By Daniel Ford
Liddy James, the “modern-day superwoman” featured in author Anne-Marie Casey’s recently published novel The Real Liddy James, has more job titles than most caped crusaders: top New York City divorce attorney, best-selling author, and mother.
Casey, who is also a screenwriter and playwright, dramatically explores what happens when James’s world beings to unravel. Author Elin Hilderbrand calls The Real Liddy James a “whip-smart and crackling with energy,” and author Marian Keyes says the tale is, “witty, clever, elegantly-written, fascinating, and wise.”
Casey talked to me recently about being a vociferous reader, what inspired The Real Life Liddy James, and, of course, beef stew!
Daniel Ford: My fiancée and I recently traveled to Ireland and fell in love with the country. Before anything else, I need to know where to go to find the best beef stew the next time I’m there!
Anne-Marie Casey: I think it’s hard to find a good beef stew in a restaurant anywhere (I recommend my own really) but people tell me the best is to be found in The Quays Irish Restaurant in Temple Bar, Dublin.
DF: Did you find writing or did writing find you?
AMC: I was always a vociferous reader and studied English at University, so I suspect a career involving literature was somehow inevitable. But in my twenties I was very focused on being a television and film producer and running my own production company, so becoming a writer evolved when my life priorities changed and, bluntly, I got married and had kids. So the answer to your question is that it was a combination of both.
DF: Who were some of your early influences?
AMC: From a young age I adored the Brontës, then at University I became obsessed with George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. In terms of contemporary writers who have influenced me as a novelist, of course, Norah Ephron, Melissa Bank, Rachel Cusk, and, my current top favorite, Elizabeth Strout.
DF: Since you’re also a screenwriter and playwright, I’m curious to know if your writing style differs widely when you’re writing fiction.
AMC: Because I started my career as a script editor, then producer, then screenwriter I am a natural plotter and find structuring a story comes relatively easily to me. I also tend to rely heavily on dialogue. When I decided to write fiction, my challenge was to loosen up a bit and allow space for character description and interior monologue.
DF: What is the premise of The Real Liddy James and what inspired the tale?
AMC: Liddy James is one of New York City’s top divorce lawyers, a successful author and a single mother of two, who seems to juggle her complicated life with ease. But it turns out that she doesn’t! The inspiration for the book was the Anne-Marie Slaughter article from 2012, “Why Women Can’t Have It All,” and that became its main theme.
DF: How much of yourself—and the people you have daily interactions with—did you put into your main characters? How do you develop your characters in general?
AMC: Inevitably, I draw on my own experiences and those of my friends when I am writing. It happens that my first two novels have been contemporary and feature characters more or less around my age (at least when I started writing them!) But I know from writing plays and screenplays that emotional experience is valid whatever the setting. When I am developing a character I always consider the person’s flaws, as I think that is the best way to make them interesting.
DF: When you finished your first draft, did you know you had something good, or did you have to go through multiple rounds of edits to realize you had something you felt comfortable taking to readers?
AMC: I knew there was a compelling character in the first draft, but it took a few drafts to ensure that I was telling a story rather than dramatizing the issue of work/life balance for women.
DF: The Real Liddy James has garnered praise from critics, your fellow authors, and readers. Do those reactions give you more confidence as a writer?
AMC: Yes. Every time one person likes your work you know some other people will too. I want readers and I want them to enjoy what I’m doing. However, I think it’s important that all writers step back and view their careers over the long haul. In a lifetime of writing there will be some projects that are better received than others, some even may be disastrous, the point is to keep going.
DF: What’s next for you?
AMC: I am currently writing a screenplay based on a novel The Master by Jolien Janzing about Charlotte Brontë’s time in Brussels and her secret love for her professor, which inspired Villette and Jane Eyre.
DF: What’s your advice for aspiring authors and screenwriters?
AMC: If you are determined to write something keep going, however dreadful you think your first draft is, as writing is re-writing. And always stop writing when you are in the flow so you have something to pick up on the next day.
DF: Can you please name one random fact about yourself?
AMC: I love cooking and if I weren’t a writer I’d work in a restaurant kitchen.