Today, I’m delighted to welcome Sharon Black to my blog. Sharon grew up in Dublin. She studied history and politics at University College Dublin and then did post-graduate in journalism at Dublin City University.
She has worked for national newspapers, including The Evening Herald and The Irish Examiner. She had short stories published in U Magazine and won the 2010 Dromineer Literary Festival short story competition.
When she is not writing, she reads, walks and sees friends. She co-founded a local book club fourteen years ago. She loves theatre, old Hollywood films, science fiction and good stand-up comedy.
She lives in a Dublin coastal village, with her husband and their three children.
Q: The protagonist in Going Against Type is Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Regan. What five words best describe her?
A: She is best described as feisty, ambitious, positive, kind and vulnerable.
Q: Where is the book set and how did you decide on its setting?
A: The book is set in Dublin, against the backdrop of Dublin newspapers. Because it’s my debut, I wanted to write about something familiar. I had worked as a journalist for a Dublin newspaper, and have always lived in this city, so I know it well.
Q: What were the major areas you had to research?
A: Charlie is a sports journalist, and the story opens in the sports department at her newspaper, where she is given a chance to write a new sports column under the pen name Side Swipe. I had worked as a features writer, and had never written about sport, so I really had to research quite a lot about it. I wanted Charlie’s columns to be authentic and sharp and witty.
Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?
A: The book was very near completion, after numerous drafts, before the title was picked. I’d had a working title, and then another one. But Going Against Type really fits well, on a couple of levels. First, my heroine is working in what’s still quite a male environment, especially in Ireland. And my hero is a fashion writer, which is largely quite a female world. So they are both going against type. Second, Charlie and Derry, my hero, are polar opposites. Charlie is certainly not the type of woman Derry usually goes out with, and Charlie has never dated anyone like Derry Cullinane! So the title refers to their personal lives too.
Q: If you were trying to describe your writing to someone who hasn’t read anything by you before, what would you say?
A: I suppose I can only talk about Going Against Type, but it taught me a lot. My writing is light, but there is real plot and character development. I think that if you’re good enough to buy a book, you’re entitled to a decent plot. And subplots. It’s also very fast. I tend to keep my scenes short and pacy, with lots of dialogue. Anyone who has read my debut has told me that it races along. Which is good, unless you’re the type of person who never wants a book to end!
Q: Who is the hero of your story? Or your hero within the story?
A: My hero is Derry Cullinane. Born and bred in Co Cork, he now lives by the sea in Dunlaoghaire (pronounced DunLeary), Co Dublin. His mother is a renowned fashion designer and Derry fell into journalism, although he has a healthy respect for the fashion industry and an understanding of fashion writing. When the story opens, it’s clear that the sort of women he dates are quite shallow. Which suits him, because he doesn’t like to get too serious. And there’s a reason for this, which is revealed later on. But beneath that, he’s a decent man. One of his closest friends in work is actually a woman, and because there is no sexual tension between them, readers can see that he can respect that sort of friendship. Of course, when he meets Charlotte (Charlie) he is drawn to her and intrigued by her.
Q: John Irving says that you can’t teach writing. You can only recognise what’s good and say ‘keep doing that.’ Do you think that’s true?
A: I think this is partly true. Certainly I think you can learn about how stories are structured, what your triggers are, where to put your obstacles and climax and so on. And this is hugely helpful because if you’re anything like me, you need storyboards and scenes, even if they change along the way.
But recognising what’s good is vital. This comes from reading other people’s work, and knowing what you like. And it comes from writing every day. When I’m reading back over something, I know if a passage of writing is good. And if something isn’t , I know I’ll have to rethink it.
Q: So how did you come to be a writer?
A: I had written for a long time, as a journalist, obviously. And I’d also had some short stories published, in women’s magazines. To be honest, there wasn’t ever a time that I can remember that I wasn’t writing. I was one of those children who wrote all the time. Later on I attempted to write novels but wasn’t sure about the structure of them, so they always came asunder. After I won a national short story competition here in Ireland, I did a weekend writers’ course to learn the nuts and bolts of novel writing. Plot, structure and so on. That was it.
Q: Do you prefer to write in first person or third person and why?
A: Anything I’ve written has been in third person, and to date I’ve kept it simple. For example, in Going Against Type, it’s third person, and I’m only in Charlie’s head. I didn’t want to get into ‘head hopping.’ But I often enjoy reading other novels, that are written in first person. I think when I become more experienced as a writer, I’d like to try it.
Q: Some writers need silence, others like the buzz of a coffee shop, or their favourite music. Which type are you?
A: Sometimes I like peace and quiet when I’m writing, especially if I am trying to work through something that’s just not coming together. Other times I will escape to my favourite Italian coffee shop in our local village. I will tuck myself into a corner, and write long hand. Everything around me becomes white noise. I have had people coming up and saying my name and I don’t hear them, because I’m completely in another zone. I think that comes from working in newspapers, and having to work with a lot of noise and chatter around me. It kind of suits me.
