Elation and desperation. These are the two of the most poignant feelings that the Craig Gillespie directed I, Tonya captures on screen and plants in the hearts of the audience.


Dressed in a teal coloured leotard, Tonya Harding, played by the wide-smiled Margot Robbie struts and punches the air in sheer ecstasy when she becomes the first American woman to perform the daring triple axel skating move on an ice rink. The same smiling and confidence displayed by the real-life 20-year-old Harding in 1991 when she wins the National Championships is evoked by Robbie, when she says: “I was the best figure skater in the world…at one point in time.”

i tonya 1991 Margot robbie


Robbie’s declaration of ‘that point in time’ echoes in the air and foreshadows the downfall that lies ahead for Harding. Three years later clad in a sequinned, maroon coloured outfit, Harding desperately tries to smile but she can’t hide from the mirror and the crowd and she can’t hide from herself at the 1994 Winter Olympics. She fumbles with her laces and equally through her moves and crumbles on the ice rink. Life doesn’t stop for sport.

Told through a series of mockumentary style interviews the film gives a glimpse in to the tumultuous and downright unlucky fortunes of defamed figure skater, Tonya Harding and her connection to the attack on fellow figure skater,  Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 prior to the Winter Olympics.

Harding isn’t particularly likeable. She isn’t a glowing, all-American girl. She’s scruffy and clumsy and she’s a bit of a bitch. You can love her or hate her for constantly rushing back to her heavy-handed husband, Jeff Gillooly (Stan Sebastian) or you can laugh or cry at the scathing insults her mother Lavona Golden (Allison Janney) spits at her.

‘America wants someone to love but they also want someone to hate’- this is how Harding describes her situation and it has many similarities to the controversy surrounding the Irish swimmer Michelle Smith’s Olympic medals two years later in Atlanta following doping claims. Just like Harding, you either love Smith, hate her or are at least suspicious of her.  While 27-year-old Robbie playing the 15-year-old Tonya in the film’s early scenes is cringe-worthy and her 5ft 5 inches stature isn’t representative of the pint-sized Tonya Harding, the film will make you feel something and will have you googling the name Tonya Harding on the car journey home.

Booked Out

DISCLAIMER: The above image is how I imagined I’d look when I did the the not so clinically proven: “wash-your-hair-and-plait-it-the-night-before-school-so-it’ll-be nice-and-curly-in-the-morning” trick as a teenager. Needless to say at the age of 16 I woke up to a fuzzy mesh of hair, not quite unlike a cat’s fur sitting on my head, a world away from Hermione’s lingering curls.


I’m currently reading Rachael’s English’s American Girl. I bought it a month and a half ago but between  suffering a yogurt spillage in my handbag and encountering  a prolonged bout of laziness after it had dried out, I only managed to pick up the book again yesterday.

This is nothing against the said book, it just shows how even someone who would go as far as calling  themselves a “book-lover” on their Twitter bio suffers with procrastination and is prone to getting dangerously distracted by Mad Men.

This isn’t a book review, why? Well, I haven’t finished the book ,so I don’t think that would be fair or do the author justice. I’m just musing as to why I take incessant prodding to do an activity I actually enjoy. It’s probably because reading requires a level of concentration that many of us aren’t used to exerting since leaving school or college.

In school, Snapchat didn’t exist and I kept my block Sony Erikson buried in my schoolbag or stowed away  in my locker, depending on how nerdy or scared s***less I was feeling on the day.

Every night after I’d finish my homework I’d unleash my inner Hermione Granger and alternate between reading a Jane Austen novel or a Bronte one.

Most of the time they were a struggle but sometimes there were glimpses of humour and “daring” hand-holding love scenes that spoke to my 16-year-old self.  I’d tuck myself up with Emma or Wuthering Heights, along with a dictionary and log new words I didn’t understand into a battered Aisling copybook and duly record them. Just in case I ever wanted to use words like “insipid” or “sage” in my daily life.

I’ve earlier memories of my dad and brother reading to me when I was small. Funnily enough they both had the same tactic of exaggerating what happened in the Mr Men’s books, so much so that I’d be bowled over on the couch chuckling and aghast at their more entertaining albeit ruder versions of the classic tales.

