Novelist DERVLA McTIERNAN discovered this lagoon on a family holiday …
My family and I moved to Perth from Galway in October 2011, after we had been well and truly battered by the economic crash. Our first few years were intense, trying to manage work, small kids and the culture change, but we love it here now. I think the biggest difference we notice, apart from the climate, is that West Australians really value their family or personal time. Most people start the day early and exercise before work – parks and beaches will be busy from 6.30am to 8am. It’s an outdoorsy lifestyle, which most employers respect. Working very long hours is the exception, rather than the rule.
Initially I worked in the Mental Health Commission, where my job title was Assistant Director of Contracts, Public Health. It sounds terribly dry, but it was fascinating. I was working with a close-knit little team, writing and negotiating contracts for the purchase of mental health services on behalf of the state of Western Australia. This was a big change for me – I was a solicitor for most of my working life, which of course meant I worked alone much of the time, in a very adversarial environment.
When my first book The Ruin hit the bestseller lists, I suddenly had the opportunity to leave my job, but I found it very difficult to take the plunge. I finally left in October last year, when it became obvious that I just couldn’t sustain everything. I’ve never been happier and I realise I’m exceptionally lucky. We’ve just had our long summer break, and for the first time since we had children, my husband and I don’t need to worry about juggling our annual leave to try to spend time with them. My routine now is walking Freya, 9, and Oisin,7, to school every morning and then returning home to five hours of (mostly) uninterrupted writing time. It took five years of writing six nights a week, after work when the kids were finally in bed, to get here, so I’m enjoying every minute of it.
I’ve been fortunate to discover some parts of Australia, including Byron Bay, Adelaide and Brisbane, participating in book festivals and on book tours. As a family we’ve spread our wings and camping is now our thing in places such as Shark Bay Marine Park and the heritage area of Monkey Mia where we enjoyed seeing sea turtles. The Margaret river area is another favourite and reminds me of the south of France.
I return home every two years and it’s so much easier now there are direct flights between Perth and London. I always make time for a walk by the River Corrib in Galway, near Menlo Castle where it is so peaceful, but also along the river walk in the City where the water is dark and swift-running. Dublin bookshops are other favourite haunts, especially Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street or Dubray in Blackrock; both are curated by people who genuinely love books. This may sound weird but I also like supermarket shopping. Everything is so different to Australia and I don’t feel I’ve been home until I’ve checked out the latest collections at Dunnes Stores, and then figured out what I can squeeze into my suitcase.
Western Australia is spectacularly beautiful, so it’s hard to choose just one place out of hundreds of miles of unspoiled coastline, national parks, vineyards and forests. If I have to choose one, Moore River is the place that comes to mind, about an hour north of Perth. Moore River flows into the Indian Ocean at Guilderton, but for much of the year the mouth of the river is closed off from the sea by a natural sandbank. The result is a gorgeous, warm, open lagoon where people go to swim, kayak or mess about. We went with good friends two years ago for a long weekend, in the height of summer. We were camping in 42°C heat so we ended up spending most of the day in the water, and had the best time.
The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan, Sphere, is out now, £13.99.
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