Thursday, February 2, 2023

The 40 But 10 Interview Series: Niamh McAnally


New year, new interview series! Looking forward into 2023, I have decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

We're joined today by Niamh McAnally. Niamh is an Irish-born author, former TV director, and youngest daughter of the late BAFTA award-winning actor, Ray McAnally, and actor, Ronnie Masterson. Niamh has traveled all over the world and lived and worked as a volunteer in many island nations in the Caribbean and the South Pacific. In 2016 she helped a solo sailor crew his boat from Florida to the Bahamas. It was only supposed to last a month. Niamh soon realized she had not only found the life she loved but also the love of her life. She and Captain Gary have sailed as far north as Maine in the USA and south to Grenada. They are now joyfully married. Many of her stories are inspired by her travels on land and at sea. Flares Up: A Story Bigger Than The Atlantic from UK-based Pitch Publishing was conceived when she photographed Paul Hopkins and Phil Pugh’s moment of triumph after they had 3,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic. Her short story Haul Out is featured in the anthology A Page from My Life, and she has been published in The Journal, The Irish Times, Sail, and Subsea magazines. Niamh blogs as The Writer On The Water.

What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

Traveling the world as a volunteer. Having helped small businesses and families in places like St. Barth’s, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Palau, Vietnam, Sweden, Spain, Bahamas and the Caribbean, I have research material for more books than I could manage to write in a lifetime. One of my projects was to help a solo sailor crew his boat from Florida to the Bahamas. It was only supposed to last a month but somewhere on the high seas a spark ignited between us and we kissed the flame. A month turned into four, a year into six. We are now married. Best investment ever. The story features in my memoir Following Sunshine and living on our sailboat Freed Spirit put me in the right place at the right time to be inspired to write Flares Up.


Describe your book in three words.

Inspiring. Relatable. Unputdownable.


If you met your characters in real life, what would you say to them?

“Why?” And I did. The protagonists of Flares Up are two real, middle-aged men who got into a fourth-hand, twenty-foot wooden boat and rowed it 3,000 nautical miles across the Atlantic. I wanted to know why they did it — not the prepared why they told the press, or the noble why they told their friends, but the real why they told themselves in the dead of night. The why that drove them during the years of preparation and enabled them to say goodbye to loved ones they prayed they would see again. The why that made quitting not an option when they faced storms and equipment failure in the middle of Poseidon’s rage and they why they had yet to discover once they stepped on dry land and reflected on who they had become during those 70 days, 9 hours and 11 minutes at sea.


Do you read the reviews of your books or do you stay far far away from them, and why?

Yes, I read both those written by professional reviewers as well as book lovers. Why? Because even though opinions can be subjective I am always on the lookout for suggestions and positive critiques on how I might improve my craft.


What’s the single best line you’ve ever read?

As writers we are taught to “show” don’t “tell”. The best example I have ever read of this is by Hilaire Belloc in The Cruise of the Nona when he “shows” us the size of the vessel: “Four men were happy on board her, five men she could carry, six men quarrelled.”


What’s something that’s true about you but no one believes?

That I’m an introvert. I’m a former TV director/actor. I have a very gregarious personality, enjoy public speaking, and making someone laugh so most people think I’m joking when I say I am an introvert. But once I explain that unlike an extrovert who gains their energy from being around other people, an introvert revitalizes in their alone time and spends that energy in public, then they get it. When I feel “peopled-out” I know I need some quiet time to reflect and go inward.


If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

An ability to clean the oceans, restore the coral reefs to vibrant health and return captured dolphins and whales to the wild.


If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why?

Nora Roberts. The first book of hers I read was The Reef. I am a former scuba-diving instructor and when I read her passages that take place under water, I was so sure she was an avid diver herself. Not so, apparently. I’d love to chat with her about how she combines her research with her writing skills to craft such believable settings and environments.


What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life?

“Columbus” by Mary Black

“Shiver me Timbers” by Bette Midler

“I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack

“Follow the Sun” by Xavier Rudd


Are you a toilet paper over or under kind of person?

Definitely over. And as for whether the glass is half full or half empty? My answer is neither. The glass is always full: half with water, half with air.



Flares Up is a true story of adventure, tenacity and the capacity of the human spirit to triumph over adversity.

Firefighter Paul Hopkins, 55, survives a brain haemorrhage. The experience motivates him to undertake the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. He teams up with entrepreneur Phil Pugh, who is aged 65 but renowned for undertaking extreme physical challenges in honour of his disabled son.

They encounter major financial and physical setbacks, which cause years of delays and put a strain on both their marriages. Finally, on 12 December 2019, in a fourth-hand 20ft wooden boat, they set off from the Canary Islands.

Violent storms, 30ft waves and equipment failure leave both men seasick, dehydrated and sleep-deprived. Alone on the ocean, they are forced to examine their lives. Was the decision to undertake this challenge brave, selfish or foolish? After 70 gruelling days at sea, they cross the finish line, two changed men. Will either of their wives be there to greet them?

Buy a copy here: 

FLARES UP: A Story Bigger Than The Atlantic

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