Hi Sinead, welcome to Café Cala,
I’m delighted to have you visit Café Cala. I really enjoyed The Way We Were and now I’m looking forward to reading your other novels. I’ve been making some apple and walnut muffins this morning. Would you like tea or coffee with yours?
I’m delighted to be invited to Café Cala, what a treat. Can I please have coffee and lots of muffins!! I love apple and walnut….how fantastic!
1 Where did you get the idea for The Way We Were?
The idea for the Way We Were had been percolating in the back of my mind for years. I just couldn’t figure out a way to make the story work.
Back in the late 1980s Brian Keenan and John McCarthy, among others, were kidnapped and taken hostage in Beirut. They remained in captivity for over four years and when they were finally released the two men talked about this incredible friendship that had kept them sane. You could see the deep connection and love between them. To this day they are best friends and the bond between them remains. I was always fascinated by this and by the fact that John McCarthy’s girlfriend campaigned so tirelessly to get him released and then when he was released everyone presumed they’d end up together…but in fact they broke up and he married someone else.
I wanted to somehow write a book with some of these themes worked into the storyline.
The Way We Were is about a married couple, Ben and Alice, who have two teenage daughters and who love each other deeply but are going through a bump in their marriage.
Like all relationships theirs has got a bit stale. Ben is feeling restless. He’s having a mid-life crisis. Is this it? He wonders. He feels his life has become mundane and is slipping through his fingers. He wants to shake things up, to feel vibrant again. Ben craves adventure and when someone offers him the opportunity to have that adventure he jumps at the chance.
Ben’s fellow surgeon asks him to go to Africa, to Eritrea to operate with another colleague, Declan. Ben knows there is a risk involved as the country is very unstable, but he says yes.
He knows Alice will be worried about him, he knows it’s a dangerous place but he can’t wait to go and experience something new with a fellow surgeon.
Alice is furious and worried sick that something will happen to him. It turns out she was right and what happens next changes their lives forever.
The book is really about love and the power of memories. Alice needs to forget Ben to survive and be a good mother to their daughters, but he clings to her memory to keep himself alive.
What will happen to their lives? Can Ben survive? Will they ever see each other again? If they do, can they possibly get back to the way they were?
I wanted to explore the power of memory. I also wanted to look at how people change. What happens when the person you know so well is altered by life? When something happens to turn your life upside down and you have to change to survive, can you get back the way you were or are you permanently altered?
Is a happy ending possible for these two characters?
2 What have you found most rewarding about your writing?
I have found something that I love to do and managed to turn it from a hobby into a job. I think that is such a privilege and I never take it for granted. To do something you enjoy for a living is truly wonderful. I also find writing a great switch off. All my worries and woes disappear when I’m immersed in a new book.
3 How did you start writing?
I always wrote essays and kept a diary as a child but I only began writing creatively when I turned 30. I decided it was ‘now or never’ so I began writing a novel in my spare time – before, during and after work. My first two novels were turned down by everyone which was a bit demoralising! But I kept going and my third novel, The Baby Trail, which is about a couple struggling with infertility was picked up by Penguin and has now been translated into 25 languages.
4 What would you say has helped you most?
Loving what I do and reader feedback. On bad writing days when nothing is coming out, I just sit and wait…and wait…something eventually comes. It may all end up being deleted but it helps to move the story along. On days when I’m feeling that the new book is not good enough, a message on Facebook or an e-mail from a reader will give me the incentive to keep going and remind me that I can do it. I really do value feedback from readers enormously.
5 What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new book. I’m at the 30,000 word mark when doubt always sets in. But I feel passionately about the story and I think it’s going to be OK. I’m due to have a meeting with my editor to discuss how it’s going, let’s hope she likes it so far!!
6 What advice would you offer aspiring writers?
Be passionate about your story, don’t let knock backs stop you and believe in yourself.
7 Which authors do you enjoy reading?
I read everything from non-fiction to literary fiction to popular fiction, crime, biographies, historical novels….everything and anything I can get my hands on.
London, Holland Park, November 2014
Dan reached over and took two glasses of champagne from the waiter. Handing one to Alice, he smiled reassuringly at her, then tapped his to get everyone’s attention. He cleared his throat and made a toast: ‘I’m so happy that you, my closest friends, could be here tonight to meet Alice properly. You all know my story, and you also know from me that Alice has had a very difficult time. I feel very lucky to have met her. Second chances are hard to come by in life, and I’m grabbing this one with both hands. Here’s to new beginnings with the most wonderful woman in the world.’
