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November book club

(163 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 04-Nov-14 15:22:16

Our pick this month is Hello From the Gillespies (fine out more here and author Monica McInerney will be answering your comments and questions towards the end of the month.

So if you received a copy of the book don't forget to post on the thread - and if you didn't do join in anyway!

lindenny Fri 12-Dec-14 11:54:05

I am rather late with this review as I didn't start book straight away. I found it a good read with interesting characters. There were a few different twists in the story which made it a "want to keep reading" book.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 16-Dec-14 14:44:49

Breaking off from giggling at enjoying some of the round robins I've received this year to say the answers are back and coming up as soon as I have finished this mince pie very shortly. Meanwhile Monica says a huge thank you for all the lovely comments and all the excellent questions.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 14:52:29


Just received my copy of Hello from the Gillespies this morning, and really looking forward to getting started.
I have several friends who send round robin letters every Christmas, and to be honest, I just skim over them and then bin them. Maybe it would be kinder to say something, or would that offend, hard to know, what do others think?

Hello Geri. I must confess I’m a big fan of Christmas round robin letters, no matter how boastful or outlandish they are. I love the glimpse they give me into other people’s lives and families. From my experience, though, the senders don’t expect any real response to them, so don’t feel guilty about binning or skimming them!

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 14:53:25


I got my copy of Hello from the Gillespies on Saturday and finished it in the wee small hours of Sunday morning. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it and the interesting and unexpected twists which I will not spoil for others. I will certainly look out for this author, it is always good to find someone new whose work you enjoy. I should like to ask her which of the three countries she depicts that she most enjoys? Didn't seem to be any autobiographical details included which makes it hard to second guess.

Hello Purpledaffodil, thanks for your question. I grew up in South Australia, have been moving back and forth between Ireland and Australia with my Irish husband for the past 24 years and have also travelled often to the UK. I love writing about all three countries, but I did particularly enjoy writing about outback South Australia in Hello from the Gillespies. It was a cold and frosty Irish winter while I was writing the outback scenes, so it was very nice to imagine myself under big blue skies and bright sunshine.

If you would like to read more about my background, please do visit or follow me on Facebook at

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 14:56:42


I'd like to ask Monica does she ever write or receive Xmas round robin letters herself?


Thank you for Hello from The Gillespies. I loved it and read it in two days, staying up very late each night.
It is a great story and catches one in right away until the end.
Has Monica McInerney ever written such a Christmas letter I wonder?


Do YOU send Round Robin letters at Christmas Monica? If so is yours going to be a real run down of your year or a boast? grin

Hello again Geri and hello Crow and EgJ. When I was a child, my parents used to receive quite a lot of round robin letters, and I remember being fascinated by these descriptions of perfect marriages, well-behaved high-achieving children and idyllic lives, especially when I looked around at my chaotic family of nine. One year we received a letter that was so boastful my sister and I were compelled to write our own parody version. We called it The McInerney Report and filled it with extravagant details of our wildly successful lives, our exotic international travel, our selfless charity work… Mum banned us from sending it outside the family, but we all enjoyed writing and reading it so much it became a family Christmas tradition for the next ten years.

I wrote an article about it which appeared on the Waterstones blog:

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 14:58:14


I loved the book, I've passed it on to my cousin with a recommendation for her book club. Nice and easy because there's reading group questions at the end of the story.
The descriptive details in Monica's writing are just amazing.
Personally, I wanted to slap all of the children- they are so needy. I guess that comes from an isolated existence in the outback and a total dependency on each other. As does the need to escape and a rather scary naivety. Has anyone got any experience of this closed unit? Perhaps it's similar in boarding school or on Forces bases maybe.

Thanks again Gransnet and Monica McInerney, I shall be looking out for more of your books.

Hello Nonnanna. I’m so glad you enjoyed the descriptive details. And yes, I felt like slapping the children myself sometimes. I wanted to explore what happens when independent adults return home to live due to unexpected circumstances, and how they very often revert to childhood patterns of behavior – immaturity, squabbling, an over-reliance on their parents. I certainly think all of those attributes were heightened by the Gillespies’ isolation.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:01:42


Well, Monica McInerney - which one of the characters is most like you?

Hello again Nonnanna – there are aspects of me in all the characters, I’m sure. I worry as much as Angela, I’m inclined to put my foot in my mouth like Genevieve, I like my food as much as Victoria does… But that said, they are all fictional creations.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:03:38


I enjoyed this book, perfect for this time of year when I love to relax with a 'feel good' book.

My question is a simple one - when is your next book due to be published and where is it located?


