Come and chat to MAGGIE O'FARRELL about Instructions For a Heatwave (and all her previous books), Weds 23rd Oct, 9-10pm

(115 Posts)

If youre still loath to let go of summer, our October Book of the Month keeps the temperature high. Maggie OFarrells bestseller, INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, is set in London, July 1976. The Riordans are an Irish couple with three grown-up children, and as they sit sweltering in their kitchen, Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he's going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn't come back. The search for Robert brings the children - two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce - back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone.

As always, O'Farrell captures daily life with acute observation and empathy while sustaining a gradual suspense that reveals secret histories. Another entrancing and beautifully paced novel from a truly excellent storyteller.

To find out more, go to our book of the month page, where you can also find links to video interviews, Maggie's website and to her previous Mumsnet Bookclub chat back in 2011.

Tinder Press have 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters to claim yours please go to the book of the month page. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone.

If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We are thrilled that Maggie will be joining us and answering questions about INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE, her writing career and her previous novels on Wednesday 23 October, 9-10pm. So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month, pop up any advance questions and we will see you all here, Wed 23 October.

DuchessofMalfi Tue 17-Sep-13 06:49:55

I bought a copy of this a c couple of weeks ago, so I'll be reading and joining the discussion smile

RebeccaSMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 23-Sep-13 10:40:35

The book giveaway is now closed. We'll be randomly choosing the names of the 50 mumsnetters who will receive copies later today and send them over to the publisher. As soon as we hear the books have been sent out we'll email to let you know if you've been lucky. Do come back to this thread and let us know what you think when you've had chance to read.

sharond101 Thu 26-Sep-13 14:39:08

i got one thanks

notjustamummythankyou Thu 26-Sep-13 17:35:19

Me too! grin

Ladyboluna Thu 26-Sep-13 18:56:54

I'm one of the lucky winners! Can't wait for it to arrive, it sounds really good smile going to resist looking at this thread until I've read it, don't want any spoilers!

tinypumpkin Thu 26-Sep-13 19:03:39

Ooooh me too, thank you MN. Really excited about this one smile

zaph0d Thu 26-Sep-13 21:00:21

Wow - amazed I got one, fantastic!
Have read "The Hand that First Held Mine" & looking forward to this one too.

Glad they've arrived safely, looking forward to hearing what you all think - and to seeing everyone here on Weds 23rd Oct.

Pearlyblue Tue 01-Oct-13 14:33:15

Thanks MN, I received my copy this morning. Can't wait to start reading x

weathermum Thu 03-Oct-13 10:34:17

many thanks for my book..I have started reading it on about page 30 its very different and I am looking forward to how the story will progress... I will come back when I have finished it.

I read it when it very first came out. I won't say anything yet for those people still reading.

A lifetime ago, my then boyfriend bought me a copy of Maggie's first book and I read it on the train going to university. I sobbed unashamedly and immediately read it through again. It's still one of my favourite books and I've bought and read all of Maggie's books as soon as they come out. Or should I say my then boyfriend, now husband, buys them and writes something soppy in the front of them. grin

I think the description of the otherworldliness of life following a traumatic childbirth is so poignantly done in The Hand That First Held Mine. It was perfectly pitched. Esme Lennox is similarly well sketched but After You'd Gone remains my favourite.

I'm looking forward to talking about the most recent one.

cavylover Thu 03-Oct-13 13:19:48

Very descriptive book detailing the lives of every member of the family in some depth revealing the secrets they have from each other throughout their lives. The atmosphere of the long hot summer of 1976 fits in perfectly with the twists and turns of the story. The book is a real page turner which I read in just over a day - a very entertaining read!

DuchessofMalfi Sun 06-Oct-13 16:40:11

Just about to start reading this, thia week.

HellonHeels Mon 07-Oct-13 10:51:47

Thanks for the book - I was very excited to be chosen to have a copy!

I started reading on the tube this morning and am hooked but nearly had to stop altogether because

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT










of the episode with the cat at the beginning. I really cannot stand any depiction of animal injury / suffering but I skipped that section altogether and carried on. My initial impression is that this novel could have been written by a mumsnet committee (not a criticism BTW!) it's a novelisation of a lot of the threads I've read on the relationships board :-)

I'll be back when I've finished it which I think won't take long because I'm itching to get back to it.

HellonHeels, there's a thought: the Mumsnet Committee novel. I remember Penguin did something similar with a Wikinovel. Someone should call an agent...

When Maggie last came on, she described herself as a regular Mumsnetter; she's definitely in tune with many of the discussion points.

Also very interesting Guardian article here about her struggle to grapple with her own stammer and her son's dyslexia.

tinypumpkin Mon 07-Oct-13 12:14:40

I started this last night. As an OU tutor, can't say I am loving the comments about the OU degrees.

Hoping it gets better as finding it harder to read than I initially thought I would. Maybe I should read when I am less tired! We are off on hols in a couple of weeks so I might read it then if it is not too late to feedback at that point.

HellonHeels Mon 07-Oct-13 12:49:22

Oh yes the OU comments are out of order but presumably that's because the husband is a twat and they are designed to give us the heads up that he is?

PatriciaPT Mon 07-Oct-13 13:16:36

Great book and not difficult to read. For me, the best things were the character studies and the effects of family secrets (I come from a family in which some things were kept secret, one of which profoundly affected all of us). Kept wanting to say, 'Tell them, tell them' and hoping at least in one case that eventually they would. Won't spoil it by saying whether they did or not! A good book for anyone interested in families and how they function, and relationships both in and out of the family. And it's beautifully written - I'm a grammar and punctuation pedant which is a big disadvantage when reading books where errors interrupt the flow. Never happened at all in this one, will definitely read more of hers.

HellonHeels Tue 08-Oct-13 11:12:45

Finished in a day! Found it quite compelling.

Some neatly done tying up at the end but I have some unanswered questions, particularly, who did tell about Monica's abortion? (Did I miss this?) Actually I found Monica the most thinly drawn character. Was she really averse to / scared of motherhood due to witnessing her sister's birth? Or was it due to being used as a mother to difficult baby Aoife?

Should Claire have LTB? I kept thinking yes but was taken aback by her withdrawal from their children.

Rajie Tue 08-Oct-13 13:40:42

Truly a fantastic and compelling storyline. Couldn't put the book down once I started reading. The characters are described in detail and the impact they have on each others lives is very profound. An entertaining read!

A really great book, very hard to put down and extremely well written. Would definitely recommend!.

weathermum Fri 11-Oct-13 10:35:03

I finished reading it yesterday.
I too found it hard going until over halfway through then I wanted to see how it turned out.
Story good but it was wtitten in a way that I found hard to follow.
I thought the ending rather abrupt still some unaswered points...Never the less although a different read from my normal books I still found the story very interesting.
many thanks for the free copy

BlackbeltinBS Fri 11-Oct-13 16:01:15

Finished my copy. Thought it was a great start and enjoyed it but... not as good as I was hoping tbh. I loved The Hand that First Held Mine and Esme Lennox, not sure this is one I will be in a rush to reread just yet. I enjoyed Aoife's story.