The first real book I read on my own was Song of the Sea by Don Conroy. I got it as a birthday present from a girl in my primary school. I was determined to read a proper book, with no pictures, on my own and to the end.

To be honest I couldn’t tell you what it was about and don’t even think I  understood what was going on, I was  just stubborn but nevertheless it led the way toward a slew of Animal Ark books and the entire troubled, Jacqueline Wilson family building their way along my  shelf like a row of misshapen building blocks.

I blame college for making me a lazy reader. Sure as an English student wasn’t I “always reading”, except for those days  where I’d spend hours in the campus coffee dock and  nights where I’d crawl out of Bodega or the Brog or the Bowery or whatever club du jour beginning with a B was the “in place” in Cork at the time.

Bible heavy copies of Beowulf and 18th century anthologies never thrilled me enough and it was only at Christmas time curled up on the chair to read a cosy Maeve Binchy novel that I’d rekindle my love for reading again.

Last month I read the most gripping novel I had come across in a long time. The Nightingale by Kristina Hanna has everything I like in a book- love, drama and a dash of murder. Also it’s about sisters and since my sister and I are so close, even though we are not particularly close in age, it’s a a relationship that fascinates me.

I read the book at my own pace and didn’t rush myself and enjoyed it all the more. Before I tried to be  strict with myself and say: “I’ve to finish this in 5 days”, now I give myself a month and if I haven’t finished it in that time-frame I  just forget about it.

Next week I’m enrolling myself in a creative writing class. I feel I’ve a story in me but like reading I need the discipline to do it and to not just attempt it whenever I get a half-hearted notion or  decide to fill my diary with tears whenever a boy is “mean” to me.

There’s bundles of excuses I could use not to go like:  it’s on for two-and-a-half hours or I’ve been feeling tired recently or it’s straight after work, but no. I’m going. I’m going to drag myself from Talbot Street to Harcourt next week for two-and- a-half hours to do an activity that I enjoy.

I’m going to be like that seven year-old reading Song of the Sea– I’ll finish it, to the end, even if I haven’t a foggiest idea of what’s going on. Sure, isn’t that life?

A Woman’s Art Series: Wonder women in charge of Cork art scene


I met with four remarkable women making their mark on art in Cork.

Mary McCarthy, Director of the National Sculpture Factory

Mary McCarthy, Director of the National Sculpture Factory located on Cork’s Albert Road.

Mary McCarthy has been Director of the National Sculpture Factory on Cork’s Albert Road for two periods – once from 1996-2001 and returning again in 2009 where she has been Director ever since. During these two periods Mary took on other roles, such as Director of Programmes for Cork’s stint as European Capital of Culture in 2005 and Executive Arts and Culture Manager for Dublin Docklands Development Authority from 2005-2009.

The National Sculpture Factory may look like a regular red brick building from the outside but within its walls is a large and unique studio space custom-made for sculptors to build their projects. The factory also provides training and support to artists and hosts exhibitions and events.

The exterior of The National Sculpture Factory, Cork.

While many associate the heavy lifting that comes with sculpting as a ‘boys’ club’, Mary informs that currently the ratio of men is to women on their studio floor is equal. “A lot of the work we do is quite large and physical. Sometimes it can be 70% male but right now it’s about 50/50 in the studio. It varies and it’s project by project and because people rent the space we would have less control over them but in our own programmes we would pay close attention to gender equality,” says Mary. “Our staff is balanced and is 50/50 precisely and we would be very conscious of this.”

Mary studied a postgraduate degree in Arts Management in UCD in 1993. She credits this course, as well as the determination of current Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, to ensure an increased number of women are present on arts boards, as the reason why Cork is leading the way in terms of female involvement in the arts.

“Minister Humphreys is really pushing that every organisation has a gender policy. I think that’s really important. Sexism in arts is so subtle and predominately happens on boards that are male and chaired by men. The Minister has an extraordinary record of making women chairs and that is important as it’s redressing a balance,” says Mary.

Mary is also Chairperson of Culture Ireland, an organisation which promotes Irish arts and culture abroad and she is a board member of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). Before being elected the new leader of Fine Gael, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stated that he planned to double the funding of arts over the next seven years, does Mary see this as becoming a reality or is it just another empty manifesto promise?

