You see a month or so before that email I’d entered a competition along with hundreds of others to win Monica’s backlist of books for a fundraiser I was running for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF). Even though I didn’t win that competition, Monica reached out to me to offer to send her books as a prize anyway. Not only that, but she checked out my website and offered to promote me on her social media as an up and coming author because she was touched by my fundraising efforts for the ILF of which she was an ambassador.
My response email kind of went like this - OMG, OMG, OMG, OMG!!!!!!!!!! (that’s the toned down more articulate version BTW). I told Monica the bit about the jumping on the bed. And the bit about the screaming her name at my husband. And the bit about thinking she was SPAM.
Despite my crazy, Monica still went ahead and promoted me with a gorgeous giant feature. Her endorsement gave me instant credibility and she had no small role in launching my career as a print author.
And that was just the start of Monica’s steadfast support of me since. She was the very first person I trusted with the exciting news that I landed a print deal with HarperCollins. She was the very first person I showed my brand new secret print cover for LOVE AT FIRST FLIGHT to. She kept my confidences and helped me celebrate my good fortune with genuine warmth and enthusiasm.
More recently, Monica offered to promote our upcoming West Coast Fiction Festival on her social media and she made sure to find out when BEAUTIFUL MESSY LOVE will be released so she can plug that too. When I had to rush to Melbourne after my Dad had heart failure, she checked in on me with good wishes. In an interview on Maureen Eppen’s Shelf Awareness, she was asked which books she couldn’t live without and she shared a photo of the small section of her bookshelf of signed books where mine was snuggled up with Tim Winton’s, among others.
Tonight Monica and I finally had the chance to meet face to face over two years since that first surreal email from her. She was giving an author talk to a packed house. And guess what the very first thing she did was before giving her talk? She stepped up to the microphone and asked where I was sitting with my friends Rachael Johns and Anthea Hodgson. We waved and she acknowledged us to the crowd, letting them know we were local authors.
When I met her afterwards, all she was interested in talking about were the details of how she was going to promote me with BEAUTIFUL MESSY LOVE. She asked the professional photographer to make sure he got photos of us together and to make sure he sent them to her.
Monica McInerney stands to gain nothing from me. She’s a worldwide superstar and sits at number one in her release week – she sure as hell doesn’t need to curry favour with someone new like me. But she has thrown her weight behind me from day one because that’s just who she is and it’s what she does. She champions authors, she helps launch careers like mine and then she stands beside to you to cheer (LOUDLY) from the sidelines.
I adore this woman. She is an inspiration to me and tonight she was funny, smart, engaging, kind, warm – everything I aspire to be. I devoured her books long, long before I had any inkling that one day I’d write too. Her writing voice is wise, warm, funny, smart – just like her!
Thank you beautiful Monica for all you do to champion Australian authors and for your simply amazing friendship.
Monica’s latest book, THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME, follows the matriarch Lola Quinlan, from one of my favourite ever books, THE ALPHABET SISTERS. I cannot wait to sink to my teeth into it! It will be my reward for my own book tour.
The fact that in a few days I’ll be sharing shelf space around Australia with one of my idols feels too good to be true.
I hope you enjoy this feature on THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME and my interview with my beautiful friend and mentor. And I hope you all stampede your local bookshops to help keep this amazing Australian author at the top of the charts, where she deserves her place. Long may it last.
‘I always thought memories were unchangeable. Set in stone, shaped by the years. But there are always others too, ones you haven’t let yourself remember . . . ’
The wilful and eccentric Lola Quinlan is off on the trip of a lifetime, taking her beloved granddaughter and great-granddaughter with her. More than sixty years after emigrating to Australia, she's keeping a secret promise to return to her Irish homeland.
But as she embarks on her journey, the flamboyant Lola is still hiding the hurtful reasons she left Ireland in the first place. What - and who - will be waiting for her on the other side of the world?
The Trip of a Lifetime is a big, bold, beautiful book about the light and dark times of life, and all the wonders in between. Moving from the Clare Valley of South Australia to the lush Irish countryside, this is a delightful, emotional story about a colourful and huge-hearted family that you'll want to call your own.
Those Faraday Girls was the winner of the General Fiction Book of the Year prize at the 2008 Australian Book Industry Awards. In 2006 Monica was the ambassador for the Australian Government initiative Books Alive, with her novella Odd One Out.
