Author interview: Beth Moran

TheNameICallMyself blog tour posterI am delighted to be a part of the blog tour for Beth Moran’s third novel, The Name I Call Myself. It is a great summer read – a romance novel that also tackles some pretty huge subject matter including identity, grief, abuse, murder. It might sound heavy, but Beth writes in such a way that grips you right from the start and there are also some wonderful moments of female friendship and laughter. I asked Beth to give us some insight into her writing process for this novel:

What was the inspiration behind this new book?

The Name I Call Myself started with three different ideas that had been floating around inside my head for a while. Like all my books, this led to asking lots of questions, that I hoped The Name I Call Myself might begin to answer!

The first idea was a brother. I have two brothers and no sisters and my daughter also has two brothers and no sisters, so I knew I would enjoy writing about a sister-brother relationship (my husband has seven brothers and no sisters, but that will be a whole other story!) I wanted to include a big brother who had once been his sister`s hero, and explore what happens when that dynamic shifts, and he is the one needing help. Is there a limit to the sacrifices we should make for a sibling?

The second idea I wanted to write about was a secret past, and a main character who has changed her name. I wondered how trying to keep that covered up would affect how she felt about herself. Does keeping old secrets mean you can never really leave them behind, or are some things better kept in the past?

But all that sounds a bit serious and heavy… I knew this woman was going to need some help, and also something to smile about, and that fit really well with the third idea, which was a choir. I sang in choirs in my younger days and really enjoyed them. They are also great equalisers, where age, size, status or labels are irrelevant, and stresses, problems and to-do lists are cast aside for a while. And let’s be honest, most of us women can do with places like that! There is also something incredible that happens when we work together to create something beautiful. And as well as being a safe place where anyone could unashamedly be their messed up, crazy selves, this choir needed to be a whole lot of fun!

Why did you decide to tackle such big issues as grief, abuse, murder and addiction?

Goodness! I certainly didn’t set out with that in mind… It was really the two threads of the brother in trouble and the secret past. Once I’d established the reasons for Faith and her brother Sam changing their identities, which had to be fairly horrific, I worked with the fact that an early trauma, if not dealt with well, can often lead to making bad choices later on. I wanted the contrast of one sibling who ended up very needy, and another who dealt with the past by trying to become independent and tough. I like including both big, serious issues and more fun elements in my stories because I think that`s the way life is for most of us.

What are your working methods when writing a novel?

I start mulling over ideas for the next novel about halfway through writing the one before it. This includes a lot of daydreaming, often while driving or walking or cleaning my house. I play around with plot elements, start getting to know the main characters and keep a notebook full of scrappy thoughts, random conversations, half-written sentences and loads of questions.

Before I start writing I spend a couple of weeks getting the main plot together, ending up with three or four sides of notes, following a rough order. I then create a document where I keep any more random thoughts that pop up, a timeline, areas needing research and themes I want to develop.

Once I’m ready to begin, I tend to make detailed plans for each section of the book as I go, so every day I know what I’m writing about. I also aim for a rough word count each week. This will range from 5000 -12,000 words depending on how busy I am with other things. I find it really difficult to write unless I have a clear two or three hours, but if I have an odd hour I will edit, plot details or do some research, so I’m always adding to the notes as well as the main book. I find that if I start to feel a bit lost, or progress becomes heavy going, getting back to the notes always helps me refocus, and the more planning I do in advance, the quicker I write. Having said that, I often experience that weird phenomenon where my characters just seem to take over and lead me off into a completely unexpected direction, so there are always surprises for me too!

moran_bethBeth’s new novel is available now, in both paperback and Kindle formats.

As a special promotional offer during the blog tour, Beth’s second novel, I Hope You Dance, is available on Kindle for £1.19. I absolutely loved that book, and asked Beth to write a guest post for me when it first came out, which you can read here. It was on the theme of friendship, which is a common thread in her books.

Why I’m glad my friends aren’t nice…

beth-new-cropped-w179I’m so pleased Beth Moran agreed to write a guest blog for my site. She is a brilliant writer, drawing the reader in right from the word go in the way she constructs her storylines. Her characters are totally believable and we get to share the best and worst moments of their lives. In honour of Women’s Friendship Month, on this last day of September, I asked Beth to write about the importance of friendship in women’s lives. This is one of the themes that weaves throughout her latest novel, I Hope You Dance, which centres around Ruth, a woman in her thirties who has just lost her husband. She discovers he has left her with a mountain of secret debts so she and her teenage daughter have to move back into her parents’ home. Ruth has to learn to face her past, present and future head on…

I’m going to come right out with it: for a long time, I had big issues with Christian women. Well, not all of them. It was the nice ones I had a problem with. The ones that always smiled, and said encouraging things, who made little jokes about their own deficiencies while their faces glowed and shiny hair sat perfectly in place. Those women who never complained, or gossiped, or growled at anyone. Who tirelessly served others, forsaking the last piece of cake so someone else could have two. Not once kicking up a fuss or making a mess or forgetting a birthday.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely liked these women. My issue was, I didn’t trust them.

