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Interview: June 26, 2009

June 26, 2009

In this interview with's Bronwyn Miller, Heather Barbieri --- whose second novel, THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA, is now available in stores --- explains what inspired the book's plot and describes her personal connection with its setting in Western Ireland. She also discusses the role sewing played in her upbringing, names the character with whom she most identifies, and reveals what she looks forward to on book tours. Where did the inspiration for THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA come from? Did you know you wanted to write a multi-generational story set in Ireland?

Heather Barbieri: There were a couple of threads involved in the genesis of the story: having traveled in Western Ireland, and reading about a group of Polish lace makers who were threatened with excommunication by their village priest for making lace panties. (The latter was a short blurb that ran in the New York Times fashion supplement a few years ago.)

BRC: The descriptions of the village of Glenmara, the people, and even the lace were so evocative. How much research did you do in preparing this story? Did you spend a lot of time in Ireland?

HB: I did a fair amount of research, but more importantly, I connected with the material and the place on a deep level. When I first visited Ireland, I felt at home there from the very beginning, probably in part because my dad’s family is from Butte, Montana, one of the most Irish-American towns in the country. (At the turn of the century, it had the largest Gaelic speaking population outside Ireland.)

BRC: Sullivan Deane is quite an enigmatic character. Did you always intend to have a love interest for Kate?

HB: Yes. I wanted both of them to have suffered their share of tragedy and disappointment --- and struggle to find their way toward each other.

BRC: Each woman in the lace society is battling her own demon, be it loneliness, the death of a spouse, or a child leaving home. Is there a character with whom you identify most? Was there also a favorite character to write?

HB: There are aspects of almost every character that I recognize or that strike a chord with me, and I enjoyed writing all of them. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Aileen, because she was particularly complex and prickly.

BRC: The descriptions of the sewing and lace-making are so rich and vivid. I understand that your maternal grandmother was a descendant of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria who instilled an avid interest in fashion in her granddaughters. Was sewing part of your upbringing?

HB: My step-grandmother was a craftswoman and she taught me how to crochet. I learned how to embroider during a craft class in second grade and stuck with that for a number of years. Sewing didn’t come into the picture until a middle-school home ec class. I found that I most enjoyed deconstructing vintage pieces, because of the beauty and quality of the fabrics.

BRC: The novel so wonderfully illustrates the importance and support found in strong female friendships. How have your friendships informed your life? Your work?

HB: I’m fortunate to have a diverse group of women in my life who inspire and support me; some I’ve known since childhood, others more recently. The stories and the laughter we share might not find their way into my work directly, but the spirit is there.

BRC: THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA is quite different from your debut novel, SNOW IN JULY. How was writing this novel different from your first?

HB: Both novels have an Irish backdrop (Irish American/Irish) and explore shifting relationships and the struggles of a town and its inhabitants to survive. With LACE MAKERS, I moved away from a first-person narrative, because I was interested in having a lighter tone --- while delving into serious issues --- and greater access to the characters who inhabit the novel.

BRC: You are a married mother of three. How has your writing today changed from when you were single?

HB: Age and experience. Writing --- and life itself --- is an ongoing apprenticeship.

BRC: On your website (, you provide quite an extensive list of your favorite books. What qualities do you most look for in a great book?

HB: It could be the beauty of the language, the compelling voice/characters, an unexpected approach.

BRC: Once you’ve hit upon your inspiration for a novel, what’s your process for writing? Do you keep to a strict writing regime, or do you write when the spirit moves you?

HB: If I’m serious about trying to get something done, I try to write at least five pages a day, five days a week. But being the mother of three, I have to be flexible.

BRC: What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? What’s the most rewarding part?

HB: There are days when it’s just hard to get started, when it seems as if I’m writing around the story rather than from the heart of it. The most rewarding part is when a character does something unexpected and/or begins to emerge fully on the page --- when they truly start to come to life.

BRC: You’ll be doing a book tour for THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA. Do you enjoy doing readings and signings?

HB: It’s a joy to step out from behind the computer and meet people who love to read and the booksellers who continue to champion the written word.

BRC: Do you interact with book groups?

HB: Yes --- it’s delightful to spend time getting to know readers on a more personal level.

BRC: What would you like readers to take away from THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA?

HB: That if one remains open to what life brings and takes some chances, despite adversity and challenges, good things are possible.

BRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?

HB: I’m working on another novel; it’s in that early magical/gestational phase, and I hope to have a solid draft in hand by the end of the year.

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