1) First, tell us about yourself – where you live, your family, and those sorts of details.
I grew up in Ireland, in the southern suburbs of Dublin, but moved to the north side when I got married (anyone who has seen the movie The Commitments will know that that was bucking a trend, as the north side has an undeservedly bad reputation). A son and daughter arrived who have been the center of my life ever since. I always read aloud to them before they went to sleep, right into their teens when they grew out of it. By then I was reading fairly serious classics to them (they are both grown up now).
We lived in Brussels for three years, during which my children attended the European School. I was still reading aloud to them at that time and this, together with the way they soaked up the whole living abroad experience like a sponge, made that period the happiest in my life. The move back to Ireland was difficult and, after three more years, I moved to a job in Switzerland, without the kids -and without my wife for that matter. I now have a wonderful partner with a son of her own and we divide our time between Switzerland and France.
2) How long have you been writing?
Apart from writing in my teens, and constantly dreaming about being a writer since then, I’ve only been pursuing it seriously for the last seven years. I was inspired by reading the marvellous trilogy, His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman.
3) Do you have a favorite place to write?
I wish! I write wherever and whenever I can. Right now I am in my kitchen in France with a beer at my elbow, waiting for my fish to cook in the oven.
4) Why did you decide to write The Masters Book?
I had written some fantasy stories but I wanted to do something different and decided I should draw on my Brussels experience, since it was so rich. Also, Belgium is a young country (younger than the USA), based on territory that had a variety of rulers through the centuries,and this rich past is never far away. I wanted to capture that. I have mixed feelings about Dan Brown’s books but I do admire the way he can invent stories with contemporary settings that send feelers back far into the past. I wanted to do the same in a small way for a younger readership.
5) Who is your favorite character in your book and why?
Of course I’m very fond of Sean but my favorite has to be Stephanie. There were two sisters, one in each of my kids’ classes, with a Nigerian mother and a French father.and they were both absolutely stunning; tall and statuesque. I must stress that I hardly had reason to ever exchange more than a few words with them but I remembered what they looked like. So, physically, Stephanie, with her Congolese mother and English father, is like them, although as a character she is her own girl. I had to resist the temptation to make her perfect; I actually think in the end that Sean is wiser and that Stephanie’s feistiness leads her to make mistakes. Still, she remains his inspiration.
6) How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
The cranky neighbour, definitely. The scene between Sean’s father and her mirrors one that I endured with a neighbour of mine. She passed away afterwards and the bare grim facts of her background are the same as those of the neighbour in the story. Do they excuse her crankiness? At the time I felt they didn’t (because I was sore at losing face). Now I really just don’t know, so I gave the adults in the story different opinions on this.
7) Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you get someone to do that for you?
Until now I’ve sought paid editorial advice before submitting and I actually spent a fortune on The Master’s Book in this regard. I don’t know what I’ll do from here on in (I have two books in preparation) but I will certainly need a copy editor; I’m a terrible proof reader and have been slapped on the wrist over this numerous times, both in school and later in my career.
8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Oh lots of things. I read lots (see below), I love movies, I am quite a foodie, enjoying cooking as much as eating. I also draw and paint, though the writing has swallowed up the time for that. I have to confess to being lazy when it comes to physical activity but I do force myself because, at my age, I’ll put on kilos overnight otherwise. So I go to a gym, I go for walks in the Alps and last year, at 53 years old, I started skiing.
9) Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
LOTS!!!! My two favourite authors of all are Joseph Conrad and Fyodor Dostoevsky. However, moving swiftly on, as they are both very dark, I would mention J.G. Farrell (I read his book, The Siege of Krishnapur, aloud to both my kids and they loved it), the Scottish crime writer, Denise Mina (who I discovered after meeting her at a book festival in Switzerland, Henning Mankell, John Green and, of course, Philip Pullman. I’ve just invested in a collector’s edition of His Dark Materials – hardback, with illustrations and a slipcase from the Folio Society – as a birthday present to myself (if you want to own beautiful editions of your favourite classics check out their selection – and I promise they’re not paying me!).
10) What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
Are Sean and Maeve based on your own children?
No!!! They are their own, as is Stephanie. If anything, Sean has a bit of me. And my daughter certainly isn’t like Maeve.