Curious to know whether she deliberately picked 15th July (St Swithins Day - if it rains on St Swithins Day, it's supposed to rain for the next 40 days, and if it's dry, will stay dry for 40 days). Obviously in the book it's dry on 15th and I think that adds to the oppressiveness of the heat and that trapped feeling the characters have, like you know they're stuck in that situation?

Also, I'd like to know what the other novel was that MO was researching when she came up with this, and whether she thinks she'll go back to it?

sharond101 Tue 15-Oct-13 12:34:39

I liked this book however got a bit confused midway and that made it difficult to read on but after finishing I am glad I did. The portayal of each character gave a great mental picture in my mind of who each was and this added to my enjoyment.

kristinage Tue 15-Oct-13 12:37:00

Thanks for the copy. I finished the book, but it's a bit boring for me.

Spottybra Tue 15-Oct-13 13:08:51

I'm loving this book. There has been nothing better on a cold dark evening when the children are finally settled (about 9:40 ish) than reading about the family in a heatwave. I miss summer already. It has to be the best new book I have read in a long time. Am only about half way through though. Aoife not being diagnosed and helped despite being so bright made me cry, although to be fair I have recently gone through a similar experience with a 14 yr old student who has slipped through the net and hid it very well, so it really touched me. Can't wait to finish it and I care enough about the characters to wonder when the hell is Monica going to leave Peter? Why doesn't she want a baby, although I do know, it's there in the text what Aoife 'did' to their mother, but there has to be another reason surely?

littlestar Tue 15-Oct-13 13:11:53

I loved this book and found it very engrossing, once I got to grips with the various characters and their stories. I thought the setting was very evocative of the long hot summer of '76 (showing my age!) and was a really interesting setting for the story of a seemingly ordinary family. I got really drawn in by the different threads of the story and the secrets that were revealed along the way; I was in suspense towards the end and I am going to recommend this novel to my Book Club. Thank you Mumsnet!!!

DuchessofMalfi Wed 16-Oct-13 08:39:57

I finished reading it a few days ago. Thinking about a question atm.

Thanks to all for the messages so far - just a reminder to pop your advance questions here, and I'll send to Maggie at the end of the week.

Looking forward to next Weds.

slev Thu 17-Oct-13 06:54:17

Finished my copy and if I'm honest, I struggled a bit. I wanted to know what happened (always the benefit of a plot with an unanswered mystery) so kept reading from that perspective but I just couldn't bring myself to like the characters. I really just wanted to give them all a good shake!

So my question for Maggie - how did you expect people to react to your characters? Did you intend them to be likeable or do you think it's more about having characters who inspire a reaction, positive or otherwise?

DuchessofMalfi Thu 17-Oct-13 14:25:04

First of all I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the novel.

I found it an interesting examination of how fragile relationships are and how everything can turn on a lie and its discovery. Do you think Gretta and Robert's relationship would survive, now that everyone knows their secret? I really wanted to know what happened to his first wife, and wanted closure with his brother's story. Trying not to plot spoil grin

Aoife was my favourite character, and I was willing her to tell the truth and not destroy her relationship. Heaved a huge sigh of relief when she did smile And what on earth was Monica thinking of marrying Peter? confused There just didn't seem to be anything going for them at all.

And who did tell Joe about the abortion? Did I miss that? I wondered whether it was Gretta who put two and two together.

SunshinePanda Sat 19-Oct-13 20:09:28

I have been busy reading not just this novel but rereading Maggie's back catalogue over the past few weeks. Maggie, "you are good with secrets." grin My favourite book ever I think is The Hand That First Held Mine. As with Instructions for a Heatwave it is fascinating how a single decision has such repercussions and deeply buried impact on others. When writing did you start with this idea of deception or with a character (thinking really of Aoife)?

Feathered Sun 20-Oct-13 12:27:08

This reminded me, in terms of oppressive heat, of "The Go-Between" by L.P. Hartley - I just wondered if you read that as part of your research?

Do you think you will write about these characters again? I finished the book wanting to know more!

Paloolah Sun 20-Oct-13 16:59:33

Hi. Really enjoyed the book. I'm intrigued by the title - presumably it refers to the snippets of the drought bill that introduce the chapters, and the expectations of people to behave in particular ways, but could Maggie tell us more about this? Thanks!

Chlorinella Sun 20-Oct-13 21:45:53

Just finished this book ( thanks for my free book )
I remember the drought of 1976 , the heat and the emotions of that summer will stay with me forever ( O level year , and as a family we had a big house move )
Loved this book , the way the siblings reacted together was so true .
I thought the end was a bit rushed , but I thoroughly enjoyed the read .

dreamygirl Mon 21-Oct-13 11:40:47

Loved this, thank you so much for my copy! Loved the emerging questions as the plot was laid out, the oppression of the weather adding to the difficulty of the situation, and found it really easy to get to know the characters!
I especially loved all the attention to detail, there were some fantastic passages with lovely tiny details such as Aoife's feelings when Monica had blanked her in the house, that it had erased all those shared experiences she mentioned of sisterhood and sharing a room. I also liked the contrasts, such as the traditional approach to marriage & relationships that the Riordan children have be brought up with vs. Peter and Jenny's "modern" views for the time (and of course the revelation near the end about Gretta and Robert's own relationship). Monica and Aoife both feeling that they were the one excluded by the other 2 siblings. And Monica and Michael Francis' contrasting views of their mother's character, how Monica was desperate for her to become "large" again whereas the whole thing was such an embarrassment to Michael Francis. Contrary to some people's feelings I felt sorry for him & Claire, that they were both living with disappointment, a life they hadn't planned for (obviously of their own making but she seemed to think it was all his fault) and struggling to make the best of it. Some people have been offended by the OU comments but I think at the time it was held in a lower regard than nowadays, particularly by those from academic backgrounds.
I felt a lot of sympathy towards Monica, the pressure she felt to live up to expectations, the fact that Joe didn't believe her about not wanting children and that Peter was so WEAK! For a really minor character her probably provoked the strongest reaction in me, I felt really angry with him at times!

I'm interested in the idea raised further up about St Swithun's day and if that was deliberate, to contribute to the sense of endlessness around the weather and the difficult situations, if that would have enhanced the fear Maggie O'Farrell mentions in her notes at the end.

Theimpossiblegirl Mon 21-Oct-13 11:49:06

I'm still reading my copy so trying not to read the comments yet, but wanted to say thank you for the free copy. I'm really enjoying it and want to keep reading so I can find out what happens. It's one of those books that I am really keen to keep reading. My friend is also willing me to hurry up so she can borrow my copy.

dreamygirl Mon 21-Oct-13 16:30:52

Just at the end of the penultimate paragraph that should say "he provoked", not "her".

helenahalme Mon 21-Oct-13 17:55:23

I read Instructions for a Heatwave in a matter of days and cannot wait to join the discussion on Wednesday.

Advance questions have now been sent to Maggie... Hope everyone can come and chat to her live on Wednesday night. She's a brilliant guest, and will be talking about all aspects of her writing career, both this book and her previous ones. So even if you don't have specific question, do come and say Hi..

defineme Mon 21-Oct-13 20:48:00

I was gripped by this book. I found I was most moved by the character Gretta ...the clinging onto her culture and desperate attempts at manipulating her children. The hypocritical living in sin is actually remarkably similar to a situation that was recently uncovered in my extended family!