Oh, I trusted them to do what they promised, to keep a secret, to be kind.

I didn’t trust them to be my friend.

I didn’t trust them when they said, “Well done, you were fantastic!” or “It was so wonderful to see you!” or told me how gorgeous I looked, or what a mess their car was or how they totally understood why I just kicked a chair across the kitchen.

I was dubious about the fact they were doing “really well!”, had an amazing time – every time, no matter what or where or how long the time. I didn’t quite believe they always loved being a mum, or a wife, or a Christian, or none of those things, as much as it appeared. And I couldn’t accept they liked me.

Instead, I felt comfortable with those who were blunt, who sometimes shouted at their kids in public, who made loud, large mistakes. I found myself spending time with women whose houses were a tip, honoured they invited me into the chaos. Grateful they were honest enough to tell me when they’d had a flaming row with their husband, or felt useless and weak, or were too tired to pray anymore. Or that I’d hurt them.

I loved these women, who welcomed me with open arms into their imperfections. I felt safe to be imperfect, too. These were the women I could turn to when I couldn’t forgive, or struggled to do the right thing, or I wanted a genuine answer to “Does my bum look big in this?”

But a weird thing happened. Me and these non-nice women, over time we learnt to have our rants in private, to share our fears, our troubles, our sins, with coffee in our messy living rooms not after Sunday services.

Together we learnt to lean on each other before things reached snapping point. To share advice and faith and lessons we’ve learnt about living well.

And then I realised this: nice women let off steam from time to time. They can feel angry and worried and overwhelmed, just like the rest of us.

The women who appear strong and assured in public, who are pretty darn fantastic at what they do; the women who can laugh at the days to come, despite current trials, or past pain – those women have learnt the value of true friendship in private. To cherish a small number of absolute, 24/7, warts and all people in their life. Those who cheer us on, who pray with us, who help us to be the women we were created to be. Those friends who tell us when we need to find a better balance, or stop whining and get moving, or where to go and have a decent bra fitted.

When we have a few, well-chosen people we can be our worst selves with, we are able to face the rest of the world as our best selves.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be thought of as one of those nice women. I’m embarrassingly honest, prone to getting feisty and I have a sense of humour that hovers on the boundaries of taste. But I’m okay with that. And I’m so grateful that some women love and trust me enough not to be nice to me all the time. It’s how I know they count me as their friends.

9781782641704Beth’s latest book, I Hope You Dance, is available now, and is published by Lion Fiction.

Women’s Friendship Month

I know that we are on the last stretch of September, but, as I only recently discovered this, I didn’t want to let International Women’s Friendship Month pass by without mentioning it. Started by a national women’s sorority in the United States, originally as a national day, it was expanded to a month and is now recognised internationally.

9781782641704One of the books I read this month was I Hope You Dance, by Beth Moran. It is a beautiful story about love, loss and new beginnings but what struck me most was the portrayal of deep friendships amongst the group of women that her central character, Ruth, finds herself becoming a part of. Wary, cynical and untrusting to begin with, Ruth is taken aback by the level of openness that is shared amongst these somewhat unlikely friends and is slowly drawn into the centre of their friendship circle. I love the fact that they are a real mix of characters, who would probably never have got to know each other if it wasn’t for their attendance at the local church. Unlikely friendships are so wonderful at revealing some of the creativity of our Maker don’t you think?

There is something about friendship amongst women that is so vital, so life-giving. To be affirmed, encouraged and spurred on is so necessary. But it’s also those friends that are willing to give us a kick up the backside when we need it, or know us well enough to be able to tell us when we look worn out (because we know they will do all they can to help us rest), that we desperately need. Life is enriched when we open ourselves up to the possibility of such deep relationships. I know it is scary, as it also opens up the possibility of being hurt. But there is always risk in relationship isn’t there? Being loved and accepted by other women, and loving and accepting them in return is a wonderful gift. Yes there are those sticky moments at times when we might ruffle each other’s feathers – but that’s an important part of friendship too. We learn to be more gracious – and can also learn a lot about ourselves, if we allow ourselves to. I just wanted to pause today and thank God for my friends – why don’t you too?