Interview with an Author: Anne Tiernan - The Last Days of Joy
Anne Tiernan is the author of The Last Days Of Joy, a book you may have found in your Book Box subscription recently. The Irish Kiwi writer moved to Aotearoa on a one year working visa and never left. Nineteen years later she’s living in Tauranga with her husband and their three teenage children. We caught up with Anne to hear about her debut novel, her writing process and where she’s headed next.
BB: How did you become a writer?
AT: It was a childhood dream that somehow got waylaid. I studied English lit at university with the intention of getting into journalism or similar but after graduation ended up working in banking…a job I didn’t enjoy and wasn’t particularly good at either. I was at a stay at home mum during my thirties and it wasn’t until I was approaching forty, with my youngest child off to school that I decided it was time to give writing a go. I started off with articles, essays and short stories, had some success with publication and then went through a patch where everything I wrote was rejected. So I decided then to go for the big one. Spend a few years writing a novel, then have it rejected too. It seemed more noble!
BB: You’ve just released your debut novel, The Last Days Of Joy. What’s it about and what inspired you to write it?
AT: It starts with Joy, an Irish immigrant living in New Zealand, suffering a catastrophic injury after a suicide attempt. Her three adult children gather together, carrying the hurt and trauma from their dysfunctional upbringing as well as dealing with their own current, personal crises.
Within their narratives, themes around motherhood, marriage, infidelity, mental health and failure emerge. It’s a story of a family falling apart but also coming together. It’s a work of fiction but it owes its origins to my own life and especially my mother, who took her own life a few years before I started writing it.
BB: How long did it take you to write?
AT: Two years in total but that was pretty sporadic. I just worked around my children and their routines. Sometimes I’d leave it for weeks at a time. That’s the beauty of a debut novel. There’s usually no deadline, time pressure or expectation. I didn’t believe that I’d ever finish it!
BB: What do you hope readers experience within its pages?
AT: Ultimately I would like readers to be entertained by it, which is what I seek when I read. I want to be moved by a book in some way, either by crying or laughing. Hopefully both!
BB: Give us some insight into your writing process.
AT: It’s quite loose! I sit down each day without a plan and just see where the characters lead me. Often I am surprised. I tend to think in terms of scenes. It’s less daunting than trying to construct an overall story arc. My plot seems to come from the actions of the characters rather than anything I have designed for them.
BB: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
AT: Stephen King’s advice is the best I’ve heard. ‘If you want to be a writer then you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’ It’s that simple! I would also add that as a writer you should learn to embrace rejection…it’s simply a sign that you have tried.
BB: Who are some of your favourite authors and what is it about the way they write that draws you into their stories?
AT: There are so many! I could easily choose twenty, but I’ll try to just stick to two.
Elizabeth Strout – She explores the human heart with such compassion and insight. Her characters are so alive they hop off the page and the stories are masterful and compelling. Whenever I am reading one of her books I have to force myself to read it slowly because I never want it to end.
Anne Enright – Brilliant, funny, searing, lyrical, off-beat, emotionally intelligent, complex. She’s the queen of literary fiction.
BB: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
AT: I read every day, I can’t be without a book. I love to watch TV– there are so many brilliant shows at the moment. I also enjoy going to the gym, walking, eating!
BB: What are you most excited to do in 2023?
AT: I think the highlight of the year might be getting to have my first Irish Christmas in almost twenty years. And it will be the first one ever for my kids. Sorry New Zealand, but Christmas just makes so much more sense in Winter!
- Interview by Alice Rich