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The M Word

Brian Conaghan

Meet Maggie, a sharp-tongued teenager who is struggling with mental health issues while watching her mum slide into depression. But Maggie is a fighter and is determined to escape the life that seems to be mapped out for her...

Despite her difficulties at home, Maggie has started a course at art college, and joined a band. Throughout these changes, she confides in Moya, her best friend, who she tells everything - but Moya died months ago...

Author BRIAN CONAGHAN talks about THE M WORD:

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your life as a writer?

A: I've been a fulltime writer since 2012, but before that I was writing and juggling my job as a teacher, which was rather tough going in terms of my creative output. I try to write between the hours of 10am - 4.30pm. I tend not to write at night anymore.

Q: How important are the things you experienced as a teenager for the writer in you today?

A: Experiences as teenager certainly help with the characters and subjects that I write about, it allows me to have an empathy and knowledge that I wouldn't otherwise have. It also provides me with a volume of emotional memory to tap into when writing scenes and/or constructing character.

Q: Your books often cover hard-hitting subjects; what draws you to your subject matter?

A: I'm not drawn to the specific subject matter(s) as such, I'm more drawn to the characters' wants and needs first and foremost. The precise issues that each character navigates through are developed as the book is being written.

Q: Can you give us some insight into how The M Word began?

A: I actually started thinking of a character from previous novel I'd written; I began to write her story until her voice evaporated and the voice of Maggie (and Moya) slowly crept into the book instead. I really wanted to write about a friendship that was fractured, so Maggie and Moya allowed me to explore that.

I'd say most of my books start as one thing and throughout the editing process develop into something completely different.

In terms of subject matter The M Word wasn't particularly difficult to write; I think that writing books in general is difficult irrespective of subject matter.

Q: Your characters and what they are experiencing are core to your novels, but how do your characters tend to develop, do they arrive fully fledged or take time to evolve?

A: I don't have characters fully constructed in my head beforehand; I like them to develop during the writing process, which is more exciting for me as it allows each character to evolve and take their own journey.

Q: In The M Word we meet teenager Maggie and her mum, who have a close but strained relationship. Why did you decide to focus on a mother / daughter relationship in this novel?

A: I like writing relationships between mother/daughter, mother/son because the dynamics of it interest me on so many levels, I can also delve into my own experiences. You could say most of my books are a tiny homage to my own mother.

Q: When we meet her, Maggie is trying to cope with the death of her best friend, and her mum's slide into depression. How did you ensure that her story didn't get too dark for the reader?

A: I'm careful not to trivialise the darker elements of the story but I do try to merge the tragedy with the comedy, or the absurd with the rational. I like to use humour in my books to lighten the mood/tone.

Q: Moya, Maggie's best friend, is an engaging character, although we only meet her in Maggie's head - did this make it difficult to develop her character?

A: Not really because I was pulling on experience(s) I've had with my own friends - who are fully developed - and merging aspects of those characters into that of Moya.

Q: Maggie also self-harms and you give a very honest account of what she does and the state of her mind at these points. How did you research this issue?

A: First of all you draw on personal experience and then you do as much reading as you can around the area you want to write about. Naturally I read certain case studies and first-hand accounts, too.

Q: What would you like your readers to take away from The M Word?

A: I want readers to be entertained by my books and nothing else. As soon as it gets into the hands of a reader the book no longer belongs to me.

Q: Where do you prefer to write? What are you writing now?

A: I used to write in a home office and/or libraries, but in recent years I've managed to write three novels in local coffee shops. I've grown to prefer the hustle and bustle of public places as opposed to the solitude and peace that I used to work in. At the moment I am putting the finishing touches to an MG novel.

Q: Have you read any YA titles recently that you'd like to recommend to our YA readers?

A: I've been reading lots of non-fiction in recent months so I'm sad to say I'm not up with recent YA titles.

Q: What are your favourite escapes from writing?

A: I find it easy to escape from writing, I spend time with my daughter, listen to music, go to the theatre and watch football. Oh, and I try to visit the gym at least three times a week.

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