My questions are:
Do your sisters ever wonder if elements of the sisters in your novels are based on them?
Do you remember the heatwave (I can remember people taking about it and I'm 40) and I too want to know why you chose to start on St Swithins day (just like the novel 'One Day')?

FaddyPeony Tue 22-Oct-13 10:13:27

I liked the novel a lot and found Gretta very interesting -- I recognised her shiftiness and self-delusion and the constant talking thing as a device for deflecting discussion. Excellent. I liked the sibling relationships too, very well drawn.

Maggie, I always want to ask successful women writers about their experience. Do you think that there is still a tendency amongst critics to think 'meh, a book about children/families...how domestic.' Or has that landscape changed? And do you care, particularly?

Clawdy Tue 22-Oct-13 16:13:37

I loved the book,and became very involved in the lives of the characters especially Monica. I also enjoyed re-living the incredible heatwave of 1976,no-one who lived through it will forget it! My question is about the swarms of redbacked aphids! In the North-West it was ladybirds which covered gateposts and pavements?

Plus3 Tue 22-Oct-13 21:18:49

Have this book to read next, but can I ask a question about After you'd gone which may be a spoiler??

I love this book, and made everyone I knew read it. The end.... Only one other person agreed with me - I feel that Alice is coming out of her coma, moving towards life. Nearly everybody else thought she died.

Please tell me that I am right! It is such a beautiful book.

Phaedra11 Wed 23-Oct-13 08:37:39

I really enjoyed the book and particularly appreciated the way you could warm to the characters and sympathise with them, as well as recognising them as complex individuals with their own hang-ups and flaws. I really felt for Monica at the same time as being glad she wasn't my sister!

Whenever I've read Maggie's more recent books, I've remembered an interview I read from when she was pregnant with her first child. She said she was worried about "the pram in the hall" syndrome and whether having a child would affect the time and commitment she could give to her writing. I would be really interested to hear what Maggie thinks about combining writing and parenthood now.

HormonalHousewife Wed 23-Oct-13 12:57:56

I was absolutely thrilled to receive a copy in the post as I 'discovered' only recently Maggie's earlier books. I tend to be a read once and then give away kind of book person as I feel life is too short to read the same book over and over. Exceptions are made occasionally where books are kept on my bookshelf to re-read (and this includes the hand tfhm, the distance bu and After you'd gone) couldnt wait to start reading this one.

I must admit however, it didnt live up to my expectations. I enjoyed it yes, but I found the end a bit Harold Fry... and I have to admit I have given the book away already to my sister.

They were all interesting characters, Monica and Michael Francis particularly.

My question to Maggie is which authors inspired you and what book are you reading at the moment ?

alicethecactus Wed 23-Oct-13 14:08:42

Have just started reading this, enjoying it v much so far! I read The First Hand that Held Mine (which was a lovely but heartbreaking!) and I notice that you've set Instructions for a Heatwave in a similar area - what is it about that area of North London for you?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 14:24:37

TillyBookClub

Advance questions have now been sent to Maggie... Hope everyone can come and chat to her live on Wednesday night. She's a brilliant guest, and will be talking about all aspects of her writing career, both this book and her previous ones. So even if you don't have specific question, do come and say Hi..

Hi everyone,

I'm just posting a test message to say that I'm really looking forward to the chat later. I have a teething baby and a sickly four-year-old in the house so I'm keeping my fingers crossed no one is going to wake up and interrupt us ...
All the best,
Maggie

decaffwithcream Wed 23-Oct-13 18:53:50

Exciting!

decaffwithcream Wed 23-Oct-13 19:28:24

You are one of the few authors whose books I get hold of as soon as they are published.

In light of the teething baby and sickly 4 year old, I should be hesitant to ask this question, but I would love to know if you are working on another book? grin

Hope you all get a good nights sleep.

Can you tell me how and when you find the time to write with a sickly 4 year old and a teething baby? I'm trying to finish my first (possibly last) novel at the moment and the only time I have free is when the sickly 6 year old (seriously germs, you've had a warm welcome now bugger off) and teething 2yr old are in bed and somehow after a whole day of child wrangling, the lure of a piece of shortbread and an earl grey is much stronger than the typewriter. Really, to write well I need utter solitude. Please tell me that farming the 2yr old off to grandparents/preschool for an afternoon or two is perfectly legitimate when I plan to spend my time writing instead of tackling the laundry. If you say it's true I can tell my husband/parents/guilty conscience it's fine because Maggie said so.

You really are one of my favourite writers (I think I was all fangirly earlier in the thread) and I am always so thrilled to see you have a new book out. You do succinct psychologically accurate drawing of women my age very well.

Theimpossiblegirl Wed 23-Oct-13 20:38:55

I'm nearly finished and am really enjoying it, thank you. This is the first of your books I have read but will not be the last.

The characters are so interesting and I love how they are revealed through the story, flaws and all.

Gretta reminds me of DH's Irish Grandmother, who I believe never married his grandfather when they ran away to England from Ireland in the forties, but no-one else seemed to realise so I've kept quiet.

Do you base your characters on real people? They seem incredibly alive to me.

TheOldestCat Wed 23-Oct-13 20:43:45

Hallo Maggie. I've loved all of your books, but After You'd Gone remains my favourite and one of the few novels to make me cry on the tube, darn you. Have read it so many times.

I don't have a question; just wanted to say hello! Hope the poorly and teething ones are better soon.

Jenijena Wed 23-Oct-13 20:50:17

I enjoyed IFAH and am intrigued - what came first, the ideas for the characters, or the story of the missing father? The latter seemed almost incidental to the (very well written and enjoyable) story of the children & wife.

Jenijena Wed 23-Oct-13 20:51:57

Sorry if that seemed insulting about your work, it wasn't! I really enjoyed it - just i was surprised that by the end of the book I cared more about everyone else other than the father.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 20:53:53

BlackbeltinBS

Finished my copy. Thought it was a great start and enjoyed it but... not as good as I was hoping tbh. I loved The Hand that First Held Mine and Esme Lennox, not sure this is one I will be in a rush to reread just yet. I enjoyed Aoife's story.

Curious to know whether she deliberately picked 15th July (St Swithins Day - if it rains on St Swithins Day, it's supposed to rain for the next 40 days, and if it's dry, will stay dry for 40 days). Obviously in the book it's dry on 15th and I think that adds to the oppressiveness of the heat and that trapped feeling the characters have, like you know they're stuck in that situation?

Also, I'd like to know what the other novel was that MO was researching when she came up with this, and whether she thinks she'll go back to it?

Hello BBBS,

How very strange. I had never made that connection. I cannot for the life of me remember why I picked the 15th of July. I think it might have been in connection with the South-West forest fires mentioned in the book: I seem to remember building the novel’s timeframe around their dates. I had never noticed it was St Swithin’s Day, which is of course closely associated with weather. So thank you very much for pointing that out.

The other novel? Well, it was very different – sweeping and historical. I don’t know if I will ever go back to it. I still have all the notes and early drafts/chapters. They are sitting here on my shelf as I write this. I got them down and read them over when I finished IFAH but then I started something else. Which in itself is probably a bit of a sign.

All the best,
Maggie

Good evening, everyone..

