Author proves book agent wrong

CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 07/12/2013
Merryn Corcoran
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ
NEW AUTHOR: Merryn Corcoran, a Christchurch-born novelist, has released her first book.

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The first attempt was not at all encouraging.

Merryn Corcoran knew a book agent and asked them to take a look at the novel she had been working on.

It was set in an Italian village during World War II. It spanned decades and had romance and action and sadness. She reckoned that she entertained her friends with her storytelling over the years so she figured writing was a natural follow.

''Don't give up your day job,'' came the reply.

The agent advised her that being a middle-aged, first-time writer in the current changing world of publishing would be an enormous challenge.

But it did not dissuade the Christchurch-born, nursing-trained Corcoran who had spent the last 20 years, off and on, in London. She got herself an editor.

''It was quite eye-opening - how you read a book and how you construct it are quite different,'' she says.

''Once I got that in my head it progressed really well.''

Corcoran  left school at 16 - she didn't understand she was dyslexic.

''I just thought I was a bit dumb.''

In those days, she says, one could not simply leave school and become a writer. You had to earn money.

She went into business, opening boutiques in London and on the way becoming a well-connected organiser of the Unicef celebrity ball. But she always wanted to write.

Corcoran had a health scare that forced her to re-evaluate her life. Her husband suggested she sell her businesses and have a hand at her first dream.

"I was terrified," she says. "But now I don't want to do anything else."

She and her husband moved to Menton, on the border of Italy and France. It was where Katherine Mansfield once lived. They lived among mediaeval villages perched on hills, with winding alleyways paved with cobblestones.

One such town she happened upon appeared to be oddly quiet. It was a 14th century medieval village called Castel Vittorio.

She felt a sadness there which she could not quite explain. Corcoran later discovered it had been the site of a massacre by German troops on local villagers only months before the end of the war. 

She listened to her 76-year-old French teacher relay the story of her father who was taken by the Gestapo, and melded those two stories into The Silent Village.

Corcoran was home in Christchurch when the February 2011 earthquake struck and knew the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder all too well. She learnt how a tragedy can permeate a society and have a lasting impact that is never quite forgotten.

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It allowed her, she says, to write more deeply about her subject matter.

"It gives you a whole different slant on how slow the recovery is. I felt my writing was more pertinent."

The whole experience was 99 per cent perspiration and one per cent inspiration, she says.

The couple spend several months a year at their Sumner home. It's quiet there, Corcoran says, and gives a her a chance to continue writing.

She is already working on her next novel.

It jumps back and forth between Paris and New Zealand and involves a romance with an All Black, she says.

Corcoran still travels back to London and would like to get back involved with the Unicef ball. Over the years, she helped raise more than £1 million  for the charity. She was even made an honorary fellow.

Her book was released this week in Merivale and has already had advanced reviews from Britain's Daily Mail newspaper calling it a "cracking page turner". Which is how Corcoran would like it to be thought of.

- Fairfax Media

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