'A Taste for It' is a mouthwatering debut novel. Author Monica McInerney answers some questions from sun-soaked Adelaide for Caroline Hennessy.
Caroline Hennessy: This is your first book, what gave you the impetus to write it?
Monica McInerney: I'd worked in publishing as a marketing and publicity person in Australia and Ireland for more than 10 years, so had always been around books in one way or the other and I'm also an avid reader. In 1996 my Irish husband and I moved to Australia's island state of Tasmania for his work, and for the first time in years I wasn't working in publishing. I really missed books and writing, so I decided to give it a go myself. I started writing short stories in 1997 and it was like a damburst for me. I just loved the whole process of coming up with plots and characters and different locations. I sent lots of these stories off to Australian women's magazines for possible publication and had plenty of rejections but also three acceptances. Seeing those three stories in print gave me the confidence to try my hand at a novel - and that's when I started 'A Taste For It'.
CH: You seem to have taken a lot of your inspiration from real life - does this ever get you in trouble with your family?
MM: No legal threats so far - but I was sure to include the disclaimer at the front of the book – 'this book is a work of fiction, any resemblance to actual people is purely coincidental...' etc, etc! Some of the book is based on my own life - as writing teachers say, you should write what you know. I think it helped me, especially with my first novel, to be describing scenery and fictionalising situations with which I was very familiar - life in the Clare Valley winegrowing area of South Australia, having a brother who is a winemaker and an Australian's first impressions of Ireland, for example.
I also borrowed my heroine's name from my sister Maura - I love the name and I wanted a name that was recognisably Irish. My sister did suggest we come to a sort of hire agreement - she thought a fee of 5 cents each time her name appears in the story was very fair!
The odd thing is that since 'A Taste For It' was written, real life has started imitating the book, rather than the other way round. While I was writing it, I imagined a real house (where I used to babysit as a teenager) on the outskirts of Clare, South Australia as the setting for Lorikeet Hill, the winery café featured in the story. I'd just finished writing the book when my brother (the winemaker) and his partner moved into that very house. In June they had a son - and named him Dominic (the name of the 'hero' in the book.).
In the story, Maura Carmody travels to Ireland to promote her brother's wine, which is being exported from Clare, South Australia to Ireland, and County Clare in particular. Last month my brother's first vintage of Shiraz was exported from Clare, South Australia to County Clare in Ireland - and while I was touring Ireland promoting 'A Taste For It' last month, I found myself talking about his wine as well. I also covered the same route Maura does in the book - Dublin and the West of Ireland. I even arrived in Dublin just as the big storms and gales hit - just as Maura did in the book. All a bit weird, really.
CH: Why did you decide to go with Poolbeg as your publisher rather than get an Australian book deal?
MM: When I was living in Ireland from 1991 to 1995, working in publishing in Dublin, I saw the success Poolbeg was having with contemporary women's fiction and writers like Marian Keyes and Patricia Scanlan. So, when I was back in Australia and writing 'A Taste For It', I had half-decided I would send the manuscript to them for consideration first, especially as the story was set in Ireland and Australia. The morning after I finished the first draft, I came into work and picked up an email from a friend in Dublin telling me about Poolbeg's 'Write a Bestseller' Competition. It seemed like a good luck omen, so when I finished the second draft I sent it off to them straight away. Then, also around that time, I won a trip to Ireland in a competition. The day my husband and I arrived in Dublin I heard from Poolbeg to say they wanted to publish 'A Taste For It' and offer me a three-book deal. It was just fantastic timing - we'd been in from the airport for less than an hour. Since then I have signed a similar deal with Penguin Books - they will publish 'A Taste For It' in Australia and New Zealand in March 2001 and then Poolbeg will publish it in the UK in June 2001.
CH: I know that you have a background in wine-making but where did you get the information for the food parts of the book? Many of them are mouthwatering, and very distracting!
MM: I actually used to get quite hungry when I was writing those bits. The research for the food part of the book was very difficult - I had to go to lots of restaurants and cafes and try out as many dishes as I could in order to get the food descriptions as authentic as possible. Very gruelling work, as you'd imagine. I also read dozens of recipe books, food magazines and restaurants reviews in newspapers and talked to friends in the 'food world' so I was up-to-date with the latest Australian cuisine. But in the end, most of the dishes I described in the book are my own favourites, ones I like to cook myself or that I always order when I'm dining out, especially the seafood dishes. And I have also worked as a waitress in cafes and restaurants, so that helped when I was writing about what happens 'behind the scenes' in a restaurant kitchen.
CH: You’re currently working on a second novel – what is this one about?
MM: It's called 'Upside Down Inside Out' and it is also set in Australia and Ireland, with a brief side trip to London. This time though, the positions are reversed - it's about an Irish woman who goes to Australia for a month's holiday and after a series of events, takes on a different identity – one that she thinks is much more interesting and exciting that her real life story. It plays with a fantasy that I think lots of people have when they're away on holiday, especially overseas: you're among strangers, people you'll probably never see again in your life so you can pretend to be whoever or whatever you please. The trouble starts if you get caught out - or if you meet someone you want to keep seeing after the holiday is over.
'A Taste for It' is published by Poolbeg at £6.99.