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Page Turners: ‘Meeting Mae’ author Karen O’Connor

Page Turners: ‘Meeting Mae’ author Karen O’Connor


by Sarah Gill
26th Jun 2024

Ahead of the publication of her debut novel, Meeting Mae, we caught up with Karen O’Connor to discuss her literary influences, writing process, and the importance of self-compassion.

Meeting Mae is a tale of family, friendship, and secrets that poses the question, does the truth really set you free?

Susan’s secondary infertility journey is shrouded in shame. She is trying to give her husband Declan the big family they’ve always dreamt of. But she is keeping a secret. A secret not even her best friend knows.

Octogenarian Mae is minding her own business when a distracted Susan almost runs her over. The women form an unlikely friendship, and they reveal their deepest darkest secrets to each other, but the unravelling doesn’t end with them. The consequences of letting her secret out almost cost Susan her marriage and the family she loves so much. Can she finally put the past behind her and fix what she has right now?

Meeting Mae is inspired by teenage motherhood.

Author Karen O’Connor entered adulthood with a baby on her hip, having her first daughter at age 17 in 1993. People looked at her. She became ‘that girl,’ one of them. Her secret was front and centre.

Read on for our interview with Karen…

Meeting Mae Karen O'Connor

Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us about your journey to becoming a published author.

I think writing has always been there for me in some shape or form and I’ve wanted to be a published author for over a decade now. As a child I got Santa to bring me a typewriter when I was about nine or so and I ‘wrote’ a book for my family, stapling the pages together and proudly handing it over. But all through school and beyond, writing was mostly just for me, or a hobby. It wasn’t until my thirties that I decided, this is what I want to do with myself!

It made sense from then on, like finding a missing piece of a puzzle. The initial goal was to get some writing out into the world and having some small reflections published in Ireland’s Own was fantastic. The next challenge was to write a book. I started Meeting Mae in 2014 and finished it in 2015. I was so proud of myself at that point. The biggest challenge to date was the road from writing to publication, a long journey with a few years of no activity in there, but such a dream come true when Paula sent me that life changing email in March of this year.

What inspired you to start writing?

It seems to be the way I process things, so writing always came naturally to me. But the biggest inspiration for becoming an author has to be my love of reading. Reading has been in my life since I was a very small child. It brings so much to me personally and if I could even give a fraction of the comfort, joy and satisfaction to readers as other authors have given me over the years then I’ll be a very happy woman.

Tell us about your new book. Where did the idea come from?

The idea began with an internal focus on motherhood. I was a mother very young and still wanted more children into my late thirties. The spark of an idea came from exploring that concept, the concept of wanting more even though you already have some and the guilt and shame that can come with that if it’s not happening and you start trying to force it along. The mind continually talks negatively to us, and we really are very hard on ourselves. When something isn’t working out for us, a lot of the time we think maybe we didn’t deserve it anyway. In the book, Susan is at that point in her life, she’s beating herself up a bit because she can’t give herself and her husband the big family they always wanted. She needs a good friend to help her through, and Mae is just the woman for the job.

Meeting Mae Karen O'Connor

What do you hope this book instils in the reader?

I hope this book instils self-compassion in its readers. Women are too hard on themselves! We are all dealing with things and working hard and trying to get through life in one piece. We need to stop beating ourselves up and second guessing our decisions. Nobody is perfect. If you have to beat yourself up, do it with a feather. You might tickle yourself while you’re at it. I want Meeting Mae to remind us to enjoy the moment we are in now, the family we have now, the friends we have now, even if we are dreaming and hoping for more.

What did you learn when writing this book?

I learned that I’m a dedicated, determined and diligent woman. I was so proud of myself when I wrote The End and then I learned that writing The End on a manuscript is only the beginning. But what a beginning!

Tell us about your writing process?

I used to be a nighttime writer. When the kids were younger, they’d be in bed before the nine o’clock news and I’d happily write at my little desk until midnight, and beyond if I really got into it. As they got older, it wasn’t possible. Now, I need to have some structure in my day, so I try to get my word count done early and then anything else I get done is a bonus.

I’d like to say I’m a character driven writer. A small idea for a story will form and I’ll work it through in my mind, but my main characters usually arrive fully formed very early on. In that sense they take the story where they want it to go. It’s always a joy when something unexpected is said or done. I know these people are being true to themselves and I’m on the right track. I try to stay at a story every day when I’m writing, six or seven days a week. I need to keep it fresh in my mind. After that, my process is just to get it out onto the page and deal with the editing afterwards.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I think my writing is about the emotional journey of my characters. I’m very interested in our inner worlds, the bits we don’t show to everyone else. They aren’t always pleasant, but they are real. We are complex creatures and we all have stuff going on in our lives. So, something that’s happened to me or something I’ve an experience of will pose a question in my mind and I’ll explore that by getting my characters to live through it and see how they fare at the end.

What are your top three favourite books of all time, and why?

Oh my word. Picking three is tough. Firstly, I have to tell you the whole Harry Potter series blew my mind. I read them as an adult, initially to my eldest but then completely leaving her out of the equation and sinking my teeth into them myself. But that would be a bit of a cop out answer I guess, so here goes.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman has to be in my top tier of books. It made me laugh and it made me bawl my eyes out. It also had an older character in it too and it is definitely one of my favourites in the last twenty years.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult broke my heart and pieced it right back together again in the early 2000’s

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho because it is a beautifully written story of a personal journey.

Who are some of your favourite authors, Irish or otherwise?

Authors I’ve consistently loved include Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Maeve Binchy, Marion Keyes, Cecilia Ahern, Liane Moriarty, Matt Haig, Stephen King, Patricia Gibney, Jo Spain, Fredrik Backman, Colm Toibin, Kevin Barry, Sebastian Barry, Paulo Coelho. I could keep going! I’m usually reading a physical book, listening to an audio book and reading a digital book all at one time. I read a lot of reflective and spiritual books too. But those authors above have been up there for me over and over again.

What are some upcoming book releases we should have on our radar?

Meeting Mae – July 2024! Aside from that, I’m not sure to be honest, I’m a bit out of the loop on that score.

What book made you want to become a writer?

I think reading Maeve Bincy’s Circle of Friends back in the early ‘90s was when I first felt that awe at how a story can absolutely suck you in and thought, ‘I’d love to be able to do that.’

What’s one book you would add to the school curriculum?

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – a brilliant book which is more a journey of self-discovery. It teaches us how to tap into our inner selves and nurture that creative spark. But even if you don’t want to be a creative, it encourages us to do new things and explore the world with an open heart and mind.

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

I read Katriona O’Sullivan’s Poor in one evening. My mam bought it for me as a Christmas gift and I could not put it down. There was no dinner that day. It is an incredibly moving but very powerful memoir.

What’s some advice you’ve got for other aspiring writers?

They’ll have heard this before, but the best advice is to not give up. Stay with it and get the book written. Then edit, edit, edit. Make it the best version of itself you can. Don’t just polish your first three chapters, make the whole book shine. Oh, and if I didn’t say it already. Don’t give up!

Lastly, what do the acts of reading and writing mean to you?

Everything. Books give us knowledge, fun and entertainment. They allow us to process emotions and learn new skills, they allow us to fall in love or show us when it might be time to step away from a toxic relationship. Sometimes they are an encyclopaedia for living, mostly they are just like being wrapped in a warm blanket away from the hectic day to day stuff.

‘Meeting Mae’ by Karen O’Connor (€16.99) is published on 4 July, but is available for pre-order now.

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