Geraldine Meade is a farmers kids from Co. Laois. She is also a teacher, writer, and aces at meditating. Geraldine has a masters in children’s literature and her first YA book, Flick, was greeted with critical acclaim. I interviewed her for the blog and I’m delighted as she shares some great tips and honest advice about creative writing.
Hi Geraldine, and welcome to my bookish site.
Flick, your debut YA novel was listed by the Irish Times as a ‘must read for teenagers.’ This adult enjoyed it also! Flick is a coming of age story of a girl who is uncertain of her sexuality. You said that the idea came to you while writing pictures books and that kernel turned into Flick. Were you surprised by how the story turned out and the success of the book?
Ah thanks Michelle, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, when I get ideas for stories I usually sit and write a few pages as quickly as possible. When I finish writing I’m not always sure, actually, I rarely know, where the story is going. So the first chapter or two of Flick were left for the longest time as I didn’t know where or how to go on. People always say ‘write about what you know,’ and having had no lesbian experience I really didn’t think I was qualified to write the story; that is until I saw it as a teenage love story, regardless of gender, and the struggle of a young girl as she tries to conform and cover up who she really is, which we all have probably done at one stage or another. Well, I’m sure I have. So, when I eventually went back to the story I was a lot more confident, and it just seemed to flow. I also never really believed that it was going to be published and I think that took the pressure off me and gave me the freedom to write what I wanted. To be honest I couldn’t believe the reception Flick got; I was really thrilled. I still can’t believe Graham Norton liked it. Yeah! That’s cool. But what really thrills me is when I go into groups of teenagers and we start discussing Flick and sexuality and bullying and then I know I’ve done something that might just help someone and it makes me really proud.
You are a primary school teacher (like me!), a writer, and you have a MA in Children’s Literature; A lot of writers are primary school teachers, is there a link between teaching and writing? I mean, we have to plan in themes, integrate, differentiate and all in an empathic way – have these attributes lent themselves to writing?
Yeah definitely, but I think it’s the kids moreso. We’re always reading to t. hem and using books to teach so we’ve a lot of experience with both kids and books and probably without thinking about it we know what kids like and what makes a good story. We also hear so many stories and funny sayings from kids so I guess all of that gets jumbled up and we create our own stories from that.
Does having a MA better your chances of getting published?
No, I don’t think so. I really think it’s down to having a good story that grips the publisher or editor or agent from the start.
I am dying to do MA in Children’s Literature; can you tell me the highs and lows of doing a masters?
The MA in Children’s Literature is an excellent course but it’s a lot of hard work and takes up a lot of hours so if you are thinking of doing it as a way into writing I’d think seriously about it. Don’t get me wrong it’s a brilliant course, really interesting and you get to critique, discuss, analyise a lot of books and authors. I think there is a creative writing element to it now which wasn’t there when I originally did the course so that would be excellent for would be writers (and something I’d love to do myself). But writers have to write and that’s where I would recommend people put their hours in – write and just keeping writing. I have so little time that I just write when I get the opportunity. Trust me if you do that you’ll find a tread of a tale or the stitch of your story very soon.
You spoke at the CBI conference 2012, about your early childhood influences; can you share that with us?
Yeah, I grew up on a farm in Laois, slap bang in the middle of four brothers and four sisters, and I loved it. We were always out and about the farm and the fields and it was idyllic. But because of our large family and small farm we didn’t have a lot nor did we need a lot. We especially didn’t have very many books and those we had usually came from cousins who visited on the rarest of occassions, so they were a really special treat. My Dad was a great story-teller though and I would sit for hours listening to him, he’d tell all sorts of stories. Many were about local folklore and things that had happened to neighbours and those that had gone before them. Because he really believed in the stories he was telling us it meant we were totally transfixed and in awe or shock or fear, depending on the tale. Mam’s stories on the other hand were always more historical about the black and tans and things like that, most were equally as shocking as Dad’s. When I was ten I was allowed to cycle with my older sisters and brothers to the local library which was Heaven and opened up a whole new world to me.