I absolutely loved this book-the characters are easy to relate to,with their common bond being the love for their family,come what may.I think the idea of "getting it all off your chest" as Angela does in her letter,is one that we could all imagine doing.The consequences for the Gillespies are life changing and each family member deals with it in their own way.For Angela and Nick,the road is a rocky one but it eventually brings them back together,happily planning a new future.

My only question for Monica McInerney is when's your next book coming?

Hello Rosannie/Oznan – I’m in the early stages of my next book and still deciding on the different locations. It’s one of my favourite parts of writing novels – I often feel like a film location scout. My previous ten novels have been set in Ireland, Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Italy, even Antarctica (you can read more about them on my website, Writing is a wonderful way to travel without leaving my desk.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:04:35


I was so pleased and excited to receive my free copy of 'Hello from the Gillespies' as I have heard about the book from different sources including coverage on radio 4 woman's hour. I started reading as soon as book arrived in order to upload info prior to end of November.
I really enjoyed the description of life in outback Australia - I feel the book has provided a real insight into the mixture of beauty and isolation experienced by families living there. I am not sure that I was able to connect with the Angela because I found her escapism into a fantasy world slightly annoying and unbelievable. I fully understand children having imaginary friends - particularly when isolated but not adults. However this is probably just me - I would be very interested for the author to talk about her inspiration for the character. The concept for the book is brilliant - it would have been good to hear more about some of the people who received the letter and if it made them more honest in their future round Robbin letters.

Hello Décor, thanks for your comment, I’m very glad you enjoyed the outback Australian setting. Angela’s character emerged from many conversations with and observations of women I know in their mid-fifties, who are at the stage of their lives where their children are (almost) reared, they have had a long marriage, and they are now beginning to reflect on their lives. Are they where they want to be? Did they make the right decisions along the way? What might have been different, if they had chosen another path earlier in life? Angela’s fantasy life is an extension of those thoughts – she is so concerned about her deteriorating relationship with her husband, that imagining a different path for herself gives her comfort and distraction. I’ve been touched and surprised by the number of emails I’ve received from readers around the world who tell me they too have found solace in elaborate fantasy lives.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:05:06


A great choice of book in the run up to Christmas and I enjoyed reading about the noisy opinionated and often immature members of this family. What an amazing friend Joan was ! Stepping into the breach on almost every occasion. My question for the author is how did she discover the medical condition experienced by Angela ?
Thank you gransnet for a seasonal read.

Thanks for your question, Grannybug. While plotting Hello from the Gillespies, I knew I wanted to ‘remove’ Angela from her family for a brief time, to see how they coped without her. At first I explored the possibility of her being in a coma after her accident. But I found I missed her, so I thought about a period of amnesia instead, a common occurrence after a head injury like the one Angela receives. While researching the many different forms of amnesia, I came across a number of references to the condition known as confabulation. I then met a terrific Dublin neurologist who generously gave me hours of her time and expertise, explaining it to me in more detail. That said, any errors are mine, not hers.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:05:48


Thank you, I am loving the book. I have about 6 pages to finish it. I don't do round robins myself, not would I care to read them. They are all about showing off! Is the author Irish or Australian? I'm guessing Irish, but has lived in Australia. I found the book to be a real page turner and it's kept me reading late into the night.

Hello Inishowen, thanks for your comment – I’m so glad to hear Hello from the Gillespies kept you up late reading. I am Australian-born of Irish-descent (my great-grandparents on both sides were from County Clare) and have been moving back and forth between Ireland and Australia with my Irish husband for the past 24 years, almost half my life. I have dual Irish and Australian citizenship, so I’m sure I can officially describe myself as Irish-Australian!

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:06:39


Really enjoyed it & felt interested, involved, exasperated and irritated by the characters in turn. Angela's condition was new to me and made me think about the role of fantasy and daydreams in our lives - is it healthy or unhealthy, and to what degree should we'indulge'? Joan was brilliant. We'd all like to have a friend like her. I wonder how her own family would have felt though. I thought Ig was interesting too. Had he inherited his mother's rich fantasy life? Was it one of the down sides of growing up in such an isolated location? How would he cope with the transition at the end? This book was a real page-turner. I will look out for her books in future.

Hello d4dsquared and thanks for your message and questions, I’m very glad to hear you enjoyed Hello from the Gillespies. I love to create fictional families that are as real as possible, so yes indeed, they are often exasperating and irritating!

I’m very happy you enjoyed the character Joan too. I have been lucky in my life to have older women as friends who have been as important to me as Joan was to Angela – a great support, a listening ear and someone who talks straight just when you need it.