I'm thrilled to welcome back the brilliant Maggie O'Farrell, who first joined Bookclub in 2011 to discuss THE HAND THAT FIRST HELD MINE. We enjoyed her chat so much that we asked her to return, along with her excellent new novel INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE.

Maggie, thank you very much indeed once again for taking the time to be here tonight. And congratulations on both your growing family and your growing number of bestselling novels (and please tell us how the hell you do it!). We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many as possible over the next hour.

I'd also like to repeat two questions that we asked you before, but would love you to answer again for the benefit of new bookclubbers:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

marymc Wed 23-Oct-13 21:07:32

Hi Maggie. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy life to talk to us. I love your writing, have all your books and have just started reading your first After You'd Gone again and thoroughly enjoying it. Please tell me you are not too busy being a mother to have time to write another novel.

nevergoogle Wed 23-Oct-13 21:08:59

Good evening Maggie,
I'd like to know which of your novels is your favourite.

For me, it's the vanishing act of esme lennox. I particularly liked the ending.

I'm sorry but IFAH didn't do it for me. I liked the characters and their dialogue was brilliant but the plot just didn't twist like I would have hoped.

What's next?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:10:42

Spottybra

I'm loving this book. There has been nothing better on a cold dark evening when the children are finally settled (about 9:40 ish) than reading about the family in a heatwave. I miss summer already. It has to be the best new book I have read in a long time. Am only about half way through though. Aoife not being diagnosed and helped despite being so bright made me cry, although to be fair I have recently gone through a similar experience with a 14 yr old student who has slipped through the net and hid it very well, so it really touched me. Can't wait to finish it and I care enough about the characters to wonder when the hell is Monica going to leave Peter? Why doesn't she want a baby, although I do know, it's there in the text what Aoife 'did' to their mother, but there has to be another reason surely?

Hello Spottybra, (Now there are some words I’ve never before put together)

I’m very pleased you’re enjoying the book. I miss summer for most of the year (and, living in Scotland, sometimes all year). That’s interesting about your 14-yr-old student. I think dyslexics become adept at concealment and coping strategies. It’s heartbreaking to witness. I hope your student is getting the help and reassurance he or she needs now?

As to Monica leaving Peter and her attitude to babies, I really shouldn’t say: you’ll find it all there in the book if you read to the end.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:11:36

slev

Finished my copy and if I'm honest, I struggled a bit. I wanted to know what happened (always the benefit of a plot with an unanswered mystery) so kept reading from that perspective but I just couldn't bring myself to like the characters. I really just wanted to give them all a good shake!

So my question for Maggie - how did you expect people to react to your characters? Did you intend them to be likeable or do you think it's more about having characters who inspire a reaction, positive or otherwise?

Hello Slev,

I’m sorry you were disappointed. I suppose all I can say is that you tend to write the kind of books you would like to read. Or I do. I don’t look for likeability in fictional characters; I look for it in life, as we all do, in our friends, but I don’t seek it in fiction. I lose interest in novels that paint people as either good or bad. I want characters in novels to offer me complexity, insight, conundrums, understanding, frustration, shock. Above all, I wanted to make the Riordans realistic and human and recognisable. To be that they had to be flawed and, at times, difficult, because aren’t we all?

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:12:24

DuchessofMalfi

First of all I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the novel.

I found it an interesting examination of how fragile relationships are and how everything can turn on a lie and its discovery. Do you think Gretta and Robert's relationship would survive, now that everyone knows their secret? I really wanted to know what happened to his first wife, and wanted closure with his brother's story. Trying not to plot spoil grin

Aoife was my favourite character, and I was willing her to tell the truth and not destroy her relationship. Heaved a huge sigh of relief when she did smile And what on earth was Monica thinking of marrying Peter? confused There just didn't seem to be anything going for them at all.

And who did tell Joe about the abortion? Did I miss that? I wondered whether it was Gretta who put two and two together.

Hello Duchess,

Thanks so much for your lovely words about the book. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it.

Gretta and Robert: I always imagined them just carrying on as before. I think they are of a generation that didn’t believe in discussing and dissecting everything. I expect they would have said nothing, swept it all under the carpet and picked up their lives where they left off. What do you think?

There are a lot of unanswered questions in the book (what happened to Robert’s first wife, much of the brother’s story are all examples of this). I wanted the book to reflect life and I find there are always so many things you never get to the bottom of, so many things you never quite solve. I didn’t want to tie everything up neatly and tick every box. It would have felt disingenuous. I also find that I get more from books that don’t give all the answers: they live longer in your head because you are wondering and theorising about this person or that scenario, rather than just closing the books covers and thinking, that’s that.

As for who told Joe, I always imagined he worked it out for himself, after seeing Aoife flee from Hughie’s birthday party.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:13:20

SunshinePanda

I have been busy reading not just this novel but rereading Maggie's back catalogue over the past few weeks. Maggie, "you are good with secrets." grin My favourite book ever I think is The Hand That First Held Mine. As with Instructions for a Heatwave it is fascinating how a single decision has such repercussions and deeply buried impact on others. When writing did you start with this idea of deception or with a character (thinking really of Aoife)?

Hi there,

I think secrets are always going to exert a pull over novelists. We all have them, whether we’re prepared to admit it or not. It’s actually pretty hard to identify the starting point of a novel. You often have characters or concerns or scenes or conversations swirling around in your head and just one catalyst can bring them into focus. I’d been wanting to write something about the relationships between grown-up siblings and how they can alter over time (and also stay the same) and someone happened to remark to me that the number of people who disappear rises sharply during heatwaves. I could suddenly see a man walking away from his house and these grown-up siblings being called back to the house where they grew up. It seemed too tempting a situation to ignore.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:14:00

Feathered

This reminded me, in terms of oppressive heat, of "The Go-Between" by L.P. Hartley - I just wondered if you read that as part of your research?

Do you think you will write about these characters again? I finished the book wanting to know more!

Hi Feathered,

You all have such great names …

I have read The Go-Between, probably twice, but I didn’t read it in connection with this book. I should have done, now you mention it. I did re-read Alice in Wonderland, which starts with a very hot day. The heat is the reason Alice falls asleep, which of course leads to the adventure.

I don’t know if I will go back to the Riordans. I’ve never returned to a character before but you never know.

All best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:14:41

Paloolah

Hi. Really enjoyed the book. I'm intrigued by the title - presumably it refers to the snippets of the drought bill that introduce the chapters, and the expectations of people to behave in particular ways, but could Maggie tell us more about this? Thanks!

