About the book:The year is 2011 and the place is Ireland. Libby Finn is still shadowed by grief after the death of her husband Max. The era of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ has come to an end and the young widow has managed to survive the economic downturn better than most. However, despite seeming to possess every obvious advantage, Libby is resigned to a somewhat-less-than-rosy future, and one destined, in her opinion, to be without a great romantic love.
While many, including her best friend Jules Mahon, may think that they know what’s best for the gorgeous and talented Libby, the girl herself has other plans, and they don’t include a love story! These plans are for a place, a childhood dream, a country estate called Alice-Rose. Nevertheless, love has a way of finding those destined to have it, especially in a place where two evenly-matched hearts find the opportunity to know each other well. Libby’s dream estate becomes more than she has bargained for when it introduces her to a passionate love interest who himself has been ‘burnt by the fire of love,’ and a match played out with earthly concerns follows a difficult path to romantic paradise.
Interview with Caitriona LeslieCaitriona, Alice-Rose is your first book. How long have you been writing and when did you start?
I initially thought (absentmindedly) about the possibility of writing women’s fiction about ten years ago – I love a good old-fashioned love story, but there has to be more to the story than a gallop to the end. I want to enjoy the journey along the way, and I want a book where every sentence is worth reading.
I eventually started writing about five years ago with little success, I found the demands of three young children incompatible with the task - I could never get a good run at it! When our youngest child started school in September 2010, I was then able to apply myself. I discovered that the more I wrote, the more I enjoyed it – escapism is a wonderful practise! It became less a case of “I should really sit down and try to write something” and much more a case of having to pry myself away from the laptop to make a meal before the children arrived home from school.
It's irritating how they always want to be fed, isn't it? Just kidding, of course. How did you come up with the title Alice-Rose?
I called the house and farm estate in the book ‘Alice-Rose’ – inspired by a quaint village in Ireland called Rosenallis. The house is so central to the plot of the book that I felt I had no choice but to call it by the same name. I also liked the idea that people would presume that Alice-Rose was the name of the main character. In hindsight, I might have been trying to be too clever.
Do you have another job outside writing?
I do. I’m a medical scientist (laboratory technician), and I work two days a week in Dublin in the field of solid-organ transplantation. My colleagues and I work towards getting patients who are on the waiting list for any type of solid organ (i.e. kidney, pancreas, heart, lung or liver), transplanted.
Wow. From that, I hate to go to this inane question, but here goes: How would you describe your book in an elevator pitch?
It’s a heart-warming Irish tale that celebrates family, friendship and ultimately romantic love. The characters draw the reader into their world. ‘Alice-Rose’ delivers ‘feel-good’, includes a twist in the tale, has wide appeal, and ties up every loose end!
How did you create the plot for this book?
I followed the advice that you should write about what you know. I love old houses, cooking, gardening and DIY. I admire strong women, fair-minded men and people who make things happen. I value family, friendship and think that true love should be an attainable prize for all who seek it. Lastly, I’m Irish and I think this book has an essential ‘Irish-ness’ to it!
Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants or let your characters tell you what to write?
All of the above. Firstly, I play around with the plot in my head. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, but it must give me options in terms of developing the central story and drawing in some parallel story lines in order to add some interest to the tale. Secondly, I develop a very clear image of the central characters in my head. I have to know them intimately, know exactly how they think, before I begin. Then I write by the seat of my pants, even allowing the characters to dictate the story’s development on occasion.
Did you have any say in your cover art?
Yes, I had total control of my cover art. I am happy enough with the result. However, in hindsight, I think it is a little too dark and quite difficult to pick out of a row of novels. Also, I now think that it suggests an old-world story instead of the contemporary romance that ‘Alice-Rose’ actually is. I’m learning as I go.
What books have you read more than once and want to read again?
Silas Marner by George Eliot.
What would your main character say about you?
I hope that Libby Finn would say that she really liked the way I ‘drew’ her and that she was proud of every aspect of her character.
Are any of your characters inspired by real people?
