Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Book to Read when your Flatmate Moves Out

Posted by Daisy

I BOUGHT my own home two years ago. At 31, I thought I was ready to live alone. Until then, I had lived with an assortment of flatmates, most recently spending three years with two friends in a three-storey house near the sea. Even though we had the typical flatmate arguments about household chores and whose turn it was to hoover, I loved the camaraderie of it all.
I loved pushing a trolley around Lidl together on a weeknight, and having ham and cheese toasties from a newly-replenished fridge while watching five episodes of How I Met Your Mother in a row. I loved helping each other compose text replies to men we were newly dating, trying on suitable outfits in the sitting room, and giving each other pep talks in the car on the way to the date. I loved tripping over glittery high heels discarded at the end of the stairs, and inviting the taxi driver who owned the disco-cab back to the house for a party at the end of a night. I loved eating boiled eggs and toast perched on high stools at the kitchen counter on a weekend morning. I loved the red flower fairy lights strung across the bannisters, and the stiletto-heel pock-marks on the laminate wood flooring, testament to the fun we had.
I both loved and hated my new duplex apartment, with its left-over furniture from the previous owners – brown pleather couches, a fake pine coffee table and a record player sneakily left in the hot press. Without a TV connection, I watched the first series of The Wire lying on the squeaky, slippery couch under the glow of the fake plastic candle chandelier. I became obsessed with home décor blogs, bought ‘Ideal Home’ magazine monthly, and painted and de-stressed as much of the furniture as I could.
But I couldn’t understand living alone. Who do you say good night to, or good morning to? Who do you watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ with on a boring Tuesday night? Who raps on your bedroom door in the morning when they realise you’ve slept in? And who comforts you when you watch a programme about hirsutism and convince yourself that you have it and that you’re growing a moustache and arrive downstairs crying in the morning, only for your flatmate to examine you and tell you not to be so silly, before rushing out to work?
My two biggest fears are ghosts and spiders. The first week I moved in, a huge spider crawled across the sitting room floor. Eventually, after a few hysterical phonecalls, my mum arrived and crossly hoovered him up. The same week, the neighbours had a late-night argument, and I sat at the top of the stairs, listening through the wall as a woman screamed ‘My baby, my baby’ and a man shouted ‘Shut the f**k up’. After a few months of solo living, I really wished there was a ghost, for a bit of company. Freddie Mercury was right - I WAS lonely, living on my own. So I advertised for a flatmate, and a red-curly-haired stranger moved in shortly afterwards.
But now my lovely flatmate, Em, has moved out to live with a man. After eighteen months of sitting on the balcony drinking cava and smoking, and sorting out boyfriend and family issues, discussing whether or not we should go for a walk in the rain (I think we went three times), cooking up huge bowls of pasta with bacon, mint, crème fraiche and lemon, and sniffing the week-old wine in the fridge, wondering if we should just risk it and drink it, knowing instinctively when one of us is in a quiet bad mood and simply waiting for the floodgates to open, there’s nothing left of her except a pair of black runners discarded in the boxroom.
But funnily enough, I think I may be ready to live alone. It’s tentative. I still don’t go into Em’s bedroom because it’s hers. But because she’s already been here, and created some happy memories, my little apartment feels more like home now. I love reading the papers on a weekend morning with the sun flooding through the kitchen windows. And I like being able to leave my laptop and notes permanently on the kitchen table, and fake-tanning while watching TV. I’ll give it a month.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
‘The Snow Child’ tells the story of Jack and his wife, Mabel, who have moved to Alaska for adventure on the new frontier. They can’t have children and are growing increasingly apart. One night, in a rare fit of fun, they build a snowgirl outside, complete with scarf and gloves. And the next morning, she’s gone. It reminds me a bit of Laura Ingalls Wilder ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books, with talk of coffee pots and dinners, and relatives ‘back east’,  and neighbours helping each other out with frosty morning chores. It’s a re-telling of a Russian fairytale, and, in a very post-modern way, Mabel has a rare copy of the fairytale in their log cabin, which her father used to read to her as a child.
Although it’s not a gripping book and the ending is predictable, somehow I couldn’t stop reading it and broke my golden rule of ‘No reading on a Work Morning’ to finish it. Ivey writes beautifully, and this book simply makes me want to visit Alaska even more than I did before I read it.
Here are a few links from around the web about solo living, if you'd like to read them:

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Author Interview 1: Welcome, Martina Reilly!

