Now That I’ve Found Me

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Posted by crgeraghty | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 15-01-2015

January. One of my least favourite months of the year. What’s good about it? Once the fairy lights come down, the ordinary lights illuminate all too well the dust and the dirt and the debris that the fairy lights have kindly masked during the moodily-lit month of December. I miss the tree in the sitting room too. The fact that it’s perfectly normal to have a tree in the sitting room. No-one blinks an eye. Even at our one which rarely looks like the trees pictured on the fronts of Christmas cards. It’s almost a tradition now. Turkey? Check! Ham? Yes! Presents? Wrapped! Decrepit, lopsided tree? Oh yes. But put the fairy lights on that baby, pour yourself a glass of Baileys and repair to the couch, and you’ve got yourself a little slice of magic, right there, in your sitting room.

Then along comes January and with it, the Visa bill with its traditional smirk and air of I told you so. That cold, bare month that seems so long. Longer still if you haven’t yet reneged on any of your new year resolutions.

On the plus side, It can be an opportune month for contemplation, since you’re not going out and there’s no booze left in the house. You can sit and think.

I think about years. Ten of them. A decade. That’s a pretty significant period of time, isn’t it. Long enough to be considered an ‘era’. An ‘epoch’ even.

Ten is the number of years I’ve been writing.

I started writing in the September of 2004. I was thirty-four years old. That was ten years ago (ten years and four months for the more pedantic among you) which means, yes, I know, I’m getting to that bit….I’m forty-four years old now. Forty-four and a half actually but who – apart from the more pedantic among you – is counting?

I always planned to be forty-four some day. Not in a, ‘Oh I can’t wait to be forty-four’ kind of way. In a presumptuous way. I presumed I would be forty-four one day. That I would make it to this most inauspicious of ages. Despite the cigarettes and the red wine and the sausage rolls.

I never planned to be a writer. That’s the bit which took me by surprise. And now, I’ve been one for ten years and have written five novels. At thirty-four, I never saw that coming. At forty-four, I’m glad it did.

In the film, ‘Kramer versus Kramer,’ Merryl Streep goes to LA to ‘find herself.’ That always made me laugh. Scoff really. In an unkind way. I thought, ‘What do you mean? Find yourself? Sure aren’t you already there?’

My fifth book – Now That I’ve Found You – is out in paperback today, which makes January feel a bit better than it has any right to. And….this is going to sound twee….am typing this bit with my eyes closed, in cringing-type way….I sort of feel….yes, I’m going to say it….that, in writing, I’ve kind of found myself. Writing has uncovered me. Has dug me up, unearthed me. Ten years of writing, and here I am.

There.

I’ve said it.

And I’m pretty sure it’s true, too.

Is Mise, le meas,

 

Ciara G.

A trip down memory lane

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Posted by crgeraghty | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 03-02-2013

A trip down memory lane…

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a girl.

The girl was 23.
The land was Australia.
The time was 1994.

She lived there for a year and worked in Sydney as a Girl Friday for an investment company. The girl licked stamps and made coffee. Her mouth tasted of glue and her coffee tasted like muck, since she’d only ever made instant before. She answered the phone and had to say things more than once, on account of her Irish accent. Her shorthand was much better than her coffee. She typed letters and, when no-one was looking, played Tetris on her computer. She became brilliant at Tetris and if it had been an Olympic sport, her mother would have been very proud.

The girl lived with a boy in an apartment that was a little bigger than the cardboard boxes that fridge-freezers come in. There was a sofa that became a bed, when a bed was called for. There was a balcony. There were cockroaches with wings in the cupboards in the kitchen. There was never any food in the cupboards in the kitchen because the girl and the boy never ate there, on account of the cockroaches that could fly but never seemed inclined to.  They ate out. Which was easy to do back in 1994, even on the wages of a Girl Friday and a boy who worked for a mobile phone company and quoted reference numbers in his sleep.