Re the role of fantasy in our lives – I did a lot of research into the subject, via books and articles as well as via conversations, and I came away with the firm belief that is it not only very common but also – mostly – very healthy. Modern life moves so fast, we all have heads filled with to-do lists, worries, anxieties – anything that gives our minds some respite is – generally – a positive thing.

Re Ig – yes, I think he has inherited his very active and fertile imagination from his mother. I feel his imaginary friend is a positive, not a negative. All the research I did on the subject, and my own experience of it (my little brother had an imaginary friend when he was around Ig’s age) shows that children with imaginary friends are often very bright and that there is nothing for parents to worry about. In regards to what will happen next to Ig - I feel sure he will flourish in his new school in Adelaide and I am also sure he will love every moment of his travels with his family.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:07:08


Pleasant and easy read, I enjoyed The Gillespies, Have you ever been so brave Monica, as to drop the mask and say it as you see it?
The twins were a bit irritating at times, but will pass the book on and look out for your next work. Thank you.

Thanks for your message, Matson. In real life, no, I am inclined to be more polite than brave. However, that’s one of the lovely by-products of writing fiction – I often get to put quite blunt or honest words into my characters’ mouths that I would never be brave enough to say myself!

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:07:42


Hi Monica! I loved the book - it definitely got me thinking about how I can never quite make up my mind whether I like getting round robins to catch up on the news from the past year - or whether I detest them because they are egotistical, dull or self-important. What's your view?

Hello Lavendarlilac, thanks for your message, I’m very happy to hear you enjoyed my book. As I mentioned above in Q3, I’m a big fan of round robin letters – mostly for their entertainment value, but also for the glimpses they give me into different families. As a writer of family comedy-dramas, I often find them inspiring too. I can certainly understand why many people find them annoying, though – my advice is always to read them with a pinch of salt, and never to feel guilty about deleting or binning them!

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:08:47


Was the tracing of family in Ireland something Monica has done herself? If so did she actually hear of any bogus companies offering tracing services?

Thanks for your question, GrandmaH. Yes, when I first moved to Ireland 24 years ago, I did do some research into my own Irish ancestry. I was alternately frustrated and elated by the material that was available, and it crossed my mind how easy it would be to be given false information. Anyone researching their family tree is usually so eager for details, they are vulnerable. Over the years, I have also heard of bogus-ish behaviour in the ancestry-tracing field - the production of false family crests, for example. All of those experiences definitely helped inform that part of my plot.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:09:31


My question is, does she have a 'Joan' in her own life?

Hello Grannyactivist – yes, as mentioned above in Q10, I’ve been lucky to have had a number of Joans in my life. The book is in fact dedicated to a very special woman called Dympna Dolan, who took me under her wing when I first moved to Ireland 24 years ago. She was my ‘Joan’ for many years, until she sadly died in May this year. I miss her very much.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:10:36


Firstly, yes Granny activist, does Joan have a life? I hadn't really thought about that. I did wonder what she was going to do when Angela and family left to live in Aderlaide.

When I was about 3/4 of the way through perhaps slightly more there seemed to be a lot of unanswered questions and I didn't feel there were enough pages left to answer them all and I was anticipating a poor ending but was pleasantly surprised. It didn't fizzle out. Well done Monica. I ended up feeling a bit sorry for Lindy. Monica, did you consciously not let all the characters have a happy ending? On reflection going over to Ireland and starting to 'live' seemed a much better choice for her. Have you stayed out in the outback? I've read that every year there are fatal accidents when spiders fall out of the car sun visors. I thought that was really clever using that in your plot.

I finished them book a few days ago and am still missing it.

Thanks for all your questions, EastEndGranny. Joan does indeed have a full and busy life, but for the purposes of the plot, I only needed to show her interactions with the Gillespies, not with her own family. Women in the outback are among the most resilient and independent I have ever met, so I feel sure Joan would cope very well after Angela and her family move away. I suspect she will also make a number of visits to Adelaide to see them, and also continue to visit Victoria and Fred on Errigal.

Re the question of happy endings – I want my stories to feel as realistic as possible, and sadly, it’s not always possible for everyone to have a completely happy ending. What I try to do is give everyone a hopeful ending, so that the reader can close the book feeling that, even though all the characters have faced difficulties, they have emerged a little stronger and wiser – in most cases – and that they will forge on with their lives.

