INTERVIEW WITH MHAIRI MCFARLANE : AUTHOR OF LAST NIGHT

We are SO excited to bring you an interview with Mhairi McFarlane! We read Mhairi’s latest release, Last Night, in July as part of our book club and we all loved it! Mhairi kindly offered to answer some questions for us! Click here to buy your copy of Last Night.

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INTERVIEW WITH MHAIRI MCFARLANE

1. How do you tackle big issues such as bereavement, bullying and it’s long term effects, marriage breakdown, image issues (such as weight) etc. Do you research these / talk to others with personal experience etc as you tend to use them as a pivotal “finding, loving and understanding the person within” in order to move on or past an experience?
Almost all of it comes from my imagination. People are always strangely disappointed with that answer – maybe as they think it’s not authentic? – despite it being my literal job description as fiction writer! I always say that while a specific situation may be something I haven’t experienced – like marriage breakdown – emotions are universal, so insecurity, betrayal, guilt, these are things we all encounter in one way or another and that’s your resource as an author. Occasionally when someone close to me has experienced something in particular, I sense check details with them, as much to give me confidence I’m getting it right as anything. It’s tricky, it would be a lie to say I don’t use what’s around me, I think all writers do, but in terms of lifting something wholesale from life and asking someone to explain it all to me, no, I don’t do that. Oddly enough I think it would ring false if I did. With Last Night, I’ve lost people I’ve loved, I’ve never gone through what Eve does. But friends have lost people suddenly, and talked to me about it. So with all of that, I stitch together a whole. Like a patchwork quilt, that’s the analogy! Pieces taken from many sources but the end result is original.
2. How has the pandemic changed being an author? Especially when it comes to releasing new books, promoting ect?
Not really to be honest as so much of writing involved sitting at home in front of a laptop – I did some Zoom events and interviews for Last Night’s launch and I suspect all that is here to stay, as it’s so much easier and simpler to log on and connect with hundreds of people than get on a train and travel to another city. I wrote a lot of the first draft of Last Night in lockdown and did all of the editing in it, and it wasn’t ideal, that’s for sure! I hugely rely on some socialising to blow some fresh air through my brain so the grind of every day being the same was tough. (Obviously that complaint comes with the caveats that I am very lucky to be healthy, and to have a job I can do from home,)
3. What’s your Writing style? Planner? Big outline? Little plan and just go with it. Lots of research to begin with, or whilst you write? 
2/3 planner to 1/3 pantser. I have an idea of the story’s key moments and where it’s going to end up, but I *always* get some ideas in motion, I’m never able to outline the whole, fully formed thing at the outset. Stories really grow in my head as I go along. Also, sometimes you hit problems you’ve not anticipated. In my book If I Never Met You, the protagonists Laurie and Jamie stage a fake romance. It took until I was right on verge of writing the manuscript for the penny to drop – you can’t perform a fake romance for the benefit of your ex if he’s never around! GULP. It was only then that I realised Dan needed to be her colleague. (Which makes the break up so much worse – I have no idea why this is, but a solid gold rule seems to be that if you tackle a logical flaw, you get not only the fix, but a better story out of it.)
And more generally, I conceived it as a “fauxmance” that played out online and I quickly realised it’s actually quite tedious to read about superficial posts on social media within a fiction. (Strangely not true of it as a vehicle for shaming or negative stuff, as in Who’s That Girl? I think that works.) If you can’t see the photos yourself, how exciting is it to have a picture described to you, on repeat?! Hence they do that selfie outside Hawksmoor and the action immediately moves to the book’s “real life,” which wasn’t the satire about 21st C showing off on the socials I had conceived, but that’s OK. There’s never any substitute for writing the thing to find out how it’s going to work. But I could never go Full Pantser because my psychology as I write is very much about a destination – a chapter comes much easier to me if it contains a big event, story turn, or character moment to deliver. I used to be a journalist on the local paper and I wonder if I’m still as much journalist as author, deep down!
4. Was there anything you were going to put into the plot of Last Night that you then changed your mind about and removed at the last minute?
