A former paralegal, with a degree in French and Law, two children, a husband, a dog and a quite dramatic reference to brain surgery in her bio, Jenny Ireland is a woman grabbing life by the neck and wringing the most out of it.
Her first novel is for the YA market and features a girl suffering from arthritis, a condition Ireland knows intimately. At only 23 and a recent graduate, painful swelling in her knees, elbows and neck, led to a diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, a chronic disease which means she lives constantly with pain and fatigue and needs to be in bed most nights by 8pm. The flare ups she experienced after the birth of each of her children left her unable to walk; bedridden with young children, she began to write.
A 5 week stay in hospital, cycling between ICU, HDU and a ward, with two brain surgeries to tackle encephalitis would have broken the spirit of most people, certainly me. Months of rehabilitation, to recover from the virus, combined with her already considerable health issues and the demands of family life would have been the perfect excuse to stop writing, instead Ireland ramped up the pressure on herself and submitted a preview of her novel to Penguin Random House’s award-winning programme WriteNow; a mentorship scheme for new authors from underrepresented backgrounds, which she chosen to participate in.
It has been a hectic few years, 2019 brain surgery, 2020 acceptance to the WriteNow programme and Autumn of 2021 a two book deal with Penguin Random House and 2023 will see the release of her first novel ‘The First Move’!
In an interview with The Bookseller website, TheBookseller.com, Jenny explains “[Since my surgery,] I don’t freak out about the tiny things any more. I’m more inclined to go for it and write about what I want.”
Specifically, Ireland focuses on empathy and hopes to show through her writing that what we assume about others’ lives is usually incorrect. “I wanted to show that trying to understand why people might act the way they do will make the world a nicer place,” she says.””
What is the first book you bought yourself?
‘Guitar Girl’ by Sarra Manning. I must have read it about twenty times as a teenager. It was the story of a teenage girl who shot to fame with her band ‘The Hormones.’ It was the book that made me realise the power of stories and their escapism. I always keep a copy at home, so it’s always there for rereading when I’m chasing nostalgia/ dreaming of what (never) could have been.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I didn’t do much writing when I was younger, unless you include (some might say terrible, but I say awesome) songs I wrote for the band I was in. I started writing after I had my second child, eight years ago. But I think I would tell myself that whatever you write is probably going to be rubbish at the beginning. Writing is editing and deleting and re-writing. Keep learning the craft, develop a thick skin and don’t give up.
Did publishing your first book change your writing process?
I think I’m much more conscious of structure than I was before. For my first novel I kind of just wrote it with no real idea of what structure was. Now my ‘Save the Cat’ book by Blake Synder, is permanently dogeared.
What were you most wrong about when you imagined being a writer?
I didn’t realise how many people are involved in publishing a book. It’s a proper team sport and I love that about it.
Which 3 books do you think everyone should read?
To appreciate well-written characters, Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo is my first choice. Louisiana Elefante is the most gorgeous character I’ve ever read, and everyone should get to experience Louisiana’s brilliant voice, swampy lungs, and love for peanuts.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. This book broke my heart into a million pieces and left me sobbing uncontrollably, but I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s about a man dealing with the death of his wife while looking after his two sons. A crow shows up in his house and refuses to leave until he is no longer needed.
The Rest of Us just Live Here by Patrick Ness. The concept itself blew my mind. A gorgeous, beautifully written YA that explores the life of a ‘normal’ teenager while others are off saving the world.
Do you have a favourite book to gift and if so, what is it?
I love to gift the gorgeous books by Oliver Jeffers, to people who have just had babies. Especially ‘Here we are,’ ‘What we’ll build’ and ‘Meanwhile Back on Earth.’ The illustrations are stunning, and the writing is so poignant. Although, I get my nine year old daughter to write the inscriptions when I give books as gifts, her writing is much neater than mine.
What song always gets you on the dance floor?
No song will get me on the dancefloor. I do not dance under any circumstances (except on the rare occasion that I’m forced to play Just Dance on the Nintendo Switch with my children.) I could blame my inflammatory arthritis for this aversion of dancing, but that would be a lie, I just hate it. I can, however, be found tapping my foot to anything by Phoebe Bridgers.
Tea or Coffee?
Both. Coffee in the morning and mostly tea throughout the day. When I’m editing, I always drink coffee and always in my giant Pinocchio mug that I got from the Disney Store. I dread the day this mug breaks, because then no more editing can be done .
Do you Google yourself?
Shamefully yes. But in my defence, I’m still at the very beginning stages of being an author so seeing my name come up on anything that isn’t my own social media is still very exciting for me.
Why do you love Chapters?!
I’m from Belfast so haven’t made it into Chapters in person yet. (I will definitely rectify this failing the next time I’m down). I adore independent bookstores and love that Chapters has a dedicated Irish section, and a blog on the website! I love a blog.