Good morning everyone from a wet and grey Wexford!
Yesterday the children and I were skipping through the forest with the sun shining, today the rain is teeming down! That’s Irish weather for ya!
But it doesn’t matter because today I have lots of writing to do, which includes sharing with you all an interview I did with Poolbeg author Jennifer Barrett. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer a few times now and she is fun, witty and very lovely.
Carmel :So Jennifer welcome to the couch, get comfy and please share with everyone a little about yourself.
Jennifer: Hi Carmel, thanks for inviting me to share your couch – delighted to be here!
I’ve always considered myself a Dubliner, though I was born in Surrey outside London. I moved to Ireland with my older brother and folks when I was three. My Mum tells me I went into the neighbours’ house with an English accent and came out with an Irish one! I run a charitable foundation and dabble with a bit of writing on the side!
And I’m one of a big family of Barrets and Auntie to seven nieces and nephews, they’re great fun and very interested in all this writing business.
C: Very funny on swapping a cockney for Irish accent so quickly! My brother, two sisters and I were also born in London, where I lived until I was ten. So we share more than being authors in common! If your life was to be made into a movie, what genre movie would it be and who would play in the starring roles?
J: Oh most definitely a musical – I’m a big musicals buff. Think Moulin Rouge meets High Society! Kate Winslett could play me – love her, with Michael Fassbender as the love interest. Actually, scratch that, if Michael Fassbender is on board I’ll play myself!
C: Ha ha, very funny. I wish I could photo shop, because a pic of Moulin Rouge with you and the Fassbender as the stars would be fab! This will have to do you!
C: Scariest thing that has ever happened to you?
J: Being followed in the Phoenix Park, or any one of a number of hair-raising experiences while holidaying with an overly adventurous ex in the past!
C: Ok, next lunch we do, I want some details! Funniest thing that has ever happened to you?
J: A friend and I laughed for hours at a daft joke we heard at a wedding once. I don’t know why, we just thought it was hilarious, even though none of the other guests really did. I still crack up when I think of it. Goes something like this:
– Did you hear Whoopi Goldberg and Gerard Depardieu got married?
– No, I didn’t
– Yep, and she took his name. She’s now known as Whoopi Doopydoo (it’s all in the pronunciation)
Yikes, we really must have had a LOT of wine that day!
C: Moving swiftly on ;) Speaking of celebs, who is the most famous person you have ever met?
J: I met Queen Elizabeth in London. I happened to be there the week that Princess Diana died, and I met the Queen during the first week when she left the Palace and went out to meet the people. I was in the area and went up to Pall Mall to pay my respects, there was a lot of fuss and I realised the Queen was about to come outside. When she came out she did a meet and greet and said hello to me. I was interviewed about it afterwards on Japanese TV!
C: Ok you win the prize for having met the most famous person so far! I can remember that day so clearly, even all these years later.
Can you share the best advice ever given to you?
J: A good friend of mine recently advised me to ‘Use Your Voice’. Those words have gone round and around in my head ever since. So far they’ve inspired a character in my second book ‘The Songbird’s Way’, but I have a feeling they will inspire a lot more besides!
C: What great advice, I think its the ONLY way to write. Trying to be something we are not, translates into readers not turning pages. Who inspires you?
J: Well, following on from the previous question, I’m greatly inspired by people who stand up for what they believe in – especially those that take action. My novel ‘Look into the Eye’ was inspired by a group of 30 Greenpeace activists who got into a ship and sailed to Antartica to get between the enormous Japanese whaling fleet and the beautiful whales they were trying to harpoon. Another hero of mine is Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer turned activist, who has dedicated his life to trying to stop the horrifically cruel Japanese dolphin drive hunts in Taiji.
Then just today I was reading about Margaretta D’Arcy in The Irish Times – 79 years of age, and she has just been imprisoned for three months for an anti-war protest at Shannon airport. She sounds like a hoot – apparently she’s using the time in prison to improve her tin whistle playing and is getting along great with her cellmate a Hungarian opera singer. You can only imagine the sessions!
My nieces and nephews are also a great source of inspiration. We have great fun hanging out and I find it fascinating to watch them discovering this crazy world of ours, and seeing it all through fresh eyes. And I love the idea that in years to come they might read their nutty Auntie’s books!
