Mhairi McFarlane Talks Books

Mhairi McFarlane is an author who you really ought to keep your eye on. With her successful two books, You Had Me At Hello (2012) and Here’s Looking At You (2013), readers are more than excited for her upcoming read, It’s Not Me, It’s You – which will be published on 6th November 2014. As Mhairi will know, I’ve loved her previous books and I simply can’t wait for her new one. I sat down with the author who everyone can’t stop talking about…

Q. Your third book is out for next month – for those who have been hiding under the stairs, can you tell them a little bit about it?
A. Thank you! It’s Not Me, It’s You is about Delia Moss, 33-year-old redheaded Newcastle City Council press officer, with a love of vintage clothes and her rickety old dog, Parsnip. We meet her on the Friday that she’s assigned to task of finding a troll on the local newspaper’s website, and she proposes to her long term boyfriend, Paul. It’s the start of an unravelling, both professional and personal, that takes her to some strange places.

I’m not sure if you’re allowed favourites among your heroines, but I’m mad in love with Delia. Also, she has a secret passion as a comic book artist, writing and drawing the adventures of her superhero alter ego ‘The Fox.’ There are illustrations from the fictional comic within the book, I’m wriggling with joy at those bits (drawn by a very talented illustrator called Chris King, not me, thank God.)

Q. Your books are romantic comedies which readers can’t seem to get enough of. What/who inspired you to write in this particular genre?
A. Thank you again! My own complete devotion to the genre, really. I love romances, I love comedy, perfect combination. The remit of ‘relationships’ gives you licence to tackle plenty of serious as well as funny things. They say you should write what you want to read yourself – I felt there was room for a slightly different interpretation of ‘chick lit.’ It seemed to me that some elements had started to feel obligatory through their ubiquity – designer handbags, for example, or fretting about weight – and I was curious to see if I could put in everything I liked in the genre, leave out everything I didn’t care about so much, and see if the thing still worked.

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Q. Your author journey began when the book blogging community became a very popular place. How have book bloggers helped you with your journey?
A. Hugely. I’m sure a lot of authors, including me, feel the initial reactions from bloggers are a real weathervane for how readers will receive their work. I also find bloggers very enthusiastic, generous with their feedback, and honest! When my first book, You Had Me At Hello, came out, I was a totally unknown debut author, I had no idea what to expect from the online community. When bloggers picked it up and began championing it, I began to hope I might be on to something.

Bloggers have influence too in that I always read their pieces and take their views on board, whereas I don’t delve around in individual reader reviews in the same way. (I know some authors read their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc, but I absolutely don’t. I’d believe all the worst criticism and start writing to try to please the Haterade drinkers, which would be a) utterly futile and b) creatively disastrous. )

Q. When someone, like myself, informs you that they’ve started reading your book, what thoughts go through your mind?
A. Fear! J The nerves never go away. First time round, as I said above, you have no idea what to expect, and you vaguely imagine it’ll get easier. But after that, you’re always competing against your own last effort. And if that book was popular, the pressure increases. So logically, the only way to reduce the pressure is to have a massive flop. GAH. You go a bit crazy if you dwell on your reviews so you have to learn some Buddhist breathing techniques, release your work into the wild and accept that people will think what they think and you can’t control it. It’s good practice for staying calm after publication.

To make it even more tricky psychologically, by the time of publication, you’ve read the book so many times you have absolutely no perspective on it. You’re like the woman pushing so hard during birth she doesn’t know if she expelled the baby, or just a poo. Sort of.

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Q. Publication Day for It’s Not Me, It’s You is on 6th November – why did you choose to name your book after a well known break up line?
A. Well the title’s chosen in conjunction with the publisher so I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my mission statement while writing the manuscript! However, I think it’s apt when it comes to our heroine Delia figuring out the rights and wrongs of the various relationships she finds herself in, during the story. Blame kind of shifts around in the book. I think many of us have had those moments where we’ve thought: is this my fault? Their fault? How did I get here? Where does the responsibility lie? Untangling your plasticine colours (NB: plasticine strips might be a completely lost reference on anyone under 35.)

Also it nicely refers to her superhero alter ego in the comic book she draws, The Fox.  Is she going to be a higher ideal Delia, or trodden down Delia? (If I’m allowed a quick shout out here for the cover, I have to say HarperCollins have done me proud. I’ve had a sneak preview of the hardback, and it’s a thing of beauty.)

Q. If you could write a book with any author (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
A. Ooh, a collaboration? Can I cheat on this question and co-write a script instead? As I struggle to imagine letting go of enough control to co-write a book…Hmmmm. I’d love to write with David Nicholls, of One Day fame. He did Cold Feet back in the day, and a recent drama with David Morrissey, The 7.39. He has a lovely turn of phrase, and a sly sense of humour. And Steven Moffat, if he’d give me a go at a Sherlock. I do a proper fiendish riddle one, with a cameo for Irene Adler. British TV writer Sally Wainwright has an amazing, forthright, funny voice (she does Scott & Bailey and Happy Valley). And I love American actress-writer Mindy Kaling, so much that she part-inspired Mindy in You Had Me At Hello. As to ‘why’ just because I love their voices and watch their work and think yes you get it. (NB: Not ‘You WOULD get it’ which is a slightly different statement.)

Q. If one of your books could be adapted in a film, which one would you like it to be any why?
A. Well hopefully, You Had Me At Hello is being adapted, so best say that one! Huge bias notwithstanding, I can see how YHMAH could be made into a really nice little film (using other peoples’ talents.)

Q. On Amazon, you have 1,500 five star reviews! How does that make you feel?
A. Bloody marvellous! As said, I don’t read individual reader reviews unless the reviewer points it out to me, but knowing that people have enjoyed something you made up, is honestly one of the best feelings in the world. It’s quite surreal, in fact.

Q. Finally, what is your favourite line from your new book?
A. 
My first reaction to this question was ‘I best find something funny’ and actually I’m going to go with serious. My favourite line is Delia realising that she made it easy for Paul to settle down with her, because if it had been hard for him, he might not have bothered. And Delia concludes: “I was so demented about winning him over, I never considered if I wanted to be with someone who needed convincing.”

I think that men and women will recognise this version of a relationship, where the start was like invading and annexing Poland rather than a completely mutual thing! If you’re successful, you often count the cost of this approach later, you’re never fully sure of their feelings. Sombre note to end on but I think romances should say things about relationships we recognise, and not just act as escapism. (Unless they’re Mills & Boons. In which case, bring on the nosebleed rich foreign prince who only speaks in a low sexual growl.)

Twitter: @MhairiMcF
Website: www.mhairimcfarlane.com

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