Thursday, June 10, 2021

Jenny Chou Interviews Author Caroline O'Donoghue

Today on the blog I’m chatting with Irish writer Caroline O'Donoghue, author of the newly released All Our Hidden Gifts, an emotionally rich novel of loneliness, friendship, and sacrifice. Lucky me, I got an advance copy a few months ago, so I can promise that if you like your YA spooky and full of magic, this is the book for you. The unpredictability of the story made for a page-turner, and the characters!

Prickly and hilarious Maeve, her righteously angry best friend Lily, and Lily’s delightful genderfluid sibling, Roe, absolutely won my heart. In addition, Caroline O'Donoghue wove issues of social justice including LGBTQI+ rights and religious fanaticism into the plot, making for a thought-provoking read. 
Caroline, thanks so much for joining me on the blog, and congratulations on the publication of your first YA and on four starred reviews - from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and Bookpage! As we say here in the States, you really hit it out of the park! Blog readers can check out my review on the Boswell Book Company website right HERE.

Two years earlier, before the story begins, Maeve dumped her best friend Lily on the way from the depths of unpopularity to a shaky position in a clique a few rungs higher. Lonely and uncertain, she’s not even sure she even likes her supposed new friends. And then she finds a pack of tarot cards in the dusty basement of her school and that find leads to all sorts of changes in her life. Tell us about the challenges Maeve is dealing with in All Our Hidden Gifts.

CAROLINE O’DONOGHUE: Maeve is the kind of deeply insecure girl that, if you were to meet her in real life, you might not necessarily read her as insecure. She’s funny, she’s strong-willed, she can stand up for herself, she’s reasonably quick in a conversation. But if you scratch the surface, you’ll find that Maeve simply doesn’t like herself. And that comes out in everything: in her rejection of Lily, in the way she explodes with rage when she feels like someone is criticizing her, her general defensiveness. She believes herself to be bad, and she’s constantly afraid everyone’s going to realize.

JC: What sparked your interest in tarot, and do you have experience reading cards? Also, what was your first inkling that you might be a writer?

CO: I got my first pack of tarot cards when I was twelve, and much like Maeve, brought them into class and read for anyone. I was terrible, I didn’t really understand the point of tarot cards at all, but it didn’t matter because all the girls in my class were immediately swept up in the romance of them. Years later, in my 20s, I got back into them again and they became a huge hobby and interest of mine. I love their history, how open for interpretation they are, how wonderful they are as a tool for self reflection.
I first started writing at around seven I think. I wrote an essay for school and got praise from a teacher, and it was the first time I’d ever done something that I found both immensely enjoyable and also seemed to make the people around me happy. Usually it’s one or the other. I decided to keep doing it, and I haven’t stopped!

(If any blog readers would like to try tarot for themselves, we sell the Beginner’s Guide to Tarot at Boswell, which includes a deck of cards and a book to get started.) 

JC: There are so many intriguing characters in All Our Hidden Gifts! From Maeve and Roe to their new friend, Fiona, to the members of the COB, a creepy and mysterious religious organization holding rallies all over town. Did you have the book planned out from start to finish before you started writing? Were there any characters whose roles unexpectedly expanded? 

CO: I did plan the book, but I strayed from the plan quite a lot. I originally planned for the COB and (their American leader) Aaron to have a much smaller role, but they were so compelling to write that they ended up becoming central figures.

When I first started writing Fiona, she was going to be a slightly stuck-up posh girl who turned out to have a heart of gold. She was arrogant because she was beautiful and rich, but beneath that surface stuff, she was clever and loyal and funny. I changed that completely once I started writing her. Fiona *is* a little arrogant, but she’s arrogant because she’s good. She’s one of those people who are just a bit good at everything and knows it. I think these people can be a little terrifying, and I’m always surprised when they turn out to be nice, too.

I love the promise of something magical that both the UK and American covers of your book give to readers. There are similarities, but the color schemes are wildly different, and the American cover has a picture of Maeve while the UK cover doesn’t. Why did your American publisher decide to feature her on the cover? Did you get any input on the cover art?

CO: I don’t have much to do with covers at all, I’m afraid, but all the Gifts covers have been absolutely spectacular. However, I think I love the US one most of all: I love Maeve’s strength, and her unflinching stare.

JC: I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that early in the novel Lily disappears, seemingly as a result of Maeve’s tarot reading. I’d love to discuss where she goes and why and the fascinating twist that is Lily’s reaction to her disappearance, but we don’t believe in spoilers here at Boswell Books!

Friends, get yourself a copy of All Our Hidden Gifts and find me in the store when you’ve read it. We’ll chat! So instead of giving the ending away, let’s imagine you get to be an Indie bookseller for a day. What new or upcoming titles would you recommend to blog readers?

CO: Gosh, that’s hard because the US and UK book markets are so different, and I don’t know what’s coming out in the US! But in terms of stuff I’m really looking forward to, I can’t wait to read The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Boswell hosts Boulley for a virtual event on Tuesday, June 29 - click here to register and get more info!), Enchantee by Gita Trelease and Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. I also loved The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbridger, Burn by Patrick Ness and We Played With Fire by Catherine Barter.

Thank you so much, Caroline, for answering my questions. Thank you for your time and for your words. Blog readers, you can keep up with Caroline O'Donoghue on Twitter and Instagram @Czaroline.

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