Yes. Emily O’Rourke was directly inspired by my husband’s aunt, Aunt Olive. Olive is a wonderful person–warm and engaging. There are many scenes that were inspired by true life events also. For example, Libby’s run-in with her late grandaunt, a woman who ultimately does right by Libby, was inspired by an event in my own childhood…
Are you like any of your characters?
There are elements of my personality in all my characters...even the less likeable ones!
I like writing characters who do and say things I never would, as well as characters who do and say things I wish I could. Do you have characters who fit into one of those categories? Who, and in what category do they fall?
I’m afraid I have a terrible tendency to say exactly what I think, so I don’t really need to express myself through my characters. However, it’s wonderful to live out certain fantasies through them. For example, Libby Finn is independently wealthy and her wealth affords her wonderful options in terms of her choice of career and how she lives.
If you could be one of your characters, which one would you choose?
Libby Finn, definitely! Her mother, Sarah, comes in a close second. However, I’m probably most like Nora, Felicity Mahon’s housekeeper – frugal! I spend money on the children, house and garden before I think of spending any on myself.
With which one of your characters would you most like to be stuck in a bookstore?
Felicity Mahon, as long as there was an endless supply of bourbon! I would supply the bourbon to Felicity, and she would supply the anecdotes!
With what five real people would you most like to be stuck in a bookstore?
My husband, our three children and the family cat … a person in her own right!
Tell us about your favourite scene in the book.
My favourite scene in the book is in Chapter 40, entitled ‘A Long Night at the Opera’. Libby Finn (the main character) has gone on a date to the opera with a suitor when she bumps into another character and his mother. I actually can’t say too much as it would ruin the story for those who haven’t read it, but suffice it to say that Libby has a moment of realisation. I think her inner turmoil is vividly relayed with a “dry wit” that peppers the narrative throughout.
What song would you pick to go with your book?
I don’t even have to think about this question, I already know the answer!
"Beneath you’re Beautiful" - a song by British singers Labrinth and Emeli Sandé.
Who are your favourite authors?
Stephen King probably tops the list - I couldn’t get enough of his earlier writing!
Cormac McCarthy, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Sebold, to name but a few.
You get to decide who would read your audiobook. Who would you choose?
The book is told from two prospectives - that of Libby Finn and that of her would-be suitor, Dan Bryant. The story is set in Ireland so it would have to be Reese Witherspoon (with an Irish accent, of course!) and Pierce Brosnan as Dan, the older man…
Which author would you most like to invite to dinner and what would you fix me? I mean, him. Or her. In the event that you couldn’t make it Amy, I would invite David Walliams (children’s author). I know we (the entire family) would have a wonderful time - he always strikes me as being genuinely warm and very witty! I would cook Irish stew with mashed potatoes for the main course, followed by rhubarb crumble, custard and whipped cream - comfort food at its best!
Oh man, I'm sorry I can't make it! Where’s home for you?
I live, love, and write in rural County Longford, Ireland.
Name one thing you couldn’t live without.
My family - boring and predictable, but true! I am not attached to material things. I am somewhat of a technophobe and am a very low-maintenance woman.
If you could only keep one book, what would it be?
The Royal Horticultural Society’s Encyclopaedia of Gardening.
Would you rather work in a library or a bookstore?
Bookstore with teashop attached!
You’re given the day off, and you can do anything but write. What would you do?
Take a daytrip to Rockland, Maine.
Where would your dream office be?
Mine too! What’s one of your favorite quotes?
“A little help is worth a lot of pity.” (Heard from my late father-in-law, as well as many, many others! Some of which feature in Alice-Rose.)
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Hang out with my family.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Longford, Ireland (home)…but with better weather!
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Sutton, Massachusetts, to visit my eighty-six-year-old aunt.
What are you working on now?
My second novel - the story runs a few years behind, but in parallel to that of ‘Alice-Rose’. The main character is called Hildegarde Mahon (German mother, Irish father), and she is a young vet who joins the veterinary practice featured in my first novel.
Hildegarde is a wonderful character! She is logical, musical, calm, capable and kind, and not necessarily in that order. She meets Oliver Herdsman, a young widower and father to two young boys, and she is motivated to help them…
It sounds great! Come back when it's finished and tell us about it!
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