I met the wonderful and gracious Aine Greaney at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York at the beginning of August. She led a session on how to polish your manuscript for maximum appeal and effect. What really struck me about her was her down-to-earth, warm manner and approachable advice. There were things I wanted to share and so asked if she would mind appearing on my blog. True to form, she graciously accepted and so I present Ms. Aine Greaney!
RLM: Tell me about your upbringing, specifically what led you to writing.
AG: I was born and raised in a very small rural village (14 houses) in the west of Ireland. Until I was ten, we lived behind the village in a small, thatch-roof house on the 30-acre farm that has been handed down through our family. We lived with my grandparents, and my grandfather was a wonderful storyteller. He would just start, “One day, when I was going up the meadow …” Then, his ad-libbed story, full of foxes and witches and all kinds of adventures, would go on from there. Later, I was probably about eight when I found a tatty old paperback novel somewhere in the house. I devoured it and every book that I could get my hands on afterward. Reading became my comfort, my escape, and in many ways, much real-er to me than the life I actually had. During the surly and turbulent teenage years, I began keeping a journal, so I suppose you could say that was the start of the writing practice for me.
RLM: How much research do you conduct for your books?
AG: It depends on the book, Robin. I did a lot of research for both of my novels. Much of it was historical research, though, so I wouldn’t call that work, as I’m a history buff. Writer With a Day Job also required a lot of research because I wanted to include as much information and illustrative writing samples from other authors as I could find.
RLM: What led you to write Writer with a Day Job?
AG: At the height of the 2008 recession, I was, with thousands of others, out pounding the pavement to look for a job. I landed a full-time communications gig that forced me to decide if I could really, honestly sustain both lives. I found a way to make it work and realized that, like me and like 99% of my writing students (I teach writing workshops at conferences and schools), most writers were doing the exact same thing. Very, very few authors make a living from their writing alone. Very few. So I decided to write a book for us day-job writers, or those writers who are trying to balance family commitments with writing. Or all three.
RLM: What, if any, message do you seek to convey with you writing – both fiction and nonfiction?
AG: In my non-fiction essays I tend to be pretty opinionated and some would say, leftie in my politics. In both the fiction and non-fiction, I think the central message is that we are more alike than we are different. When people staunchly differentiate and defend their own social class or racial or nationalistic turf, it’s generally much more about their own fears than it is about the “other,” — the perceived object of those fears. So I think the message for me is kind of making people see that fear and smallness in ourselves. I am a great believer in walking in the shoes of others, and writing is a way to do that.
Aine’s writing studio (isn’t it CUTE! I’m super jealous)
RLM: Tell me about a typical work day for you?
AG: I work as a business writer and communications director four days per week, so I’m not sitting in the garret writing all day — far from it. A happy day is when I get up about an hour before work and do my “morning write,” which is something I really love. I’m not really awake, my brain is on dimmer switch and it’s a great time to write those first drafts. Then, it’s off to work. On the weekends and Mondays, I sit in my little writing studio (an inheritance from my late father—thank you, Dad) in the garden. I’m sitting here now, writing this. Some weekends, I’m giving presentations or teaching a writing workshop. But that’s not work either. I love it.
RLM: How much of your own life and experiences makes it into your fiction?
AG: I think nothing’s ever wasted, is it? You think that a memory or an experience has been forgotten or is insignificant, but then, years later, it just pops right up. Often, it’s not the experience per se, but how it has transmogrified in the writer’s memory between when it actually happened and the time of writing. Of course, I’m on a huge non-fiction and personal essay kick at the moment, and that’s 100% personal experience, memoir, and observation.
RLM: Your novel The Big House deals with the contention between tradition and progress. Today’s writers seem particularly caught between these two forces. How, as a writer, do you view emerging technology?
AG: I’d love to say that it’s a distraction and an intrusion, and it is. So why, then, am I fascinated by it and really like it? I must admit that I’m still an old-fashioned book reader. I do not own a Kindle. But as a busy writer with a busy day job, I adore how social media has let me find and sustain a community of fellow book lovers and writers. Don’t you find that’s been a blessing?
RLM: I do. A couple of years ago I closed my Facebook account because I didn’t think I was getting anything out of it. When I reopened it at the start of my “serious” writing career, I took great care in who I filled my friends list – people who could teach me, inspire me, lead me on to my own success. Not people constantly posting about what they are eating at the moment 🙂
Okay, back to it. What, in your opinion, is the key to creating a great, transformative story?
AG: Hmmm … I wish I could figure that out myself. “Transformative,” I suppose, is the key here. Boldness is key. Go for a topic that scares you. Write boldly. Write vividly. Write about people in all their nuances and contradictions, not about big, grand “topics” or “themes.” I read mostly female authors for this very reason. Some of the more famous male writers are talented wordsmiths and plot masters, but they eschew the personal for the showy or award-worthy. Not all male writers do this, but in America, we tend to reward those who do.
RLM: So then, what advice do you have for new and emerging writers?
AG: Go bold. Define your writing goals early and review them every year. Make the decision (to be a writer) and stick to it. Decide what sacrifices you will make to make that happen. And there are sacrifices. You can’t have it all. And you can’t be all things to all people. If writing is important to your life — if it sustains your life — then give it priority.
RLM: What’s next for you? What are you working on?
AG: My memoir, What Brought You Here is with my agent and doing the rounds of the publishers. The story is about my arrival in America, at age 24, with $200 (borrowed). Only recently did I stop to look back and ask: “What the hell did I do?” So I wanted the book to be very universal and speak to the act of immigration and the issue of identity, not just be my own little “I-came-to-America” story. This book also took a good bit of research as I wanted to place it within the relevant Irish women’s issues and history at the time of my immigration.
I’m also working on some personal essays — all of them in various states of completion and revision. And finally, I have a new novel hatching that will be set in Ireland, I think, by the sea.