Why I Write

September 2, 2015


I come from a story telling people.

The Irish – the Celts – didn’t retain their personalities, their cultures, for as long as they did by simply painting themselves blue and waving their arses at invaders*. They did it by telling stories; by turning the everyday into the magical; by transforming victory into ecstasy and failure into an almost-victory.

They did it by rewriting the everyday into, as Joyce** might have put it, somethingmorethanwasreallythere***.


I come from a story telling family.

The first time my Very English Boyfriend met my Very Catholic Irish Family he got stories. Some of the stories were told to stave off the silence; to swerve the discomfort. Some were told to make us laugh – because laughter is when my family is at its best. Some stories were there to normalise the situation or to explain who we were, where we were, why we were; but they were all stories.

Because I come from a story telling family.

My father reads voraciously, and with a deliberate lack of snobbery. He’s read  Dumas countless times,  loves Dickens, and worked his way through many of the classics, but he’s also, often, asked for Jackie Collins in his Christmas stocking (the novels of, not the racy author herself) and he’s at his happiest with Golden Age British crime writers like Gerald Vernon Edgar Wallace, or Agatha Christie.

My mother – when I was growing up – didn’t read much. But she told stories. More than that; she lived stories. Going to the Grocers with her; watching her challenge the Butcher as to why the Mince yesterday was less than ideal; making the Christmas cake; learning a dance routine to “Me & My Shadow”. They were stories filled with excitement, danger, camaraderie, and the basic cliff hanging suspense that all good stories contain.

You listened to these stories and wondered whether the Butcher had slipped her an extra kidney by way of recompense, or been gifted with a raised nose and banishment to the B-List of purveyors for his cheapness.

And she did all of this with a sense of humour that was wicked, surreal, cynical and brilliant.

Whilst I may have acquired my love of books from my father, I learned my love of what-happens-next stories from my mother.

And my baby brother, while I stayed indoors reading books, and dreaming of being smart enough to be able to tell stories that people would want to listen to, went out into the world, met people, talked to them, came home, and talked to us about his life his friends and his understanding of the world.

Because I come from a story telling family.

So my Very English Boyfriend met my Very Catholic Irish Family, and waited for the silence, the staring, the muttered recriminations and the anger.

Instead, he got his worst nightmare.

He got stories that wove out, into, and over each other; that faded into a mist, stopped abruptly, vanished and were replaced by reminiscences of the time a bullock ran up our city street, then digressed to “The State of Sandra Bullock,” before passing on to the fact that the escaped cow happened the summer that my brother and I had been using discarded fluorescent lighting tubes as Light Sabres (don’t try this, kids; no, really, don’t…) and blended into an observation that I’d always been the family story teller, which left him stunned and close to terrified.

This – his state of overwhelm at the tidal wave of stories coming his way – left me bemused. Because, as I may have mentioned before…

I come from a family that have never – as long as I have known them – done anything other than tell stories.

Because all stories are about love (or its absence). And the people I choose to talk to, to sit with, all have something in common.

Can you guess what it is?


I come from a culture and a family that – I am both wonderfully lucky and proud to admit – tells stories. We do this to make sense of then, now and tomorrow; to make laughter the prevailing mood; to take sadness and alchemise it into something more beautiful and powerful than it was ever expected to be; to get, gain, and deserve attention; to warm, enthral, reward enervate and challenge each other.

The only thing that matters, I believe, is who loves you, and who you love. And I’m stealing a concept from Armistead Maupin when I point out that family is both the Family you are born into, and the Family you acquire as you go through the tale of life. And I have been lucky to be part of many brilliant families who tell many wonderful stories.

Because the truth is, I don’t really write: I tell stories. And I tell stories because I come from a story telling family.

Welcome to the family.


*Though even Henry Sidney was known to comment on the pert, indigo derrieres of the locals. “Lyke a coupul of Feeral Cats in a sacke made from th’ Serge de Nimes,” he reported to Elizabeth I in 1540.

**James, not Grenfell, who was – clearly – English, as evidenced by her obsession with ensuring children behaved correctly.