They went hiking in the Blue Mountains, danced in Kings Cross, buggy boarded on Bronte Beach and sustained third degree sunburn.

One day, the girl turned 24. It must have been her birthday. The boy met her after work and they went to a bar. They sat outside. It was warm and sunny. It had been warm and sunny every day for a year. The girl was full of it. Full of warmth and sun and sparkly wine which she ordered in the bar, because it was her birthday. She looked at the boy with his dark hair and his blue eyes and his sunburn and his reference numbers. She looked at him until he noticed her looking at him. Then she said, ‘Will you marry me?’

He said yes.

They got married in a little church on a hill in Watson’s Bay. She wore a green dress. He chanced a cream sort-of-a-suit. His socks were beige with bright orange polka dots. She forgot to take the sticker off the soles of her sandals so everyone in the church – there were 25 guests – could see that they cost $24.99.

They sailed around Sydney Harbour that afternoon, eating Balmain Bugs (they’re tastier than they sound) and drinking Champagne (which was really sparkly wine, but nice all the same).
They returned to their tiny apartment in Paddington, walked up two flights of stairs before she remembered that he had forgotten to carry her over the threshold so they walked back down the stairs to the front door and he lifted her and carried her, not just over the threshold but all the way up the two flights of stairs and then he read her a poem by WB Yeats and it was a love poem.

The girl is 42 now. She has three children and one dog. The boy is 43. He also has three children and one dog. She is a writer these days, and makes good coffee. He still works for a phone company. They call them Solutions Companies now. He no longer quotes reference numbers in his sleep.

They talk about Australia sometimes. Perhaps because there is something magic about being 24 and full of heat and hope and possibilities.

And now they’re going back.

It’s a book tour, really. She wrote a book. Four of them actually. It’s her first book tour and it happens to be in Australia. And New Zealand. But Australia. She remembers climbing to the top of Uluru with the boy (they still called it Ayers Rock back then). Dawn, it was. The red dust of the desert. The vastness of it. It was windy at the top. But quiet too. Like the world was letting you in on a secret. Was whispering it in your ear.

The Next Big Thing

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Posted by crgeraghty | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 13-11-2012

Irish writer Clodagh Murphy tagged me to answer these questions about my next book. In turn, I’ll tag some more writers who will tell you about their ‘next big thing’.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
The great Irish writer, Gerard Donovan, once told me in a writing workshop, ‘Don’t just borrow ideas. Steal them!’ So that’s what I do mostly. For my latest novel, Lifesaving for Beginners, I got the germ of the idea from a friend of mine who told me about her great-aunt who had given birth to a baby when she was a young woman and given the baby up for adoption. Her family knew nothing about any of this until the woman died, decades later, and the details were discovered in her personal effects. The story struck me. Settled in like a splinter. What would that be like? To harbour a secret that big? To continue living your life as if nothing had happened? I didn’t write the story of my friend’s great-aunt but I certainly got the idea for Lifesaving from that story. Now, when my friends tell me stories, they usually pre-empt their tales with ‘You’re not going to write about this, are you?’
Of course I won’t….

What genre does your book fall under?
The publishers call it ‘commercial women’s fiction’. I am a storyteller. I call it a story.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Love this question, as am big fan of De FILLUMS….
Kat Kavanagh (nearly 40-year old writer with writer’s block and a secret from her past that’s getting ready to come and bite her in the arse): Cate Blanchett, a great character actress, who does a mean Oirish accent…..
Milo McIntyre (Nine year old from Brighton – a dote!!): How about David Rawle (Martin Moone from Moone Boy)? Haven’t seen the series but have seen pictures and read the reviews and believe he’s a dote!!
Thomas Cunningham (a journalist who calls himself a farmer on account of his five stony fields in Monaghan – the love interest….a ride!!) How about Owen Wilson (but can he do Oirish accent?)
Faith (Milo’s big sister. She’s 25, a singer / songwriter in a band, whose world has just come crashing down around her): It’s got to be Charlene McKenna (the star of Pure Mule / Raw). She’d be perfect!
Minnie Driver (the accountant, not the actress. Kat’s best friend. Eccentric, fierce and loyal): Minnie Driver (the actress, not the fictional accountant…)
Janet Noble (Kat’s mother and a very serious prize-winning author) – the amazing Irish actor, Fionnula Flanagan

