Today, I am delighted to be host to Anne-Marie Casey‘s latest novel, “The Real Liddy James”
In my opinion, “The Real Liddy James” is a book about life and the tricks it can play on you.
In some respects, Liddy James is a highly successful woman: she’s a sort-after divorce lawyer, she’s a writer, she has two sons, and she’s good looking, intelligent and lives in New York. My goodness, she has it all……or so, some might say.
Then, we look a little closer and we see that Liddy is herself divorced. On the surface, she and her ex-husband, Peter, appear to be on fairly amicable terms, but is this a true picture of the situation? Liddy is such a successful lawyer and writer, that she is in demand most of her waking hours. Her life is spreadsheet-organised. It has to be if she is to fit in all her appointments, have time for herself (what is that?) and time for her boys. Matty, a teenager, and Cal, at six years old, have very different needs that have to be accommodated. She has help with this in the form of Lucia, but Lucia has a life outside of the James’ household which may need attention too. It also seems that Peter has a new life ahead with Rose, living in the same house he once occupied with Liddy and Matty.
One may ask why Liddy is so driven. Partly, this is to leave behind her upbringing. Her parents are Irish, from fairly humble roots, who immigrated to America to find a better life. However, their idea of “a better life” didn’t coincide with Liddy’s, who became driven by the ambition to lead her own version of betterment. Success is also addictive; the more successful Liddy became, the more her personal life became squeezed. This is definitely one of the tricks that life can play, thinking that the more money one earns, the happier and easier life will become.
This whirlwind of a life finally unravels during a T.V. interview, when Liddy completely “loses the plot”. In the aftermath of embarrassment, puzzlement and utter weariness, Liddy is offered the chance to recover her equilibrium, with her children, in a remote house in Ireland. We wonder at this point, if the peace and quiet away from New York and all the demands of that life will help the real Liddy James emerge…..or have we met her already? You must read the book to find out!
I enjoyed “The Real Liddy James”; not my usual genre, but it made a pleasant change from some of the “murder and mayhem” novels that I read. Although Liddy’s lifestyle is a million miles from mine, I could identify to a certain extent with the juggling of work commitments, while providing a young family with the time, love and care that they need. I was surprised by some of the feelings evoked by several characters in this novel as it unfolded. Anne-Marie Casey’s writing has an easy flow to it and I was able to zip through this book with great enjoyment.
I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about how women juggle the dreaded work/life balance. There are romance, humour and relationship issues within the pages – plenty to keep you interested in meeting “The Real Liddy James.”
Thank you to the publishers for providing me with the book to read and review.
Question and Answer with Anne-Marie Casey
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to my blog today, Anne – Marie.
First of all, I have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Real Liddy James.” She’s certainly a driven character! Is she based on anyone you know?
While Liddy is certainly based on aspects of people I know (including me!) she had a very precise genesis as a character. I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now famous article, Why women still can’t have it all, several years ago. In personal, thoughtful and analytical prose, Slaughter articulated the challenges facing women who want a career and a family. She described how the demands of her life had become overwhelming, and in doing so she voiced the feelings of innumerable other women. Women who had come to the conclusion they didn’t want to live that way. And, more likely, they didn’t think they could.
The following year Lean In arrived. Sheryl Sandberg’s book is a powerful and challenging piece of work. I recognise its importance for women, perhaps particularly for younger women. But being in my forties at the time I read it, having a career and a family myself, having seen several of my brilliant friends have to adapt to (and their careers suffer because of) the demands of divorce, or children with problems, not enough money, or simply not enough sleep, I felt uncomfortable with, and a bit scared by, the emphasis on self-confidence and ambition rather than institutional change. I found myself to be Team Anne-Marie Slaughter all the way.
I had thought about the issues debated by Slaughter and Sandberg a great deal so, when I met my editor to talk about a new book, I said, spontaneously as I recall, that I wanted to write something about a woman “who leaned in so far she fell over”. We laughed. She loved the line and, before I could point out that I didn’t have any more than that, she told me to get started. And that’s how Liddy began.
Why did you choose New York as the setting for this novel?
From the moment I first saw the iconic skyline I have had a love/love relationship with New York City. I’ve spent a lot of time there for work and pleasure, and I guess I just thought it would be fun to inhabit it in my imagination. Also, in the process of feeling free enough to write prose I found it liberating to be so far geographically away from my real life.
