Brian Finnegan is Editor of GCN Magazine and has just published his second book, Knowing Me, Knowing You. He lives in Dublin.
About writing your first book, Brian, The Forced Redundancy Film Club (which I couldn't put down by the way) tell us about how you came up with the story?
The idea came to me after I met a friend of my partner’s on the street in Dublin. It was 2010 and she had just been let go from her job, along with a lot of her colleagues. She told me that rather than lose touch with each other now that they were no longer in the same office every day, she and a group of her former workmates decided to start a book club.
“That’s a really good idea for a book,” I said to her.
Later, at home, I was discussing the idea with my son, who was in film school at the time. He figured there were too many novels about book clubs on the shelves already, and suggested a film club. Quickly this developed into the idea of a club where the characters would watch a classic movie in each other’s houses every month over the course of a year, and their lives would change in tandem with the movies they watched.
And so The Forced Redundancy Film Club was born – Katherine, Lisa, Martin, Jamie and Alice, who are all going through some sort of personal crisis, and all of whom find comfort, affirmation and hope together, watching timeless films like Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Wizard of Oz.Were the characters based on real people? How did you develop them?
The five main characters are almagamations of different people and my imagination. Several of the supporting characters are fully based on real people, however. One of them came from an particularly riveting episode of Supernanny, one of them is based on a member of my family, and one of them is a man I see regularly in my local Spar shop.
How long did it take you to finish it? Did you have a choice in the matter or does the publisher crack the whip and give you a deadline?
It took me two years to write, and four drafts. I had no deadline at the beginning, because I had no publisher, so it was harder to stick to a writing routine. Once a publisher came on board, I was given a deadline. I also quickly understood I had enormous amounts of work to to, particularly on character development. My editor said I was different to other first-time writers, who usually have the characters right and the structure all wrong. My structure was perfect. I just needed to explore my characters’ feelings and motivations on a much deep level.
Was it a different experience writing the second book, Brian – easier or harder? And please tell us about your second book (again, I couldn't put it down), Knowing Me, Knowing You.
It was both easier and harder to write the second book. I had a shorter deadline (just a year), which made me panic a lot that I wouldn’t get it done in time, and the stories in it are very different to my own experience, which meant doing a lot of research. But I learned so much about character from writing The Forced Redundancy Film Club, that I was with my group of misfits immediately. They were like a new family from day one, and it was nice to spend time writing them.
Knowing Me Knowing You is the story of Maggie Corcoran, who is suffering with breast cancer and has a broken marriage. She’s a lifelong ABBA fan, and on the day she begins chemotherapy, she also discovers that ABBA are to reform for one concert only in Stockholm. So Maggie determines to bring the members of the teenage ABBA fan club she was part of 30 years ago together to go to the concert. But the gang she knew when she was just 15 are very different today, and when they all get together, sparks begin to fly.
It’s a book about first love and how it never quite leaves you, and about the impact of friendships on all our lives, and how although we change as we grow up, a part of us remains the same always.
If you were to give some advice to someone trying to get a novel published, what would you say to them?
Make sure you have a good concept. If you look at any bookshelf, you will see that most novels revolve around a strong concept. It might be obvious like the concept from Gone Girl (A woman disappears, her unreliable husband is being blamed for her murder, but is he innocent or guilty?), or it could be a hidden concept that’s not so easily gleaned from the back page blurb. It’s all well and good to tell stories, but you have to get readers hooked into a reason for reading them, and it’s exactly the same with publishers and agents. What is different about your book, that will make readers want to buy it?
About you and GCN:
What is your day like at GCN and how long have you worked there? Tell us more about GCN.
I’ve been the editor of GCN, which is Ireland’s gay magazine, for ten years. It’s a very busy job, particuarly because you have to have so much headspace, and I write novels in my spare time, but I love it.
What are the major issues at the moment for gay people in Ireland?
Equal marriage, the rife bullying of young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our schools, and Section 37 of the Equality Employment Act, which allows Catholic-run organisations to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation.
What kind of boss are you?
I am a good boss, I think. I like to work in an envoirnment where everyone feels valuable and happy, including myself, so I encourage a workplace that’s fun, talkative, and not too hierarchical. Having said that, when I need to be tough, I get tough.
I know you have a son, what is he doing and has he got an artistic focus as well?
My son did his degree in Film & Television Production at DIADT. He’s 23 now and living in Berlin, where he works for a computer company a few days a week and is working on making a documentary in his free time. He also parties a lot – a chip of the old block.
Who is a person you really admire and why? This can be someone famous or your mum...whoever it is, let's hear about them!
I absolutely admire my great friend (and your sister!) Adrienne Murphy. She is the single mother of two boys, one of them profoundly autistic, and she is an amazing mother on so many levels to both of her sons. What I admire most about Adrienne is her fighting spirit, how she will campaign and work tirelessly and succeed in getting the very best for her son in a country where services and supports for autisitc people and their families are being continually sidelined. I also admire Adrienne’s joi de vivre and self-deprecating (and sometimes surreal) sense of humour, which have never waned, even when she has been in her darkest days. I am part of a trust for Adrienne’s son, The Caoimh Connolly Trust, which people can find out about here: https://www.facebook.com/CaoimhConnollyTrust
or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kem7pYJtBgw
What makes your heart nearly burst with joy?
When I see my son after a long time apart, and dancing to great music. Oh, and singing with friends.
What irritates the Bejaysus out of you?
When technology won’t work. If I’m having problems with the Internet, I nearly lose my mind. I need therapy.Do you have any hobbies or do something that helps you relax?
I play the piano for an hour every day when I come home from work. It’s a routine that separates me from my work head into my relaxing head. Usually I’m writing from 6.30am, and then in the office from 10am to 6pm, so by piano time, it’s definitely time to relax.What is your favourite:Book?
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. Best book about a family ever written, beautiful language, great characters, proper literary fiction that’s unputdownable. My guilty pleasure book is Cashelmara by Susan Howatch. I’ve read this Anglo Irish family saga written in the 1970s about ten times. The writing is sometimes shaky beyond belief, it’s fundamentally homophobic, but the story and the characters are so riveting, they live on with you way beyond the book’s 800-odd pages. Film?
To Kill a Mockingbird. I love the book too, but the film version never fails to move me, and I’ve watched it a lot more times than I’ve read the book. I used it as one of the films that The Forced Redundancy Film Club watch, and this gave me the excuse of watching it every night for a week for research purposes. I found that it got better with every viewing.Place in the world?
Tuscany. My dream is to live there eight months a year.Jewellery designer?
Geraldine Murphy. She’s amazing!Any interesting plans/goals for this year? Personal and/or professional.
I’m starting my new book on November 1st, with a view to finishing on Jan 30th 2015. It’s like standing at the bottom of Mount Everest, getting ready to scale it with new climbing equipment. My partner and I have also made an offer on a house in Tuscany. Fingers crossed!Find out more about Brian and his books by checking out the links below:
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