You say on your site that you love writing and will write anywhere: ‘kitchen, sofa, bed, play room, garden, car, library, café, once or twice in the office but never in the bathroom,’ do you have a tradition/lucky talisman or routine when you write? Or is it a matter of getting child-free time?
Once I’m child-free it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes I wonder what I did with my time before the kids, my God I could have written loads if I had just sat down and focused. That’s what I do now when I get time to myself, as long as it’s quiet and I’ve no distractions and I’m warm and I have a mug of boiling water to drink (odd I know) …and maybe a little snack, then I’m happy and then I’d write till the cows came home.
Six kids…how do you manage?
Seven now would you believe. Aébfhinn (9) Cormac (8) Dylan (6) Fionn (5) Caoimhe (3) Fiachra (2) Cúán (four months) It’s great I absolutely love it and I’m so lucky to be at home with the kids at the moment. I’m more organised now then I ever was because I don’t do clutter. Everywhere is cleaned and organised each night, clothes are left out and everything is ready to go. After I get back from taking the kids to school I do another quick clean up. At half ten Fiachra and Cúán go for a sleep and I write for an hour and a half. After that the day is pretty hectic with activities and homework and play and dinner and all the usual, but I try to have housework done and everyone in bed by eight-ish. On a good day I get a few hours to write in the evening. I don’t usually watch TV unless a little at the weekends. I’m still feeding Cúán myself so he’s getting loads of attention these days. Then of course there are the nights when I just sleep. I sometimes get my babysitter to come in during the week for two hours and then I run upstairs with the baby and the laptop and do as much as I can.
Congratulations to the newest member of your family.
Why do you write YA, what makes YA special to you?
I actually didn’t plan on writing YA. I adore picture books and was working on my second one when the idea for Flick came to me. But like I said when I committed myself to it I found it quite easy to write. I think I remember my own teenages years quite vividely which helps a lot when I’m writing. And of course the teenage years are all those ‘first times’ for a lot of people so it can be quite brilliant and shocking and scary and traumatic all together, which of course leads to very brilliant and shocking and scary and traumatic stories!
What was the publishing process like for you?
Well, there was a slight glitch when Little Island became independent of New Island and I wasn’t sure if Flick was going to be published at all. Coincidentally something along the same lines had happened a few years earlier with my first picture book. Sine Quinn the managing editor of Blackrock publishing had told me they were interested in the book and we were looking at illustrators when the company unfortunately went into receivorship. Thankfully the same thing didn’t happen with Little Island. The whole process went very well but Siobhan is such a professional and wonderful at what she does. I think having an agent on board who can look at and advise you on your work and who knows the ropes and can do the negotiating for you is better in the long run though.
Did you ever study creative writing? Right now, I have my head full of conflict, motive, setting as character, framing device…I stall writing because I’m worrying about the techniques. Any tips or advice in regards to creative writing?
Scary question as I actually haven’t ever studied it and although I would love to at some stage I’d be afraid I’d get bogged down in it all. There’s so much I don’t know, you’ll definitely have to tell me what a framing devise is, but sometimes a little ignorance is bliss. I never know where my stories ae going so my plot emerges as I write my story. I think if I had been thinking about motive and conflict and setting as character(you’ll have to explain that too) my story never would have been written. So my advice would be that although you know all these things try put them to the back of your mind and let the story take over, just write a first draft without worrying about any of that stuff. Don’t stop to worry or analyse until the first draft is complete. Then when you are going through your first edit ask yourself if you have all of the different ingredients. I honestly think if you have a good idea for a story and strong characters the rest of the story will come from them.
Honestly, that is some of the best advice I have ever received. I felt that only special people write books, and to make me one of those I need to study. I am not sure when my study will be enough. You are so right, I need to sit and write.
Please tell us something about your new WIP.
I’ve written the sequel to Flick but I’m not completely happy with it so I want to go back and re-work it a bit. I’m also working on a book for nine to twelve year olds. It doesn’t have a title at the moment and I’m only about a quarter way through but I’m enjoying it. I have another few ideas for YA novels as well so I will definitely go back to them when this is finished. So many ideas so little time!!
Thank you so much Geraldine, write on and beir bua!
Go raibh mile maith agat Michelle agus go n-eiri leat leis an scribhneoireacht.