Moira Fowley-Doyle, author of The Accident Season and Spellbook of the Lost and Found, joins us this issue to answer some questions about her haunting, spellbinding novels…
Hello Moira, thanks so much for joining us! Why don’t you tell us a little about your latest novel, Spellbook of the Lost and Found?
Thank you so much for having me! So Spellbook of the Lost and Found is my second novel, and it starts after a town summer bonfire party at which everybody seems to have mysteriously lost something. It’s narrated by three teenage girls who don’t know each other (yet): Olive, who is afraid she’s losing her best friend, Rose; Hazel, who has run away from home with her brother Rowan and is afraid she might have lost her parents; and Laurel, who, along with her two best friends, find a mysterious spellbook with a spell inside to bring back what they’ve lost. It’s a book about lost objects but really it’s about friendships lost and friendships found, about family and belonging and coming to terms with the past. It has diaries and keys, tattoos and trees, poteen and patron saints and a bunch of dogs named after breakfast cereals.
So, is it really true what they say about the difficult second novel? Was this one much harder to write than The Accident Season?
It really was! When I started writing the first draft of The Accident Season I had neither agent nor publisher and until I was about halfway through (when I started to think “hey, this could really go somewhere”) I didn’t have solid plans to look towards publication. I also didn’t have children. I’d come home from working on my thesis and I’d write long into the night, which is something that’s… ill-advised… when you have two kids who need you to wake up early to bring them to preschool. When I wrote the first draft of Spellbook, on the other hand, I was already on a deadline. I was just back from The Accident Season pre-publication tour and my eldest was two years old and my youngest was two months old and didn’t really believe in naps or sleep of any kind. So not only did I have the typical Second Novel Syndrome fears that I’d never be able to write anything ever again, I was also seriously sleep deprived and couldn’t think of much more than singing lullabies and changing nappies. But after a couple of challenging drafts, Spellbook came into focus, like a type of messy magic. I fell for it late, but hard and fast, and now I think it’s the thing I’ve written that I’m the most proud of.
Both your books are characterised not just by their magical undertones, but by the chaos of your characters. Do they always come to you fully formed, or is there quite a lengthy process to find all their angles?
It depends on the characters. Generally they start speaking to me as I type and I learn about them as I go along. But a couple of characters in Spellbook were a little trickier to pin down, even after finishing the first draft. It took me a while to figure Hazel out, because – as somebody with a lot to hide – she keeps her cards close to her chest. Laurel’s dreamy voice came out straight away, and sarcastic, matter-of-fact Olive splashed fully-formed onto the page.
There’s quite a complex web of stories interweaving through Spellbook, do you plot quite heavily to get everything straight in your head, or do you just dive in?
I dive deep and get all tangled in seaweed and almost drown. I don’t start with a plan, or anything resembling a plot – just a few thoughts and snippets and my characters, and I let the story unfold as I write. This means that often, after I send my editors my first draft, our initial editorial meeting mostly consists of them very kindly saying something along the lines of, “Moira, this is beautiful and we love your characters, but… what exactly is the story you’re trying to tell?” And draft by draft the story builds itself up around the mood and the snippets and the setting and the characters, which, for me, are the roots of any plot.
I love the way both of novels blend the real and the weird, with roots of magic underpinning the everyday! What inspires you to write stories that blur the lines between worlds?
Thank you! To be honest I think that blurriness between the real and the weird is more a reflection of how I see the world. I’ve always been the kind of person who’s a little bit in danger of getting lost in the woods – reality has never seemed entirely real to me. You know how sometimes you’re sitting alone at the front of the top deck of the bus at night and the streetlights are blurry reflections and you can sense someone come up the bus stairs and sit right behind you and when you turn around there’s no one there? You could think nothing of it – you could say it was the rain on the window in front of you that made you think someone was behind you, or you could believe you were half asleep – or it, and a hundred other little slippery moments like that, could make you wonder if the world around you is as real as everybody says it is. Either way, it always makes for a better story.
Do you believe in magic?
I believe in magic realism. I believe in the slipperiness of reality. Mostly, I believe in story. I like the idea of magic as storytelling so I read tarot cards not as divination, but as a way to connect to my subconscious and remind myself of what I’m doing and where I’m going. I suppose I like the idea of magic as mindfulness. Casting small spells to focus your energy, to speak your truth and your desires, to feel connected to the world around you. Little rituals to stay present and to see the stories in everything and to bring a bit of magic into the mundane.
How much of Ireland and its heritage and mythology go into your writing?
More with every book I think! Certainly in Spellbook I was very inspired by Irish folk magic and superstition – how rural Irish Catholicism is almost pagan with its patron saints and roadside shrines, with its prayer trees hung with ribbons and trinket offerings. I often think that the Irish are a very magic realist people. People still refuse to step into fairy rings, farmers won’t cut down certain trees even in the middle of their fields, and everyone has at least one family member who believes in fairies.
If you could cast the spell, what would you want to be found?
At the moment there are two things I’m still hoping will show up one day. Both are rings. One is gold with a tiny emerald and it was my eighteenth birthday present from my parents. The other is a miniscule silver Claddagh I used to wear on my pinkie finger that was the first real ring I was ever given, for my sixth birthday. I have lost and found this ring four times in my life and each time I was sure I’d never find it again. If I do ever find it I’ll give it to my eldest daughter and hope she has more luck keeping it than I did.
What YA books are on the horizon that our readers should absolutely be checking out?
For anybody who likes their stories dreamy and dark and a little bit surreal, A Million Junes by Emily Henry is magical and was released a couple of months ago (in the US anyway, not sure about over here); Sarah Maria Griffin’s strange and poetic Spare and Found Parts is being published in the UK and Ireland early next year but is out now in the US; Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan is a collection of dark, feminist fairytale retellings out in September; and in the even darker and a lot less magical but still excellent category I recently read an ARC of Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed which is creepy and almost impossible to put down and will probably give you nightmares.
What are you working on next? Are we allowed to know a little bit…?
I’m still very much at the first-draft stage, so this one’s still a secret. But it’s another bit of tangled magic realism with a family and a bull and three old witches and the sea – although so much of that could change in the telling.
Thanks for joining us, Moira! We hope everything goes well for The Spellbook of the Lost and Found. You can read our review of it RIGHT HERE! (Spoiler alert, it was aces)
Thank you so much and thanks again for having me. These questions were brilliant and I had a great time answering! x