“It would be very welcome. It’s good to see Fine Gael having an ambitious policy for arts and culture because the party’s policy when they got elected would’ve put up some challenges for the cultural sector. There were funding cuts and some organisations were at risk.”

“I think, like everywhere, the last few years have been really tough on everybody,” continues Mary, who has seen Cork come out the other side of the recession in the last nine years. “Cork had to redefine itself in some ways in the cultural sector because the recession was hard and everybody was very hard hit and on 30-40% less funding than they were before, so that’s a very significant decrease of public funding. I think Cork is well placed to capitalise from the next economic period of stability.”

Angela Fulcher, Artist at the Cork Arts Collective

angela fulcher
Angela Fulcher, artist at Cork Arts Collective

For sculpture and installation artist, Angela Fulcher, the phrase ‘full-time artist’ is a contentious one. Being an artist isn’t a nine-to-five job with steady income and a lot of the time, the amount you are paid doesn’t reflect the hours of painstaking work put in to a project.

“I had a show in the Galway Arts Centre called Unbounded and one of the works in there was called Belt. It contained about 180 belts all stitched together by hand,” recalls Fulcher, who is originally from Dorset in England. “That’s three months full-time work. The struggle for artists is getting their time paid for, whether it’s for a gallery or a project. You have to include a fee in your application but it’s never representative of the time put in.”

When Fulcher was a child her mother owned a jewellery shop in London, with such an early immersion into the world of art and creativity, it is hardly surprising that Angela too went down the artistic route.

 “It was a really creative space. I would’ve spent a lot of time in there at weekends and after school,” remembers Angela. “She did glass engraving by hand, so she often took photographs of people and their pets and put those she’d engraved by hand onto the glass. She would’ve done life drawing too and I would’ve posed for her for portraits.”

angela fulcher 2
One of Angela’s sculpure’s

Based in Cork since 1998, Angela has a studio located at the Cork Arts Collective on Dean Street within the walled gardens of the iconic St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. The Collective began in 1985, providing studio space for artists and residency for visiting artists at their guesthouse on Chapel Street. For Angela, the Collective symbolises how Cork provides a great support system for its artists.

“Cork is a really supportive network to emerge into from college. There’s a good cross- section of everything with emerging artists setting up and there are established artist institutions which are all accessible and I would say that it’s very easy to move around on that scene. Everyone knows everybody. Ireland in general is like that,” smiles Fulcher, who holds a degree in Fine Art from the Crawford College of Art and Design.

With commissions for sculptures notoriously going to men, I ask Fulcher whether she feels this is sexism or are there just more male sculptors than female ones?

“It’s traditional that the people who lean towards working with heavy materials are men. I wouldn’t say that women in this day and age are discouraged from doing it. I did welding but it’s more physical and it’s tough and demanding,” explains Angela, who specialises mostly in indoor projects. “You have to find ways to constantly get around doing things that physically you can’t do. Whereas, if you are a 6ft male who’s 13-stone, you can do it. I wouldn’t say that it’s sexism.”

Anne Boddaert, Curator at the Crawford Art Gallery

anne boddaert
Anne Boddaert, curator at Crawford Art Gallery Cork

While most consider Paris the capital of art and culture, Anne Boddaert has swapped her native France for Cork’s Crawford Gallery since 1999. She was given the official title of curator in 2005 and is now in charge of organising educational programmes for the Emmet Place gallery.

“The education programme is something I always wanted to push and I worked and developed programmes both to do with particular exhibitions and then some more general art classes,” begins Anne, sitting in the gallery’s private library. “I organise and let artists do the teaching and that’s one of the things I’m really passionate about – that it’s qualified, professional people who run workshops and not just anybody.”

For Anne, the real challenge within the arts is funding and trying to justify money being given to the arts when it could be distributed to arguably more vital public services, such as health and education.

“Art isn’t always valued and there are always comments like, ‘Why are we putting money into the arts when we can build an extra toilet in that school?’ I think that’s a very narrow way of looking at things, however, sometimes the bigger picture is just not there,” sighs Anne. “It’s hard to earn an income from art too.”