Hi there,
Yes, it refers most directly to the government bill passed in 1976 to cope with the drought. I liked the idea that the Riordans are thrown into chaos because of the heatwave and strictures put in place by the government are useless and ineffectual for what they are experiencing. The language of the bill is so formal and stern and reserved, in contrast to what is happening in domestic situations around the country. If the book shows anything, it shows that there are no instructions. All instructions are useless: you have to find your own way.
All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:15:30

dreamygirl

Loved this, thank you so much for my copy! Loved the emerging questions as the plot was laid out, the oppression of the weather adding to the difficulty of the situation, and found it really easy to get to know the characters!
I especially loved all the attention to detail, there were some fantastic passages with lovely tiny details such as Aoife's feelings when Monica had blanked her in the house, that it had erased all those shared experiences she mentioned of sisterhood and sharing a room. I also liked the contrasts, such as the traditional approach to marriage & relationships that the Riordan children have be brought up with vs. Peter and Jenny's "modern" views for the time (and of course the revelation near the end about Gretta and Robert's own relationship). Monica and Aoife both feeling that they were the one excluded by the other 2 siblings. And Monica and Michael Francis' contrasting views of their mother's character, how Monica was desperate for her to become "large" again whereas the whole thing was such an embarrassment to Michael Francis. Contrary to some people's feelings I felt sorry for him & Claire, that they were both living with disappointment, a life they hadn't planned for (obviously of their own making but she seemed to think it was all his fault) and struggling to make the best of it. Some people have been offended by the OU comments but I think at the time it was held in a lower regard than nowadays, particularly by those from academic backgrounds.
I felt a lot of sympathy towards Monica, the pressure she felt to live up to expectations, the fact that Joe didn't believe her about not wanting children and that Peter was so WEAK! For a really minor character her probably provoked the strongest reaction in me, I felt really angry with him at times!

I'm interested in the idea raised further up about St Swithun's day and if that was deliberate, to contribute to the sense of endlessness around the weather and the difficult situations, if that would have enhanced the fear Maggie O'Farrell mentions in her notes at the end.

Hello dreamygirl,

You live up to your name. Thank you for such a lovely message. It’s fascinating to read your interpretations and comments on the book.

I’m actually horrified that anyone would ascribe Michael Francis’ comments on the OU to me. I think the OU is a wonderful institution and I couldn’t be more supportive of its work. It never occurred to me that anyone would be offended by the argument between Michael Francis and Claire but perhaps I was being naive. Someone bore down on me recently in a signing queue with a very severe expression and demanded to know what I had against the OU. I only ever intended what Michael Francis says about the OU to show what a gulf has opened up between him and Claire and also … and here I’m going to quote someone on this thread because I couldn’t have put it better myself:

HellonHeels Mon 07-Oct-13 12:49:22
Oh yes the OU comments are out of order but presumably that's because the husband is a twat and they are designed to give us the heads up that he is?

Thank you HH.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:16:17

defineme

I was gripped by this book. I found I was most moved by the character Gretta ...the clinging onto her culture and desperate attempts at manipulating her children. The hypocritical living in sin is actually remarkably similar to a situation that was recently uncovered in my extended family!

My questions are:
Do your sisters ever wonder if elements of the sisters in your novels are based on them?
Do you remember the heatwave (I can remember people taking about it and I'm 40) and I too want to know why you chose to start on St Swithins day (just like the novel 'One Day')?

Hi defineme,

I’m glad you found Gretta moving. I enjoyed writing about her immensely. I was always happy when I switched on my laptop and realised I had a Gretta scene ahead of me. And how fascinating that you had a similar situation in your extended family. Would love to hear more, of course, but maybe this isn’t the time or the place…

My sisters would tear strips off me if I ever wrote about them - and rightly so. I wouldn’t ever write about someone close to me. It would be wrong in many ways. I had the odd experience a few years ago of reading a novel by someone who used to work in the same office as me (can’t say who) and realising that a very minor character was based on me aged about 24 or 25. It didn’t portray anything particularly negative but it was very disconcerting all the same. It made me even more determined to tread with care when creating fiction.

As for the heatwave, yes, I do remember it. I was four years old and we had moved from Ireland to South Wales, which was one of the areas very badly hit. I recall it as a time of great excitement and tension: there was no water coming out of the taps and we had to go to a standpipe in the street to collect our daily allowance.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:17:04

FaddyPeony

I liked the novel a lot and found Gretta very interesting -- I recognised her shiftiness and self-delusion and the constant talking thing as a device for deflecting discussion. Excellent. I liked the sibling relationships too, very well drawn.

Maggie, I always want to ask successful women writers about their experience. Do you think that there is still a tendency amongst critics to think 'meh, a book about children/families...how domestic.' Or has that landscape changed? And do you care, particularly?

Hello FP,

Very pleased you enjoyed the book: thank you.

I think there is undoubtedly a tendency to categorise books about families as ‘domestic novels’. But I refute this categorisation as it carries the implication that these are somehow small novels, dealing with minor human concerns. The family is far from a “small” subject: think of Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina, novels vast in ambition, scope and depth. In the right hands, books that have the tightest of focus on one household, one marriage, one person can address the whole spectrum of human experience. In the bare bones of its plot, ‘Hamlet’ could be seen as a domestic drama: man kills his brother, shacks up with the wife, son suffers depression at his inability to avenge his dad. Does anyone call it ‘meh’? No.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:17:40

Clawdy

I loved the book,and became very involved in the lives of the characters especially Monica. I also enjoyed re-living the incredible heatwave of 1976,no-one who lived through it will forget it! My question is about the swarms of redbacked aphids! In the North-West it was ladybirds which covered gateposts and pavements?

Hi Clawdy,

You’re right, of course, there were swarms of ladybirds. I remember picking hundreds of them off our hedge and collecting them in matchboxes.

There were aphid swarms as well in the 1976 heatwave and the reason I chose to write about them instead is based on slightly obsessive compulsive issues over words. I hate the look of the word ‘ladybird’. It’s the cluster of ‘dyb’: can’t abide it. Also, it would have been translated in the States as ‘ladybug’, which is so much worse. I can barely bring myself to type it.

Whereas ‘aphid’: what a beautiful word.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:18:35

Plus3

Have this book to read next, but can I ask a question about After you'd gone which may be a spoiler??

I love this book, and made everyone I knew read it. The end.... Only one other person agreed with me - I feel that Alice is coming out of her coma, moving towards life. Nearly everybody else thought she died.

Please tell me that I am right! It is such a beautiful book.

Hi Plus3,

Thank you for saying you like ‘After You’d Gone’. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it.

The ending: I get a lot of questions about this. I once had a letter from a man who wrote to tell me I had ruined his honeymoon. His wife started AYG on the plane, spent the next few days crying, so he read it and then they argued for the rest of the holiday over whether she died or not.

I like ambiguous endings (see the post above). I don’t enjoy books that tie everything up too definitively so I did make the end of AYG deliberately ambiguous. It’s open to interpretation. Nobody’s wrong (as I wrote back to the honeymoon man). But to my mind, she absolutely lives. She’s rising back to the surface, she’s returning to the world.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:19:21

Phaedra11

I really enjoyed the book and particularly appreciated the way you could warm to the characters and sympathise with them, as well as recognising them as complex individuals with their own hang-ups and flaws. I really felt for Monica at the same time as being glad she wasn't my sister!

Whenever I've read Maggie's more recent books, I've remembered an interview I read from when she was pregnant with her first child. She said she was worried about "the pram in the hall" syndrome and whether having a child would affect the time and commitment she could give to her writing. I would be really interested to hear what Maggie thinks about combining writing and parenthood now.

Hello Phaedra,

Thank you for your post. What you said about Monica made me laugh.

