I have LOVED working on the Inspire Interview Series this year (catch up with any you missed here!) and getting to chat to so many amazing people about the cool stuff they’ve done with their lives. To round off 2018, I wanted to share with you a really special one.
Last year I was quite stressed out and disillusioned and needed a break and some inspiration, so I disappeared off to Paris for a weekend as it’s my favourite city in the world. Outside the bookshop (my spiritual home!) Shakespeare and Company, I discovered a book on a bench that had been left as part of a BookFairy Drop (where people leave books all around major cities and towns for others to discover)… and I was hooked. That was how I first connected with Michelle – through her gorgeous, haunting novel The Four Women (available here), and its characters, and I suppose above all – Paris.
Michelle Keill is a beautiful writer and novelist, and has kindly taken the time to answer a few of my Inspire Interview questions… so here’s hoping this kickstarts your New Year with a little creativity.
Writers are some of my favourite people because I’m fascinated by what they create, I get so excited when I get to talk to them – so without further ado, let’s chat to Michelle about her awesome work!
B: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
M: I’m not sure it was something I wanted to ‘be’, but it’s something I’ve always done. One of my earliest memories is of sitting at the kitchen table in my parents’ house writing stories with a crayon (in those days I also illustrated – badly, but more competently than I would do now).
B: What is the best thing, and what is the most difficult thing about being a writer?
M: The best thing, apart from the excuse to drink tea to excess and buy lots of pretty notebooks, is the opportunity to take myself out of reality and create a new one. Also, the potential to provide an escape for people: hearing from readers who’ve connected with the book is wonderful. As for the most difficult thing, any form of creative expression makes you vulnerable, and that feeling is hard to get used to. I find writing the first draft is the easiest part of the process – from there it gets harder, with all the rewriting and editing.
B: Can you give a little teaser about your novel The Four Women for anyone who hasn’t read it?
M: The book is about a young woman living in Paris whose world is drastically transformed by four women who enter her life, seemingly from nowhere, and introduce her to a reclusive and enigmatic tutor whom, they promise, can teach her French. On meeting him, she discovers that although he is indeed as brilliant as they described, he may not have the best of intentions. It’s a love story, but a dark one, and explores the theme of how much of our lives is predetermined, and what is simply chance. If I could give my characters one piece of advice it would be to be careful what you wish for, and to follow your instincts and stay true to yourself. Advice I try to keep in mind myself, actually.
B: What are you currently working on at the moment?
M: A collection of short stories, which should be published in 2019. I also have a romantic comedy and another Paris novel in the works.
B: Any tips for aspiring writers?
M: Write what enthrals and engages you, rather than what is popular or selling well at the moment (unless that is what enthrals and engages you!). You’re in charge of what you put on the page, so be sure it’s a genre or story that you feel passionate about. And read a lot. But, mostly, just write.
B: Can you describe a writing day in the life of Michelle Keill?
M: Despite not being a morning person, my best time to write is first thing, so I try to make an early start. Then I’ll keep going until about two in the afternoon, which is usually when I feel my creative energy fading. I might push on into the evening if I’m working on a key scene or if I’m really in flow, but I find my mind is clearer earlier in the day. I need to be free of distractions (i.e. no phone), but I need music on when I write, otherwise it’s not happening.
B: What has been the most challenging part of getting to where you are today?
M: I developed a serious illness in 2014, which struck without warning and came close to getting the better of me. I ended up having emergency surgery to save my lung, which was frightening. From there it was a long road back to health. I wrote ‘The Four Women’ as I was recovering: while my body was restoring itself, my creativity was resetting too. I look back and I’m amazed that something good came from such a harrowing experience.
B: What does 1) ‘happiness’ and 2) ‘success’ mean to you?
M: Happiness for me can be as simple as spending a rainy day indoors lying on the sofa with a book and a cuppa. Same for success: if one person reads my book and enjoys it, then I consider that a win.
B: Best life advice you’ve ever been given?
M: Treat other people as you’d want to be treated yourself. And, from my mum, always make sure you have a decent mascara.
B: Best career advice you’ve ever been given?
M: Treat everyone you encounter at work, no matter what their role, with equal courtesy. The person at the bottom today may be at the top tomorrow. I think that came from my mum too.
B: Do you have a role model or mentor you look to for career inspiration?
M: My friends inspire me with their kindness, loyalty, and courage. Also, if I’m in a tricky situation, I often think, ‘What would Michelle Obama do?’ That always gets me on the right track.
B: What does ‘balance’ mean to you?
M: It means leaving a bit of energy in the tank and not pushing too hard (I’m still learning how to do this!). It means pausing and not always rushing to the finish line. Sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up.
B: What’s your life’s mission in a nutshell?
M: To make a positive contribution to the world.
B: What inspires you to write?
M: People, faces, and places. Or sometimes just a line in a song.
B: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be in another life?
M: Perhaps a doctor, if I could make the grade.
B: If you had to spend the rest of your life with one fictional character, who would it be?
M: Ross from ‘Friends’. He’s intelligent, sensitive, musical (!), and enjoys lounging around on sofas drinking hot beverages.
B: How do you take care of yourself and make sure you get the right ‘work life balance’, if there is such a thing?
M: Following my illness, I’ve learned to listen to my body (not quite sure I’ve mastered it yet). If you’re working too hard, or not getting enough sleep or eating properly, your body will usually drop a few subtle hints to let you know. I make sure I pay attention to those early warning signs, and try to take it a bit easier when I feel I need to.
Physical books or ebooks?
Physical, definitely. I love to see rows of bulging bookshelves.
Breakfast, lunch or dinner?
Forests or beaches?
Forests. Bonus points if there are squirrels.
Walking or running?
Paris, Washington D.C., and my bed.
Dancing or yoga?
Nature or nurture?
Talent or hustle?
Chocolate or cheese?
Cheese. I’m all about the cheese.
Fave self-care ritual?
A hot bath, a book, and a cup of Earl Grey.
A good book or Netflix?
A good book, but I can’t pretend I could function without Netflix.
Not a quote as such, but JFK’s ‘we choose to go the moon’ speech always gives me a boost when I’m feeling overwhelmed, incapable, or my courage is failing me.
Top 3 books?
Hard to choose just three, but …
1. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
2. Misery by Stephen King
3. Tampa by Alyssa Nutting
Tea or coffee?
Tea, all day long. With plenty of milk.
Who would attend your dream dinner party (living or dead, fictional or real!)
Frank-N-Furter, Oprah Winfrey, Juliette Binoche, Romesh Ranganathan, Don Lemon, Charlie Brooker, Stephen Colbert, and Freddie Mercury (I’d have to invite my mum too if Freddie was there).
If you had a ‘death row dinner’ – a last meal that could be anything you want, favourites, whatever… what would it be?
Pizza, followed by homemade apple crumble (custard mandatory). All followed, of course, by a large cup of tea.
Thanks so much for sharing your insights Michelle, I am so excited to read more of your work as I still get shivers thinking about The Four Women!