Crawford Gallery Cork

With this struggle of earning a regular income in mind, Anne ponders whether it is more difficult for women than men to succeed in visual arts as they often have to balance a family, as well as make a viable living. “There is no doubt that if you want to pursue a career things have to take second place. The provision of childminding is hard. It’s not impossible but very difficult and there’s very little help,” says Boddaert.

Boddaert points out that she endeavours to feature female artists in every exhibition, but admits it’s difficult to do when curating historical works as women were often left out of the artistic canon. “There probably were as many female artists as male but they just weren’t collected by national institutions or by museums, or they might be in private collections and not cared for and have aged badly. The historical balance wouldn’t be there at all unfortunately and again it’s not because they didn’t exist, it’s because they are lost and that’s the big part to be very sorry about. It would be easy to say, even in literature as well, that women didn’t write but it’s not true.”

Catherine Fehily, Head of the Crawford School of Art and Design

catherine f
Catherine Fehily, Head of the Crawford School of Art and Design

Two years ago Catherine Fehily left her job as Faculty Director for Arts, Media and Design at Staffordshire University and returned to Ireland to become the Head of the Crawford College of Art and Design. Apart from missing the lush Derbyshire countryside, Catherine is enjoying her new role. Her route to academia was an interesting one, as she first began taking photographs while she was a tour guide in Amsterdam.

“I was working as a tour guide for an American photographer in Amsterdam, and they had a photography club and I learned how to use their dark room. It started as a hobby but in time it was something I realised I could pursue more seriously. I applied to study in Derbyshire when I was 25,” says Catherine, who quickly fell in love with the academic way of life.

Crawford College has 800 students and while it is smaller than most other art colleges in the country, Catherine feels that it provides a unique experience for students. “I think we offer the real art college experience. Staff know all the students really well. Our students are very well looked after. Their work is very ambitious. They’re really challenged to push themselves.”

crawford college
Crawford School of Art and Design,Cork

The Crawford’s 800 students are in the majority female, yet Catherine feels that this majority will shift and that working in visual arts is challenging regardless of gender.

“I don’t think the job of feminism is done by any means but in the arts world it’s tough for everybody,” continues Fehily. “For those who want to make a living from practising their art, it’s the hardest path of all and it’s a personality thing, rather than a gender thing. I think those who are really driven to do it, do it, and our students aren’t under any illusions as to how tough it is.”




February Morning, December Darkness

And on that day everything was shining. Beads of dust glittered, golden in the February sun.

The stray cat named Vincent was perched on the high grass, stretching and licking his feline frame.

The orange roses danced inside their jug, praising the halo of morning sunlight hanging in the kitchen.

Although it was 11 in the morning students dragged their mouldy couches out to the front lawn, blaring Chainsmokers and letting their half empty cans fall and roll onto the footpaths.

But now it’s December, deep and dark and my windows are dripping in tears. Dew sticks to the grass like mould, soggy like our memories.

Not cat visits this house, not even a confused, urban fox.

Push the vile against my chest, make it stop. Tug and twist at my trembling heart until it all comes out.

Anguish spills and spews into the misty, fog soaked air.

My tears are frozen in time.

Can I fix it? Please let me fix it!

Review: A Date For Mad Mary




Everybody knows a mad Mary. It could be the “harmless” neighbour next door whose gaze you prefer to avoid whilst taking the bins out or the general gadabout in town who everybody claims to know but in fact nobody really knows at all. Heck, they don’t even have to be called Mary or be a woman at all!

Continue reading “Review: A Date For Mad Mary”

A Woman’s Heart- An Interview with Cathy Kelly

Last November I spoke with bestselling author Cathy Kelly, about writing, women and having a PhD in People.

Since publishing her debut novel, Woman to Woman, in 1997, Cathy Kelly has become Ireland’s most successful female author. Having previously outsold J.K Rowling and Dan Brown, the 48 year old is undoubtedly the nation’s sweetheart.