Re the outback setting – yes, I have visited it many times. I grew up just a few hours away from Hawker and the Flinders Ranges, so I know the whole area well. I have also seen more spiders and snakes than I would like to remember. The ‘spider falling out of the car sun visor’ happened to me once, to my horror, so that scene was easy (if unpleasant!) to write. Fortunately, I was able to pull over to the side of the road without incident, unlike poor Angela…

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:11:27


Thanks for my copy of this book. I enjoyed reading it, though it is not my usual style. It is pleasantly upbeat. I am curious about Joan: is she modelled on someone in Monica's life, or is she someone she wishes she had had in her life? I think everyone needs a Joan.


Enjoyed this book, thanks and very good timing as the first Christmas card arrived today - it's not even December yet!
I found it a bit predictable but a good light hearted read all the same.
My question is do you have a Joan in your life or are you the 'Joan' figure?

Hello Dartmoordogsbody and Muriel – yes indeed, I have known many wonderful ‘Joans’ in my life, as I describe above in Q10 and Q14.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:12:47


I enjoyed this book very much. Had a bit of a problem with the girls at first as they seemed more like early twenties, but when I think of my granddaughters (five sisters) all strong independent young women, as soon as they are all together in the family home they revert to how they were years ago, the petty squabbles, the in-jokes, they all re-surface. I loved the description of life on the farm.
Have never sent or received a round-robin myself, I wonder if anyone will be brave enough to send Monica one this Christmas.

I would like to ask Monica which was her favourite character and why?

Hello CeeCee, thanks for your question. My favourite character is Ig, the ten-year-old son. I have three ten-year-old nephews (not triplets, the sons of three of my siblings) and I find them so entertaining and interesting, with their mixture of solemnity, sweetness, straight-talking and ‘boyness’. Ig is a little bit of all three of those nephews, and I grew as fond of him as I am of my ‘real’ ten-year-olds.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:13:22


I had forgotten that I also had wondered about the ages of the girls. They did seem more like twenty somethings and I wondered what else they had been doing. Was it important for the story for Angela to have been married for 34 years and for her to have had the twins so early in her marriage?

Hello again EastEndGranny. As I mentioned above in Q5, I deliberately had the twins, and Lindy, regress from their independent lives to more immature behavior once they came back to Errigal, reflecting what is often the case when adult children return home. Re Angela – yes, I wanted her to be in her mid-fifties, yet with grown up children (as well as Ig), so she would be at the stage of really reflecting on the path of her life as a woman, a wife and a mother.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:14:02


hello! My question is this: The descriptions of the outback were very vivid. Have you experienced life there yourself?



Thanks very much, SuzyQ1958. Yes, as mentioned above, I have visited the Flinders Ranges many times, having grown up just a few hours away. I also had wonderful research help from family friends, Keryn and Henry Hilder, who lived on a sheep station near Hawker for many years. I spent hours talking to them on the phone from Dublin, asking questions on everything from ‘What colour is the summer dust?’ ‘What does it smell like after a summer storm?’ ‘What trees could you see from your kitchen window?’ even, ‘How does it feel to shoot a snake?’

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:14:24


I wonder about the Christmas letters. Everyone seems to have received one but no-one ever admits to sending them- so Monica is your deep dark secret that you actually used to send these things?

Hello Trisher, no, I don’t have a deep dark secret unfortunately! As I mentioned above in Q1, Q3 & Q12, my fascination with those letters comes from reading them as a child, and then creating my own parody version of them…

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:15:18



I very much enjoyed the book and would be interested to know where you draw your inspiration from.

Thank you,



I would like to ask Monica what inspired this book. Does she receive these long glossy letters every year, or, in fact, does she send them?

Thank you for a very good read which I have passed on to my DD.

Hello MaceyR and Nannypam – I write family comedy-dramas and the great thing about families as subject matter is that inspiration is everywhere. I draw on my own experiences from an emotional point-of-view – I love to write about the strong feelings of love, loyalty, ties, tensions, joys and grief we all go through, but the plots and characters themselves are all from my imagination.

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:15:52


Do you think families who live so far away from other families and friends tend to be more vocal with each other ?
I am 3/4 way through and just can't put it down so very well done and I will certainly tell others about it.

Hello Glammanana – I think it depends entirely on the mix of personalities. In the Gillespies’ case, having a strong character like Genevieve in their midst definitely stirs things up. She would probably do so even if they lived in the middle of the city!

MonicaMcInerney Tue 16-Dec-14 15:16:29


My Question is do you have a parallell universe escape world of your own that you drew upon for the story?
A brilliant read, thank you.

Thanks for your question, Spidergran. Hello from the Gillespies is my eleventh novel, so for most of the past fifteen years since I became a full-time writer, my head has been filled with parallel universe escape worlds – all my fictional families and the events that happen to them. So yes, I was easily able to imagine myself in Angela’s shoes, with her own fantasy life playing on demand in her head.