The Prime Writers Publication Day Interviews

Today we wish Happy Publication Day to Christine Breen on the US trade paperback of her debut novel Her Name is Rose published by St. Martins PressFellow Prime Writer, Louise Beech, interviewed Christine about writing and music and family. 

Her Name is Rose

Trade paperback July 2016

Louise Beech:
Christine, I absolutely adored Her Name is Rose.  It was like a gorgeous lyrical piece of music, with language so rich and descript it put me in the heads and homes of your characters.  I desperately wanted Iris to be well, and I was with her every step of the journey to fulfil the promise to her husband, and give the ultimate gift to her daughter.

Tell me how much of your own life influenced the many themes in the book?

Christine Breen:
Thank you, Louise. As a debut novelist of a certain age, it would be a challenge not to use some of my life experience. Like Iris, I love gardening so I do share that with my character. And both of my children grew up playing music so the music theme seemed natural fit. I used to wonder what would happen to my children if something were to happen to my husband and me. Our families are scattered across the globe and I thought: who would mind them?  That was one of the inspirations for writing the novel. As for the cancer aspect, at the time of writing I didn’t know I was living with a tumour. So that was not rehearsed as they say. Fortunately, a year later I’m cancer free.

Louise:
You have a master’s in Irish Literature and I wonder how much of what you learned influenced the poetry of your writing.  I loved the meaning of certain birds being seen, the references to omens and dreams, and the reason Rose had her name.  Who are your favourite Irish writers?  (You’re officially one of mine, if only because you live there now!)

Christine:
I think what makes a writer great is the balance of being a good storyteller and being an artist with words. Many Irish writers seem to have that balance. They’re born storytellers and lyricists. I like John Banville, especially his Revolutions Trilogy. Sebastian Barry and Anne Enright are two others, but there are so many new young writers and I have them all on my must read list.  And, I have to admit to a certain fondest for my husband, Niall Williams whose History of the Rain is a terrific Irish novel with a wonderful story and a lyrical telling. Unfortunately, I’m not Irish, except by extension (my paternal grandparents were Irish and Niall is Irish) but I continually aspire to being a good storyteller and a better writer.

Louise:
Do you play music yourself?

Christine in NY for the book launch

Christine in NY for the book launch

Christine:
Piano and guitar, but poorly.

Louise:
How long did the book take to write?

Christine:
Two years.

Louise:
Do you have a particular place where you write, or prefer a particular time of day?

Christine:
I write in several places in our house but I can write anywhere and anytime. I’m not terribly disciplined but I’m working on that. : )

Louise:
What challenges did you find when writing a book exploring so many emotional family themes?  How much research did you have to do?

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Christine’s Garden

Christine:
I researched what it might be like for a birth parent to search for a birth child. And at times it was an emotional release to explore my own feelings about adoption. Family is the most important theme to me. (Good thing it has endless dimensions and there will always be plenty to write about.)  I researched about classical music masterclasses and the making of violins. I used to work in a garden nursery so I know a lot about that and used my knowledge for Iris’s sake. I’ve lived in NY and Boston and Dublin and London so I didn’t need to research locations.

Louise:
I found the ending to Her Name is Rose to be a surprise, not what I expected, but in the most perfect way.  Did you know the full outline of the book when you started it?

Christine:
No. I didn’t know how exactly how I was going to get from A to Z but I knew what and where A was and what and where Z was.  You often hear writers say that they don’t know what’s going to happen until the characters speak. In my case, one morning in the novel when Iris was sitting down to breakfast in a Boston guesthouse there was another guest having breakfast. It was almost as if I didn’t put him there.  He just appeared. He became Hector the jazz pianist who falls in love with Iris. But I always knew Rose was at the centre of the novel and that everyone in her life would work, eventually, towards her best interests.

Louise:
I adored Iris.  Did you have a favourite character?

Christine:
Thank you Louise.  I actually quite love Rowan. But he is based on my brother who passed away so perhaps that is why.

Louise Beech

Louise Beech

Louise:
Tell me about your journey to publication with the book.

Christine:
I was shy about looking for an agent because I thought I was too old. Not quite 60 at the time. I submitted it to two agents and both said they would represent me so that was encouraging. But in the way of these things my novel didn’t get a UK publisher but was sold instead to the US and eventually Poland and Turkey. Hope Dellon was the editor at St. Martin’s Press who asked all the right questions and prompted me to find the answers to make it a better book.

Louise:
Are you working on something else now?  I can’t wait to read your next book.

Christine:
I am working on a second novel. It’s about a woman who is a homeopath and she’s in love with a man, an artist, who doesn’t want children. But she does. One day a young man comes to her door. It’s the nephew of her dead brother. So I’m writing about how families come together in different arrangements. You may have to wait a while to read it… but I’ll keep you posted. Thank you for the excellent questions, Louise! And, good luck with The Mountain in My Shoe!

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