As a child Cathy was a self-confessed bookworm, so it is of no surprise she has reached such dizzy heights of acclaim both in the literary and commercial sense

“I was a huge reader as a kid”, begins the mother of two in her warm-hearted tone “There are very few writers who start and who haven’t been enormous readers. I don’t know if you’ve ever read any of Malcom Gladwell’s work’s, but one of his book’s, Outliers, looks at people succeeding in particular areas and he talks about the 10000 hour rule. People like Bill gates who get really involved in something spend an awful lot of time at it”

“Not that I’m comparing myself to these people”, the author is quick to point out “But I read hugely as a child. People who want to write have to read because if you’re not a reader it is very difficult to become a writer, it’s not impossible, but it’s like saying I want to be a dress designer and never having seen a dress!”

Having worked as a journalist for the popular Sunday World, in the eighties and nineties, as a news reporter and later as a features writer and agony aunt, Cathy admits that she always felt somewhat inadequate and not quite cut out for the hard-hitting world of news writing.

“There were wonderful sides to it and wonderful people there and lots of fascinating and amazing experiences”, says Cathy, “I think I was a hard news reporter at first. It’s very difficult and you’ve to be a particular type of person to do that successfully and I was probably too soft. In those days by god you worked hard at it in the 80’s because you couldn’t just leave your job and I felt it was my fault that I was not quite right”

Upon expanding into more features writing with the newspaper, Cathy began to find her niche as a journalist, preferring to focus in on feelings and emotions that went with the stories, rather than the cold facts.

 “ I became more comfortable with feature writing where I could write larger articles focusing on the stories behind the news stories” Cathy grateful of her routes in journalism continues  “The plus that journalism gives you is that it teaches you enormous discipline as a writer because you have to sit down and work and it’s very Alice in Wonderland as you open a door to another world and you see experiences which are vital for a writer”

Cathy’s successful stint as an agony aunt would also prove to be a significant contribution to her work as a writer. Answering queries from distressed readers on a weekly basis allowed Cathy to gain, as she calls it “A PhD in people”.

Putting these life experiences and knowledge of the human psyche into practice, Cathy finally began working on her first novel. This wasn’t the first time she had endeavoured to stitch a story together however,

It was funny. I tried a couple times to write, but never what was in me”, admits the bestselling author “When I was 17 I decided to write about a women running a hotel, but knew damn all about running a hotel. It went nowhere. In 1994 my partner said stop talking about it. I’d been talking about it all my life. I’ll write what’s in me and what I like to read. You can’t think of the people you work with criticising it or you can’t think of your mother reading it. You have to write what’s in you!”

Three books later, Cathy abandoned her career as a journalist and became a full-time writer in 2001, topping best-seller lists across the globe. With many critics declaring that Cathy’s success has been on a similar level to the late Maeve Binchy’s, I ask Cathy was the Dublin-born writer a source of inspiration for her?

“The great thing about Maeve, was that she was a genius and she made this thing look very simple”, says Cathy. “It was like a fabulous piece of tapestry but you couldn’t see the drawing at the back. She was a huge inspiration. When I started out with my first book, she had a big party at her house for writers and I was invited, I nearly died!” she laughs “I felt like a complete charlatan. She was very warm and I’m a huge believer in female mentorship. It’s important that women do stick together and help each other”

With her new novel, It Started With Paris, sure to be a stocking filler in most households this Christmas, Cathy starts talking about the plot behind her novel and her inspiration for putting it together, “I was half way through the last book, The Honey Queen which has a character in it who is widowed”, explains Cathy. “I thought it would be interesting to write about women who are on their own. So I thought of this idea with three characters. One of who is a young widow with a son struggling to cope, one who is left by her toe-rag of a partner and finally Grace who is in her fifties and has just gotten divorced”

Having spoken at length about the plot of the novel, Cathy finally jokes “They say you need to be able to explain your plot in 20 words for a Hollywood pitch, that’s why I’ll never have a film made!”

However, while for some being a dedicated author, wife and mother would be enough to keep them occupied, Cathy is also an active ambassador for UNICEF Ireland and speaks of her work with the charity passionately“When I was a journalist I was very interested in women’s rights. I wrote a lot about domestic abuse, poverty and prostitution. Getting a chance to work with UNICEF is a continuation of that work and a huge passion of mine”, declares Cathy

Finally, Cathy gives her last piece of advice to budding writers out there with her trademark of compassion “Take care of your mental health. Don’t try and be the next “X”, be the next “You” and take it from there”

The Thing About Donal Ryan- Interview

I speak with Booker prize nominated author Donal Ryan about rejection, his “Recession novels” and his life-long romance with North Tipperary.

