Writer’s Block With Nicola Cassidy

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author NICOLA CASSIDY about her debut novel, December Girl

Photograph by Eoin Rafferty

Louth native Nicola Cassidy is one of Irish fiction’s most eagerly-awaited newcomers. Her enticing debut novel December Girl was only released in October this year and has already gathered a large fanbase. The author’s extensive interest in history rings true on the pages, for it is inspired by real events and set in the Boyne Valley. The story takes us through feisty protagonist Molly Thomas’s plight, where she suffers a cruel eviction at the hands of a jealous neighbour and land agent and later, her child is snatched outside a shop. Nicola skilfully weaves her plot together, producing remarkable work that lingers in the mind. December Girl is a must-read for anyone interested in Irish history, stories of revenge and family sagas. As well as composing fiction, Nicola has written Lady Nicci, a hugely popular parenting, lifestyle and literary blog, since 2013. It was short-listed at the Irish Blog Awards in 2014 and 2015 and was a finalist in 2016. The website is the home of Nicola’s series How I Write, where she interviews authors about creative process. When she isn’t conjuring up prose, Nicola is a marketing manager, with regular gigs as a singer.

Nicola Cassidy lives in Co Louth with her husband Ronan and their two daughters August and Bonnie. She is currently writing her next novel.

December Girl (€10, paperback) is published by Bombshell Books and available from www.amazon.co.uk and selected bookshops.

On home

I live in Termonfeckin, Co Louth, which is a tiny village, outside Drogheda, world famous for its name. People who’ve never heard of it often laugh when I tell them where I live, but I’m very defensive about it. I love living here and feel very lucky to have bought a home here. When you round the corner in the village, on a sunny day, the sea sparkles along the horizon. I get a warm feeling when I drive over that humpback bridge – a minute from home. I was born here but I moved to another village a few miles away when I was four, so I do feel like a bit of a blow-in. There’s a real community spirit here though, lots of young families, so we fit right in. I’ll be sending the girls to the different local sports clubs as soon as they’re old enough. We have a lovely gift shop and café in the village called Forge Field and when I get a chance I escape there for a cup of tea and a treat. Sometimes I write or read there and it’s lovely. But getting out anywhere, without the kids, on my own is rare. I usually have one or both of them with me, or else I’m at work. I love that they will be able to walk to school if they like. I love that the children they go to playschool with will be the people they go to primary school with, and probably even secondary school. It’s the upbringing I had – being part of a community, a country life, not far from town. I hope they retain some of the innocence I had.

My daily life is busy. At the moment I’m juggling a lot. I work part-time as a marketing manager in an electrical engineering consultancy. Outside of that I look after my two children aged three and nine months. During naptime and at night, I work on my blog or writing. I also sing in a band. I like the release and getting dressed up, but it can be hard to get out the door in the middle of bed time. I try not to waste time – I can’t if I want to get things done. But of course, I’m not superwoman and I’m trying to learn to balance things. I’ve a tendency to take too much on and put myself under pressure. I don’t know why. I suppose I don’t like being idle.

On roots

We moved from Termonfeckin when I was four to a house my parents built in Tullyallen. It was a bungalow originally but we extended it when I was a teenager into a large dormer. My parents still live there and we visit with the grandchildren. I always marvel at the space, the fields, the huge meadow-like garden out the back. Most people my age live in a semi-detatched with a tiny garden. It’s very peaceful there. The sound that comes to the forefront of my mind when I think of my childhood home is silence! Since then, the M1 motorway was built behind the house and you can hear it now when you step out the back. It’s still quiet, but the buzz of the road, always in use, has changed things a little. My mother has planted two apple trees and they ripen in September. Red apples fall all round the garden, into the long grass. My granny had apple trees too and I think it’s lovely that my children will associate apples with their granny’s garden! There’s also rhubarb. In the summer my mother keeps tons of potted plants, overflowing with flowers. It makes a place so homely I think, pulling up and seeing an array of colour and growth. I think, when I get a bigger house myself, I’ll be a potted plant addict too.

