Ciara Geraghty recently released Lifesaving for Beginners and came to our corner of the world on tour to promote the book. She is now happily home with the family. I was able to interview her about the book and her writing habits, and I must say I learnt some interesting information about career beginnings, the choosing of titles and the last answer blew me away a little.
I hope you enjoy learning about Ciara as much as I did.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got started as a writer?
I didn’t write a word until I was 34 years old! Here’s what happened:
One day, in 2004, I was standing on the platform at a train station in Dublin. 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 then 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.
The class turned out to be a bit of an Epiphany for me. A light bulb moment. The minute I started writing that night, I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to do. I know it sounds strange but it’s true all the same. It was like someone had opened the floodgates in my head and it all came pouring out. I started writing that night and I haven’t stopped since.
Your latest book is Lifesaving for Beginners, can you tell us about the book?
The story starts with a car crash. A woman dies. Another walks away with barely a scratch. The accident sets in motion a series of events that will have consequences for the families of both of these women.
The story is told in two voices. The first is Kat Kerrigan. 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 boyfriend but will admit this to nobody, least of all herself. Kat is involved in the car accident and has a narrow escape but instead of celebrating and making the most of everything good in her life, she wants everything to go back to the way things were. Her boyfriend, Thomas, has other ideas. He wants to move their relationship to the next level. Kat works hard at resisting his attempts. But there is only so far you can run before your secrets – and your life – catch up with you.
The other voice is nine year old Milo from Brighton whose mother dies in the car accident. For Milo, life will never be the same again. Then his older sister, Faith, finds documents belonging to their mother in the attic, proving that Faith has been adopted. With her world turned on its head, Faith sets out to find her birth mother.
Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
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 child was adopted by an American couple. He never knew.
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 even 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 had a pair of scissors with her. 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.
How did you come up with the title?
All my previous novel titles have been a combination of ‘present participle’ plus ‘proper noun’ (Saving Grace, Becoming Scarlett and Finding Mr. Flood). My working title for ‘Lifesaving for Beginners’ was ‘Having Faith’ but my editor was determined that I break away from this formula, otherwise I’d be stuck with it forever. An intensive brainstorming session between my editor, my husband and me ensued. It got heated at times – but I think we got it right in the end.
Are you working on something new you can tell us about?
Yes, I just began another story. It’s about a taxi driver called Vinnie (have no surname yet!) who is struggling to raise his teenage daughter and young son on his own. It’s at that tentative, shaky-legged stage at the moment so I don’t want to say too much more about it, other than the fact that I’m excited!
Do you like to write in a quiet, distraction-less place or do you like background noise, and what type of noise?
Ideally, I’d like to write in a cave with a door at the entrance that you can lock. It’s tricky to locate caves with that criteria in Ireland so I content myself with the attic in my house, which I’ve converted into a writing room for myself. It has a door and a key (vital). It has two big windows but I pull the blinds when I’m writing. I have been known to be distracted by paint drying on a wall, so it’s best to keep temptation at bay. No radio / TV / Facebook / Twitter / email when I’m writing. I like the quiet. The characters come out to play when it’s quiet…
Is there a time of day you find inspiration strikes most often?
I could count the number of times I’ve been struck by inspiration on the fingers of one hand. It’s an old adage but that doesn’t make it any less true – ‘writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’. I’d love if that wasn’t the case as I much prefer being inspired than having to work hard. But there it is. FACT!
Are you a plotter or do you allow the characters to tell their own story?
Wish I was a plotter. I think it might be easier that way…. But no, what I do is write my way into the story. I usually have a vague idea of the story but I never know how I’m going to tell it, not in any detailed way. My favourite part of the process is developing a character. Then, armed with my character, I write my way in and go from there.
Is there any one vice you simply could not make it through a writing day without?
Tea!! Buckets of it. Am mad about TEA!!
What does being a woman mean to you?
Periods, lipstick, breastfeeding, high heels, multitasking, giving birth, short dresses, handbags, comaraderie, mascara, intuition, conversation, dancing, intelligence, knowing when to shout from the rooftops and when to shut up and listen, painted toenails, reading on a park bench, ankle bracelets, working hard, holiday-planning, keeping in touch with friends, cooking dinner for family, making love to someone you really like, playing cards, singing in public, embarrassing your children, ringing your mother, listening to your father telling the same story he’s been telling for the last 20 years, as if you’re hearing it for the first time, bath bombs, fringes, suncream, swimming in the ocean, sand between your toes, making school lunches over and over again, watching the sunset, coming up with a plan for tomorrow.
Thanks Ciara, it’s been a pleasure learning more about you an this last answer was amazing.