June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Ghost Stories That Aren’t: Moïra Fowley-Doyle on “The Accident Season”

MoiraFowley-DoyleMoïra Fowley-Doyle’s The Accident Season (Penguin/Kathy Dawson Bks., 2015), releasing on August 18, takes place in the Irish countryside during the fateful month of October. Every year at this time, Cara’s family becomes inexplicably accident-prone—sometimes fatally so. When the teen notices that her childhood friend Elsie appears in all of Cara’s photos, she begins to question if outside forces are to blame for her family’s calamitous history. With lyrical prose, which SLJ’s starred review says, ”weaves the temporal and the spiritual into a seamless reality, rich in emotional impact,” Fowley-Doyle’s debut has enough romance, secrets, and hauntings to charm (and spook) most teen readers.

The line between reality and fantasy is so tenuous in your debut novel. Did you set out to write a ghost story? A novel with magical realism? A mystery? All or none of the above?

Ah, but is it a ghost story? I set out to write magical realism, and was happy to leave as much as I could get away with unexplained. Unexpected, slightly magical things happen every day, and sometimes there’s a rational explanation and sometimes it’s just coincidence and sometimes it’s just a mystery. I love that, and I wanted to translate that feeling into fiction, make readers question what’s real and what’s just inside the characters’ heads and what’s magic, and if there’s a difference, always, in the end.

What inspired you to write this story? How long have you been working on it?

I’ve always loved magical realism and I wanted to write something dreamy and wild and a little unsettling, but also familiar. Something I would have loved to read as a teenager growing up in Ireland and mostly reading dreamy books not set in Ireland. I wrote the first draft in less than two months, revised it over a period of six months by myself, [and revised it for] another six months with my agent, and then over a year with my editors. From the first word I wrote to the book’s release date was three and a half years.

The rich Irish setting plays such an important part of this novel, from the dilapidated (and possibly haunted) house that Cara and Bea find to the eerie river scenes. How much were you influenced by the setting around you in creating the backdrop to this story?

Rural Ireland is wealthy in abandoned houses. My parents have a house (not abandoned) by a forest outside a small town in Co Mayo, [which] has a beautiful river running through it. Along the river walk you can see the ruins of old cottages and a disused factory or mill of some kind, and all around the area there are plenty of old empty houses. It’s a beautiful part of the country that the story fit itself around nicely. It’s pretty and understated. Not as wild as Connemara or as a rugged as the Burren, but the kind of place in which a quiet girl could just sort of slip off the page.

AccidentSeason_Fowley-Doyle-CVThe romance in this work is swoony and a bit taboo. What is it about forbidden love in literature that spellbinds us so?

I love forbidden love in literature. I think it appeals (to me anyway) because it’s different, because it’s taboo, and because it’s a wonderful example of emotions overcoming reason and restrictions.

Several of the male characters are not what they seem, and even turn out to be quite sinister in an almost otherworldly way. Would you consider them the villains of this title?

I think so. They are certainly the real malicious force in the book, and unexpectedly so for a lot of the characters. It might seem like the accident season itself is the main driving fear of the story, whereas actually it’s events and characters grounded in reality that have had the most effect, especially because a lot of what happens is tightly tied to secrets and silence, which will always hinder the healing process. I tried to get the balance right between the sinister otherworldliness and the actual solid events involving these characters, so that the former feeds off the latter but doesn’t take from its seriousness.

Secrets are a big theme here, from Elsie’s secrets booth to dark family secrets. How did you plot out the big reveals without giving too much away?

By sticking close to Cara the whole time. She is fairly oblivious to a lot of what’s happening around her— whether that’s from lingering trauma or just her personality— and is almost willfully naive at times, so it was easy to see only what she sees— or lets herself see.

The power of friendship shines through in The Accident Season, especially the connections among Bea, Cara, Sam, and even Elsie. Why do you think that it’s such a marker of YA books?

It’s such an important part of life, really. I think a lot of YA is concerned with finding one’s place— I know that’s what has always appealed to me about it, particularly when I was more Y than A— and very often that place is with the like-hearted.

What was your favorite ghost story growing up?

I’ve always liked ghost stories that aren’t, or that might not be, or that could be something else entirely. Alice Hoffman is very good at is-it-a-ghost-story? stories, and I adore Neil Gaiman’s spooky short stories.

What’s the best advice that you received as a first-time novelist?

My agent, the extraordinary Claire Wilson of Rogers, Coleridge & White, has given me more good advice than I can count. One of her pieces of advice I’m trying to follow right now is to remember that the first draft is the writer telling herself the story and getting to know her characters: so let yourself write a rubbish first draft—fine-tuning and beautifying can happen in the edits!

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my second novel, another standalone, which is sort of about lost things but also has tattoos and rusty keys and illegally distilled alcohol and a lot of cycling down country roads.

Shelley Diaz About Shelley Diaz

Shelley M. Diaz (sdiaz@mediasourceinc.com) is School Library Journal's Reviews Team Manager and SLJTeen newsletter editor. She has her MLIS in Public Librarianship with a Certificate in Children’s & YA Services from Queens College, and can be found on Twitter @sdiaz101.