I still loathe that Cyril Connolly quote. I think it’s something that will always be slung at women writers. But the more books I write and the more children I have, the more I know it to be total rubbish. Having children solidifies your connection with the world and widens your experience and those things can only ever be good for your writing. There is also the sense of children as editors. I don’t mean that my kids are made to go through my manuscripts with a red pen but that having increased time pressure ensures that only the good things make it to the page. I firmly believe this. So much of what you do as a writer takes place away from your desk. I’m not saying that it’s easy to write novels while you have three young children. It isn’t. But it’s no harder than it is for any mother who also has a job; in many ways, it’s easier because I get to be at home with them. I don’t have to clock in and out, as many women do. All books are written against impossible odds; the odds just change. If you want to write, you will find the time, even if it means staying up until dawn.

All the best,
Maggie

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:20:09

TillyBookClub

Good evening, everyone..

I'd also like to repeat two questions that we asked you before, but would love you to answer again for the benefit of new bookclubbers:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What childhood book most inspired you?

I loved the Moomin books by Tove Jansson, also The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland. I used to want to be Pippi Longstocking. You couldn’t ask for more in a fictional female role model. Forget the whole princess culture: give your daughters Pippi to read and they will grow up independent, questioning and strong

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

The best advice I ever got was: keep going. I would also say not to worry too much about beginnings. Beginnings are hard. They are still the part I have to rewrite and rework the most. Just launch into your story at whatever point you like. You can go back and fix the rest later. There is great comfort to be had in word count.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:21:18

That's the end of my pre-prepared questions. Now for the descent into sleep-deprived, ungrammatical freefall...

CatherineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 23-Oct-13 21:24:28

Maggie you're doing a wonderful job, and you're in good company <rubs sleepy eyes>

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:25:50

HormonalHousewife

I was absolutely thrilled to receive a copy in the post as I 'discovered' only recently Maggie's earlier books. I tend to be a read once and then give away kind of book person as I feel life is too short to read the same book over and over. Exceptions are made occasionally where books are kept on my bookshelf to re-read (and this includes the hand tfhm, the distance bu and After you'd gone) couldnt wait to start reading this one.

I must admit however, it didnt live up to my expectations. I enjoyed it yes, but I found the end a bit Harold Fry... and I have to admit I have given the book away already to my sister.

They were all interesting characters, Monica and Michael Francis particularly.

My question to Maggie is which authors inspired you and what book are you reading at the moment ?

Sorry to hear it was disappointing. Maybe your sister will like it more. Haven't read Harold Fry but obviously I must ...

Authors that inspired me include Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, William Boyd, Michele Roberts, Alice Munro, Amy Bloom, the Brontes, Trollope, James Hogg, Albert Camus, Robert Browning, Anthony Burgess ... the list goes on. I've just finished re-reading Anna Karenina (for about the fourth time, i think - I try to read it at least once a decade) and am about to start Alice Munro's latest collection.
All the best,
Maggie

EmmaLove82 Wed 23-Oct-13 21:26:13

Hi Maggie,
I've only just started your book but can tell I'm going to really enjoy it!
I'm only on page 44, where we are introduced to Monica.
Probably a stupid question, but I'm reading a lot about the cat!
Is there any significance to the cat or purely a vehicle/scapegoat through which Monica's feelings can be aired?

Thanks!

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:27:41

alicethecactus

Have just started reading this, enjoying it v much so far! I read The First Hand that Held Mine (which was a lovely but heartbreaking!) and I notice that you've set Instructions for a Heatwave in a similar area - what is it about that area of North London for you?

Hello Alice, or should I call you Cactus?

North London? Well, I lived there for longer than I've lived anywhere. Fifteen years, or thereabouts. I live in Edinburgh now but still spend a lot of time there. Writing about it sometimes feels like a way of being there, even when I'm not. If that makes any sense.

M

edukation Wed 23-Oct-13 21:30:13

Hi Maggie
I'm just in the middle of IFAH and am really enjoying it. I recently finished The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox which I thought was absolutely brilliant - what happened at the end was so frustrating but totally understandable. Did you see Esme as a mentally ill person or a completely normal person with experiences that led to her behaving in the way she did? And in general do you find it hard to be upbeat in your day to day life when you are writing about distressing events and inhabiting distressed characters' minds?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:32:36

decaffwithcream

You are one of the few authors whose books I get hold of as soon as they are published.

In light of the teething baby and sickly 4 year old, I should be hesitant to ask this question, but I would love to know if you are working on another book? grin

Hope you all get a good nights sleep.

I'm hoping that tonight is the night for sleep. Surely after nine bad nights, the baby is due a good one?

Doesn't always work like that, though, does it?

Another book: yes, I have started one. I'm about 35,000 words in (although I don't often use my word count function as it puts me off). I'm not a superstitious person, generally, but I am superstitious about discussing a book I haven't finished. I always feel that talking about it will somehow drain away the urge to write it. Apologies if that sound cagey. I'm enjoying the writing, so far, and I have my playlist organised, which is always a sign that things are moving along. I went to talk to an auction house the other day as research, which was fascinating...

M

silverdragonfly Wed 23-Oct-13 21:34:53

Hello Maggie. I haven't read your latest book yet, but I will. I have read all the others and enjoyed them all.

You are one of a couple of authors whose work I love and who have inspired me to start writing. After You'd Gone is one of the most moving novels I have read, one of few I've read more than twice. I think you find the perfect balance between beautiful writing and gripping plot. It's what I hope to achieve.

Oh, and the advice about beginnings is timely and comforting (as I looked today at the beginning of my 120,000 word draft and realised I hate it - again!)

Actually, I do have a question - if you are still reading after all that. Is writing a pleasure for you or has it become just a job? For me, its a guilty pleasure, an escape from day to day life into the world of my characters. Has that changed for you or do you still love it?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:37:36

ShowOfBloodyStumps

Can you tell me how and when you find the time to write with a sickly 4 year old and a teething baby? I'm trying to finish my first (possibly last) novel at the moment and the only time I have free is when the sickly 6 year old (seriously germs, you've had a warm welcome now bugger off) and teething 2yr old are in bed and somehow after a whole day of child wrangling, the lure of a piece of shortbread and an earl grey is much stronger than the typewriter. Really, to write well I need utter solitude. Please tell me that farming the 2yr old off to grandparents/preschool for an afternoon or two is perfectly legitimate when I plan to spend my time writing instead of tackling the laundry. If you say it's true I can tell my husband/parents/guilty conscience it's fine because Maggie said so.

You really are one of my favourite writers (I think I was all fangirly earlier in the thread) and I am always so thrilled to see you have a new book out. You do succinct psychologically accurate drawing of women my age very well.

Hello again Stumps,

Finding the time to write is not easy. But you will. Starting is often the hardest part. I think if tiredness and the lure of tea threaten, then you might need to say to yourself that you will just sit at your desk for half an hour. Sometimes ringfencing off some time is all that is required to get going. I often say I'll do half an hour and then suddenly it's 2am. Also, remind yourself that words on the page are not the only sign of 'writing'. Often what you need is to think uninterrupted, to smooth out some knotty problem with the book. Time isn't the only problem, as you'll know. It's often more a question of headspace and quiet.

As for time with grandparents, bring it on. They are happy, the baby's happy, you're happy. It's all good.

Good luck.

M

'If the book shows anything, it shows that there are no instructions. All instructions are useless: you have to find your own way.'