On creating

I organised a writing room for myself in 2015. I got rid of a fancy ornate dressing table in our spare room and installed a sturdy Ikea desk with bookshelves. I bought an office chair and lamp and I wrote almost all of December Girl there. Since then, I have mostly abandoned the room due to an inability to keep it clean – it’s always strewn about with clothes and make-up and all manner of ‘stuff’. When I’m busy, I can’t stay on the top of the house. Even when I’m not busy, I can’t keep on top of the house. I am the worst house keeper. But I long for the order of that room, for the place that I can just close the door on and write. Since I’ve had my second baby I tend to write anywhere. On the sofa, in bed – I have to. I have to write where the child falls asleep, because disturbing her would mean an end to my ‘creative time’. I hope as the children’s routines improve and I get some order back in my life, I’ll return to my writing room and write the rest of my next book. The one thing I like to have is a special candle burning when I write – it’s La Bougie – Honeysuckle and Sea Salt. I light that candle and it’s like spa time – treat time, my time! I find making your writing space appealing encourages me to sit down at the desk and put in the work.

On bookshops

In Drogheda we have Waterstones. We don’t have an independent book store unfortunately. We used to have Eason’s but that closed in recent years. There was a little book shop on West Street that specialised in bargain books and that closed too. I do like Waterstones though. They don’t have a chart as such so when you go in you have to nosy round and you’ll always find a gem. I also love the three for two offers, because there’s always a ton of books I’d like to read that I’ve heard about. Actually getting to read though is another job in itself. I’ve been really struggling to find the time but it’s so important, to keep up your writing voice, to encourage yourself to write better. When I read a book I want to be stunned by the writing. A good book for me is one that makes me read a line over and over again, because of its structure – its beauty. That sounds very airy fairy, but that’s what appeals to me.

On her nightstand

Outside of review books, on my nightstand at the moment is Frankie Gaffney’s Dublin Seven. I’m really enjoying it and have flown through it – always a sign that I’m enjoying a book. I used to live in Dublin 7, so I was interested to read it. Also on my stand is a research book about Victorian London – I was accidentally sent a box of books in the post recently, a mix up with no return address, so I had a mooch and pulled this one out. I love to read about Victorian times and I try to mix research books in with my fiction reading. I have The Secret River waiting by Kate Grenville. She is a fabulous Australian writer and I would love to one day be able to achieve a writing voice like hers.

On escapes

There is no escape! There is no escape from children! If I go to my bedroom they land in to bounce on the bed. If I go to my messy writing room they stand and knock on the door. If I go to the bathroom they just walk right in. Even at night time when I think I have both of them down, I’ll take out my laptop and I’ll hear a pitter patter across the landing. I’ve had to learn to live with being ‘on’ all the time. This is motherhood. But it’s fabulous too – I am lost when I’m not around my children and I never really want to leave them. It just makes it difficult to get any work done at home. So I have to sit in the squalor, break out the sweets and the dodies and blankets and try and get on with it. Sometimes I’ll go to a coffee shop with my laptop but it’s rare. If I do have the children minded, I prefer to just get stuck into work straight away rather than travel anywhere. So my escape is when other people swoop in and take the children off for a while. Then I have the house to myself – and peace.

On publishing pitfalls

If I had of known what was ahead of me, I would have taken out my patience pants and turned my email off for about six months. I have never felt so vulnerable, nor have I ever wanted anything as much. It was like waiting for a boyfriend to call, watching the phone, checking emails a thousand times a day. Does he even like me?? I felt that I would get a deal, but I didn’t know when or how or even if was going to be on this book. I lost hope so many times. Luckily there were a few writer friends going through the same thing and we leaned on each other for support. I thought I knew what I was getting into. It turns out I had no idea!

@SophieGrenham

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