Posted by Daisy
‘Writing is a business for the thick-skinned, peopled by the sensitive. It's wonderful, it's heart-breaking, it's joyful and it's crushing. It's the brief bright lights of publicity slamming into the shade of our self-imposed exile. It's digging to unearth the gems only to have them knocked from our hands by a careless comment. It's our life. It's not easy. But we love it.’
(Martina Reilly, Irish Independent,27/09/12)
MARTINA REILLY is beginning the hard slog again. After two weeks off for Christmas holidays spent with her husband and two children, Reilly must re-start the writing and editing process in the box room of her Kildare home, as well as promoting her new book ‘What If’.
‘I write when my children are in school, and I didn’t write at all over Christmas. Some days I write much more successfully than others. I don’t sacrifice my life for writing and I’ll always go for a coffee when someone rings. At the end of the day, your books aren’t going to keep you warm in your old age,’ she says.
Currently working on her seventeenth book, Reilly has the job she always dreamed of. She has won an International White Raven Award, a Bisto Book merit award, and ‘Something Borrowed’ was longlisted for an Impac Literary Award. She started young – between the ages of 8-13, Reilly wrote a series of books called ‘The Gang’.
‘I loved writing stories, inventing things and escaping into other worlds. ‘The Gang’ were like bad episodes of ‘Neighbours’, and people were always falling and getting concussed in them' says Reilly.
‘There was no encouragement in primary school. I was a really bad speller. I wasn’t told I was good or anything and my stories would be returned to me scored through with red biro, it was all very much about spelling and grammar.'
She remembers her secondary school English teacher, Mr Frank Higgins, who had ‘such a great approach to teaching English’ and who encouraged her love of poetry.
Reilly studied English, History and Mathematics in university, but left after second year to work in the cash office in Dublin County Council, where she met her now husband.
‘I left for the job in the county council because to me it was like getting a fortune. Sometimes it was very busy and sometimes it was quiet. I would get my work done really quickly and just read.’
During this time, Reilly revived 'Livewire', a book she wrote at 15. She re-typed it on an old word processor and sent it off to publishers, where it was picked up by Poolbeg. Published 18 months later, it won an International White Raven Award.
‘It was a dream come true for me. I always wanted to write stories, and create people,’ she says.
Reilly writes chick-lit, but her stories always have some grit embedded in the narrative.  ‘Flipside’ deals with cancer, ‘Something Borrowed’ with adoption, and ‘What If’ tells the story of an old lady diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease who is reluctantly moved to a nursing home by her buttoned-up, clenched-arsed 50-something-year-old spinster daughter, Deirdre.
‘I would love to write an airy-fairy book sometime, it’d probably do really well, but the grit in the books just happens. I never know where my books are going to end up when I start,’ she says.
‘I started ‘What If’ with the idea of a diary that helps people to illuminate something in their lives. I didn’t have a clue where the book was going to go. I like to put humour in if it’s getting a bit dark. Life is tragedy and comedy combined and it’s nice to get the balance in a book.’
While writing ‘What If’, Reilly initially planned to give Deirdre a much smaller role in the story.
‘Deirdre was a bit of a surprise. Initially she wasn’t supposed to be a big character. June, the owner of the nursing home, was supposed to be a bigger character, but my editor told me to get rid of her and concentrate on Deirdre. She almost had her own plot, apart from the others. I hear my characters' voices in my head before I even picture them.’
Reilly has embraced the internet to promote her work, tweeting and Facebooking with a large number of followers.
‘It’s changed since I started writing. Back then, TV and newspapers were the only other ways you had to plug your book. The internet is definitely very powerful. It’s a new experience for all us writers.’
Having previously likened her books to ‘her babies’, she recently popped into her local Easons in Maynooth, to take a peek at ‘What If’.
‘I used to always go to the bookshops in the beginning. My mother would go in and take a book from somewhere obscure and place in on top of a Maeve Binchy or something,’ she says.
‘If you ever see a book on its own in [the main section] of a bookshop, you just know some author has placed it there. I thought it was only my mother who did that, but lots of people have since told me their mothers do the same.’
With her books translated to five different languages, Reilly has made a good living from writing, but has been affected by the economic downturn.
‘I was doing really well until the recession. But now things are harder and book sales in general are plummeting,’ says Reilly, who also writes for a number of Irish newspapers, is a qualified drama teacher, and recently wrote and subsequently filmed a sitcom over two days, with the help of some actor and film friends.
Her future plans include writing another sitcom, continuing to promote ‘What If’ and finding a publisher for her next book, which is already finished.
She advises aspiring writers to ‘hang in there and keep writing.’
‘In some ways, it’s easier for a new writer now, because publishers are looking for the next big thing. It’s probably going to be someone new, fresh and different. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice but know who to take advice from, take it from people you trust,’ she says.
Read our review of 'What If' here, if you like.


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A book after evesdropping on your kids

Posted by Jenny

Picture this. It’s a rainy St Stephen’s morning, my three kids are sitting at the table. The boy is focussed on building his lego which turned out to be a task requiring team effort. The girl is playing with her new Barbie set which includes a chair, a vanity set and a wardrobe complete with party dresses and shoes I would like to get my hands on in my own size. The youngest is being pulled between playing with her own newly acquired age appropriate (ie in her mind boring) toys and attempting to commandeer her sister’s waaaayyyy more interesting ones.

It’s a rare image of peace and it’s usually fragile and short lived. Anyway, I grabbed the opportunity to drag a broom through the downstairs living area. And then it happened! One of those wondrous moments when your kids think that you’re not listening and are having a conversation you wished you could tape and play over and over again.

My son: “You should pretend that she’s pregnant.”
My daughter: “Oh, the baby in my belly is so sore. When is the doctor coming?”
My son, reassuringly: “He’ll be there soon.”
My daughter, probably vividly imagining what it’s like to be pregnant, started to make sounds as if she’s suffering a great deal. Then she points out to my son, while I was industriously sweeping the floor nearby: “The doctor will have to cut my stomach open to get the baby out.”
My son, with the authority and wisdom of an older brother: “No, you will have to open your mouth really wide and then the baby will come out that way.”

I remember my son's concern regarding the state of my mouth and whether I was sore following the birth of my youngest. Obviously it’s the only hole a baby can come out of. It was an explanation that he’d come up with himself during the last pregnancy. Since he was only four at the time, I didn’t think he needed me to inform him of the details, especially since he never actually asked. I’m all for the truth in an age appropriate, need to know manner and all that lark. However, he has clearly settled on that solution, which leads me to the question, when should I tell him? When do you have a conversation with your kids about the birds, the bees and the births in this case? My poor child, I can just imagine the look of horror on his face.  

And while I ponder this, let me introduce you to “Green Rider” by Kristen Britain. It was first published in 1998, so it’s been around for a bit. I was in the market for a new fantasy book that would pull me in from the first page and I bought it after reading a recommendation from a local bookshop. I wasn’t disappointed. I found it to be a promising first novel in the series. And if you happen to be in the market for a new fantasy read, why not give it a go?