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A road traffic accident; one woman dies; one woman lives; and the lives of two families will never be the same again.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It is published by Hachette Books Ireland and Hodder & Stoughton, UK. My agent is Ger Nichol of The Book Bureau.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Fifteen months from start to finish. I would say it took me a year to come up with what I call ‘a decent first draft’ (which is probably really a third or fourth draft because I edit as I go). Then a further three months to ‘tweak’ – that’s what my editor calls it. I call it hellish.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I honestly have no idea. I suppose I try to make my books as unique as I can. I want people to read the first page of my book and know, for a fact, that it’s a Ciara Geraghty story. That is my hope.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I love writing. Or rather, I love having written. Words on a page. The words ‘the’ and ‘end’ (two of my favourite words in the English language). People reading my stories. Holding the finished product in my hands. The heft of it. The smell of it. The magic of language; the possibilities; what you can do with it. All of these things inspire me to write this and all the other books.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I wrote the book in two voices; Kat Kavanagh and Milo McIntyre. I am telling the same story, from two completely different perspectives which was challenging. I’m glad I did it like this though, as I feel it adds layers to the story, makes it less clean-cut, more interesting.

 

The writers I’m tagging are:
Yvonne Cassidy
Bernie Furlong
Bernice Barrington

Is mise le meas,

Ciara G.

xx

What do you want to be when you grow up?

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Posted by crgeraghty | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 30-10-2012

When I was four, I wanted to be a tapdancer. At family gatherings, I would sing ‘On the good ship lollypop’ and tapdance in a pair of my mother’s shoes that made lovely tap-tap-tap sounds against most types of floors, apart from lino which was unfortunate because there was a fair bit of it around in 1974.
When I was ten, I wanted to be a waitress in the canteen at the airport where my father worked. His office was in the hanger and whenever he took us there to see the planes, we’d go to the canteen afterwards and the waitress would wink at us and pile our plates high with chips. She said kids could never have enough chips, which was a sentiment I happened to agree with, in 1980.
When I was eighteen, I wanted to be a singer in a rock and roll band and, for a brief spell in the late 80s / early 90’s, I was. A backing singer. In a Dublin soul band. We spent a lot more time practising and having heated debates in the pub about the philosophy of the band than we ever did actually performing but still, I was a singer in a band so I could tick that particular item off my to-do list. Then the film ‘The Commitments’ came out and everyone decided that we were a Commitments-tribute band. It didn’t matter how many times we said that we were around long before that film came out. Thanks a bunch, Roddy Doyle.
When I was twenty, I left home and moved to Switzerland, leaving behind my various dreams of dancing, catering and rock ‘n roll. I worked in the World Health Organisation, I had a flat, money for clothes and drinks and haircuts and books. I had independence. It was like the Christmas I got the roller skates. It was that good.
From then until I turned 34 in the spring of 2004, I did various bits and pieces: I travelled, I asked a good friend to marry me, I learned how to cook spaghetti carbonara, I passed my driving test, I gave birth, got a mortgage, got a promotion. I was officially all grown up. A proper adult.
One day, in 2004, I was standing on the platform at the train station in Donabate where I live. There was nothing extraordinary about this day, but as I stood there in the throng, I suddenly realised that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I felt that was a bad thing, given that I was grown up. As oversights go, this one felt big. I was an insurance loss adjuster at the time. I had never planned to become one. It just happened. All of a sudden, as I stood on the platform in the throng, I realised I was in a rut. The realisation settled on me like a dark cloud and followed me around for months. My husband noticed. He said, ‘What ails you?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.’ He said, ‘You’re already grown up.’ I said, ‘I know, it’s worrying.’

