Writer Barbara O’Neal: The Muses sometimes know more than I do

Do you like to get carried away while writing, or do you think through most stories in detail before you sit down to work?

I like to know a lot of things beforehand, but not all of them. I need to know my character well and I prefer to explain from the start how the story will end.

I like to think about the rest above the keyboard. It’s a process of discovery and it makes me feel like I’m reading an emerging book along with writing.

I always have to leave something open, that’s more fun for me. Otherwise I’ll have some fun before I sit down at the computer and then just record. Also, it’s always good to leave room for surprises, because muses sometimes know more than I do.

Do you remember a time when the muses really surprised you?

Recently, but since the book in question has not been published, I can only tell you in general terms. For either character, I’m not sure what motivation he has for committing such a horrific crime. And then that motivation suddenly pops up and it’s clear that he’s been a part of the story all along, just waiting for the right time to reveal it. This may sound interesting, but you need to listen as you write.

She is described as a writer of novels for women. Are you satisfied with this classification?

It doesn’t matter. I think people who might like my book will find it. And it is true that most of my readers are women. However, I try to have something extra in my book compared to classic romantic stories. I hope readers understand and appreciate this.

Also, the light suspense and mystery that appears in your book How Secrets Are Inherited may be different. What was the initial idea that brought you to this story?

There is a relatively simple trigger behind it. I went on a British TV show about saving old plantations. I was blown away by how demanding and beautiful the work was. And I feel that people might like big stories that they can dream up and escape to another world. A story about how nice it would be if you found out out of nowhere that you were the Countess. Everything was revealed from that idea.

And by the way, one of my favorite characters, a guy named Samir, appeared because I fell in love with a photo of actor Deva Patel from the movie Lion. Samir basically sailed into my story from this single photo.

Your books are regulated in different countries. Are you traveling to soak up the atmosphere?

Yes, I like to go to the places I write as soon as I can think of a story I want to tell. For example, last year’s book The Lost Girls of Devon should be prominently placed in the south of England. That’s why I go out there and go around small towns to get to know them better.

I’ll admit that we’ve always visited a lot of restaurants on this trip, which is an experience that’s always been in my books. Tasting all the good food in the world under the pretext of gathering ingredients for a book is one of my favorite things about my job.

When you write, do you think about the impression you want to leave on the reader?

I think about it a lot. One of the main reasons I write is to give women who work hard a moment of relief. My son has a girlfriend, a lawyer who specializes in immigration law. It is a demanding profession, which often brings many disappointments. I like to imagine that someone like him would come home from work, fill a tub with foam and a glass of wine, and escape to another world with my book for a while.

At the same time, I try not to make my stories too shallow, because they will lose credibility. I want them to be fun and full of emotions that you can identify with. And I have to say that I love a satisfying ending. In the real world, things don’t end well, but when it comes to fiction, you can fix it.

Sometimes I tend to write dark stories about what’s going on in society, but then I remind myself that I want to give people feelings of peace, relief, and dreamy moments.

You know it from your books.

I appreciate serious literature dealing with serious topics. I myself read various genres, but I also like to read rest, because life is not always easy. It’s nice to escape from it from time to time in a healthy and safe way.

Is it difficult to stay on the edge of leisure literature and not slip into over-simplicity?

It’s okay to weave a difficult topic into a book. For example, Olivia, the protagonist of How Secrets Are Inherited, mourns her mother. Everyone who has been passed away by a loved one knows the feeling when they want to pick up the phone and call someone who is no longer here.

We talk all the time about books that give the possibility of escape. But it is true that I also have many letters from people responding to some of the serious topics on which I have built my novels. They wrote to me that my story had helped them process what they had been through. That’s important to me.

The book When We Still Believed in Mermaids was also published in the Czech Republic this year. What is the essence?

The most important motive is the relationship between two sisters and the message that sometimes just one person is enough to help you through a very difficult time. This book is also my tribute to New Zealand, which I love.

Camilla Salazar

"Unapologetic social media guru. General reader. Incurable pop culture specialist."

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