At Culture Night 2017, Megan Wynne asked for a 10 minute slot with the O’Brien Press team at our Pitch Perfect event. Two years later, I asked Megan for 10 minutes of her time for a quick chat about her forthcoming debut novel. The House on Hawthorn road is a wonderful story about two children, from different centuries who time travel through the walls of a magical house in Dublin. Here’s what Megan had to say about her Culture Night experience and her new book – in 10 minutes.
What made you sign up for Culture Night 2017?
I signed up for Culture Night because I thought it would be fun. Also, I had recently done a workshop on ‘Pitching the Novel’ with Richard Skinner (from Faber & Faber Academy) at Listowel Writers’ Week. I had my fifty word pitch ready to send in, so I felt like it was worth a shot.
How did it feel to pitch your book directly to the O’Brien Press team?
I loved pitching my book directly to the O’Brien Press team. Kunak and Aoife listened attentively and asked really insightful questions. It was a pleasure to speak about my characters with people who understand children’s fiction and know the market so well.
Describe your Culture Night experience in five words.
Unexpectedly exciting, fun and successful!
What is the number one piece of advice you tell your Creative Writing students?
Write what excites you, and to forget about whether anyone else might like it (including parents or teachers).
What inspired you to write The House on Hawthorn Road?
I was inspired to write The House on Hawthorn Road by an extraordinary coincidence that happened when I asked my very first creative writing student for her address. I wanted to send her a Christmas card. When she told me I nearly dropped the phone. She was living in the very house that my father grew up in. I had visited my grandparents in that house when I was a child. Her mother heard this and kindly invited me over for afternoon tea. When they moved in they had built an extension onto the back of the house and while I was sitting in their new kitchen, the idea came to me: what if the extension had caused cracks in the walls that allowed Beth (my student) to travel back in time to when my Dad lived there with his brother Robin. I became very excited by this idea, as my Uncle Robin was an outrageous character and I knew he’d be brilliant in a novel. I loved the idea of the two families getting squashed together in the same time zone.
What was your favourite character to write?
This is a difficult question for me to answer, as I love so many of the characters in this book. I love Beth because she goes through the same experience of being bullied as I did at school. I adore Ron because he is based on my grandfather, and I particularly love Robbie, because he is so unpredictable and wild. He was great fun to write, in fact I feel as if I could write Robbie’s character forever.
What was your writing schedule like when you wrote this book? Are you a night-time writer, early morning writer, sporadic writer, etc?
I am a sporadic writer. I’m not somebody who writes 2,000 words a day. I tend to go for months without writing, and then I go into a frenzy doing it every moment I can. My favourite thing to do, is to go away somewhere quiet on my own to write. I love having days with nothing scheduled, eating meals at odd times and being on my own. I need to create space to write, not just for the physical act of writing, but time to think, drift and be. I find it difficult to write when I’m busy doing lots of other things at the same time.
How did it feel to see the cover of your book (illustrated by Rachel Corcoran) for the first time?
I was so delighted that I wept the first time I saw the cover of my book. A picture of the front door and house are exactly what I would have chosen myself for the picture. Also, I love that Beth and Robbie are surrounded by magical light as they climb out of the walls. It is a very imaginative picture and one that I could stare at for ages, which I think is crucial for children’s fiction.
If you could travel back or forward to any time period, where and when would you travel to?
If I could travel forwards or backwards to any time period, I would travel back to 1982 when I was being bullied in my new school. I was too young to go into secondary school and was forced to do sixth class twice. My parents sent me to a new school for my second sixth class. If I could go back to that time, I would give myself a huge hug and I would explain to myself that there was nothing at all wrong with me, but that the bullies in my class were jealous because I was top of the class. (The work was easy for me because I’d done it all before.) I would tell myself that I am clever and imaginative. I would also say that in the future I would be very happy and that I would have a book published and be a writer – which is the greatest and most wonderful thing I could have told myself. I believed that writers were the most magical creatures in the world – I still do.
What is your favourite childhood book and why?
My favourite childhood book is The Family at Red-Roofs by Enid Blyton because it follows the lives of a family who go through great difficulties together. The mother becomes very ill and the father disappears. To pay their rent, the children have go out to work. This book had a huge influence on me and I see traces of its plot in The House on Hawthorn Road.
And…. 10 minutes is up!
Megan Wynne September 2019
The House on Hawthorn Road will be published on 14 October and will be available to buy here and in all good bookshops!