This could also sum up my view on motherhood too. Couldn't have put it better.

I'd love to sneak in an extra question for Maggie:

I heard Zadie Smith on Desert Island Discs the other week talking about how she becomes less and less certain of things as she gets older, and therefore reading her younger novels can make her feel a bit odd, because they are full of aphorisms. Do you find yourself looking back at your earlier novels and thinking you are very different now? And do you think motherhood plays a big part in that?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:43:10

Theimpossiblegirl

I'm nearly finished and am really enjoying it, thank you. This is the first of your books I have read but will not be the last.

The characters are so interesting and I love how they are revealed through the story, flaws and all.

Gretta reminds me of DH's Irish Grandmother, who I believe never married his grandfather when they ran away to England from Ireland in the forties, but no-one else seemed to realise so I've kept quiet.

Do you base your characters on real people? They seem incredibly alive to me.

Fascinating about your DH's grandmother. I wonder why they never tied the knot? There must be some murky reason behind that ...

I don't generally use real people. I'm not sure how that would work. I think all fiction is a patchwork of things you borrow, things you lift from real life and others you simply make up. I did meet a woman at a knitting stall in Connemara a few years ago who told me her life story within two minutes of our meeting. She had been in London in the 1950s and worked at a Lyon's Corner House, just as Gretta does. There is a fair bit of her in Gretta. I bought a hat off her. It's rather itchy so I don't wear it much. But, really, it was the least I could do.

M

FaddyPeony Wed 23-Oct-13 21:43:20

I'm going to sneak in a follow-up to my question Maggie which I know is verboten but hopefully I won't be banned ...

In your reply to my Q about the domestic, all of the authors you mentioned are male and universally celebrated. But I still feel that there is sheer indifference/meh in a big part of the literary establishment when women writers document the domestic (which is to say, life). I think particularly of the charge levelled by the Orange Prize judges a few years back about there being too much of the domestic in many of the novels up for consideration (am paraphrasing).

I do get a sense that this attitude is changing as writers like Alice Munro and Marylinne Robinson are more widely read and understood. I'd love to know, though - have you ever come up against this attitude from someone famous who should really know better?

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:44:01

TheOldestCat

Hallo Maggie. I've loved all of your books, but After You'd Gone remains my favourite and one of the few novels to make me cry on the tube, darn you. Have read it so many times.

I don't have a question; just wanted to say hello! Hope the poorly and teething ones are better soon.

Well, thank you. Hello back.

decaffwithcream Wed 23-Oct-13 21:44:54

Delighted there is another book in the works, I don't need to know what it's about at all. I found all your novels quite different from each other, especially the most recent ones, and I've thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

meerschweinchen Wed 23-Oct-13 21:44:59

Hi Maggie, I love all your novels. After you'd gone was the first I read, and in many ways is still my favourite. Do you have a favorite, or one that means the most to you?

haverer Wed 23-Oct-13 21:47:38

<rushes in having just this minute finished reading the final chapter>
Hi Maggie I don't have a question; I just want to tell you how much have enjoyed all of your novels. I am always very moved by your descriptions of the departures and reunions - especially mothers and children. The way Gretta grabs Aoife when she comes home was very powerful. (I love the character of Aoife, btw.)

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:48:10

Jenijena

I enjoyed IFAH and am intrigued - what came first, the ideas for the characters, or the story of the missing father? The latter seemed almost incidental to the (very well written and enjoyable) story of the children & wife.

Not insulting at all!

When I started the book, I had the choice of writing about the siblings or about the father and his reasons for disappearance. It was a deliberate decision to focus the novel on the relationships between the grown-up siblings. It seemed to me that Robert/Ronan is the kind of man who wouldn't explain himself even when he returns. I don't even think Gretta would expect him to. They are the kind of people who would just brush it off, never speak of it and carry on as before. Meanwhile, all that remains unsaid still seethes between them. I wanted the book to reflect this. I think we forget that the urge to get everything out in the open is a relatively modern one: a few generations ago, the done thing was to not mention the unsayable. To keep it hidden. To hope it goes away.
M

cherrytomato40 Wed 23-Oct-13 21:48:27

I'm too befuddled to think of an intelligent question as I'm typing one-handed from a toddler bed with an arm round a poorly 3 year old... just wanted to echo what someone else said that you are one of the few authors whose books I will always rush out and buy as soon as they are released. The Hand That First Held Mine was just perfect.

Now that you have children, would you ever write a children's book?

Bicnod Wed 23-Oct-13 21:50:06

Hello Maggie - I have read all your books smile

The Hand That First Held Mine really touched me - I read it shortly after having my first child and some parts of it felt like you had somehow crawled inside my mind and written down (far more eloquently than I ever could of course) all the tangled up emotions I was experiencing.

It made my husband cry too (but don't tell him I told you).

I don't have a question, I just wanted to say I think you're brilliant and can't wait to read your new book.

overthemill Wed 23-Oct-13 21:52:48

Maggie, I love your novels and along with Anne Tyler and Carol Shields (now sadly no longer with us), I buy them full price hot off the press, never give them away or lend them and eagerly look out for news of when the next one is due! AYG makes me weep. Still, years after reading it. Huge grief filled sobs.

How can you be so brilliant at describing the detail of the domestic and emotional landscape of our lives? It is the thing that in general, only women can do (not wholly true I know but I'm sticking to it) and which keeps me going.

IFAH I loved because I know the part of N London and also was 18 in 1976

Thank you! sorry to be such a fan...

overthemill Wed 23-Oct-13 21:55:03

'When I started the book, I had the choice of writing about the siblings or about the father and his reasons for disappearance. It was a deliberate decision to focus the novel on the relationships between the grown-up siblings'
that's the female response isn't it? The male authors would have done the mystery whereas you unravel the personal

Bicnod Wed 23-Oct-13 21:55:07

In fact, this thread has prompted me to order IFAH for October half-term reading. Hurrah grin

cracklingrosie Wed 23-Oct-13 21:55:54

Hello Maggie, I don't have a question to ask. I just wanted to say I have enjoyed all your novels and my favourite character in IFAH is Aoife. Her character was so powerful and the description of her sitting at the same infant desk at school as her peers move on and she is left behind to struggle and conceal was heart breaking. My favourite novel is The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox which I have re-read several times and always leave me in tears at the injustice of her situation.

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:56:54

EmmaLove82

Hi Maggie,
I've only just started your book but can tell I'm going to really enjoy it!
I'm only on page 44, where we are introduced to Monica.
Probably a stupid question, but I'm reading a lot about the cat!
Is there any significance to the cat or purely a vehicle/scapegoat through which Monica's feelings can be aired?

Thanks!

The cat is the one character I've lifted from life: when I wrote those scenes, my cat Malachy had just died, and he was a rather unusual rescue cat.

I wrote him in because I wanted to show how Monica is deceiving everyone around her and most of all herself. I was interested in the kind of person who can persuade herself that she feels one way when, in reality, she feels the opposite. The cat is a symbol of death and also of culpability. Monica is convinced she loathes him but of course she doesn't; she is forced to be there when he is put to sleep. She doesn't want to be responsible for all this but she is. The scene doesn't just cover the cat's death; all her reluctant emotions for the cat are really for the baby.

