Q & As for ‘The Girl on the Cliff’

1) How long did it take to write ‘The Girl on the Cliff? It’s such a complex novel with lots of different strands.
I realised that from conception to giving birth, all the books take nine months, just like a pregnancy. Weird, but true.

2) Where did you get the inspiration for this book?
It’s always the evocative location that begins the ‘feeling’. I was born in Ireland and lived in West Cork and loved its windswept rawness. Extreme locations are always exciting to me because they are dramatic and of course, romantic. The thought of a vulnerable child, barefoot and alone during the Atlantic storms that used to break with such fury when I lived there with my own small children, gave me the character of Aurora, the narrator of the book.

3) The young narrator, Aurora Lisle, is a very interesting and unusual character. Was she inspired by someone you know?
Aurora is a very special character to me. I wanted her to be other-worldly and almost dream-like, because the book explores and plays with the idea of the ‘fairytale’, on which most romantic fiction is based. But Aurora is also very practical, wise and forgiving – and she understands how precious life is. I suppose she represents two of the key themes in all my books. Understanding and forgiving the mistakes of the past, and taking each day and living it to the full. While I never base a character entirely on a real person, there is undoubtedly more of ‘me’ in Aurora than in any other character I’ve written.

4) The reader is never really sure if Aurora saw something on the cliff or not. Do you believe in ghosts?
Not sure I’d call them ‘ghosts’ – that conjures up floating white bed-sheets making strange noises! But yes, I absolutely, completely believe in ‘spirits’ and ‘angels’ – I’ve been lucky enough to actually see them too. And when I did, it was so unlike the ‘blinding flash’ everyone seems to describe – they were actually there for hours before I recognised what the ‘white shapes’ were! Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s true. As Aurora says, there’s no proof either way. The US dollar bill has ‘In God We Trust’ written on it … yet, to my knowledge, no-one has ever managed to take a photograph or interview him! I’m not into organised religion by the way, I just believe in a power higher than us humans and I’m humble enough to realise there is so much we can never understand. Who/what energy created ‘The Big Bang’ in the first place …? No-one knows.

5) How do contemporary and historical situations overlap in your book?
The eternal connection between the past and the present is something that fascinates me. There’s always something we can learn from the experiences of our ancestors. Understanding what went before can often help us make sense of our current lives.

6) In all your books, home and property feature heavily and link people and generations. Why is this?
Perhaps it’s because I believe that in times of trouble, we all yearn to return to our childhood home, wherever that may be. It’s a place of safety and a reminder of where we came from. I also love old houses and buildings because they hold so many stories and secrets to explore.

7) Your heroine, Grania Ryan, is the embodiment of honesty, pride and moral principles. Is it a generalisation of the Irish? Why are these people so rare?
I’m Irish and grew up in Ireland as a child and it’s true that Irish women are incredibly strong and principled as a rule. They also have a tendency to speak their minds, and they don’t suffer fools gladly! I have huge admiration for them. Actually, I don’t think women like Grania are so rare – I like to believe that the majority of people have a desire to ‘do the right thing’ if they’re given the chance.

8) You were an actress, but this book includes the theme of ballet. Do you like ballet?
Yes, I am an ex-actress, but before that, I trained professionally as a ballet dancer from the age of 3 -16 years old. So yes, I love ballet and if I hadn’t sustained a bad knee injury at 17, it’s probably what I’d still be doing today in some form.

9) In the book you point out the relationship between the Irish and the English. This seems to emphasise the superiority of the English. Was it always so?
There’s an enormous amount of turbulent and bitter history between England and Ireland. It began in the 16th Century, when England’s King Henry VIII attempted to put Ireland under English government control, a struggle that continued through the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. By the late 18th Century, most of the old Irish Catholic landowners had had their lands taken from them by the English. By the time the First World War – where part of the novel is set – rumblings of the Irish independence were being clearly heard. Ireland was divided into the ‘North’ (which remains by choice under British control) and ‘South’ which because independent in the 1920’s, which led to further conflicts with England in the decades that followed. So it’s inevitable that all this history lies in the background of The Girl on the Cliff.

10) How have your readers reacted to The Girl on the Cliff?
I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the reaction so far. The Girl on the Cliff was released back in 2011 in the UK and has gone on to be #1 in both Germany and Norway and it debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List in the USA.
I get hundreds of emails and Facebook messages from women (and some men) of 20 to 80 years old. I think the book appeals across the board to anyone who enjoys what I hope is a well-written story, containing an underlying moral code. My books are not for cynics, who believe the world is a ‘bad’ place. As Aurora says, I believe the human race is intrinsically ‘good’, and that redemption and some level of forgiveness is always a possibility. And that is the bed-rock from which my stories and characters develop.