He pulled her close and kissed her as his friends clapped and cheered.
Alice glanced over at Jools and Holly, who were standing in the corner with Dan’s daughter, Stella. Jools gave her mother a crooked smile, while Holly raised her hands in a double thumbs-up. Alice smiled back and allowed herself to breathe. Everything was going to be fine. She had made the right decision.
Alice leaned into Dan and said, ‘Thank you for … well, for everything. For saving me and for making me see that I could be happy again . . .’ She stopped as her voice quivered.
Dan kissed her hand. ‘You’re the one who’s made me happy. I want to tell them about the engagement.’ Alice tried to protest but before she could stop him, he bellowed, ‘One final thing. I’ve asked Alice to marry me.’
The room went silent. Clearly Dan’s friends had not been expecting this. But then someone began to clap and everyone joined in.
Alice frowned. ‘Dan, I told you I needed time for me and the girls to get used to the idea before announcing it.’
‘Relax, darling, I told the girls when they arrived that I was going to announce it tonight. They told me to go ahead.’ Dan beamed
Before Alice could say anything else, there was a quiet cough at Dan’s elbow and the event organizer shot him an apologetic smile. ‘Excuse me, so sorry to interrupt, but I’d just like to check when you wish the food to be served, Mr Penfold.’
Dan kissed Alice once more, then headed towards the kitchen. Alice’s brother, Kevin, came over to her. Squeezing her hand, he said, ‘Calm down, it was going to come out soon anyway.’
‘I know, but I don’t like surprises. I’m worried about the girls.’
‘They’re fine. They really like Dan. Alice, smile, you’re going to scare the guests.’
Alice laughed, letting go of the tension in her stomach. ‘You’re right. I guess I’m still getting used to the idea of marrying someone else.’
‘You deserve to be happy. He’s a good man. You have to look forward now.’
Alice’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Thanks, Kevin, you’ve been brilliant. I really do love Dan and, like he said, I’m going to take this second chance and embrace it.’
‘Good for you,’ he said. ‘If only his brother was gay – I could get seriously used to this.’ He waved his hand around at the plush furnishings and enormous chandeliers.
‘Your prince will come,’ Alice teased him. ‘When? I’m not getting any younger. Older gay men are not in demand, especially the ones with no money!’
‘If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.’ Alice kissed her brother’s cheek.
‘By the way, you should probably say something, Alice. I overheard one of Dan’s friends mutter that he hoped Dan was doing the right thing. They all seem nice enough, but I’d say the idea of him taking on a widow and two kids has raised a few eyebrows.’
Alice sighed. She and Dan had kept to themselves during their whirlwind romance so she didn’t know his friends, but she did want them to like her. There were about twenty people gathered in the room, and she was doing her best to talk to each one. They seemed very nice, but it was all a bit intimidating. She decided her brother was right, that she needed to take the bull by the horns and say a few words.
Dan was walking towards her. As he came close she caught his hand and whispered, ‘I’d like to say something too, if that’s all right.’
He looked pleased. ‘Of course, darling.’
Alice tapped the side of her glass for silence. The chatter died down. ‘I’m sorry to string out the speeches, but I’d like to add something quickly. I never expected to be lucky enough to meet someone again, but then Dan came into my life and he’s made me see that there is such a thing as a second chance. I –’
Alice was interrupted by Mrs Jenkins, Dan’s housekeeper, who pressed her arm gently. She was holding a phone. ‘I’m sorry, Alice,’ she whispered, ‘but there’s a man on the phone who says he must talk to you urgently. An emergency. A Mr Jonathan Londis from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.’
Alice excused herself, took the phone and walked out into the vast reception area.
‘Hello?’ Alice said, her voice sounding odd in the emptiness of the large hallway.
‘Hello, Mrs Gregory, I’m calling you with some rather incredible news.’ He sounded breathless. ‘I have someone here who wants to say hello.’
Alice’s heart began to beat very fast. Her mouth went dry. What was going on? Her hands were trembling uncontrollably. ‘Hello – who is it?’
The Way We Were is available on Amazon and in bookshops and supermarkets.
You can contact Sinead on Facebook and Twitter or via her webpage.