Hope that makes sense.

M

AmyMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 23-Oct-13 21:57:34

Lots of us at MNHQ loved the book but we were wondering what happens to each of the siblings. Would you ever write a sequel or will we just have to use our imagination?!

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 21:58:44

nevergoogle

Good evening Maggie,
I'd like to know which of your novels is your favourite.

For me, it's the vanishing act of esme lennox. I particularly liked the ending.

I'm sorry but IFAH didn't do it for me. I liked the characters and their dialogue was brilliant but the plot just didn't twist like I would have hoped.

What's next?

I don't have a favourite - I never could. They all mean different things to me and all represent very different stages of my life.

Actually, scratch that: my favourite of my books is always the one I haven't yet started. It's still perfect and flawless in my head.

M

Mintie190 Wed 23-Oct-13 21:59:56

I'm too late to ask a question but I loved The Hand that First Held Mine. Lexie is one of my favourite female characters ever. Your description of her thoughts when she was you know what (don't want to be a spoiler) summed up every maternal feeling I have. I think you are a wonderful story teller and I hope that if you ever are struggling to finish a book that you will read these posts and know that so many of us are waiting for your next instalment!

EmmaLove82 Wed 23-Oct-13 22:02:38

That makes perfect sense!
Wonderful! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question.
Sorry to hear about your cat.
Looking forward to finishing the book.
Many thanks, Emma

We've run out of time - thank you everyone for such a lively and buzzing discussion night and I'm so sorry if we didn't have time to answer your question.

I think Maggie might have to come back for a third time with the secret new novel mentioned above.

Maggie, it has been such a pleasure to have you and thank you for your time and energy and such inspiring answers. Your thoughts on motherhood and creativity are particularly inspiring.

Many thanks and please do come again...and good luck with the next one. Can't wait to read it.

Theimpossiblegirl Wed 23-Oct-13 22:05:03

There are murky secrets but I'm saving them for my first novel.
I can only dream of it being as good as one of yours.
smile

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 22:05:13

edukation

Hi Maggie
I'm just in the middle of IFAH and am really enjoying it. I recently finished The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox which I thought was absolutely brilliant - what happened at the end was so frustrating but totally understandable. Did you see Esme as a mentally ill person or a completely normal person with experiences that led to her behaving in the way she did? And in general do you find it hard to be upbeat in your day to day life when you are writing about distressing events and inhabiting distressed characters' minds?

I never saw Esme as having anything wrong with her at all. She was an uninhibited person who just happened to be born into a family and a time that didn't approve of her. During my research for the book, I met so many women like Esme who had been robbed of their liberty and their lives for no good reason whatsoever. I wanted to represent their plight and the gross injustice dealt to them as accurately as possible, so all the case histories mentioned in the novel are true and drawn from actual documents of the time. There was a girl locked up in Colney Hatch in London at the age of 16 for trying on her mother's clothes.

Am I upbeat? Not sure I am. I'd have to ask my husband but he's disappeared upstairs. I do feel very involved in my characters' lives and dilemmas but it feels very private and internalised, somehow, by necessity. I never tell anyone what I'm working on, not even my husband, so I don't discuss it as I go along.
M

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 22:08:00

silverdragonfly

Hello Maggie. I haven't read your latest book yet, but I will. I have read all the others and enjoyed them all.

You are one of a couple of authors whose work I love and who have inspired me to start writing. After You'd Gone is one of the most moving novels I have read, one of few I've read more than twice. I think you find the perfect balance between beautiful writing and gripping plot. It's what I hope to achieve.

Oh, and the advice about beginnings is timely and comforting (as I looked today at the beginning of my 120,000 word draft and realised I hate it - again!)

Actually, I do have a question - if you are still reading after all that. Is writing a pleasure for you or has it become just a job? For me, its a guilty pleasure, an escape from day to day life into the world of my characters. Has that changed for you or do you still love it?

It is and always has been a keen pleasure. I wouldn't do it if it wasn't. It feels so far from a job I never tell people that is what I do for my living (I usually make something up). It feels, as you say, like an escape or an alternative to my other life. I wouldn't have one without the other.

M

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 22:10:19

cherrytomato40

I'm too befuddled to think of an intelligent question as I'm typing one-handed from a toddler bed with an arm round a poorly 3 year old... just wanted to echo what someone else said that you are one of the few authors whose books I will always rush out and buy as soon as they are released. The Hand That First Held Mine was just perfect.

Now that you have children, would you ever write a children's book?

I'm not sure. I think it's a very particular skill that I probably don't have. I did write a story for one of my daughters but it might be a bit odd and scary for general publication!

Hope your 3-yr-old gets better.

M

MaggieOFarrell Wed 23-Oct-13 22:12:05

TillyBookClub

We've run out of time - thank you everyone for such a lively and buzzing discussion night and I'm so sorry if we didn't have time to answer your question.

I think Maggie might have to come back for a third time with the secret new novel mentioned above.

Maggie, it has been such a pleasure to have you and thank you for your time and energy and such inspiring answers. Your thoughts on motherhood and creativity are particularly inspiring.

Many thanks and please do come again...and good luck with the next one. Can't wait to read it.

Thanks so much for having me back. It's been lovely to chat to you all. Sorry we ran out of time.

Love,
Maggie x

DuchessofMalfi Thu 24-Oct-13 09:58:07

Just caught up with last night's chat - I missed it due to the DC and me being ill with the first cold of the Autumn sad Really enjoyable, and thank you to Maggie O'Farrell for answering my question. This was the first of her novels I've read, and I shall be working my way through the rest of them and looking forward to the next smile

starlight36 Thu 24-Oct-13 12:11:52

Like the Duchess I couldn't make the web chat last night as was looking after my own teething baby. I was the lucky recipient of a free copy and really enjoyed Maggie's style of writing. The novel really captured the complicated inter-family relationships we all experience to some extent. I'll definitely be reading her other novels.

Theimpossiblegirl Thu 24-Oct-13 16:36:39

I've finished it. I would love to read more about these characters and how their lives move forward from the end of the book. Please, please write at least 1 sequel. smile

michelleblane Fri 25-Oct-13 23:33:58

Just read all this thread. Apologies for not joining in on 23rd (I did receive a copy) but only just started reading it last night as I have had my time totally taken up with elderly parents who have managed to each break an arm! On the road to recovery so I have a little more time now Sorry!

tinypumpkin Mon 28-Oct-13 20:36:17

I really struggled with this and was really surprised that I did. I was really excited when I read the precise but the actual book was slow to start for me. Had I not had to include a review I would actually have given up on it to be honest. I was really disappointed.

lharris1985 Mon 04-Nov-13 14:59:29

I absolutely loved The Hand that First Held Mine and Esme Lennox, so can't wait to start this one!!

Kiwirose Thu 07-Nov-13 22:53:13

I also am a slow starter with the book. Initially I found it quite slow going but as I am getting to know the characters a bit more I'm picking up speed. I'll let you know how I go in due course.

scottishmummy Sat 09-Nov-13 23:44:00

Shame missed this,I've read all Maggie books.loved hearwave
IMO,she writes whydunnits that unfolding of enmeshed relationships
I have gave my copies away to pals and they all like her too

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