For anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I recently participated in a contest where I had to mention Nuala Reilly 50 times in 7 days to win 2 books. I’m sure that I was kicked off of several friends lists due to my obsession with winning. Yeah, I’m a little on the competitive side. While I didn’t win the books, I did win the opportunity to interview the author about AUTUMN VIOLETS, the first novel in a four-part series. Since I was so impressed with the relationships between the characters in this book, I seemed to focus most of my questions on that. So, here it is….my official interview with Canadian author, Nuala Reilly!
SPRH: Fayette is an ideal little town that gives the reader a sense of “picturesque village that
meets and marries 21st century industrialized nation.” Did you paint the town of Fayette in
AUTUMN VIOLETS (or even parts of it) from memories made by your family while living in
Cambridge or some other small town in Canada?
NR: Fayette is based largly (the downtown anyway) on the town I grew up in, Elora Ontario. In fact, the original cover is an artist’s rendition of the downtown core. I did make some changes, which probably occur only in my head. But the Ryan house is my parent’s house, no question. I’d like to think that Fayette could be equated to any small town with that charm and appeal though, in Canada or in the US.
SPRH: Have you any professional baking experience to draw on for Moira’s Cakery descriptions?
If not, did you have to do a lot of yummy research to describe her craft? (Because I’d never
even heard of icing like you described for the Bakker wedding cake.)
NR: When I was a stay-at-home-mom with my kids for 13 years, I ran a few businesses from the house on the side. One of them was cake decorating. I was completely self-taught and as I did more, I learned more techniques. During those years I went from making birthday cakes and specialty cakes to wedding cakes. I have made the wedding cakes of all of my siblings except one, and for several other people, as well. Interesting fact is now my oldest son is so enthralled by the process that being a pastry chef is now his career path. He makes all the fancy cakes now.
SPRH: The strong ties between Moira and Sloane are so elegantly laid out for the reader that it is
apparent that you have sisters. The entire love-hate, “want to strangle her but would strangle
others for her” relationship was something I immediately related to. Was it difficult to capture
the essence of the jealous-proud/endearing-irritated nature of their relationship that we the
NR: It was, at times. I have three sisters. I am the oldest of them, so I am sure there are moments when that definitely comes across. There is a delicate balance that happens in strong female relationships, especially those of family. So I spent quite a bit of time trying to ensure that their relationship was both honest and realistic.
SPRH: Further to that, I’ve read other novels where sister characters were quite obviously written by
an author who is either a man or a woman who doesn’t have sisters. Your portrayal of the
true nature of sisterhood was so spot on that I actually relived several awkward memories of
my sisters and me. Was Sloane molded out of anyone in particular? Or was she a combination
of your own sisters? Or just completely made up altogether?
NR: Sloane is definitely a combination of the traits of my sisters and of other women who were strong influences on me as I grew up. My family has pointed out that Sloane certainly has many of the characteristics of one of my sisters in particular. But I think that is purely coincidental. At the time that I wrote the book, I did have a sister getting married and so some of the conversations between them are loosely based on our shared experiences. Although my sister was not nearly as, shall we say, headstrong, as Sloane. Sloane is, I think, that one perfect girl we all knew and maybe we wanted to dislike her because she seemed so perfect. But it’s hard to ignore her innate charm.
SPRH: Siobhan and Angela are both such strong role models for Moira and Sloane. One picks up
that Moira learned how to set goals and achieve them from her mother and grandmother and
seems to still lack all the confidence that Sloane is overflowing with. How challenging was it
to give the sisters the right balance of character qualities and defects inherited from the elder
Ryan women to make them seem so real?
NR: I’m so glad you picked up on this. Again, the ladies are combinations of various women in my life, this time more role models of mine than friends. When looking at my own children, I find it incredible the hybrid of qualities that they have, which are not the same in any two children, but which can be absolutely attributed to their dad and myself.
