Monica McInerney spent six months researching stage fright, Irish surf schools and much more for her latest novel, she tells Rachel Wilson.
At Home with the Templetons, like all your novels, deals with family dynamics. What particular dynamics were you trying to explore in this novel and how do they differ from your previous books?
Families of all shapes and sizes fascinate me, but in my previous books the story focused on one family each time. What I wanted to do with this novel was bring two very different families—the seven unruly Templetons and the smaller unit of Nina Donovan and her son Tom—into each other’s orbit, with good and bad consequences. I also wanted to touch on issues such as jealousy in its many and damaging forms, the lasting impact of grief, the different aspects of motherhood and marriage, sibling rivalry and sibling loyalty, contrasting parenting styles, family secrets and lies, all against a background as rich in comedy and drama as possible.
It’s been three years since your last novel and I have read that you undertake extensive research before completing each one. Could you describe how you prepared for this book?
The starting point was visiting as many stately homes in Australia, Ireland and the UK as I could to help make my fictional Templeton Hall as authentic as possible. As the writing unfolded, I researched the antiques trade; homeschooling; the Australian gold rush of the 1850s; architecture, interior design and clothing from that time; Captain Cook; stage fright; selective mutism; alternative therapies; the nanny industry; life as a freelance illustrator and painter; cricket; Irish surf schools; alcoholism and the rehab industry; spinal injuries; yabbying; and children’s television (though my own time working on the Here’s Humphrey children’s TV program in the 1980s helped there). I used the internet or read books or watched films on many of the different subjects but the best source of detail for me was talking to people who had first-hand experience of what I was writing about. It’s those fragments of fact that add the real colour to the story, I always hope. I also visited (or had previously visited) nearly every location mentioned in the book— Castlemaine and the Victorian gold fields, London (including Lord’s Cricket Ground), Melbourne, San Francisco, Chicago and Woodstock, Illinois, Auckland, Whitby in Yorkshire, the Isle of Skye, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Italy, France, Sligo in Ireland …
Could you describe your approach to writing and your working regimen?
I spend about six months plotting in my head before I sit at the computer and start writing. There’s usually an overlap between my books. I had the idea for At Home with the Templetons about three months before I finished Those Faraday Girls. Similarly, I had the idea for what will be my next book halfway through the Templetons. I aim for 2000 words a day minimum in the early stages of writing, getting very attached to the word-count button. A day always comes when the word count is irrelevant, when all I want to do is be at the desk writing. The final six months are usually seven days a week. I edit as I write, and also show the manuscript to two people in the early stages, my husband, who is a journalist, and my younger sister, who is an editor. I completely trust their feedback, and their encouragement keeps me on track until the manuscript is as polished as I can make it before sending it to my publishers. I also love deadlines. They terrify me into finishing.
Recently there has been some debate in Australia around the distinction between literary and mass-market appeal. What is your opinion of this debate given that you generally attract very good reviews and still sell high quantities of books?
Forget the labels, I say. Forget genre classifications, even. If a reader picks up a book and is drawn into the plot, cares about the characters and can imagine the locations, then the author has done his or her job well. Does it matter if they’re classified as a literary or popular writer? I don’t think so.