C: Pictured above is Jennifer with a whale, the subject of her book ‘Look Into The Eye’ (more on that in a bit.) But first, share your celebrity crush? (as if I can’t guess!)
J: Easy: Michael Fassbender! The man just oozes sex appeal and is a brilliant actor to boot. I just watched him as Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre again last week. Favourite actor playing favourite fictional character – it doesn’t get any better than that. *Sigh*
C: You are welcome ladies, that clip just for you all! Speaking of times gone by (see what I did there? lol) if you could go back in time, what time would you choose and why?
J: I studied History in College, so I would love to be a fly on the wall in so many places and situations. If I was to choose one though? Hmmm . . . I’m thinking of writing an historical novel at some point based on early twentieth century Ireland – around the time of the Civil War. So it would be handy to go back to that time – for research purposes!
C: Give me 3 words to describe your best self and 3 words to describe your worst self.
J: Best: Sociable. Active. Creative.
Worst: Moody. Introverted. Stressed.
C: Girls or boys night out, room for 10 in the limo, who are you bringing with you? (Dead, alive, fictional, celebrities, friends, the choice is yours!)
J : Well, apart from Michael Fassbender ;-) I’d pack it up with good friends (a mix of the guys and gals), also my sister and my Mum. I think we might need a bigger limo?!
C: Describe a perfect day and night for me, where are you and who are you with?
J: For sure I’d be back in San Ignacio Laguna on the Baja Peninsula, Mexico (where I went on a dream holiday last year). It’s the only place in the world where whales and their calves will approach humans. The young grey whales are almost like curious puppies – they come right over to the local Mexcian panga boats with their enormous mothers, and they’ll hop up out of the water over the edge of the boats to check us humans out. Pure magic.
We stayed three days on a fishing boat in the lagoon and woke up at 5am every morning to go out on deck and watch the sun come up over the lagoon, which was packed with whales. Mother and calf grey whale pairs used to sleep beside the boat every night and would be bobbing around by it in the morning – I would sit there for at least an hour watching and listening to them while drinking my coffee. I still can’t believe places like that exist in this world – it’s like heaven on earth.
I would love to bring my niece, Isabel there some day. She is a massive whale fan like her Auntie – all the kids are really – can’t think why!
C: I had to go look up San Ignacio and found lots of footage on youtube. Here’s a clip so our readers can get a visual on your beautiful description.
C: What are you reading right now? And is it a paper book or ebook?
J: Och Carmel, I’m a disaster. I love books and am always reading several at the one time. Finishing them is therefore the problem – I get distracted by the latest releases! Novel-wise I’m currently reading ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Taart on the kindle and also ‘Dreams’ by Carl Jung in paperback. I have ‘Beyond Grace’s Rainbow’ to read on the kindle too – soon . . . I hear it’s great!
C: I know what that feels like, I try to read one book each week, but not always possible. What was the first book you ever read?
J: I’m not sure about the first, but I used to devour Enid Blytons when I was young. I read everything she ever wrote – Famous Five, St Clare’s, Mallory Towers etc. I think my first ‘big’ book was ‘Little Women’. I still love it.
C: Yep, I read all of those too! Loved them all. If you could rewrite the ending of any book, would you?
J: ‘Gone Girl’. Superb book, annoying ending! Same with ‘Lovely Bones’.
They say a good beginning sells a book, a great ending sells the next book?
C: Very true saying. If you could pick any career in the world other than what you do now, what would it be?
J: Well I tackled this question for real some years back. Took some time out, travelled a bit, did some volunteer work, wrote a novel and ended up realising that, though it’s not easy, I actually really love what I do! So I’m back in the same line of work now – I run a charitable foundation. We support mainly schools and other educational and health projects in Africa, India and Latin America. I have a wonderful team and meet such inspiring people on a regular basis – from the children who attend the schools to the missionaries who teach them. It’s a privilege, and I feel very blessed to do this work.
C: I love that you are living your best life now Jennifer, doing what you love. That’s really something. Who would you like to meet most for a chat? Dead or alive. Fictional or real. I’m kind of expecting to hear the words Fassbender here ;)
J: I’d love to meet my English Grandad again. He died when I was six, but I always remember him as a gentle, humorous man – always with a twinkle in his eye. I reckon he’d have some great stories to tell.
