Dierdre Quiery’s ‘The Painter’ fuses psychology, love, deceit and art to splatter the literary canvas with a narrative unlike anything else on the shelves.
It is always amazing for us to get to talk to authors about their books but today was a little extra special as today is publishing day for The Painter and we are incredible grateful to Dierdre for taking the time to talk to TNC.
Hi Dierdre when you have a book coming out do you ever get nerves ahead of the release or are you able to just relax and enjoy the process?
I feel a sense of real enthusiasm at releasing a new novel. It seems unbelievable. It may sound like a cliché but it does feel like having a baby. You wonder what will happen to it.
The excitement brings with it a twinge of fear and apprehension. So much effort goes into writing a novel and the publisher, Matthew, has placed such a belief in the writing that I want it to be a success – not only for me – but for Matthew and my husband who has had to watch me put the effort in to allow me time and space to complete it.
What was the experience like for you when your debut novel was released?
My debut novel was Eden Burning. It was set in Belfast during The Troubles – the 1970s. I lived through the violence then as a child and I remembered it well. I was put out of my house with the family at gunpoint. We were forced to live as squatters in an abandoned house on “The Peace Line” which was ironically named as it was the frontier for the fighting Republican and Unionists factions. Three car bombs exploded outside the house, two uncles were murdered in sectarian murders and the house was twice taken over by the IRA and a cousin was killed in cross-fire.
Eden Burning was autobiographical. However, the deep fear which I truly experienced in Belfast as a child of The Troubles meant that I couldn’t sleep during the first three days of beginning to write it. I was terrified. It brought back so many memories.
Yet when it was published, I felt truly elated. It was as if I had transformed the pain into a creative book which explored the depths of human emotions – fear, hatred, great self-sacrificing love and a message of forgiveness. I felt I had planted seeds of love in a garden of pain and of tortured souls. That felt wonderful.
(I have to ask this) Have you ever seen anyone starting one of your books and have you ever been tempted to spoil the ending for them?
I have never wanted to do that as I love mystery. I attempt to really make my novels twist and turn to make the ending a surprise. If I told them the ending I would be spoiling the hard work that goes into letting them enjoy what happens at the end. It’s wonderful when they never imagined it coming!
I do sometimes give people a short description of what the book is going to be about and I have had readers say to me – “Don’t tell me anymore. I want to read it.” I like that because it means I’ve tempted them to read the whole story.
"Learn as much about it as you can and write about it fearlessly."
Can you tell me a little bit about your latest book, The Painter, what was the inspiration behind this book?
When my husband and I left Oxford we gave up everything – our full-time jobs, friends, the company cars, the fixed monthly salary and a lovely little semi-detached cottage in Tackley, Oxfordshire. I started to write and also started to paint with an Argentinian artist - Carlos Gonzalez. He was brilliant. I thought he could paint like Michaelangelo.
My husband and I went to classes every Saturday in Palma and he always invited us to stay for lunch. So we began to talk about a Painter’s world.
I had also completed a Masters in Consciousness Studies and Transpersonal Psychology which was all about studying human evolution. That meant learning about how we evolve as “reptiles” in the womb and when we emerge what is our possibility for human growth to its maximum potential. It also included understanding what gets in the way of us developing.
I must confess to being fascinated by that – what would make someone become a psychopath rather than a “saint”? Of course, you can see a link back to Eden Burning.
So I wanted to write about a Painter who was a child genius – who had everything going for him by the age of 10. I didn’t at the time know that was true about Pablo Picasso! I then wanted to look at how that talent could become dissipated in a descent into Hell and how he might be transformed to go beyond even his childhood glory.
I see many creative people fall into this universal pattern – for example, think of what happened to Brian Jones who created the Rolling Stones, what also happened to Prince, Elvis, Amy Winehouse and many famous painters not only inspiring musicians and singers. I wanted to explore this deeply with my Painter! I think it has a universal fascination for us.
How different is The Painter compared to your previous books?
It is significantly different in that I write it in the first person. Before I started writing it – I could never have imagined how different this would be. I had to become The Painter.
In my previous novels, I was the omniscient narrator. I could go into any one of my characters’ heads and create them. In the first person, I learned what if feels like to be judged by others because I existed in the head, mind, body and soul of The Painter.
Believe me – that was amazing!
Do you create your characters, do you every pull inspiration from the real world or do you keep them fully fictional?
I draw on real life in all three novels. However, it is never either autobiographical or writing about a real person. I feel that would be treacherous and a betrayal of another human being. However, I do allow people and life experiences to inspire me and then I create something and someone different. Maybe it’s like I may have inherited my grandfather’s nose but I never knew him and I am not him. My characters are really new-born people.
When you are writing have you ever had your storyline or characters go in different directions that you had never planned for?
Absolutely. Every time. I start by keeping a character page with details about who they are, the colour of their hair, what they like to eat – all of the details to make them independent and individuated.
By the time I am about two-thirds of the way through the novel (if not before!), they start telling me what they want to do and who they are. For example, one day while well advanced in writing The Painter, I was stuck and unable to write. When my husband challenged me saying that I was going to miss the submission deadline, I responded that the painter was refusing to allow me to tell any more about him that day. When I heard myself saying those words, I knew my character was real.
Is it easy to give up your books once you've handed them to the publisher?
No. Matthew Smith from Urbane Publishing works as a “collaborative” publisher. That means that he welcomes the author to stay in touch and to share how the novel will be marketed. I love this approach. I am grateful for being published in a very competitive market place – and feel that the least I can do is to contribute as much as I can to the book’s success.Leaving it alone would be like abandoning a baby for someone else to take full care of it. I couldn’t do that.
Has your writing style changed much since your debut novel?
I think my dialogue has improved – others certainly tell me that, and I think my writing is more concise and compact. It packs more punch. I also think I continue to be fascinated by human beings and I am prepared to go to the dark depths of any character without flinching and also to the heights of their being.
As a writer did you have any bad habits you needed to break the more you continued to write?
I needed to get the balance improved between descriptive writing with lyricism (as I love a poetic phrase or two J) with action and keeping the story moving along. I learnt the importance of engaging the reader in the story and bringing in those twists and turns that I mentioned earlier.
Has writing always been a passion for you?
Yes. When I was seven, my mother took me to Ligoniel library in Belfast. I had three library tickets for the week. I read all three books. I knew even then that one day I would want to be a writer who could create a fantasy world for the reader.
If you could have a dinner party with three authors living or dead who would they be and why?
I would invite Jack Kerouac from “On the Road” fame because I think he was way ahead of his time in his pursuit of the meaning of life within a story. He was therefore quite lonely towards the end of his life. I would make him a good meal, ask him lots of questions and make him laugh. I would invite John Banville because I like the way his mind works and is revealed in his writing. He is honest and unflinching in his descriptions. And I think the third would be A S Byatt for her novel Possession. I also found her prepared to tackle challenging subjects, totally gripping in her writing style and there’s a hint of mystery about her.
For any aspiring writer do you have any words of advice or encouragement?
Find out what you love about life – what fascinates you. Learn as much about it as you can and write about it fearlessly.
And finally, what do you hope your readers will take away from your latest book?
I would like them to be surprised that going through Hell as the Painter does is often the fastest way of finding true happiness. Maybe I also learned that growing up in Belfast, living in Hell and yet also finding a love there which has never left me.
And I would like them to say that it was extraordinarily honest, deep, a twisting fascinating story with spellbinding dialogue!
That’s not asking for a lot, is it?