Interview with 2024 Winner Danielle Cahill

Danielle, many congratulations on winning the Caledonia Novel Award 2024 with Trad Wives! We were delighted to announce that you have accepted representation with our judge, Ariella Feiner, who was “utterly hooked” by your story. What does winning the Caledonia Novel Award 2024, and being signed by Ariella, mean to you?

Winning the Caledonia Novel Award 2024 means the world to me. I was bowled over to see myself in The Bookseller, which I read obsessively to see the latest deals, and the response to the win has been incredible. The fact that winning the prize led me to sign with my dream agent is magical. I feel so incredibly lucky to have found the perfect champion for my writing.

Thank you to the whole team at the Caledonia Novel Award running the award, and for giving me the chance of a lifetime.
What inspired you to write Trad Wives, and what does a typical writing day look like for you?

I discovered the Trad Wife trend on social media, when I was exhausted and doomscrolling. As someone who thinks deeply about the role of women and how on earth we are supposed to 'have it all', I was immediately hooked by the Trad Wife lifestyle. They were offering women an escapist fantasy, whereby housework was prettified into something akin to a lifegoal. The Trad Wives breaking TikTok intrigued me so much that I had to write this book.

My typical writing day is usually split into two parts. During my commute to Canary Wharf, I spend my time on the tube writing. I do this the old-fashioned way with a Moleskine notebook (in a different colour for each book – Trad Wives is green) and a black rollerball pen. I usually fill at least three notebooks for one complete first draft. After the end of my working day, which is usually quite late at night, I start typing up what I have written. My dream writing time is between ten o’clock and one o’clock at night. Many people are morning writers, but this does not work for me as my two little girls wake up very early. I think I am naturally a night owl anyway, and I do my best writing under the cover of darkness. I do evening stints as often as I can, and then I squeeze in a few hours of writing time over the course of the weekend, usually when the children are napping. It is wild trying to fit everything in, but somehow I find a way.

We loved the seemingly-idyllic setting and claustrophobic community of Trad Wives, where secrets don’t stay hidden for long! How important was getting the smallest details of village, and Trad Wife, life right?

Oh, this is such a good question! I was determined to get the details of the beautiful village Bourton-on-the-Water perfect, and I went on a number of trips there to absorb the atmosphere, and to see it at different seasons throughout the year. I wanted any future readers to be able to travel to the village and walk in Olivia's and Celia’s footsteps. Accuracy is something I am really passionate about: it is probably the lawyer in me.

The Trad Wife life was also something I poured my energy and soul into investigating. I followed Trad Wives on social media, obsessively read articles about the trend, and I read lots of books about cults that really informed my writing about the Sisterhood. I wanted the community that the Trad Wives offered to feel as authentic as possible. As I was writing, posts on TikTok and Instagram would spark flashes of inspiration, so I also responded to the current Trad Wife discourse as much as I could. There are so many different types of Trad Wife, and I wanted to represent as many as I could, so the reader could see and appreciate their differences.

Trad Wives has a very strong and varied female cast, with the two old friends Olivia and Celia as its dual narrators. We particularly enjoyed following the dark machinations of Georgia – did you have a favourite character, and were they all fully developed before they hit the page?

I love Olivia and Celia equally – they are so special to me in different ways, and I feel they both represent facets of motherhood that I understand so deeply. Celia’s struggle to create, which she ultimately wins but at a terrible cost, moves me profoundly. And Olivia’s attempt to be the best mother she can, in the face of the ruins of her relationship and her fractured family history, is also a great driver for the book. Both of the protagonists sprang onto the page fully formed, but I did some work to balance their voices and to make sure they were distinct.

But apart from Olivia and Celia, it has to be Georgia that draws me in the most with her mesmeric charm. She was a delight to write. Truly! I spent time layering in different aspects of her character, and working out exactly what type of Trad Wife she was meant to be. At first, I had conceived of her as being a little more conservative, but she kept fighting to be the elegant, put-together leader that she ultimately became.

Ariella described the novel as “set at a cracking pace”, and was struck by its “beautiful prose”. How did you plan all your individual plot threads so effectively, and how long did Trad Wives take to write?

I really enjoyed setting up the different twists and turns of the plot. It felt like there were so many ways the mysteries could go, at one stage, but through careful editing I was able to work out which threads were the most intriguing. When I am reading thrillers, I usually guess most twists before they happen, and I find that a little disappointing. My aim was to give my readers some surprises along the way.

Which novelists have inspired you, and what debut novels have you enjoyed reading recently?

I am a compulsive reader, so – to name but a few – I am inspired by Daphne du Maurier, she is such an atmospheric writer, Margaret Drabble, whose novel The Needle’s Eye inspired me to believe I could write a book and I am so delighted we are represented by the same agency (what an honour), and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle has such a great voice. I also love Niamh Campbell's and Laura Barnett’s writing.

Recently, I have been exploring some excellent debut novels. I think my favourites I read this year are The Painter’s Daughters by Emily Howes and Talking at Night by Claire Daverley. Both books are enchanting, with the depth of emotion and excellent characterisation that I seek to emulate. I highly recommend them. I also really enjoyed In the Blink of an Eye by Jo Callaghan, which is spectacular and extremely timely.

What encouraged you to enter the Caledonia Novel Award 2024?

I met the 2022 winner, Alex Hay, at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, and I heard all about his book, The Housekeepers, and its runaway success. When I realised he had entered the Caledonia Novel Award, I thought I would submit my novel too. I did so with low expectations, as I know how hard it is to get listed in a competition as competitive as the Caledonia Novel Award. I was so delighted that I won.

And what are your next steps with your new agent? What can we look forward to for you and for Trad Wives?

Ariella and I are working hard on editing Trad Wives. She reads incredibly quickly, so I feel very lucky, as I know my edits and changes are being considered and valued. We are hoping to be out on submission with the book very soon. It is really exciting, and we have been working hard to make Trad Wives the best it can be. I hope that my dream of seeing Trad Wives on the bookshelves of Waterstones (where I used to work) might come true.

And finally, do you have any words of advice for anyone thinking of entering the Caledonia Novel Award 2025?

Be brave and enter. Your words and your story matter, and it could you winning this brilliant competition. The Caledonia Novel Award is an incredible experience, and you could walk away with the agent of your dreams!
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