Upon writing his most famous work, Ulysses, James Joyce would spend hours piecing together an entire sentence in order to find “the perfect order of words”, while this idea may seem extreme, Tipperary-born award-winning author, Donal Ryan can relate to Joyce’s thinking.

“I was at it for years and I’d write words and words, but it was just all drivel really. It took years for me to approach a point where I could feel happy with one sentence”, says Ryan hinting at the complexity of the writing process.  “I know it sounds very precious now, but that’s just the way it was. I’d write a short story and feel sick reading it back and put it away for long periods, but I’d always come back again

Born and bred in North Tipperary, Donal earned a Law degree from the University of Limerick before working in the civil service, yet reading and writing was always a treasured passion of his, a passion he credits his parents for instilling in him.

“It was really as far back as I can remember. I always knew writing was something that I should do. Reading is the only way to become a writer. My parents’ house was always full of books and Christmas presents always consisted partially of books. There’s no other way  to become a writer really”

While Donal’s parents planted the initial seeds which spawned his love of reading, it was Donal’s wife who encouraged him to stop talking about writing a book and to actually put pen to paper.

“My wife really could see that I had to write because in a way it was making me miserable not doing it- the fact that I was denying it and putting it away. She said just do it and at least then you can say you’ve done it”

With Donal’s two novel’s The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December, being rejected forty-seven times, Ryan never allowed this rejection to dishearten him, well aware that the world of publishing was a fickle one.

“Not at all. I’d asked all of these people and I’d fully expected the books to be rejected. Funnily enough I actually was accepted by the very first publisher I ever wrote to in Lilliput, it just so happens that there was a three year gap in me writing to Anthony and him reading it. I sent off four or five letters at a time to publishers and I fully expected nearly all of them to say know”

Ryan’s modest character is undoubtedly linked to his humble rural background and North Tipperary roots. These elements of his character shine through when he speaks of his surprise at The Spinning Heart’s success.“I didn’t think it would sell as well as it did. I expected low volume sales and low volume print runs.  The fact that it was so well received was very satisfying”

However, it wasn’t just in sales that The Spinning Heart soared way above expectations. In 2013, the novel was placed on the Longlist of the esteemed Man Booker Prize, while also winning Irish Book of the Year and The Guardian First Book Award.

What makes The Spinning Heart such an inviting read is the fact that it is told from the point of view of 21 different characters living in a small rural community during Ireland’s recent recession. Donal’s reasoning behind choosing this narrative formation was more of a means of self-challenge than anything else.

“It had been in my head for years” says Ryan clearly obsessed with the art of writing. “I had this idea to write a novel in the polyphonic form. I wanted to see if I could do it and to see if I could construct a narrative from this device. It was going around in my head for a long time, not the actual subject matter, but the mechanics of it and how you would do it. I said to myself I better keep going because the sickness wasn’t there, the horrible nausea that I used to feel when I wrote wasn’t there, so I thought ok, this is a good place to be for a writer, but I had to still go on”

Both The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December deal with themes of debt, greed and rural society and although Donal didn’t intend for The Spinning Heart to become known as “The Recession Novel”, he says that it made for a nice “hook”. Ryan’s rule for writing novels is based very much on fellow Irish contemporary Colum McCann’s notion of “starting with what you know, but writing about what you don’t know”

“These books deal with people and situations and the speech patterns that I know. There are definitely parts of friends and family in the characters, but I think in some way every fictional character is an imitation of the writer’s experience. But I’ll write about things I don’t know. I don’t know how it feels to have lost a child or to be financially desperate. So it’s set in a village like the one I grew up in, the land I love. I love North Tipp and East Limerick”

For Donal one of the most horrific effects of the Recession on Irish society has been the mass exodus of young people through emigration.“Yeah I hate the thoughts of it to be honest with you but it’s very hard for a country like Ireland to avoid it. I hate to think guys like me- young guys heading off. There was a thing there during the boom where people would head off to America or Australia for a bit of a laugh, but now the tragedy of emigration is back full force and whole families have emigrated” says Ryan in his earthy Tipperary tones.

