Christina McKenna is a best-selling Irish author, who is most widely known as a novelist, due to the popularity of the three books that comprise the Tailorstown series. The first, The Misremembered Man, has sold over 500,000 copies and been translated into several languages.
Christina grew up in Draperstown, Northern Ireland. She attended the Belfast College of Art where she obtained an honours degree in Fine Art and studied postgraduate English at the University of Ulster. In 1986 she left Northern Ireland and spent a decade teaching abroad. Since then she’s lived, worked and painted pictures in Spain, Turkey, Italy, Ecuador and Mexico.
To date she’s written seven books: three non-fiction titles and four novels. Her fourth novel, The Spinster Wife, will be published on 12 October.
Christina McKenna Q and A
Where does your inspiration come from?
I plunder my childhood for ideas. There were some wonderfully eccentric people back then which I can only truly appreciate at this remove. When I walk in nature I tune out the static and noise of disorganized thinking and ideas come to me.
Which aspect of writing do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy writing dialogue. It comes very easily to me. As a child I was voiceless. At school you were afraid to give the wrong answer in case you got hit. At home you were told not to talk when visitors called. So I listened in on their conversations – or the elevated gossip. When I’m writing I can hear those adult voices clearly, ringing down the years.
Which authors do you like to read?
Annie Proulx, Anita Brookner, John Banville. Writers I can learn from.
Poets: Phillip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Louis McNeice, Charles Causley.
Your writing is very visual. Can you explain why that is?
My time as a painter serves me very well as a writer. Reviewers often comment on the cinematic nature of the novels. Painting made me look intensely at things … made me pay attention on purpose over sustained periods of time at the details of everything.
What’s more important, characterization or plot?
Characterization is everything. If the characters are fully and authentically realized then the story will grow organically.
When and why did you begin writing?
A temporary teaching post came to an end in 1996. I was unemployed. I always knew I wanted to write. In that interlude I joined a creative writing course. So in retrospect the job-loss was a blessing; it forced me down a new path – my true path.
What inspired you to write the memoir?
Of all the writing disciplines it is the easiest place to start. You are writing about your own life and what you know.
What is your genre?
Literary fiction, which wanders into the historical.
What is your writing routine?
I write when the need takes me. When not writing I’m reading, which is just as important. I’m an omnivorous reader – books, newspapers, magazines, poetry. I make notes and keep scrapbooks of cuttings. Reading charges the creative battery.
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to take away?
My novels are essentially exercises in telling lies in order to uncover a deeper truth. Tragedies happen to characters in order to force change in their lives. I want to take readers to a place where they can confront the human condition and glimpse something of who they are through the characters. My message is one of hope; that we are stronger than the misfortunes, visited upon us. That change is growth. That there are no failures in life, just experiences. And that kindness to others is our highest calling.
You have travelled a lot. How has it helped you as a writer?
Living in different countries made me more objective about where I came from. It refocused the lens through which I viewed things and made the meaning clearer and better understood.