Then a man fell off the roof at Plunkett college in Whitehall and I was sent out to investigate the incident on behalf of the college’s insurance company. I got up on the roof, took some photographs, managed not to fall off and had a conversation with the principal, a lovely man who, in the general course of conversation, told me all about their evening adult education programme and gave me a booklet with the details of the courses.
The creative writing class started on a Tuesday. It was raining. Dark and cold. I didn’t know anyone. I was hungry, having come straight from work. I’m not good when I’m hungry. I’m cranky when I’m hungry. I worried that I would make a fool out of myself. I hadn’t written anything other than cheques, and reports for work, and letters before the advent of e-mail. I can’t really say why I picked that course. I loved reading. I remember Maeve Binchy saying, in a radio interview, that she was reading a book and thought to herself, ‘I could do that’ and she started writing a book that turned out to be Light a Penny Candle. I remember feeling the same way. Reading books and thinking, ‘I could do that. How difficult can it be?’

Turns out that it is difficult. Challenging. Frustrating. Time-consuming. Stressful. But when I write my two favourite words in the English language – which happen to be ‘The’ and ‘End’ – the sense of achievement and – this sounds a bit American but I’ll say it anyway – fulfilment, is enormous. I do something that I love. That I’m passionate about. It’s not always easy but it’s always interesting.
And finally, I know what I want to be when I grow up.

Lifesaving for Beginners – some questions answered

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Posted by crgeraghty | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 25-08-2012

Here are the answers to some questions I was asked recently about my new book, Lifesaving for Beginners (out in Ireland and the UK at the beginning of October 2012). Hope it gives you a taste of what the book is about without giving too much away…

Tell us a bit about the new book.

I got the germ of an idea from a friend of mine who, one night, told me the story of her father’s unmarried sisters, both of whom died within months of each other. Her father was going through their personal effects afterwards and found a birth certificate. One of his sisters had given birth to a baby years before and had given the child up for adoption.

The minute I heard the story I knew I wanted to write it. The idea of a woman who gives her baby away and gets on with the living of her life, never referring to it, never talking about it, perhaps never thinking about it. It is almost as if it never happened. And although my story begins many years later, in 1987, things in Ireland hadn’t really changed. I mean, in 1984, Ann Lovett, a 15-year old girl, gave birth to a baby boy, all alone, in the grounds of a church. She brought a scissors. To cut the cord. It didn’t matter. They both died. I was fourteen then. I never forgot it. The loneliness of it. That kind of loneliness stays with you. You don’t forget loneliness like that.

Half of the book is told from Kat’s point of view, and half from Milo’s. Was it challenging to write in these two very different voices? What was it like to write from a nine-year-old boy’s point of view?

Kat is approaching forty, which is not something she’s looking forward to. She is a writer except that nobody knows she’s a writer. She is a mother except nobody knows she’s a mother. She is in love with her man-friend except nobody knows she’s in love with her man-friend. She is a tricky, tricky character and so, was tricky to write.

Every second chapter is told by Milo. Milo is nine and not nearly as tricky. He is much more loveable than Kat. Much easier to write. Perhaps it is because children are easier to love than adults.

I told the story in two parts because I felt it was broad enough to warrant that. Also the technical aspect of it interested me, ie. How to tell the same story in two parts? From two different perspectives. I think a story like this appeals to readers. They can see both perspectives which deepens understanding and, hopefully, empathy. If a reader has empathy with a character like Kat, you know you have done something right because she is not the easiest person to like.

Why did you decide to show us Faith through her brother Milo’s eyes rather than Faith narrating herself?

Faith is a young woman who, at the beginning of the book, loses her mother and then discovers that the woman she lost is not her birth mother.

