Christina McKenna is a bestselling Irish author. She's most widely known as a novelist, due to the popularity of the three books that comprise the Tailorstown Trilogy. The first, The Misremembered Man, has sold almost one million copies and been translated into many languages.
She grew up in Draperstown, Northern Ireland. She attended the Belfast College of Art where she obtained an honours degree in Fine Art, and studied postgraduate English at the University of Ulster.
Christina left Northern Ireland in 1986 and spent a decade teaching abroad. Since then she's lived, worked and painted portraits and landscapes in Spain, Turkey, Italy, Ecuador and Mexico. To date she's published seven books: three non-fiction titles and four novels. She just completed a fifth: Mrs Purboy Takes a Chance.
Christina McKenna Q and A
Where does your inspiration come from?
I plunder my childhood for ideas. There were some wonderfully eccentric people back then whom I can only truly appreciate at this remove. When I walk in nature I tune out the static and noise of disorganized thinking, and ideas come to me.
Which aspect of writing do you enjoy the most?
Writing dialogue. It comes very easily to me. As a child I was voiceless. At school you were afraid to give the wrong answer in case you got beaten. At home you were told not to talk when visitors called. So I listened in on their conversations—or the elevated gossip. When I’m writing I can hear those adult voices clearly, ringing down the years.
Which authors do you like to read?
Annie Proulx, Anita Brookner and John Banville top my list. Those are writers I can learn so much from.
Poets too: Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Louis MacNeice, Charles Causley and other wizards of the word.
Your writing is very visual. Can you explain why that is?
My time as a painter serves me very well as a writer. Reviewers often comment on the cinematic nature of the novels. Painting made me look intensely at things ... made me pay close attention to the details of everything over sustained periods of time.
What’s more important, characterization or plot?
Characterization is everything. If the characters are fully and authentically realized then the story will grow organically.
When and why did you begin writing?
A temporary teaching post came to an end in 1996. I was unemployed. I always knew I wanted to write. In that interlude I joined a creative-writing course. So in retrospect the job loss was a blessing; it forced me down a new path — my true path.
What inspired you to write the memoir?
Of all the writing challenges it's the easiest place to start. You're writing about your own life and what you know.
What is your genre?
Literary fiction, which wanders into the historical. That said, my last two books could be classed as literary mystery novels.
What is your writing routine?
I write when the need takes me. When not writing I’m reading, which is just as important. I’m an omnivorous reader — I devour books, magazines, poetry, and the best articles I find in online literary sources. I make notes and keep scrapbooks of cuttings. Reading charges the creative battery.
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to take away?
All fiction is essentially an exercise in telling untruths in order to uncover deeper truths. Tragedies happen to characters in order to force changes in their lives. I wish to take my readers to a place where they can confront the human condition and glimpse something of who they are through the characters. My message is one of hope; that we're stronger than the misfortunes visited upon us. That change is growth. That there are no failures in life, merely experiences. And that kindness to others is our highest calling.
You have travelled a lot. How has it helped you as a writer?
Living in different countries made me more objective about where I came from. It refocused the lens through which I viewed things and made the meaning clearer and more easily understood.