Connie Mayo’s brilliant debut novel, The Island of Worthy Boys, is out with She Writes Press today. It tells the story of a nineteen century Boston Farm school which didn’t accept boys with any sort of criminal record. As the tag line goes: this made it the perfect place for two boys who accidentally killed someone to hide. Get a copy of the book to find out more about Charles and Aidan’s adventures in this extraordinary place at this extraordinary time.
Here’s a trailer to wet your appetites:
Connie lives in my favourite part of the world: New England. More specifically, in Sharon Massachusetts. We met when she contacted me about What Milo Saw and writing an adult novel with a child protagonist – we are doing a discussion piece on this next week, so watch this space!
Here is a little glimpse into Connie’s world:
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Blossoming while aging.
What do you love most about writing?
Being “in the zone” while writing. It feels like mindfulness meditation – you are truly focused on only one thing. There is pretty much nothing else that I do where I am that singularly focused.
What do you find hardest about writing?
What kind of child were you?
Bookish. My first job was in our town’s library shelving books, and I would always grab the cart with all the fiction, shelve all the books quickly and then grab a book way back in the stacks to read. I read most of Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar only because the “W”s were in a really secluded corner.
Where’s your favourite place in the whole world?
L-shaped couches – we have three of them in our house. I like to be in the corner of our red one with a hefty piece of fiction on my lap, preferably historical, and a cup of tea (or glass of wine, depending on the time of day) on the coffee table. If it’s lousy weather outside, all the better.
Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I can’t put off researching even the smallest historical detail. For example, while writing about what a prostitute was wearing, I went off on a long Googling expedition to try to figure out if she would be wearing a corset. It probably took me an hour, but I couldn’t write the next sentence without getting that nailed down.
What book do you wish you’d written?
The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her fiction writing style is the gold standard to which I aspire.
What would your super power be?
An elephantine memory.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I’d love to go back to the turn of the century – there was so much change and innovation going on – cars, telegraph, telephone, dozens more – I’d love to see people’s reactions to these things. “You mean I talk into this thing, and ten blocks away they can hear me? Impossible!”
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I grow heirloom tomatoes. Every fall when we have to go back to eating store-bought tomatoes, it’s awful.
What’s your favourite smell?
What’s your greatest fear?
A prolonged dying. I want to go quickly.
What are you reading at the moment?
All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Reading every Pulitzer is on my bucket list.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
Kids are not mouldable lumps of clay – they arrive into this world with personalities and strengths and weakness that will be revealed to you. The most you can do is polish the rough edges – and try not to do too much damage.
Which writer do you most admire?
Laura Hillenbrand. She writes gripping narrative nonfiction, all while having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It makes any of my too-tired-to-write excuses seem pretty lame.
What inspires you?
Achievement later in life, which is often accompanied by great perseverance. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing her Little House on the Prairie books until she was in her 40s, and didn’t get published until she was in her 60s. My hero.
When were you happiest?
When my husband I and were married about three months, we bought the house we are still living in. Every room was in rough shape. We would be at our jobs all day, come home at night and work on the house, and work on it all weekend too. Every night we would fall into bed tired but so blissed out.
What’s your favourite word?
I am fond of “haberdashery”. Our family watched the BBC show “The Paradise” and that was one of the departments in the store, and we all walked around for a while calling out, “Haberdashery!”
What keeps you awake at night?
Worrying about our teenagers!
What three tips would you give aspiring novelists?
It’s NEVER too late to start – in fact, it’s easier if you start later in life. Sure, you have less time and energy, but all that life experience will inform your writing.
Develop a thick skin. The most amazing books ever written have readers that were not impressed. Not every book is for everyone – don’t let bad feedback stop you.
Much advice is tossed around about having a writing schedule. If that works for you – great! But if it doesn’t, don’t have one. All a schedule did for me was made me feel bad when I couldn’t or didn’t stick to it. And I managed to finish my book without one – it can be done!