I tried to write Faith. I tried many times. I have a GIGANTIC file called ‘Faith’ with notes on her character, what she has in her fridge, her CV, what she wears, what she watches on the telly, the colour eye-shadow she favours, stuff she has in the pocket of her jacket. I tried everything. But she wouldn’t come to me. I was always grasping. I spent months reaching for her but in the end, I had to concede that she just wasn’t someone I could write. Perhaps it was her age (she’s 24 – it’s been a long time since I was 24). Perhaps I felt that her situation was so dramatic that if I wrote it, it might become melodramatic.That’s when I came up with the idea of writing her story through a third party – her little brother Milo. I wondered how Faith’s story would look through the eyes of a nine-year-old. Once I started writing him, I couldn’t stop. His character felt like something I didn’t have to make up. He was just there. In my head, waiting to become words on the screen. I fell in love with him from the start. He was my way of telling Faith’s story.

Your books often include a difficult relationship with a family member – particularly a mother-daughter relationship. What is it that you find particularly interesting about this dynamic?

Well, it drives my mother crazy, as you can imagine. When I start to write another story, she ‘casually’ enquires if the mother is a ‘baddie’ again…

I don’t know who said it but it’s true; happiness writes white on the page. A loving, fabulous relationship is all very well but it doesn’t make for riveting reading, I’m afraid. A fractious relationship is a lot more absorbing. This is where the good stuff is. The cracks on the pavement that nobody wants to walk on. This is where the writing has to go.

The themes you explore in your novels can often be quite difficult and moving – bereavement in Saving Grace, abandonment in Finding Mr Flood – and yet the books are full of warmth and humour. Do you think it’s important to balance the light with the dark?

Absolutely. You have to have a balance. Or at any rate, I have to have a balance. Between the dark and the light, otherwise it’s too much, or it’s too little. Just like life.

You like to write love stories between characters who seem quite mismatched on the surface. Is the love story in Lifesaving for Beginners similarly unusual?

I’ve never really written a ‘leading man’ type of character. You know the ones; tall, dark and handsome with fabulous, slightly dangerous jobs, and luxury hair. To be honest, I don’t think I’d know what to do with a fellow like that…

There are a few love stories in Lifesaving for Beginners. There’s Kat and her younger brother, Ed. There’s the love story between nine-year-old Milo and his mam, Beth, even though we never meet Beth in the story. There’s the love between Milo and his big sister, Faith. And then there’s Kat and Thomas. Thomas (who I love) is mad about Kat but, because of Kat’s past, she feels she is undeserving of this. She can’t handle him but he is perfect for her and I think the reader will see this, even if Kat – who is an unreliable narrator – can’t.

Do you know what is going to happen before you start writing, or do storylines develop as you go along? Did any aspect of the plot or a character surprise you while you were writing?

I never really know what’s going to happen. I always start with a character. Character is vital, in my stories. It would be nice to have it all planned out – I think I would feel less anxious as a writer if I had A Plan. The ending is always a surprise to me. For example, I never knew who the father of Scarlett O’Hara’s baby was until I got to that chapter at the end of the book. And I never knew – until Dara got to Manchester – if Mr. Flood would be alive or dead or if she would find him at all. And I certainly had no idea that the epilogue for Finding Mr. Flood would be narrated by a ghost. That idea came to me at Annaghmakerrig – a retreat for writers and artists and dancers and fire-eaters and allsorts. I was there to write the end of the story when, on a harmless Monday night, the ghost of Ms. Worby appeared to Kevin Gildea and by the time he had finished telling the story the following morning, I had come up with the idea of the ghostly epilogue and I wrote it there, in the haunted house. I whispered a silent thank you to Ms. Worby (I also thanked her for not coming to haunt me…).

How did you come up with the title for the book?