As our conversation comes to its expiration, Donal returns to the idea of rejection, believing that as long as you are writing you’re on the right track

“The chances are that you will be rejected by most publishers. The chances are is that they’ll say no first-hand. It’s very important to have your manuscript polished and be as good as it can be. My advice is to just write and to not think about it too much because when you aren’t engaged in the act of writing you’re not a writer”

Only Ever Human- Louise O’ Neill Interview

Ahead of her Irish Book Award win for debut novel, Only Ever Yours, I speak with author Louise O’ Neill about her struggle with eating disorders, life in New York, her road to recovery and return to her native Cork.

“I attempted my first novel at 19, my second at 24, but it wasn’t until I moved to New York that the desire to try writing as a career began to take hold” Like a lot of us out there author Louise O’ Neill knew she had a novel inside her, but didn’t have the courage to unlock it, until now that is. With her debut novel Only Ever Yours receiving rave reviews form the likes of Marian Keyes, who dubbed it as “utterly magnificent”, it’s clear that O’ Neill’s success won’t be just another one hit wonder in the crowded world of chick-lit fiction. In fact, in many ways O’ Neill’s novel doesn’t even fall into the chick-lit genre. It’s dark and sinister undertones make it as eerie and as haunting as a Hitchcock creation, rather than a predictable romance novel.

Having suffered from bulimia and anorexia since her tender teenage years Louise O’ Neill has credited these heart-breaking experiences for inspiring her writing. “Firstly, it has given me a deep well of past pain and frustration from which to colour my characters. Secondly, through my years and years of therapy, I’ve learned to analyse myself, and my behaviour. This is essential to be a writer as you need to have an understanding of people’s motivation and why they behave as they do” This is certainly relevant with regard to the psychology of main characters Freida and Isabel who feature in Only Ever Yours. Living in a world where women are trained to serve men and become picture perfect brides, an atmosphere of competition and rivalry brews throughout the book. This sense of rivalry undoubtedly stems from O’ Neill’s own experience of living and working in New York, one of the world’s most materialistic cities.

Having completed a degree in English in Trinity College Dublin and a postgrad in Fashion O’ Neill moved to New York to work for the famous Elle Magazine. During this period in O’ Neill’s life her desire for perfection increased, thus giving fuel to her eating disorders. It wasn’t until sitting in a bustling Starbucks outlet watching a woman eat a muffin so easily that O’ Neill began to question the distorted nature of the fashion industry and of New York city “I didn’t understand why she seemed able to eat that muffin in such a casual manner, while I felt I was having an existential crisis at the very thought of it. Suddenly, an image flared in my mind. It was of a girl in a bikini and a bald woman in a black cloak, holding a red marker like a blade. The woman circled the girl drawing circles around her ‘defective’ body parts while the classroom of girls shouted, ‘Fat, Fat, Fat’. It was incredibly vivid. I grabbed my notebook from my bag and I stayed there scribbling notes for what felt like hours. That notebook was the basis for Only Ever Yours

Now in recovery from her battle with eating disorders O’ Neill has returned to her native Clonakilty home. Not many would trade the teeming New York streets for the West Cork landscape, but the author insists it was the best possible decision that she ever made.” When I moved back from New York I had expected to hate living at home again, but I fell in love with it, with the beauty of the landscape, the kindness of the people, the languid speed at which life is lived. There was so much space, not just in a geographical sense, but mentally as well. I felt like my mind was clear. I needed that to write”

At the moment life is certainly looking pretty well for Louise O’ Neill. Having turned her back on the fierceness of the fashion industry, O’ Neill attributes her recovery to the fact that she reads less magazines (probably not a great advertisement for Verge then!) “When I’m writing I don’t think about what I look. I don’t wear makeup and I basically live in my pyjamas. It’s not a pretty sight. I rarely read magazines these days, and the less you read them, the less you want to consume, to buy; the less you believe that buying this dress or that pair of shoes will make you happy. I feel like I’ve swung from one extreme of caring too much to the other of not caring at all, and hopefully I’ll end up somewhere in the middle”

Louise O’ Neill’s debut novel Only Ever Yours is out now