Monica grew up in a family of seven children in the Clare Valley of South Australia and has been living between Australia and Ireland for twenty years. She and her Irish husband currently live in Dublin.
An interview with Monica McInerney:
Can you tell us briefly about your book?
The Trip of a Lifetime is the story of an unusual homecoming - 85-year-old Lola Quinlan returning to Ireland for the first time in 65 years, since she emigrated to Australia as a 20 year old. It’s a book about home and homesickness, lies and memories, family tension and family ties, set in the Clare Valley of South Australia and the lush countryside of Ireland.
What do you love the most about the main character in your book?
Lola Quinlan is one of my favourite characters to write. I first wrote about her in The Alphabet Sisters in 2004, and then in Lola’s Secret in 2011, as well as in a short story called ‘Sweet Charity’ in my collection All Together Now. She is flamboyant, larger-than-life, big-hearted, wilful but also kind, generous and loyal. Sadly, I didn’t have a grandmother as an adult - Mum’s mum died before I was born and Dad’s mum died when I was only 10, so I didn’t get to know her. I think I created Lola to give myself a grandmother, even if she is fictional.
Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
At the age of 52, I’ve now lived half my life in Australia and half my life overseas, mostly in Ireland, my husband’s home country. As that bridge year approached, I found myself thinking deeply about the meaning of home, about where is home when you have two to choose from, and move back and forth between them as my husband and I do. We have lived in Ireland for the past 15 years for family reasons, but recently I started getting very homesick - almost in a child-like way - for my own Mum and brothers and sisters back in Australia. All those emotions became the ingredients that Lola’s journey in The Trip of a Lifetime grew from.
How did you come up with the idea of the cover?
I have my Penguin Random House publisher Ali Watts to thank for finding the perfect image for this novel about Lola. (My publishers look after my covers but very kindly always run them past me.) I loved this cover from the first moment I saw it. It’s based around a vividly colourful vintage fabric, a lively swirl of flowers and patterns, and it perfectly evokes Lola’s wild dress sense and also hints at her great age.
Is it part of a series or is it a stand-alone novel?
It’s the third time I have written about the Quinlan family, but it is a stand-alone novel.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
It has to be L.O.L.A. by The Kinks, of course! It’s Lola’s party piece at any musical gathering.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m in the early stages of my 13th novel. I’m also co-writing a TV drama series with my journalist husband. I’m also working (slowly but I’m having fun with it) on a children’s series.
Where is your favourite place to write?
I write in the attic of our house in Dublin. It’s up three flights of stairs from our kitchen, so my commute takes less than a minute. It’s warm and bright, with two big skylights. From my desk I can see only sky.
What was the first grown-up novel you ever read and how did it shape you?
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. I read it after years of Enid Blyton, Bobbsey Twins and other series books for children. I was 12 years old and I can still recall the effect it had on me. It’s set in a dystopian future, where anyone even slightly different physically is banished from society, which has become very strict. It follows a young girl called Sophie and her family, and their interactions with the narrator David. It terrified, enthralled and gripped me from start to finish. I cared so deeply about every character. I felt everything each of them felt and I could picture every detail of their surroundings. It would be dubbed fantasy now but when I read it it felt so real, as if our world could easily become as judgemental and harsh. I still re-read it every year or so and I still love it.
Your most embarrassing experience ever?
My first job out of school as a 17-year-old was as wardrobe girl on the ‘Here’s Humphrey’ children’s TV show. It was such a wonderful first job, so much fun. One day we were taping an episode in which Humphrey B Bear meets lots of fairytale characters. The extra who was meant to play Little Red Riding Hood didn’t show up, so I had to step into her shoes at the last minute. At the time, I fancied myself as a bit of a punk, with dyed black hair, black clothes, eyeliner etc. In my sudden TV role, I had to wear a long golden wig in plaits made out of yellow wool, a red and white gingham dress, frilly white apron, yellow tights and red shoes with bells on them for some reason. And two red spots on my cheeks too. The cameramen and producers thought it was the most hilarious thing ever. I was mortified from start to finish, and scowled as I said each of my lines. I have a VHS copy of it and I hope and pray it is the only one in existence.