The working title for much of this book was ‘Having Faith’. But then my editor, Ciara Doorley, said that it was time to lose the whole ‘present-participle-proper-noun’ title situation and I suppose I couldn’t help agreeing with her. So I indulged in a bit of ‘brainstorming’ if you wouldn’t be minding…with Frank (the husband) and Ciara (the editor – keep up). We talked about lots of titles. Husband fancied something with the word ‘iceberg’ in it. Hidden depths, he said. Only a sliver of it visible above the water, the rest all hidden beneath. ‘Hmmmm’ I said, scribbling away. Ciara liked ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘The stories we tell’ (she’s such an editor!) and I quite favoured ‘The Secret Lives of Kat Kavanagh’, which referenced the sort of nine lives of cats and that kind of thing….
So how we all came up with Lifesaving for Beginners is beyond me. But as soon as I said it out loud, I knew that was the one (much like when I looked in the icecream freezer in the supermarket and saw a Mars Bar Icecream for the first time…everything fell into place.)

How long did it take you to write Lifesaving for Beginners?

Too long (note to self: please learn how to write your stories quicker. For everyone’s sake!!)

Finally, what was your favourite bit about writing the new book?

Writing Milo (my nine-year old protagonist) was my favourite bit. And the easiest bit. He slid out of me onto the screen and I did very little editing of his part of the story. Kat was more difficult. A lot more. I suppose adults are usually more difficult than children. Adults have been around the block and it shows.

 

If you, lovely reader, have any more questions you’d like to ask me, don’t hesitate to give me a shout. Here are my various ‘handles’:

www.ciarageraghty.com

Follow me on Twitter: @ciarageraghty

Find me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ciarageraghtybooks

 

Is mise le meas,

Ciara G.

The best Valentine’s Day EVER!!!!

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Posted by crgeraghty | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 10-02-2012

The best Valentine’s Day happened a long time ago.

A very long time ago.

1982, if you must know.

And it’s been downhill ever since.

I was 12 years old and I loved a boy in my class. Handily enough, he loved me right back. I put this down to the fact that his mother was German, thus differentiating him from the other boys in my class who sniggered at that word, love, preferring instead to push and pinch the girls they disliked the least.

I kissed him at a party once. A birthday party where the children were given the use of a room and a ‘ghetto-blaster’, while the parents sat in a different room, feigning indifference but really – I imagine, being a parent myself now – sitting on the edges of their seats, worrying at their nails and arguing over whose brilliant idea it had been to invite a classroom full of hormone-charged, pre-teens into their home. The kiss was a closed-mouth affair, of the kind favoured in black and white movies. I remember wondering how I was going to negotiate the protrusion of his nose. You worry about things like that when you are 12 and about to embark on your first kiss. I cocked my head to one side, like I’d seen them do in the movies. I  closed my eyes, for exactly the same reason. Then, I waited. It was more like a touch than a kiss. His mouth felt strange and yet familiar, all at the same time. The other kids formed a circle around us and counted down from 20. A 20-second kiss. I held my breath, like I was swimming underwater. It wouldn’t make it into my Top Ten Kisses Ever list. But it was one I never forgot.

Valentine’s Day happened a few weeks later. There was a handmade card on my desk when I arrived at school. Anonymous, like Valentine cards are supposed to be. Another one appeared after little break, every blank space filled with love poetry.

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I wish Elly was sick
So I could sit beside you. 
 

Another card after big break, this one accompanied by a red Snoopy purse. Returning home with my stash, my mother handed me an envelope. Addressed to me. With a stamp. Inside was a Shop-Bought Valentine’s Card. One that had been handed over in exchange for pocket-money – a scarce commodity in 1982 – in an actual SHOP!!

This was what love felt like. I was nearly positive.

Later, he arrived at my house with a gigantic biscuit shaped like a heart. He said his mother had baked it. He asked if I would go on a date, like we were a couple in a Sweet Valley High book. Dinner and a movie. In town. My mother eventually agreed to this liaison, only because his mother promised her that she would ‘shadow’ us, sitting two rows behind us in the cinema and eating at the same restaurant, but at a different table. Perhaps it was her German accent that made my mother agree. That accent has a very responsible twang to it.
And so we sat in the dark of a cinema theatre one Saturday afternoon, eating Coconut Snowballs and drinking TK red lemonade out of bottles. The restaurant was on Abbey Street with proper cutlery and glasses that would break if you dropped them and napkins that weren’t made out of paper. We had burgers and chips and cokes and ice-cream and then his mother drove us home.