Haha what an interesting question! Erm…..in the first draft, Eve and Finlay stay at a creepy B&B on the way up to Edinburgh and Fin has to stay in Eve’s room because she’s so frightened. It was based on an experience my brother and his wife had in upstate New York about 20 years ago, but it didn’t quite land and my editors were quite right to suggest taking it out. That’s a perfect example of ‘write it and find out.’ I loved the idea, but mysteriously, it didn’t work on the page.
5. I have read all your books (huge fan!) all loved them all for their own reasons. Last Night is the one that took me by surprise the most (in a really good way), the plot isn’t at all what I was expecting when I read the synopsis. You had a great way of making a heart breaking plot and sprinkling it with the perfect amount of humour. Is it important to you as a writer that you have a good mixture of both; serious plot lines & discussions and humour?
Thank you! Do you know, I never set out to put humour in anything, which sounds strange but is true. I write intentionally funny characters – Justin in Last Night is supposed to be a hoot – but whenever I file a draft I’m always convinced it’s really miserable and dour! It genuinely comes as a surprise when people say they laughed! I was worried at some points that people would think Last Night was too irreverent – I said to my editor “I’ve invented the harrowing rom com and should be stopped!” – but then I remembered, there’s nothing more natural than getting through a terrible thing with dark jokes. We don’t dispense with our senses of humour at our worst times, we need it more than ever. I don’t think I could ever leave humour out of any story because it’s so much part of my world view and “authorial voice”, I guess. Which sounds like I’m contradicting what I said about not setting out to be funny but, to me, it’s just that natural thing of taking the piss out of ourselves or seeing the inherent ridiculousness in so many things, in a very British way. As for seriousness, it’s an interesting thing – I think my writing got lots better when I realised that there’s absolutely no reason why a tough subject is off limits to a romantic comedy. It’s generally thought of as frivolous, light genre, but why? If love stories are ultimately about someone finding happiness, then you really have to give them real lows for the highs to feel truly high. The only two obligatory qualities are romance, and comedy, the rest is up for grabs. And I’m grabbin’ it!
6. Massive congratulations on Last Night reaching 100k sales, that is incredible and very well deserved. Do you do anything to celebrate? 
Thank you so much! I bought a GIGANTIC potted palm from a company I’d seen on Instagram, I have a thing about palms, I think I am trying to turn my house decor into a hotel or bar. It’s an absolute monster and to be honest I am a bit frightened of its vastness. I give it half a jug of water a day and hope for the best.
7. You recently announced the release of Mad About You, which I have already pre-ordered, how do you constantly come up with fresh, fun ideas – do you take inspiration from real people? Tv shows? I feel like your plots and characters are always so distinct to their story. 
Thank you, I love that you feel the characters fit the story! Ideas really are the toughest part of my job and it’s weird there’s millions of ‘How To Write’ manuals out there, but no one (or not that I’ve seen anyway) points out that staying published is as much about having good stories to tell as executing them well. I always follow what interests me – if I think up a challenge for a protagonist and my mind starts whirring with how I could explore it, I know I’m onto a good thing.  I never do things like read the papers and say ‘Oh everyone is talking about X, therefore I will do a book about X,’ not because I’m vastly principled about the creative process, or think it wouldn’t work, but because if it doesn’t snag my imagination, then it’s a non starter. Do you know what, day dreaming is vital! I walk 10k steps a day and I do loads of thinking during that (often I get a solution to a plot problem within 5 minutes, it’s like magic). Plus I always say fiction writers play the What If game. Say, for example, you see someone running for a bus, you start to make up reasons they’re late and so on, invent them a back story. Writers are useless in a crisis but we’re very good at thinking up the way a crisis could develop.
8. Which book from other authors would you recommend?
Read the absolutely wonderful The Hating Game by Sally Thorne before the film comes out!
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2 Comments

  1. October 2, 2021 / 3:46 pm

    Love this interview! I adore Mhairi’s writing, so it was really nice to read this. Mad About You is on my TBR too 🙂

  2. Mind Beauty Simplicity
    October 3, 2021 / 1:30 am

    such a great interview! the questions really flowed nicely and created a captivating conversation. thanks for sharing.

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