Belfast-born Woman's Way editor on debut novel, Let's Talk About Six
Ireland's Woman's Way magazine editor Áine Toner chats to Jenny Lee about knitting patterns, sex magicians and how a trip to the hairdressers was the spark for starting her debut novel, Let's Talk About Six
JUST because you're a grown up doesn't mean you always make the right decisions. This is the premise of Belfast writer Áine Toner's debut novel, which focuses on the lives and loves of six people living in contemporary Dublin.
At the age of 27, Áine became editor of women's magazine Woman's Way. Nine years later, she is still at the helm of Ireland's biggest-selling weekly women's magazine and is getting used to be described as an author.
As part of her job, Áine is responsible for the books pages, interviewing authors and reviewing new releases. Although Áine dreamt of publishing her own book from the age of seven, it was whilst developing the books pages in the magazine and listening to the advice of authors such as Claudio Carroll, Cathy Kelly and Emma Hannigan that she finally thought "maybe this shouldn't be just a pipe dream".
"I had written a book previously, but it was really bad and I just put it in a drawer and haven't looked at it since," Aine tells me.
"But there was character in that book who I really liked. One day, I was waiting in the hairdressers waiting on the colour to work and I had forgotten my book to read, so I decided to sit and plan six characters – starting with Declan – and it all grew from there.
"I came home and every day disciplined myself to write at least 500 words a night. I would try and leave it hanging in the middle of a conversation to make it easier to come back to the next day.
"The writing wasn’t difficult, but I found the editing incredibly difficult. That’s what I do for a living – cut people’s work down. But to cut your own work down was so strange.
"I had to edit 20,000 words initially and had to detach myself emotionally and decide what was important, relevant and enjoyable for the readers."
The end result was Let's Talk About Six. Set in Dublin, it focuses on the relationships of six 30 to 40 somethings: there’s a sex shop, a sex magician, testicular cancer, infidelity, a toddler and plenty of laughs.
Although the main protagonist, Declan, owns 'the world's worst sex shop' (bought for him by his eccentric and controlling mother), the book is in no way salacious, but rather a humorous contradiction to the gratuitousness of the 50 Shades genre.
"Let's Talk About Six is more about the slightly humorous reality of sex and the fact we are always talking in magazines or to our friends about sex, intimacy and relationships, but most of the time people aren't having sex, intimacy and relationships."
Although not willing to label a nation as being prudent, Áine believes her book is representative of Irish society, where "when it comes to sex, there is a lot of talk and no action".
"That's why I wanted to put Declan, who has no relationship experience, in charge of a sex shop, where people think you are really knowledgeable, experienced and experimental about sex," she explains.
Áine, who is currently single, admits to frequenting a few sex shops in the name of research. "You have to because it's important for the plot and building up that whole world in which your characters exist."
And she got the idea of a sex magician from working with one on some of Women's Way's events.
"What he does it's not overly explicit – it's just a bit of fun and warms up a crowd. But because it's such an unusual profession I just had to include it in the novel," she laughs.
Also crucially important to Áine was the testicular cancer research for the character of Adam.
"I wanted to make sure it was as close to reality as it could be. I spoke to a nurse and did a lot of research."
It was in June last year when Áine saw a tweet about a new publishing company, Manatee Books, that was looking for manuscripts from new writing talent.
Initially ignoring the urge to respond, a re-tweet made Áine impulsively forward the newest version of her book from her email.
Just two weeks later, Aine had a two-book publishing deal.
Her advice to others people who have a dream to write? "Get it out there. If you have written something and you are not sure about it, send it off to somebody – whether a publisher or a friend you can trust to give you an honest opinion.
"The last six months have been a dream and I wouldn't change it for the world."
Áine, who grew up on Belfast's Ormeau Road, is already well into writing her second book, which this time is set in Belfast and about friendship – but she isn't ready to give up the day job yet.
Billed as a real magazine for real women, combining a lively mix of real life, fashion, beauty, cookery, home, travel and competitions, Áine is passionate and proud about Women's Way and it's wide demographic.
"There’s a bit of a misconception about our magazine that it’s just for grannies, but research shows our readers range from 28 to 80. We are proud many readers came to the magazine because their aunt, mother or grandmother read it, but equally new readers tell us they love it and didn’t realise the magazine was geared as much to them as the older market."
As well as celebrity gossip, fashion, wellbeing and features on topical issues, Áine is proud that knitting patterns are still a regular feature of the magazine.
"There is no shame in arts and crafts and it's something we embrace.
"The magazine is 55 this year and whilst we have to adapt to changes in society, such as increasing our social media platforms, we have a very clear identity.
"If people want to think we're old-fashioned that's fine, but the fact we sell a million copies a year and are the biggest selling woman’s magazine in the country speaks volumes."
:: Let’s Talk About Six by Áine Toner is published by Manatee Books and is available now on Kindle and paperback.