We recently moved house, and I was digging through some ancient boxes and tripped upon a DVD of myself on TV. A young producer and cameraman were coming over to interview me about my writing life for the Channel 4 TV Book Club a few years ago.
I live in on the north west coast of Ireland. ‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ the tourist board calls it. My house is on the sea. Our village has a grocer shop, a chemist and three pubs. That’s plenty for me. My life is writing and children. I like to keep everything else simple. And yet, my latest book, That Girl, is set in the bustling atmosphere of Kings Road, London in the swinging sixties. I grew up in London so it’s in my bones. I don’t need to go far to research the lives of three Irish girls moving there in the Swinging Sixties. I simply ask my mother, who now lives nearby in the house she grew up with. Mining her life is what I do for inspiration.
I go back to London quite often but I am often overawed with how busy and consumerist it is. Too many shops. Too much distraction. The same is true in reverse. City people are often non-plussed by our wildness.
“I live in Kate Kerrigan’s house,” I said on the phone when the young producer asked whereabouts I lived in Killala. “It’s the last one before the pier – the one with the yellow door.”
That is one of the differences between the English and the Irish. They number their houses and name their roads. “I’ll collect you from Knock airport,” I said, “when are you arriving?”
“Oh that’s very, very kind of you to offer,” the young producer said, she sounded sort of non-plussed at the idea of it, “but we’ve booked a hire car. Is it far?”
Mayo is a maze of confusingly directionless dual carriageways that turn suddenly into “old roads” and unmarked back-boreens that can carry you deeper and deeper into farmlands you think you’ll never get out of.
“Not far,” I said, “but you might get lost?”
“Oh,” she said brightly, “we have sat nav.” I stopped short of huffing, good luck with that! “See you Tuesday morning then. Around nine?” she chirped. They were arriving in the village on Monday night. I’d see them well before then.
The weather was glorious when they arrived and they wanted to get some nice shots of “the author” walking down the beach ‘looking wistfully’ out to sea.
In the morning the weather turned, and as we arrived at the beach there was a storm blowing. We pushed on and I walked up and down the shoreline of Ross beach, my hair plastered back from my face with rain, my drenched blouse (a ghastly silk mistake – I panic when what I wear is important) stuck to my bosom, attempting an expression of thoughtfulness. As I picked the sand out of my teeth back in the car the young cameraman looked as if he was going to cry – his expensive equipment waterlogged and gritty with beach debris.
“We’ll go to my mother’s house,” I said, “that’s where I work anyway.”
We headed to Mum’s cottage in Ballina, and she and my Auntie Sheila, put on the kettle and got the good china out. We sat around and drank tea, and rifled through Mum’s collection of old family photographs, then the camera followed me into the little cottage in my mother’s garden where I generally write, wrapped in a blanket, the birds tapping at the tiny windows, pecking at the nuts my mother hangs on a hook outside.
It wasn’t the magnificent scenic footage they dreamed of, but then, neither is my life.
My writing day has always comprised the chaos of motherhood, lots of cups of tea and interesting chats with my mam, and a bit of sitting down at the computer and banging out a few words in-between. I don’t have the time to go to the beach and gaze wistfully out to sea. That’s what I did in the days when I was dreaming of being a writer, when I imagined that that’s what writers did. Now writing is something I do while domestic and family life buzzes on around me. Driving my Mum to Tesco, taking the kids for a haircut – stuffing in a chapter between dental appointments and school runs. Distraction and stress and achievement. Moments of panic and moments of peace – a lifetime in a day. Just like everybody else.
The truth is – city or country – life these days is crazy wherever you go. That said, I love my life in the wild West and could never imagine living in London again myself. That doesn’t mean I can’t visit it in the world my imagination – and that is where That Girl took me. Deep into the crazy, sexy world of a gangsters Kings Road nightclub in the Swinging Sixties. Shorts skirts, the pill – a place and era that was the birth of wild fashion and sexual freedom – go-go dancers and smart-suited gangasters. A million miles away from my windswept beaches and cosy cottages and lighting catholic candles on a sleepy Sunday. But then – when you live by imagination – you get to experience the best of both worlds.