This week we meet emotional crisis "go-to girl" Monique McDonell, author of Chick Lit gem Mr Right and Other Mongrels, who speaks to us from the sunny beaches of Sydney, Australia.
Name: Monique McDonell
Author of: Mr Right and Other Mongrels
Location and one thing you love about living there: I live on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. I love that can see the Pacific Ocean from the end of my street. It’s a nice casual place to live.
Tell us a bit about yourself: How does one describe oneself? I’m married with a pre-teen daughter. I love to travel and cook and entertain and of course, read. One of my best-friends calls me the “go-to girl”. Apparently I’m good in an emotional or life crisis. In my other life I run a boutique PR agency with a friend.
Tell us about Mr Right and Other Mongrels: Blissfully happy in her own universe Allegra (Ally) Johnson is the sweet best friend everyone wants to have. Quietly and independently wealthy she runs a charming second-hand bookshop in beachside Manly. Heck, sometimes she even goes downstairs from her flat to run the shop in her Chinese silk pyjamas. It sounds like bliss. But is it enough?
When dog-phobic Allegra is rescued from an exuberant canine by the chivalrous Teddy Green, Australia’s hottest TV celebrity and garden make-over guru, her life begins to change. Dramatically!
Unaware of Teddy’s fame Allegra finds herself falling for him, despite her best attempts to resist his charm. Supported by her eccentric family and her fabulous gay friend Justin, Allegra embarks on an on-again off-again romance with Teddy, complicated by his jealous ex-girlfriend, fashionista Louisa and her own narcissistic hippy mother Moonbeam.
Will Ally be able to overcome her insecurities and find happiness with this possible Mr Right or will Teddy’s celebrity lifestyle prove to be too much? Mr Right and Other Mongrels is a light-hearted story about how one chance encounter can change your life.
What sparked your passion for books and the art of a good story? I can’t quite remember. I’ve always loved reading and books from the time I was tiny. I think I always liked the notion of escaping into a book and heading off on an adventure.
Is there a particular book that changed or affected your life in a big way? My very first favourite book was The Littlest House by Virginia Lee Burton. A divine picture book about a small farm house on a hill that gets gobbled up by urban sprawl (don’t worry it had a happy ending). After that it was Little Women. I loved Jo March for her feisty spirit, her strong sense of family and her desire to be a writer no matter what.
What was the seed of inspiration for your latest book? My just released book Mr Right and Other Mongrels was inspired by a vision of the main character Allegra in her bookshop. I could see her so clearly and the story unfolded from there.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp? The book is really a feel-good story but I believe the message is that sometimes you need to put yourself at the centre of your own life rather than stand off to the side. To do that sometimes you need to embrace change and take a chance.
What challenges have you faced in your writing career? Well I’ve faced a fair bit of rejection which is pretty normal. My other main challenge has been finding the time to write. I think for lots of writers finding the right support crew who will give you honest feedback but are in your corner can be a challenge. It took me a little while to find mine and that has made all the difference.
What has been your best moment as a writer? My best moment was being chosen for the QWC/Hachette Livre Manuscript Development Program with Mr Right and Other Mongrels in 2008 and all the wonderful experiences and people that came from that.
Who is your author idol? I write chick lit so I really admire Meg Cabot. I also adore Nora Ephron’s writing. (I’m so sad she just passed away. I really had a fantasy that she would direct one of my books as a movie. It was never going to happen but that’s what made it a fantasy I suppose.)
Do you see yourself in any of your characters? I see parts of myself in Allegra, the main character in Mr Right and Other Mongrels. We both have a dog phobia and we both tend to put other people’s happiness first, to our own detriment.
Why Chick Lit? Good question. When I write short stories I actually write much darker tales but I used to start novels that were rather tortured and then find myself too miserable to continue. When I decided I wanted to write my first novel I decided I needed to write an uplifting story because if I was going to spend a year or more with the characters I needed to enjoy their company.
How do you fit writing around your day job? When I started writing my daughter was tiny and my husband travelled for work so I used to write in half hour blocks while she watched Play School or Sesame Street. Now that she’s older and I’m back at work I try and block out some time every day, even if it’s just half an hour to keep my head in the story. It doesn’t always work but it helps to start with the plan. (And this may be more specific than you wanted but bulk cooking helps me a lot. If you can just grab something from the freezer and throw it in the oven you can gain an extra hour in the day.)
Do you feel like your dream has come true or is there much more to do? I think there is so much more to do but having a book out there in the universe has been very freeing.
What is your personal cure for procrastination? I’m a terrible procrastinator but I also like to set and achieve goals so somehow if I do a plan and add deadlines I seem to meet it or almost meet it at least, even if there is some serious scrambling involved.
What does your workspace look like? Sadly I write on the end of our dining room table. It looks like a mess until I clear it off to entertain. This is not an ideal situation and I do not recommend it to others.
Are there any occupational hazards to being a writer? Well I have a sore neck from craning over the computer…does that count?
Have you ever had a day when you just wanted to quit? Yes lots and lots of them. I actually didn’t write for over a year not long ago after a pretty big set-back. I just couldn’t get myself to do it. I’d completed five books at that point and I think I was just burnt out.
What do you do when you’re not writing? I read, cook, watch too much TV and hang out with my family and friends.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer? I never said I was sane. (Ha! Ha!) Honestly I think having the support of other writers is what keeps me marginally sane.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school? That’s a tough question. I think school taught me empathy. I’m not sure that was the intention of the teachers but it was something I learnt in the playground.
Did you have a moment when you realised you were meant to be a writer? I think I always wanted to be a writer and always wrote. It’s part of me.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors? So much of writing is persistence. Lots of people give up too easily. Don’t let a bit of rejection set you back. Another thing about writing is that timing/luck is everything. You can be lucky by writing about something you love and it may happen to be the “big thing” publishers are looking for. The reverse is equally true. I think the more you put yourself out there and take risks the better your chances of changing your luck.
If you are an author and would like to be featured on You May Say I'm a Dreamer, send me an email at sarah.hardie[at]hotmail.com and I'll get back to you quick smart.