Style For Living

May 7, 2016


My mother loved Fashion.

More than fashion – which was prone to lapses of taste unacceptable to her – she loved STYLE.

She grew up in Dublin at a time when most people were intensely proud and incredibly poor. Money, when it was there, was for essentials.

Essentials included clothes, but style– the wearing of things that were beyond essential, but necessary simply because they were beautiful – was frowned on, as was aspiration or rebellion.

But my mother wore beehives, heels with stiletto toes, coats that were there to be shapely and luxurious rather than just to keep the cold out, in colours of chocolate brown and raspberry red, in hues of ochre, with explosions of turquoise blue and jade green.




And she passed her love of style, her quietly rebellious nature, and her aspiration – less quiet, but necessarily so – on to my brother and I,  though I suspect she sometimes wished she hadn’t.

I went through a period, in the 80s, of sporting a vintage* tuxedo, lined with orange and blue candy striped silk for everyday wear. The sleeves were rolled up to display the lining, and the whole thing screamed Dandy, Daring, or Sissy, depending on where you stood in 80s Dublin…

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Mrs Farrell’s Christmas Cake

December 13, 2015

mams cake

When I was a child – without fail – November smelled of cinnamon, nutmeg, jewel-bright candied carbuncles of citrus peel, and rich, shiny brandy.

My mother baked Christmas cakes then for a mid-December delivery.

It was a skill she’d acquired at a women’s club in the local primary school where I’d been taught by the nuns.

As a kid, I found it impossible to imagine these stern bewhimpled disciplinarians running around the vast industrial convent kitchen, laughing, joking, clucking like chickens as they instructed the local housewives on how to make a fruitcake. As an adult, the image gives me great comfort, and makes me smile every time I imagine it.

Every year, my mother would pull an array of bowls from our cupboards.

Into one, a bag of raisins would be mixed with a bag of sultanas, the dark – almost scorched – scent of the fruit hovering like a lurking threat over the bowl; you had to put your face close to the fruit to smell the musky, oriental funk.

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My New York

September 13, 2015


The first time I went to New York was in 1993.

The Twin Towers still stood, monolithic orientation points that allowed the visitor to tell uptown from downtown.

The city – pre the Giuliani and Bloomberg sandblasting of its gritty façade – was the ultimate grown-up, deviant playground.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal teemed with strays, thugs, and shysters; the Chelsea Meatpacking district displayed its tranny hookers like a duchess sporting paste diamonds on a decaying décolletage; and Times Square held up huge signs saying “LIVE GIRLS XXX.”

I supposed, at the time, there was likely to be more of a market for Live Girls as opposed to the obvious alternatives, but – in hindsight – this may not always have been the case.

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“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.