***Little known fact: James Joyce invented the Hashtag Sentence.

“I was David Bowie’s Paperboy,” and other facts about me

August 16, 2015


  • I don’t remember much of the sixties, and what I can remember consists of me lying on my back with a bottle within easy reach. Some things never change.
  • I had an interesting childhood, as both my parents were international Nazi Hunters.
  • Kidding: I grew up in Dublin, and was taught almost exclusively by Nuns and Monks. The only interesting thing about my childhood was that I was the only kid in Ireland who was never molested hit or illegally adopted by a Nun or a Monk. I’m still working through the issues this caused.
  • We had “Irish Dancing” classes at school. They started, every morning, with the whole class marching around the long assembly hall / gym to a scratchy 7” recording of Sandy Shaw’s “Puppet on a String.” I still can’t hear that song without wanting to put on blue shorts a white vest and march with a stiff back round a square room.
  • I was pretty shit at Irish dancing. My mother reckoned it was a miracle I learned to count beyond eight (Irish dancing joke).
  • My earliest memory of being an artist is being dressed as a bunny rabbit with a little bonnet that sprouted bunny ears and a fluffy sheepskin tail pinned to my navy blue shorts for a dance recital. I remember being afraid someone would stab my butt with the pin when they were putting it on. I was a spectacularly worried child.
  • I almost fell of the stage. Martha Grahame never called.
  • One year, on the weekend of my birthday, the Evening Herald printed a short story I’d written. It was the best birthday present ever. They appeared to have edited it with a hatchet, and altered the ending. I remained calm and professional. Well, as calm and professional as a ten year old can…
  • I came to London a week before my 18th birthday to see a West End Musical (“Chess”) and a Huge outdoor gig (“Wham: The Final”) and never went home to Dublin.
  • Some jobs I have had: Burger dresser and general dogsbody; Bank cashier; Vice president of Operations at a major Wall Street derivatives house; Associate Director with responsibility for Europe, Middle East and Africa at one of Britain’s largest banks.
  • Riskiest job I ever had: regularly walking the streets of London with tens of millions of dollars in bearer bonds slung over my shoulder. Only years later did I realise how easy it would have been to cosh me and vanish with them. Or, indeed, for me to simply vanish…
  • Most impressive job I ever had: I was David Bowie’s paperboy.
  • Some places I have worked: London, New York, Paris, Johannesburg, Madrid, Hong Kong, Istanbul.
  • I have travelled – for work or pleasure – to almost every Continent on the planet, but still believe that the most beautiful place on the planet is my back garden at 4.45pm on a Summers day with a crowd of friends, a bottle of something cold fizzy and alcoholic, and a stereo tinnily blasting out pop music.
  • That said, my favourite cities are (in no particular order) London, New York, Paris, Istanbul and Sydney. And Dublin, of course.
  • I met my husband in a nightclub on a rather drunken Thursday night in 1990. We were both too vain to wear our glasses, so weren’t really sure how cute the other one was. Luckily, we discovered a love for singing – at full volume – the lyrics of the pop songs we were dancing to, and have been together ever since. We both wear glasses now, so are fully aware of how each of us looks. We still love dancing – and singing along – to pop songs. And we both still love each other.
  • I remember coming out to my family. Crying and thinking the world had come to an end, and nobody would ever love me again. My mother saying “For God’s sake don’t tell your job; it’ll kill your career.” I also remember Making Vice President of ops before my thirty-third birthday, and loving how wrong the statement had proved
  • The best interview I ever gave was with the NY management of a Big Japanese bank in the World Trade Centre. I took the meeting sitting naked and wet from the bath, at my kitchen table in London, and was offered the job on the spot. Henceforth – just so you know – all telephone interviews shall be done naked and wet.
  • I come from a story-telling people (The Celts) and a story-telling family, and have told stories my whole life.
  • I completed my first full length novel in August 2001, and was ready to launch myself as a writer. Two weeks later, the 9/11 attacks on New York changed my whole world, and it took me many years to find myself again, and to realise how good I am at telling a story.
  • My stories, novels and poems cover every period from Ancient History to the Far Future, but all, basically, boil down to one main focus: People are wonderful. Even the really nasty ones are wonderful. I don’t believe that anyone can care – beyond a very cerebral level – for a story that doesn’t contain brilliant, bright, realistic characters. All the plotting, all the description, all the poetry in the world makes for a dull read if the people in the piece don’t have stories to tell.