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Author Carmel Harrington: My characters must react authentically, no matter whether they are fictional

Carmel Harrington’s ninth book, The Moon Over Kilmore Quay, is now available in paperback. Here, she chats about her writing career

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Wexford author Carmel Harrington

Wexford author Carmel Harrington

Wexford author Carmel Harrington

In New York on December 31, Bea O’Connor finds a letter she wrote to herself nearly twenty years before. As shocking family secrets come to light and Bea must travel to her home of Kilmore Quay in Wexford at last. Prepare for big themes and a charming, beguiling read, yet another winner from Carmel.


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Brooklyn where much of Carmel's book is set

Brooklyn where much of Carmel's book is set

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Brooklyn where much of Carmel's book is set

Your novel has been described as a love letter to Ireland but why was it important for you to focus on Wexford?

I love that phrase, love letter to Ireland. The Moon Over Kilmore Quay was written partly as a love letter to Ireland. For all who have emigrated, including those in my own family. After Daddy’s father died, my grandmother, aunt and dad all left Wexford for London. There, Daddy met and married my mother, a pretty West Londoner. I was born in London, along with my brother and two sisters. And while in London, our family became part of the vibrant Irish community there. We made friends and had a happy life there. But I always felt Irish, long before my mother agreed to take her turn as an immigrant, and we moved back to Wexford. The longing that my character Lucy feels for Wexford came from personal experience. I’ve never forgotten the look in my father’s eyes when he spoke about Wexford in my early childhood.


You are always able to handle big themes with sensitivity does it get easier as you develop your writing?

I can’t seem to help myself! I am drawn to big themes in every novel I write. I’m not sure it gets easier, but I do know that it’s the only way I know how to write.

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The Moon Over Kilmore Quay

The Moon Over Kilmore Quay

The Moon Over Kilmore Quay

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The thing is, I want to write stories about real people who live in the world that I know and understand. And the ugly truth is that sometimes, bad things happen to good people. What really interests me is how my characters react to these defining moments in their lives. I don’t think any of us truly understand how strong or weak we are until we are confronted with our worse nightmare.

As for dealing with these themes sensitively, thank you! I spend a lot of time researching, especially for those themes that I don’t have firsthand experience of. My characters must react authentically, no matter whether they are fictional.


Who’s your favourite character and why?

I always find it so hard to choose a favourite character because they are like family to me. And they each bring something a little different to my writing experience. But I have to admit that there are always a couple of characters in each book that are just that little bit extra fun to write! Bea’s best friend Katrina was one of those. She’s fearless and outspoken, but with a huge heart that will do anything for Bea. Katrina made me laugh and cry as I developed her. I found myself including her in more and more scenes because I knew that when I needed a killer one-liner, she was my gal to break the tension. Equally, some of the most poignant moments with Bea came with Katrina by her side.


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Author Carmel Harrington

Author Carmel Harrington

Author Carmel Harrington

In this novel, looking to the past is imperative was it enjoyable to write a plot that goes back and forth?

I love exploring my characters’ past to understand why they are the complicated individuals they are today! I hope this gives them depth and authenticity. However, writing dual timelines are not without problems! I have to ensure that the reading experience is pleasurable for the reader. I think I wrote at least six drafts of The Moon Over Kilmore Quay to get it right.


Will you incorporate Covid into your next books?

Deciding whether to include the pandemic into my storylines has been difficult. I discussed it at length with my editor and agent. On the one hand, we want readers to have an escapist experience when they curl up with a new Carmel Harrington. But on the other hand, I pride myself on portraying realistic characters. And like it or not, Covid is part of all our lives. In the end, I chose to have the final scenes of The Moon Over Kilmore Quay in March 2020, so the pandemic only gets a brief mention. My next novel, A Mother’s Heart, has incorporated the pandemic into the characters’ lives a little more.


How did the pandemic have an impact if at all on your writing?

I work from home, so that didn’t change with the pandemic. However, I had to learn how to share that workspace with my husband, who also works from home now. Also, for several months, our children were homeschooled. It was an adjustment for everyone, as it was for most families facing the same issues worldwide. We had to make it work, and somehow we did.


Have you changed as a writer?

Every day is a school day; that’s a saying I know to be true. And writing is like any muscle that you train. It gets stronger with every workout. I wrote my first novel, Beyond Grace’s Rainbow, instinctively, without really knowing what I was doing. Recently, I had the opportunity to edit my debut before it is published as an audiobook. Now that was an eye-opener. It was humbling to look back and exciting to flex the writing muscles I’ve gained over the past ten years, fixing rookie errors. Repetition, I’m looking at you, buddy. I think the most significant change though, is that I now understand who I am as a writer. I’m a storyteller, who embraces heart and emotion, while writing out the dark and light sides of life.


USA Today Bestseller Carmel Harrington, lives in Wexford with her family. The Moon Over Kilmore Quay, HarperCollins, £8.99, is available in paperback


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