appletree Press commissioned me to write Emerald Greens: The Essential Guide to Holiday Golf in Ireland.
When it was published five years ago, I realised I had written about 70,000 words and the fear of novel writing disappeared. I then took a story I had been trying to adapt to a screenplay and began writing it as a novel, Singing Bird.
What gave you the faith to pursue fiction writing and take that leap?
I made the wonderful but scary discovery that a publisher was prepared to pay me to stay at home and write! I was also lucky enough to be introduced to a wonderful literary agent who loved Singing Bird and auctioned it, acquiring a two-book deal from Headline. After my second book Meeting Point was published I secured another two-book deal from Time Warner. Being paid to write is a powerful motivator!
Where do you gain inspiration for your writing? What is your creative process?
Ideas come from everywhere. Usually, some piece of information or snatch of conversation will lodge in my brain and begin to rattle around, like a pebble gathering moss. I keep notebooks where I write everything down, from random sayings to observations. I also love research and keep a stack of reference books and dictionaries to hand. I’m a member of the British Library and particularly adore pouring over old newspaper editions in the British Newspaper Library.
Novel writing is my job and I approach it with discipline, sitting down to my desk at 8.30am and working throughout the day until afternoon when I start organising the rest of my life. But my writing is with me all the time. The story and characters are with me walking into town, shopping, on the train, on the golf course, in the kitchen. I hear their conversations in my head all my waking hours and sometime in my dreams.