SPRH: Siobhan’s character made me laugh quite a bit due to her less than diplomatic, deadpan
nature of her words. Does she reflect “future you” in anyway? (Because I can totally see you
being THIS grandmother.)
NR: I would hope that she is a foreshadowing of the future me. Siobhan is a mixture of myself and what I remember of my own Irish Nana, Lucy, who passed away just before I got married.
SPRH: It’s obvious that Jack and Kevin only have each other in the world and as much as each one
worries about the other, their relationship is still felt to be strained. Was it Kevin’s cancer
diagnosis that drew them together?
NR: The relationship between these two was both challenging and a pleasure to write. As a woman, I can’t ever truly know the intimate parts of male relationships, but I talked my ideas for these two over with many male friends and with my husband. I think it’s clear (at least I hope it is) that they both had very difficult demons to deal with that impacted their relationship during a very formative time and that is why it was strained. However, I think when we are faced with the mortality of a loved one, those old differences seem to peel away and leave a very real, very raw centre that is both painful and beautiful. It was a pleasure to explore this with Jack and Kevin.
SPRH: What was it about Moira that helped Jack push past his “man-whore” ways? Was it more than
just the green eye connection? Did his father’s nagging about settling down finally wear him
NR: I have had the connection with someone (my husband) that happens out of the blue and rocks what you think you know about yourself, even though it is rare. I think in Jack’s case this is true. However, I also felt for him that there was a combination of the pressure from his father, with a need to please him as well as it was just time for him. It’s hard to be a hounddog forever when you are, at your core, lonely.
SPRH: When Kevin finally died, did you feel a sense of loss in your real life? (I went through half a box
of tissue, thanks a lot!)
NR: Absolutely I did. I knew that this would be the way Kevin would exit the story. Nonetheless, it was heartbreaking to write. It brought up for me memories of anyone I have lost in my life. Ironically, shortly after I wrote this, the father of a very dear friend of mine passed away from cancer. I was fortunate enough to be there with the family when it happened. It was a moment (I reflected several weeks later) that made me feel like I had really been true to how a life can end.
SPRH: The least explored character seemed to be Jaye, Moira’s best friend and business partner. She
had so many great and strong qualities about her and seemed to be a huge influence on Moira.
But I was left with so many questions, like “What’s with the blue hair?” and “Where does she
disappear to each night after closing The Cakery?” She’s so mysterious. (I sort of pictured her
wearing black Adam Ant concert t-shirts with a tiny diamond nose piercing but still wearing pink
lip gloss and high-end perfumes.) Did any of her personality or physical description come from
any of your own kids or any friends from high school? Do you relate more to Moira or Jaye as a
NR: Jaye is amazing and a character I truly loved. She is a mixture of attributes between myself and my oldest and dearest friend Sarah, with a lot of artistic license, of course. You aren’t the first one to make this comment on her. When my friend, Kelly, read the book, she told me that Jaye needed her own story. That is how I birthed the idea for Winter Jasmine, and really, for the whole series. Jaye is the ballsy-est version of what I feel myself to be. She is a pleasure to write and a force to be reckoned with.
SPRH: What inspired the series titles? Are you an avid gardener? I know that AUTUMN VIOLETS and
WINTER JASMINE are out now. When can we expect the third and fourth books in the series to
be released and what are their titles?
NR: I am a terrible gardener. I have a black thumb, unless it’s vegetables. Those I can grow almost too well and then never seem to be able to handle. I chose the flowers for their meanings, and the seasons because of the line “to everything, there is a season” which is I believe a Bible quote but I always remember as the song by The Byrds. The next two books that will be released in this series are titled SPRING DAISIES which follows Sloane and SUMMER POPPIES which will focus on Angela and Siobhan, and the family at large.
I am also now planning a second series of four to follow four men, and I hope I can do them the same justice I did to Kevin and Jack.
SPRH: Thank you, Nuala Reilly, for this glimpse inside of the characters of your novel. I can’t wait to read
the rest of the series.