Narcissism for Beginners
Interviews with Writers

Coming of age | Q&A Martine McDonagh | Narcissism for Beginners

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I’m delighted to be welcoming Martine McDonagh today to chat about her third novel, Narcissism for Beginners.  Martine is sharing with us the inspiration for her novel,  research and travel, her thoughts on movie adaptations and much more! 

Martine McDonagh
©Andrew Springham

Martine McDonagh’s third novel, Narcissism for Beginners is published in March 2017 by Unbound.  Her first novel, I Have Waited, and You Have Come received praise in the Guardian, Red, and was described by bestselling author Elizabeth Haynes as ‘cataclysmically brilliant’. Her second, self-published novel, After Phoenix, was also well received. Martine worked for thirty years in the music industry as an artist manager, handling the careers of James and Fujiya & Miyagi, among others. She is currently Programme Leader on the MA Creative Writing & Publishing at West Dean College.

Connect with Martine McDonagh


Twitter @MartineM_Writer


Hi Martine,

Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.

Please summarise Narcissism for Beginners in 20 words or less.

Narcissism for Beginners is about Sonny’s search for his mother, who he hasn’t seen since he was five.

What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?

The original idea stemmed from an interest in people who set themselves up as gurus, particularly those who claim to be spiritually evolved. As the idea developed and it became clear that those people tend, more often than not, to be deeply narcissistic, my interest extended to the effect they have on those closest to them, in particular their children. I wrote the first draft of the novel from the point of view of Guru Bim, Sonny’s father, but soon realised that his character could never be three-dimensional enough to carry a novel and so I rewrote the story from his son’s point of view.

Did you do any research for Narcissism for Beginners? 

What resources did you use Nadine?

I did lots of research into the personality type of gurus and cult leaders, and into narcissism in general, mostly using a mix of books and first hand accounts. Anthony Storr’s study of gurus, Feet of Clay was particularly useful, as were biographies of L Ron Hubbard and Deborah Layton’s account of her experience in the Jonestown community, Seductive Poison.

Did you travel to any places as a result of planning/research?

At the start of the novel, Sonny is living in Redondo Beach in California, which came out of a three-month trip I made to the US to write and at the same time be closer to my son, who was living in LA at the time. I stayed with a family in Redondo Beach and it made sense to partially set the book there.

A big chunk of the story is set in north-eastern Brazil and most of my research for this was done through reading e.g. Peter Robb’s A Death in Brazil, watching films and talking to friends who’d been to that part of the country. In the end though I decided I needed to go myself and I’m glad I did because there are details in the story that I wouldn’t have come up with if I hadn’t and there’s no virtual way to experience smells, atmosphere, climate etc.

Do you have a theme for your book covers Martine?  Who designs them?

The cover for Narcissism for Beginners was designed by a Canadian artist called Tree Abraham. I wasn’t aware of her work until she was commissioned by the publisher, Unbound, but I’m now a big fan. I have something of an aversion to generic book covers – there are so many around and they all look the same – so it’s great to see a new trend evolving for artistic individual book design, which is perhaps a response to the facelessness of ebooks.

Is Narcissism for Beginners part of a series?

It’s not part of a series, but I have written a sequel, set twenty-something years later when Sonny is in his forties and travels back to California. I can’t say much more than that, so I probably shouldn’t have said anything at all. ( 🙂 )

Do you have a most creative time of day?

If I’m writing from scratch, morning is always best for me, and if I’m revising or editing I can sometimes work in the evening as well, but I always need to break it up with a walk or some other physical exercise in the afternoon.

Do you have a favourite place you go to for inspiration or a favourite activity?

Walking is a pretty important part of my writing process, so I like to work where the walking is good, whether in a city or countryside.

What’s your favourite book?

I don’t have one favourite book, but do have a few favourite writers, although even that is fairly changeable. At the moment I’d say, Tim Winton, TC Boyle, Shirley Jackson, William Boyd, Georges Simenon. I loved last year’s Booker winner, The Sellout by Paul Beatty and I’m really looking forward to reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

What are you reading now? Thoughts?

I’ve just spent a few days in Iceland and am reading Sarah Moss’s Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland. It’s an account of the author moving with her family from Kent to take up a job at Reykjavik university around the time of the economic collapse. It’s a very readable and sometimes amusing book offering great insights into Icelandic culture and the difficulties she had adapting to life in a different country.

Do you think movie adaptations do books justice?  Do you have a favourite?

I imagine adaptation is a tricky business – so many readers’ subjective imaginations to contend with! As a result film versions of books can be quite hit and miss. I’m quite wary about watching films of books I’ve loved, for example I’ll never watch the film of JG Ballard’s High Rise. On the other hand, adaptations of the brilliant Kazuo Ishiguro novels, Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go were both really well done, I thought. I did once see a film that I thought was better than the book, but I won’t say what it was because it’s an entirely subjective opinion and that would be mean.

Finally Martine, do you make use of local resources for promoting your book?

Absolutely. I don’t think there’s any substitute for real contact with readers, even if only a handful of people turn up. It’s really interesting to find out which elements of a story have resonated with different people and why and what else people are reading. And libraries are so important and are slowly disappearing, so we need to support them. Over the next few months I’ll be taking part in 15 events all over the UK and hopefully this will continue through to the publication of the paperback in January 2018.

Thank you for being my guest Martine.

Wishing you success with all your writing projects.

Narcissism for Beginners

Format: Kindle Edition

File Size: 3749 KB

Print Length: 208 pages

Publisher: Unbound Digital (9 Mar. 2017)

Language: English

ASIN: B01I5KP646

Meet Sonny Anderson as he tips headlong into adulthood. Sonny doesn’t remember his mother’s face; he was kidnapped at age five by his father, Guru Bim, and taken to live in a commune in Brazil. Since the age of ten, Sonny has lived in Redondo Beach, California, with his guardian Thomas Hardiker. Brits think he’s an American, Americans think he’s a Brit.

When he turns 21, Sonny musters the courage to travel alone to the UK in an attempt to leave a troubled past behind, reunite with his mother and finally learn the truth about his childhood. With a list of people to visit, a whole lot of attitude and five mysterious letters from his guardian, Sonny sets out to learn the truth. But is it a truth he wants to hear?

Narcissism for Beginners is a fresh, witty and humane take on the struggle to make sense of growing up.

Amazon US

I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting and being out in nature are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school. I'm passionate about early help and sharing strategies with families to empower and help build resilience. I'm a member of of my Local Authority's Early Help Operational Board, working alongside other professionals to instigate change and growth.

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