In this excerpt from Going Against Type, Charlie has been sent to cover Ladies’ Day at the Galway Races, a popular event in the Irish racing calendar each August. She has included some of her racing tips for that day in her column, Side Swipe. It is her first meeting with Derry, who has been attacking her, in his column The Squire. Because their rival columns are strictly anonymous, neither has any idea just whom the other person is, when they meet.
‘Ow!’ Charlotte yelled as the man in front of her stepped back heavily on her foot.
He turned quickly, scowling down at her from under a Panama hat. Realising she was clutching her foot in pain, his face cleared to concern. ‘I’m terribly sorry. Were you standing very close to me? Is your foot all right?’
Charlotte glared at him in disbelief. ‘Yes, that must have been it. I got under your feet! It was completely my fault,’ she countered, massaging her foot.
He burst out laughing and regarded her small leather brogues. ‘You have very small feet, don’t you? I really am sorry, I didn’t see you at all.’
What was so damned funny? Charlotte drew herself up to her full five foot, three inches and continued to glare up at Panama Hat Man. He had to be at least a foot taller than her. ‘You’re as clumsy as an elephant,’ Charlotte replied indignantly.
‘Actually, elephants aren’t that clumsy.’ The man grinned as he swept off his Panama hat to reveal a shock of black, slightly curling hair.
‘Please accept my deepest apologies.’ He arched one dark eyebrow. ‘Any tips for the next race?’
Charlotte hesitated. ‘I’m not sure if you should listen to me…’
‘On the contrary,’ he murmured, a faint Cork accent filtering through, ‘Race looks wide open.’
‘What’s your bet?’ shouted the bookie, and Charlotte suddenly realised they’d reached the top of the queue. She nursed her sore foot as Mr Panama
Hat muttered to the bookie, before taking his docket and turning briefly around. ‘Wish me luck!’ he said, before disappearing to view the race.
‘You betting miss?’ the bookie said.
‘Um, sure. A tenner on Green Velvet – to win,’ Charlotte decided suddenly, still thrown by the encounter. Dammit, what had she tipped for this race? She couldn’t remember if it was Green Velvet. But the bookie was waiting. She handed over her money. Once the horses were called to starters orders, the bookies’ pitch cleared fast.
Charlotte pulled out a notebook and asked the bookmaker a few questions about how the festival was going. The sun disappeared and she pushed her sunglasses on top of her head. She thanked the bookie and glanced around.
No sign of the good looking Panama Hat Man. Good looking? She’d bet her last cent that he bloody knew it too. Who the hell wore Panama hats in Ireland? It had shaded those brown eyes…so get yourself a dog if you like brown eyes, Charlotte. She gave herself a mental shake.
‘…Penny Farthing and Lucky Dip, nothing between these two. And Green Velvet’s coming with a late run. Green Velvet gaining! And Margin of Error’s dropped out of it altogether. And with a furlong to go, it’s Penny Farthing and Green Velvet drawing clear.
‘Yes!’Charlotte shouted, scrambling up on to the bookies’ stand to watch the horses gallop to the finish line. ‘Come on Green Velvet!’
‘Penny Farthing and Green Velvet, stride for stride, it must be a photo. I can’t separate them but I think Lucky Dip takes third. Green Velvet may have got it in the last stride….It’s Green Velvet in first place. Green Velvet wins, followed by Penny Farthing. And Lucky Dip takes third.’
Charlotte grinned delightedly at the bookie as she jumped down off the stand. As an afterthought, she pulled out her column, searching for her tips. There it was: her top tip for that race had been Margin of Error. The horse had been badly beaten.
She bit her lip and shrugged philosophically. Nobody got it right all the time.
‘So, did you get lucky?’ a deep voice drawled.
Charlotte spun to find Mr Panama Hat grinning down at her. Bloody hell, she thought, smiling back despite herself. Any other man she knew would look utterly ridiculous in what seemed to be a tailor made, striped linen jacket and trousers, combined with that damned hat. But he carried it off with a self-confidence that bordered on swagger.
‘Yes actually, I did,’ she admitted, still smiling. ‘What about you?’
He grimaced. ‘I lost. My own fault. I took a flier on somebody else’s tip.’
Charlotte grinned sympathetically. ‘Oh?’
Mr Panama Hat shook his head, scowling briefly. ‘I read some bloody sports columnist from Ireland Today. Had a few winners earlier this week. As I said, it’s my own fault. I never normally bother with racing tips. Whoever it is, he obviously doesn’t know a horse from a three-legged stool.’
Charlotte swallowed hard. ‘So how much did you lose?’ she managed, trying to sound casual.
‘A thousand.’ He caught Charlotte’s horrified expression and laughed. ‘Hey, don’t look so worried! I’m a big boy.’
* * *
Here’s where you can find out more about Sharon and her work:
Tirgearr Publishing site, which includes blurb/excerpt/reviews and all the buy links:
Like Sharon’s Author Page on Facebook
Visit her blog
Or follow her on Twitter: @Authorsharonb
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