C: Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing if we could meet our grandparents at an age where we have the sense to ask them questions and learn from them. Quick fire round, pick one of each of the below –
J: Beer or cocktails. Cocktails
Jeans or dress/suit. Jeans
Sun or Snow. Sun
Beach or Pool. Beach. Preferably with a few whales and dolphins!
Cats or Dogs. Cats – I have two adorbable rascals – Moby and Mel
Theatre or Cinema. Theatre, but I do love both
Pink or Green. Green
Night in or night out. Night out
Paperback or eBook. Paperback unless it’s very big! But the kindle is very portable. I’m quite torn between them, must admit.
Lobster or steak. Lobster.. mmmmm J
The Walking Dead or Downton Abbey. Downton, hands down. Love it!
Football or Rugby. Myeh, neither really, but rugby if I had to.
Flying Solo or with a gang. Somewhere in between – with one or two of the right people.
C: What is the best compliment anyone could give you?
J: JK Rowling once said she would love said about her that ‘she did the best she could with what she got’. I’d be very happy with that.
C: Jennifer, thank you so much for being so honest and giving us all a greater insight into the person behind the book. But now, we all want to hear about your writing! What genre do you write and when did you start?
J: Contemporary fiction. My first novel ‘Look into the Eye’ was published by Poolbeg Press in 2013.
C: Of the characters you’ve created through writing, which one is your favourite and why so?
J: Richard Blake, the loveable rogue in ‘Look into the Eye’. He was so much fun to write – he could be a real moody, grouch, but was also such a charmer with a heart of gold.
C: Can you share something with us about one of your books that you’ve not shared with anyone else before?
J: The dogs that Mel goes walking with at the end of ‘Look into the Eye’ are all named after our past family pets – I love the idea of them being forever immortalised in print and my family were really touched when they read it. I kept it as a surprise.
The character of Angie in ‘Look into the Eye’ was a play on the concept of an angel. I liked the idea of a person (angel?) coming into your life just when you need them, then disappearing and you never see them again.
C: What are you working on right now Jennifer?
J: I’m working on my second novel ‘The Songbird’s Way’ – the story of a bohemian, singer Chrissie who is struggling between a desire to put down roots and a deep yearning for adventure.
C: I love the title! I hope that stays because its very evocative! Could you share a little excerpt from your book?
J: This is the moment just before Richie looks into the eye of a humpback whale in ‘Look into the Eye’:
The sounds were incredible. It was just like the campaign video we’d watched the first night on board the Illuminar, but more vivid. It sounded like something out of an old dinosaur movie – an eerie, groaning, moaning sound, interspersed with high-pitched cries and warbles and growls. It was surreal, haunting and thrilling all at the same time.
I looked up and caught Hilary’s eye. I said nothing, just raised my eyebrows, smiled and slowly shook my head in disbelief.
She nodded, smiling. Neither of us had to say a word. It was pure magic.
Suddenly less than ten metres from the boat, a whale launched himself head-first right up out of the sea, causing the boat to sway and sending tall sprays of white, foamy water flying into the air. He jumped clean out of the ocean. His long head was covered in small white barnacles, and the fins and folds of his belly were a patchy white against his grey-blue body.
“Wow, look at him fly!” Hilary cried out. “Isn’t that something?”
But I couldn’t speak. I was transfixed. As I watched that huge whale leap for the sky, a powerful charge shot through my entire body, sending Technicolour shockwaves through my black-and-white existence. He crashed back down sideways into the water with an almighty splash. The sound of the impact broke my trance and I jumped back from the edge of the inflatable. I quickly sat up again – just in time to watch his tail, like outstretched eagle’s wings glide back down into the dark water below.
C: Beautifully descriptive, I was simply there. Thank you so much for stopping by Jennifer, time for a cuppa now! You have been so open, I know that you will have charmed everyone as much as you have charmed me.
So, you all enjoy that? Want to chat more with Jennifer? You can say hello to her on Twitter or Facebook, and here are details on where you can pick up your copy of Look Into The Eye.
Look into the Eye’ by Jennifer Barrett Poolbeg Press
Paperback and ebook available to order on Amazon: mybook.to/LookintotheEye
Chat soon everyone,