Do you personally think that it is possible to create an ideal work/life balance?
I know that you are also a screen writer and a playwright, as well as a novelist. Do you have any preference? What has been your most satisfying work to date?
I am not one of those people who always knew they would be novelists or, like the Brontes, spent endless hours of their childhoods writing miniature books in tiny script to satisfy their relentless urge to tell stories. In fact, writing fiction was never an ambition of mine.
Through my twenties, I worked in Film and TV in London as a producer, but then I fell in love, got married and, with our first baby in tow, my husband and I moved to Ireland where I became a TV writer. (Fortunately I could do it, it was a life that suited me, AND I earned a living from it.) For several years I sat at my desk happily writing scripts that mostly never got made, but then the recession came and bit hard and the two shows I had been working on were cancelled abruptly. What was I to do? I didn’t want to go back into production, and I suspected that production would not want me – by this time I was a working writer, too used to wearing pyjamas all day and mostly talking to myself, and occasionally the dog, to return to all day human interaction. After a couple of days under the duvet, I decided there was nothing for it. I would have to try and write (and sell!) a novel.
When I began writing my first book, I tried to apply the same tools I used when writing a screenplay. There is a rigorous purity in the process of development from storyline, to scene breakdown to script that comes naturally to me. And I love deadlines! I love them so much I give them to myself! (Occasionally I give them to my teenage sons with dispiriting results.) However, to my dismay, I found this didn’t allow me to explore the characters and situations in the way I needed to. In fact, it turned out that the only way I could write a novel was to throw all that planning out, sit down, start writing and see what happened.
Actually I don’t recommend it as an approach, aside from the unoriginal resulting stress dreams, it means I almost always over write and have to self-edit rigorously, but the great surprise to me in becoming a novelist (and two books in I feel okay about calling myself one) is that it has been the most satisfying work I’ve ever done.
Are there any authors or books that have influenced your work?
I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, and I studied English at University, so it’s almost impossible for me to be specific on this – however here are four books that influenced this novel.
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank.
This is a very important book for me as it was the novel that inspired me to try and be a writer of fiction. The memory of how I felt when I read it, (the sense of emotional connection to the main character, Jane) and my admiration for the simplicity yet boldness of the structure gave me a model of what I sought to achieve.
Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa M Alcott
I came back to these books, which I adored as a child, in 2011, when I adapted them for the theatre and, of course, re-reading them as an adult, I felt an even stronger sense of why they have endured as iconic classics for so many generations of women. As an adult, and a working writer, I find Jo March’s struggle to provide for her family through her work inspirational, as well as her burning desire to marry for love and retain her independence of spirit, most unusual in the context of 19th century literature.
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
I always assume that everyone has read something by Nora Ephron, but if you’ve only seen the movies, get this book. It’s got everything; laugh out loud humour, intense emotional punch and recipes. I read a piece by Lena Dunham in which she said that Ephron “called bullshit on a whole host of things including…the idea that one’s writing isn’t fiction if it borrows from one’s life.” I couldn’t have put that better.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
I was thinking about late 19th century novels when I was writing certain sections of my new novel and it was pleasure to go back and re-read several of Wharton’s. If you haven’t read any, I think this is the one to start with (although I have a huge affection for The House of Mirth). I was struck once again by two things about this novel; the emotional complexity of the characters and plot, and yet the readability. That is extremely hard to achieve, yet Wharton makes it seem effortless.
Do you follow a strict routine when you write?
I try to. Without self-discipline nothing gets written, and I have a busy life, so as I am starting a new novel at the moment I have imposed the 1000 words a day rule on myself. As I haven’t written a book for well over a year it is like pulling teeth at the moment so I’m trying a tip a writer friend gave me and I tie my leg to the chair with a belt until the work for that day is done!
What about the future? Do you have anything in the pipe-line that you can tell us about?
I have just finished a screenplay adapted from the novel ‘The Master’ by Jolien Janzing about Charlotte Bronte’s time in Brussels and her doomed affair with her Professor, Constantin Heger. It is the secret love story that inspired Jane Eyre and I’ve really enjoyed writing it. I am also working on a touring version of my stage adaptation of Little Women for the Everyman Theatre in Cork. And I’m tying my leg to a chair most days!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Anne-Marie. It has been a real pleasure to read your novel and also your interesting answers to my questions.
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