A few months later, I was sent off to Manor House school in Raheny where, my mother promised, the nuns would ‘put manners on me.’ Valentines days came and went. Valentines days with no Snoopy purses, no gigantic heart-shaped biscuits, no dates, no love poetry.  In fact, a lot of Valentines days came and went without even the face-saving appearance of a card – shop bought or otherwise. Even now, as I grow older and have put away childish things, I still remember that Valentine’s Day in 1982.

Nothing ever touched it.

And at this stage in the game, I’m pretty sure nothing ever will.

 

Is mise le meas,

 

Ciara G.

Failure is not an option….

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Posted by crgeraghty | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 04-01-2012

Day: 4
Nicotine patches used: None
Cigarettes smoked: None
Number of times I have been nasty to family and friends: Many
Number of previous attempts: Classified.

I suppose I’m not the only one in the country – and indeed the world – to have thrown their last packet of cigarettes away last Saturday night at the stroke of midnight? Typically, I didn’t do it til around 1am. Then I threw the packet – with 14 cigarettes. Fourteen – into the fireplace. There were only embers in the grate by then, but hot enough to turn my cigarette box – with my Fourteen cigarettes – into a quiet blue flame. Oddly, while the packet burned, the cigarettes themselves remained fairly intact. Blackened – like my unfortunate lungs and maybe even my soul, if I have one – but intact. I know this, not because I rummaged around in the embers the next day (and no, thinking about doing something and actually doing something is NOT the same thing)….I know this because my ten-year-old son, Neil, carried them out to me in his blackened hands. He had been clearing out the grate and came across the charred remains of my last FOURTEEN cigarettes.

‘I’m proud of you.’

That’s what he said.

I hadn’t done anything to deserve it. I hadn’t even wrestled with my first, proper craving. I was barely out of the bed. I may have polished off a bowl of Crunchy Nuts and perhaps put a load of filthy clothes in the washing machine, but that was about the height of my achievements on that particular morning.

‘I’m proud of you.’

This is why failure is not an option. Children. Bloody children. One of my friends describes them as ‘the worst financial investment you’ll ever make.’ Another confessed, when her children – 8, 5 and 1.5 – were briefly distracted by a plate of Jammie Dodgers, ‘I just never considered the permanence of the arrangement, when we talked about having kids. Do you know what I mean?’

Children. Bloody children. They make you do things you thought you’d never do. Like give away the chocolate flake bit of your 99. Or sew a button onto a school uniform at half eight on a Tuesday morning while your kid shouts at you to ‘hurry up, I will be late for school’, ignorant of the fact that you have never even managed to thread a needle before now, and that once, you made your sewing teacher cry.  But children don’t think about things like that. They just assume you can do it. That’s how I got the thread through the eye of the needle in the end.

I started smoking at the Christmas Disco (we said ‘Disco’ back then) in Manor House School. I was in second year; scrawny and freckly with roaring red hair, like a bag of carrots. Before the ‘disco’, I told my friends that I smoked. I thought this might make me seem a little more interesting. Cool even, despite the flaming root vegetables on top my head. So, in between Give it Up (KC And The Sunshine Band) and Hard Habit To Break (Chicago), I walked into the toilets. And there they were. My friends. In a circle, passing one solitary cigarette from one to the other like a game of pass the parcel, but without the music. Or the prize at the end. Or the fighting about who was holding the parcel when the music stopped.

