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Faith Hogan: ‘My books are all about escaping into a world that is safe and predictable in terms of place – if not always in plot’

In Faith Hogan’s newest book, three sisters have six months to come back together. She tells Weekend about the background to the novel

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Author Faith Hogan

Author Faith Hogan

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

The Gin Sisters’ Promise by Faith Hogan

The Gin Sisters’ Promise by Faith Hogan

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Author Faith Hogan

When Georgie, Iris and Nola’s mother died, in Faith’s latest book, The Gin Sisters’ Promise, and their father disappeared into his grief, the sisters made a pact: they would always be there for one another, no matter what.

But decades on, they can barely stand to be in the same room, their sibling link completely destroyed. However, their father has a plan to bring them back together: before they can claim their inheritance, they are required to spend six months living together in the family childhood home in Ballycove, Ireland. Is it possible for the trio to reunite under the saddest of circumstances?

What’s the beauty in writing about family members, especially sisters?

Relationships between sisters are a rich tapestry of past events, shared through different perspectives. Values, passions, hopes and loves may be very different for each of us, but with our siblings we share a bond, whether we like or loathe each other – it’s something that’s there by virtue of our biology and shared history.

This tapestry is, whether good or bad in the individual experience, rich picking for the author.

There is nothing a writer likes more than to be able to pull apart a character and what better way to see exactly who a person is than by looking at them through the eyes of the person who knows exactly what makes them tick.

Family members can usually tell when something sits well with us or aggravates us, even if we try to hide it. They are also the best at pushing our buttons; they’ve been perfecting the art for a lifetime.

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In terms of fiction, this opens up so many doors – particularly for warring sisters as in the case of The Gin Sisters’ Promise.

As in life, however, when it comes to writing about the repairing of these relationships, it’s not always easy to see how we can make our characters swallow their pride and move on, when we do, it’s both liberating and joyful. There is nothing nicer than writing about sisters who become best friends.

How important is it that it’s predominantly set in Ireland?

My books are all about escaping into a world that is safe and predictable in terms of place – if not always in terms of plot.

Readers look forward to returning to Ballycove, a small village based on all the best parts of the North Mayo Coastline. It is an escape from the real and scary world we have found ourselves in over the past few years.

Of course, there’s a part of me that would love to set sail and write something set in Rome or perhaps Seattle – but for now, there are stories to be told from Ballycove and it’s a world I’m only too happy to escape into.

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The Gin Sisters’ Promise by Faith Hogan

The Gin Sisters’ Promise by Faith Hogan

The Gin Sisters’ Promise by Faith Hogan

Has working in the mental health sector helped in terms of viewing or understanding your characters?

Absolutely, working in the area of mental health has informed not only my writing but also my whole life experience. You get to see people at their most vulnerable and it is a constant reminder that the way we live, when we are well is a privilege not a right. I have seen what it is to be invisible because you are standing next to someone people would rather pretend was not there.

I have learned that there is a huge difference between the good and the truly great. And it’s not always the way society expects it to be.

All of this plays into the characters in my books. I hope that they have greater kindness, greater empathy and that the books shine a light on the fact that there is a whole lot more to stopping and smelling the roses than just a hashtag.

Is it difficult to balance humour with more serious or sensitive issues?

I think all of my books have some dark or sad moments. Readers will often say that I’ve made them cry as much as laugh, but I think if you are writing women’s fiction there has to be a balance. While it seems disingenuous to call a book where a woman dies of cancer – uplit, I believe the best books reflect real life and we all know that feeling when, at the worst possible moment laughter is the release valve that allows us to cope. Perhaps it’s what makes us human, this ability to laugh and cry in the space of sentences, but then, isn’t that the power of words?

What do you hope readers will take from this?

This is a book I very much enjoyed writing and if it does no more than give readers an opportunity to escape into an uplifting story about three warring women, who learn how to forgive then I will have done my job well.

It is also a story about moving on, about taking the best out of the worst situation you can imagine and re-designing it with a little courage, encouragement and perseverance. It’s a story about friendship as well as sisterhood and how with just a kind word or an act of forgiveness even the unthinkable can be turned to something wonderful.

How do you feel your writing has changed/developed?

I think the experience of writing and being edited across genres has taught me a lot about the art of not just getting words on the page, but also making the story deeper, bigger and hopefully more appealing to a wider audience.

In the past, I would rush to get the book written. Once the first draft was done, I felt exhilarated. Now, I tend to take longer, to go back over what I’ve written. I hope to do even more of this on the book I’m currently writing, in order to deepen the characters, to find any knots and either iron them out or make even more of them – because at the end, isn’t it the knots – those gnawing imperfections that make us and the characters we read about far more interesting!

The Gin Sisters’ Promise by Faith Hogan, Aria, £12.99, is available now


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