SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to ANDREA MARA about writing her first novel THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL …
Andrea Mara is an award-winning blogger, a freelance journalist and a soon-to-be published author. Prior to writing full-time, Andrea worked in the funds industry until redundancy closed her office door – and another one opened.
Mara is perhaps best known for her immensely popular parenting blog, www.officemum.ie, which was a Gold Winner at the Blog Awards Ireland in 2015, among other nods and accolades. Office Mum has proved invaluable to legions of Irish parents who juggle the many aspects of modern life.
In stark contrast to her sunny non-fiction style, Andrea will soon release her debut novel, a domestic noir called The Other Side of the Wall. The book was inspired by her youngest child’s many night wakings; by the tricks that the dark can play on one’s eyes – and mind.
It was during the writing of the book that Andrea began to make waves with her short fiction. Her story Into The Forest won first place at the bookerscorner.co.uk September/October competition in 2016. The tale was also a finalist at the Colm Toibín International Short Story Competition as part of the Wexford Literary Festival that year.
Andrea Mara lives in Dublin with her family. She is currently writing her second novel.
The Other Side of the Wall (€9.99) is published by Poolbeg Press and will be released on June 6 2017.
I live in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, about a mile from the coast. Every time we see the sea, my kids say “Mum, we’re so lucky to live here, aren’t we?” because they’ve heard me say it so many times over the years. On sunny days, Dun Laoghaire Pier is my go-to place, or the People’s Park on a Sunday afternoon for crepes and falafels and coffee. On summer evenings, we sometimes go to the pier for fish and chips from Ouzo’s Fish Shack, and eat on a picnic blanket, looking across at Sandycove beach. I take dozens of photos because I never want to look back and wonder how we spent these years. When I’m on my own, at least once a week I take my Mac to The Mellow Fig, a coffee shop in Blackrock village. Somehow it’s always sunny in there, even when it’s not outside. The coffee and homemade scones are very much a tonic for the work-from-home freelancer who needs to break out of the house every now and then.
I grew up in Carrigaline, Co. Cork and although it’s many, many years since my family moved to Dublin, I’m definitely still a little bit Cork. We were back recently for a holiday and on the way to Barleycove, we stopped to look at a small beach near Schull. Opening the car window, the smell of salt and seaweed hit me and I was transported to childhood days spent at Rocky Bay, Myrtleville, Fountainstown and Ringabella beaches. Even remembering those names floods me with nostalgia for the blue and orange striped deckchairs we used to bring, the ham and egg salad sandwiches, the fizzy orange, the Taytos. And of course, it was sunny every day back then.
I work from home and because I don’t have a home office, I work at my kitchen table. Happily it’s my favourite room in the house – it’s light and airy with oak floors and French doors looking out to the garden. On a practical note, it’s the nearest point in the house to my beloved coffee machine. Despite my fears to the contrary when I started out, it seems I’m very good at ignoring undone dishes. When it’s sunny, I relocate to our small garden and tell myself that squinting at the laptop screen isn’t slowing down my productivity. It is, but sunshine trumps everything, even deadlines.
I also regularly take my Mac to coffee shops to break things up. Listening to the buzz of conversation going on around can be very inspiring for writing. Plus food that doesn’t come from my own fridge is always a treat.
Dubray Books in Blackrock is the bookshop I go to most frequently – there’s a fantastic kids section with a wooden car right in the middle of it. Children can sit into it to browse their books, while grown-ups slope off to the fiction section at the front of the shop. There’s nothing like the feeling when you first walk in – the smell of new books, the colour on the shelves, the touch of the covers, the titles that wink irresistibly. And I never resist; I can’t walk out without a new book, even if the to be read pile is in danger of toppling over.
On her nightstand
On my nightstand right now I have Graham Norton’s Holding on loan from my dad, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which was recommended by a friend, and Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller. I heard Jax being interviewed at last year’s Wexford Literary Festival and she seems like a fascinating, wise, wry person who might write fascinating, wise, wry books. The other book on my nightstand is Moranthology by Caitlin Moran and it will stay there permanently as other books come and go, because it’s signed by the author – another fascinating, wise and wry woman. I met her when she spoke at the recent Mountains to Sea festival in Dun Laoghaire, and she hugged me too, so her book will never leave my nightstand.
When I think of escape, the place that comes to mind is the beach at Marina di Venezia in Italy. We spent two weeks in a mobile home there last summer, in a campsite that is bordered by the beach. I’ve never gone running on holidays before, but last summer it suddenly seemed like a good idea. It was an escape from the kids (no offence kids) – time that was just for me. I ran along the beach every morning, then walked, then often stood and just looked out to sea, breathing in the early sun and salty air. I was on holidays when I sent my manuscript to Poolbeg, and after pressing send, I went straight to the beach to wish it well as it flew across the sea to Dublin. And my second book was inspired by a woman I saw on the beach while I was there, so I very much associate Spiaggia Marina di Venezia with writing. In a real, physical sense, it’s not somewhere I can easily go when I need an escape, but in my mind, I go there often.
On offices past
Like many work-from-homers, I miss the social interaction of the office. At work, if I came out of a tough meeting, there was always someone to chat to. When the workload was impossible, I could vent to colleagues. If a project was going badly, I could bounce ideas off friends. But at home, my problems are all mine to solve, my successes are all mine to celebrate, and the mundane bits in between are all just me talking to myself. But I don’t miss my long commute to Dublin city centre, and I don’t miss the kind of work I did. I enjoyed it very much while I was there but as with most jobs, I had to take the good with the bad – for every really interesting project with lots to learn, there was another that was mundane. With writing, there are no dull days. I might be writing about gender equality in the workplace or weaning a baby or perfect movie kisses or imposter syndrome – no two days are the same.
On online forums
I think our mothers had real-life support networks to a greater extent than we do. When we were small, my mother was at home with us, as were all of our friends’ mothers, and my aunt lived a few miles away. Today so many of us are working outside the home and don’t see our neighbours at all. Friends are people we chat to on WhatsApp and catch up with when we can – they’re usually not next door and we’re not calling in for afternoon coffee. I imagine there were fewer parenting options too and perhaps therefore fewer decisions over which to agonize! I suspect our mothers did what their sisters or own mothers did. There wasn’t a question of doing traditional weaning or baby-led weaning – it was just weaning. Today there are so many discussions about equipment and routines and methods, it’s not surprising we turn to the internet for help. But having said that, I do think the internet is a fantastic resource for parents, one that bridges a gap when we don’t have real-life people nearby. And how many of us have friends we can call at 6.30am to moan that the baby was up all night? Online forums don’t mind what how early it is.
On what’s next
I’m getting ready to launch The Other Side of the Wall, in my local Dubray Books in Blackrock on June 15 at 6.30pm – it’s open to all, and I’m looking forward to meeting people, though it’s safe to say I’m wildly excited and beyond petrified in equal measure!
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