When college friends, Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght first started joking about a fictional character named Aisling, they could never have imagined they would have a hit debut novel on their hands. Sophie White finds out what it’s like to write a book with your best friend
After creating a hugely successful Facebook page dedicated to a certain type of country girl in the Big Smoke – she’s the one power-walking to work in her sketchers, a battered Brown Thomas bag in hand – journalists, Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen jumped at the chance to take their heroine from much-loved meme to heroine of their debut novel, the hilarious and heartwarming, Oh My God What A Complete Aisling.
So how did Aisling make the leap from a Facebook page to the bestsellers list?
Sarah: We were approached in 2010 by a producer who thought it would work well on screen. He was so into the idea and we were like “ah yeah that sounds like fun”.
Emer: But it was him driving it rather than us, we’re extremely lazy.
S: We said “we’re on board as long as we have creative control, you can’t just take the character and ruin her”. And then it was green lit.
E: But it fell between the cracks.
S: And fizzled out… but an outsider had seen the potential in it. Then Gill Publishers approached us last Summer and said, “will you put something on paper, it’s up to yourselves what that is.” So then we were like “okay, this is it. This is going to be the catalyst because as Emer said, we’re very lazy.
E: We’ve always been like “we should really do something together but… ugh the effort..!”
S: Or we could watch Real Housewives instead… and then suddenly you get sidetracked and you’re eight series in and you’re so invested!
E: This is how ‘Aisling’ came about, sitting on the couch watching reality TV.
Every partnership has a bit of a whip-cracker, who’s the one in this relationship?
E: I think Sarah may be the whip cracker, you’re more… “let’s just get it down”.
S: But then that’s just the way things were, I’d just had a baby so I’d only have a very small window to get stuff done.
E: It actually worked out really well because I’m a really big procrastinator, we both are, but Sarah didn’t have the luxury of procrastinating.
S: My idea of procrastinating would go on forever. We decided a novel would be a good way to bring Aisling to a wider audience outside the Facebook group.
E: We didn’t want it to just be a collection of jokes.
S: Or stolen content from the group. Back in the day, the page was all focused on Aisling and I think people thought it would be a book of just Aislingisms.
E: We felt we had higher aspirations and that we’d like to write so we decided we were going to write a novel.
S: We did a one-page synopsis of the plot in the pub the day before our meeting with Gill. We’d left it to the last minute of course and we were literally googling ‘what has to happen in a story to make it good’!
E: ‘What is a story arc?’ ‘What is a book plot?’!
S: All we knew was that we had a character that we knew so well and had so much potential. We were like, what situations could we put her in that would get the best out of her?
E: Even the outline we gave them was really basic.
S: It had typos and everything in it.
E: It was like, she has a boyfriend, she breaks up with him. Oh, what a journey she could go on! We were like let’s just get this deal and then worry about the 80,000 words.
E: We decided what was going to happen in the first few chapters and then flipped a coin to see who would write chapter one and who would write chapter two. We were literally like how do you start a book. I took out a Marian Keys book and was like okay this is written from the character’s point of view so that’s ‘first person’. So let’s do it like that!
S: There was a lot of continuity stuff that we’d have to go back and fix. In one chapter she’d be on holiday and I’d going on about hotels and stuff and then in the next chapter, Emer would have apartments.
E: Our poor copy editor! We wanted the relationship with the parents to be a big part of it. And what if a good plot point would be if one of them is sick and I think one day I just kind of went, ‘could Daddy die?’ Sarah said, you should write that bit but Sarah also wrote some of it.
S: Yeah like the funeral, it happened kind of organically.
E: There wasn’t some massive conversation.
S: I can see how some people maybe can’t see how we made it so seamless.
E: The characters are all amalgams of people we both know and even though the Daddy storyline is influenced by my life, Sarah’s bits were so on the nose.
S: But it’s just such universal feelings. What Irish person hasn’t been to a funeral? What Irish person hasn’t seen someone die of cancer? Everyone’s done it. The town is very much where I’m from (Boris, Carlow) because Kildare is much more cosmopolitan.
E: It’s a real coming together of both of our lives.
Do you guys fight?
Both In Unison: NO!!!!!
S: What would we fight about?
E: We were under a tight deadline. I was always so grateful to have someone else there who would make it better. Rather than “I can’t believe this b*tch is trying to change my work”!
S: Neither of us are very precious.
E: When we were editing it we sat at Sarah’s kitchen table for hours, going through it with red pens and we’d find that we had the exact same notes for so many things.
S: It’s great having a collaborator.
E: I don’t know how people do it on their own, the uncertainty.
S: Shouting into the void ‘Is this goooooood?!’
Is your work getting mixed into the friendship?
S: No, we rarely work!
E: I’ll go over to Sarah saying we really have to work on this but it’ll be after at least an hour and a half of gossip. Like, is there anything else we can talk about before we have to do any work!
What’s next for Aisling?
E: We used to share a room with two single beds facing each other, we’d do midnight raves with the bedside lamps. So we have a dream of having an office with two desks facing each other.
S: Hopefully that dream will become a reality. Book deals are looking good at the moment!
Oh My God What A Complete Aisling is available to buy here.
It’s also shortlisted in the Irish Book Award so don’t forget to give it a vote and be in with a chance to win a €100 book token. VOTE HERE!