Want to know more about Marita? Some of the most frequently asked questions are answered here.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Dublin. My family had two houses- one near the city and one near the sea. During the autumn and winter my mum and dad and sister and I lived mostly in our house in Goatstown in Dublin but once the days got longer and warmer we moved to our old house overlooking the sea in Greystones, Co Wicklow. My sister and I still went up and down to the same school. It was wonderful to come home from school, throw off our uniforms, pull on our swimsuits and run across the road and go for a swim!
When did you start writing?
I began to write books and stories when I was about eight or nine. My head was always full of stories and I wrote them on bits of paper and copybooks and notepads. I loved writing and wrote diaries and letters and even had a book to jot down my reviews of films and books. I had lots of pen friends all over the world and was always scribbling and drawing…which is what I still do…
What are your favourite books?
As I am a total book worm I have lots of favourite books but growing up I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books, Eve Garnett’s ‘The Family From One End Street’ books, and Enid Blyton’s adventure books. I also loved Hans Christian Anderson’s stories.
What is your favourite colour?
Blue. When I was younger my sister and I were very close in age and whenever we got new clothes, or new things, we always had to get the same… the only difference would be that I got a blue top or blue toothbrush or face cloth or swimming togs and she got a pink one. It’s strange, but I’m still a ‘blue’ person and she’s a ‘pink’ one.
What is your favourite animal?
I love dogs and have always had a dog in my life.
Did you like reading?
I began to read when I was very young and found it easy. I read everything that I could get my hands on. My mum joined us in Greystones Library, which was the best thing in the world as I got tickets to let me take out books to read. I would go up and down to the library every day getting books to read… It’s funny because the more I read the more I wanted to become a writer.
What kind of kid were you?
Sometimes I was a quiet ‘Bookworm’ and other times ‘Calamity Jane’ a wild tomboy! Even though I am grown up now I still have a bit of both in me.
Were you good at school?
I loved my school. From some of the classrooms you could see Dublin Bay. I’d watch the boats and the foamy sea horse waves. I was mad on English, Art and History but was pretty useless at Algebra and Gymnastics.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I lived in a world of imagination and wanted to be a mermaid, to be a cowboy, an Indian, be able to fly like Peter Pan, be a Roman gladiator, a Viking… my head was always so full of stories. Then I began to realise what I really wanted to be was a writer.
When did you start writing books and getting published?
I wrote articles and stories for newspapers and magazines after I left school. Then I began writing stories and making books for my children. Drawing them, painting them and putting in words… it was fun! The books kept getting bigger and bigger and then I wrote Under the Hawthorn Tree for my eldest daughter… and it got published in 1990.
What is your pet hate?
I hate rats… scary!
I love potatoes and tomatoes. I have coeliac disease so I cannot eat wheat.
Where do you write?
I have a big study overlooking my garden where I do a lot of my work. But I started off writing on my kitchen table. I still write everywhere; on trains, sitting in my car (not when I am driving), in bed, on the couch. Once I have a pen and paper…
Where do you get your ideas from?
Ideas come from all over. Sometimes it’s something I see or hear or read about but whatever it is it gets me thinking and creating a story.
Under the Hawthorn Tree the idea came from hearing someone talking about the skeletons of three children being found buried under a big hawthorn tree.
Safe Harbour – came from the sound of an old World War air raid siren used to call the local volunteer firemen in Greystones. I always remember the sound because it made me feel scared and anxious… just like it does Sophie in the book.
The Blue Horse – A painted wooden horse I saw day after day passing a traveller camp.
‘Granny MacGinty’ – A snail… and finding mysterious snail slime in my living-room…
Ideas for stories are all around us but we just have to grab them…
What about research for your books?
I am a total curiosity box and love researching. If I wasn’t a writer I might have been a detective.
I love going to libraries and finding out all the things I need to know for my books. It drives everyone crazy but I am always cutting stuff out of the newspapers and magazines. I love talking to people, visiting old places, asking questions. Research always helps with the story and often I find something that will become very important in the book.
How did you feel when your first book got published?
I felt a strange mixture of nervousness and excitement. I just hoped that somebody would buy it or read it. Seeing your book on a book shelf or in a book shop is really amazing, especially if you have been dreaming about it since you were a kid!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a writer?
The best thing you can do if you want to write is to read… read all kinds of books and stories… funny ones, sad ones, the classics.
Then write, write, write as much as you can! Write all kinds of things…plays, poems, letters, diaries, reviews of films you’ve seen. Get used to using words.
Also it is very important to keep all your copybooks and notepads with stories and ideas. Set up a separate folder on your computer for your writing…My books…My poems…My ideas…then start filling your folder.
Marita’s biggest school session ever. Marita talked to 3000 pupils from 150 schools across Ireland (North and South) and America live and interactively from the Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh.
Here’s a video about Marita’s book, Under the Hawthorn Tree, which includes an interview with Marita. The video was made as part of the conference at the Ulster American Folk Park.