‘Ja want a drag?’ She could make smoke come out of her nose and it was coming now, out of both nostrils at the same time, thick and straight. She was brilliant at it. I nodded. Took a step forward. Held out my hand. Felt the filter between my fingers. I expected it to be hot. It was soggy. I lifted it to my mouth. Wrapped my lips around it. Took a drag. Tried not to inhale. Inhaled. And then the coughing and the terrible, terrible fear of vomiting. You heard about kids vomiting after their first drag. You heard about it all the time. I was about to become just another statistic…

So there I was, in my tartan mini skirt and bat-wing top and – God forgive me – my ‘indoor’ school shoes, coughing and doing my best not to vomit in the toilets beside the hall in Manor House School in Raheny, on a freezing night before Christmas in 1984. Surrounded by friends who now knew that I had never smoked before. They took it on the chin. ‘Not to worry’ they said. ‘We’ll show you how.’ And they did. It didn’t take long. By Christmas eve, I was pretty good. ‘You could do anything if you put your mind to it’ my mother said. Turned out she was right.

My friend says there were two things in her life where failure Was Not An Option: (1) breastfeeding, and (2) getting her degree. She did both. Brilliantly. She said, ‘Failure is not an option’ and it wasn’t. Simple, no? As if all you really have to do to make sure stuff gets done is to say those words. They’re like magic beans, those words. You plant them in your head. That’s it. You believe it and so it becomes true.

‘I’m proud of you.’

There’s nothing else to be done, in the face of that. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m planting the magic beans. I’m saying it out loud. I burnt a packet of cigarettes in the embers of a fire in the early hours of New Year’s Day and my son found their charred remains and told me he was proud of me. And that means that I can never smoke again.

Failure is not an  option.

But wish me luck all the same….

 

Is mise le meas,

 

Ciara G.

It’s only November – let’s calm this sh*t down…

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Posted by crgeraghty | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 24-11-2011

Kat Kerrigan is one of the main characters in the book I’m writing at the moment. She hates Christmas. She says, ‘Christmas makes everything seem worse than it already is.’

I’m a bit like that. Take last weekend, for example. I went – like an innocent lamb to the abbatoir – to the cinema at my local shopping centre to watch a film with my children. When I get there, it’s like the end of the world. Mobbed. Christmas music blaring. Christmas decorations, hanging like bodies. A disorderly queue trailing from Santa’s grotto, like the tail of a kite.

A woman in the lift turned to her companion and said, ‘You wouldn’t think it, would you?

‘What?’

‘That it’s Christmas? Already?’

IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS. IT’S NOVEMBER!!

On the plus side, Santa can come in handy. My aunt Mary used to run to the fireplace anytime me and my siblings were misbehaving – she’d pick up the poker and bang it against the fireplace and roar up the chimney ‘SANTY, CAN YOU HEAR ME?’ and then she’d tell the tales that needed telling and we’d stop misbehaving or we’d continue misbehaving in another room, so she couldn’t see us. So yeah, Santy can be a good stick to beat children with – metaphorically, obviously.

Then there’s the availability of huge tins of chocolate Kimberlys. Difficult to source at other times of the year.

It’s the M&S ads that get me. And the Coca Cola ads. And the Budweiser ads. All that happiness. Too Much Happinnes, Alice Munro said, and I’m inclined to agree with her. It makes me uneasy. Am I supposed to be that happy? And what if I’m not? What if I can’t make my children that happy? What’ll happen if we’re not all sat around a roaring fire on Chrismtas morning, bathed in fairy lights, with tinkling music in the background and our hands wrapped around huge mugs of warm, frothy chocolate. What then?

Me and my mam are making the Christmas puds and cake this Saturday. It’s our Christmas tradition. She buys the ingredients. I grease the cake tin with butter paper. She sieves the flour. I peel the almonds. We search our kitchens for the lids of last year’s pudding bowls that we never find. I am dispatched to the local ‘Home Stop’ to buy more. Everyone in the house has to stir the puddin’ mixture with the wooden spoon; that’s the rule. I think it’s for luck. Hopefully, it’ll be just what I need to switch on the Christmas lights in my contrary heart.

Is Mise le Meas,

 

Ciara G.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoxQ4Ul_DME&ob=av2e