Anne Griffin worked in the bookselling trade before taking a diploma in community work at Maynooth University. She worked with various charities including Women’s Aid and Youth Work Ireland. In 2015, she scooped the John McGahern Award for Literature and also enrolled in UCD’s Creative Writing MA programme. Her 2019 debut novel When All is Said, received the Newcomer of the Year at the 2019 An Post Irish Book Awards. Her latest novel Listening Still has just been published. She lives in Mullingar.
ON HOME I live in Mullingar, Co Westmeath. My husband and I moved here 17 years ago. Since then we’ve had a son who is now 16. Home to me, really, is these two men who make me feel centred and whole. They also drive me nuts. During Covid, they have invaded my quiet work space with their music and voices and laughter. I am a writer who needs silence, like Maggie O’Farrell says: even the hum of the fridge annoys me.
ON ROOTS I’m Dublin born. Southside. Blackrock. I can already hear you thinking money. But I’m working class, brought up in one of the many council estates that are often hidden behind bigger detached houses. In a previous career as a community development worker in Dun Laoghaire, I remember one of the struggles was in making people see there was need in that area because it was so concealed by wealth. But it was all there, marginalisation of every hue: economic, social, ethnic, educational, the list is endless. And yet I loved, no love, those suburbs, and I miss the sea and the closeness to diversity, colour and light which coastal cities offer in abundance.
ON MY NEIGHBOURHOOD My estate is within walking distance of Mullingar town which suits the Dub in me. The Royal Canal runs close to my house and it, along with the magnificent lakes, is one of the nicest things about the midlands. But it is the swans that are the most precious. There is nothing more mesmerising than hearing them call to each other as they fly overhead. If I am lucky enough to see them come in to land on the water, well, that is me happy for the week.
ON WRITING I was 44 when I typed the first word of a story. I was 50 when my debut novel When All Is Said was published. I’m now 52. I am proof that it is never too late to try something different. While I worked in Waterstones in my 20s, I always considered writers as something other, something someone like me could never be. Twenty years later, having hit a career crossroads, I opened my computer one day and wrote. I had no idea my imagination was that powerful. If there is one piece of advice I can give anyone yearning to write a book, it is simply to start. Stop thinking about plots and endings, and beginnings and what motivates your character, all of that will come, your imagination will get you there.
ON MY DESK Very often I find myself writing on my bed, not least when I damaged my back from a bicycle fall in February 2020, just before the pandemic began. I spent weeks lying in bed with my laptop balanced against my thighs, writing. I have a cloth bag now in which I stuff all of my notebooks, and post-its and pens and carry it with me to wherever I end up writing in the house. I do have a desk with a lamp that I love and a picture above it of my very first published story. When my back becomes sore from sitting too much, I use my stand-up desk, made by Irish company Think Design. I cannot recommend it highly enough to back pain sufferers.
ON WHAT’S NEXT I’m celebrating the arrival of Listening Still which is the story of Jean Masterson, a funeral director in a small midlands town, who has a very unusual gift, she can hear the dead. They tell her things in a brief window of time, that when living they could not tell their loved ones now left behind. It was such an interesting book to research. I met many funeral directors, who I have often thought of during these difficult days. Those who grieve must now rely on them more than ever when mourners can number no more than ten. I am busy with book three. If lockdown lifts I will be spending two glorious weeks in June on Cape Clear Island, digging deeper, rewriting and editing until I am happy to finally let my editor and agent have a look.
Listening Still by Anne Griffin is out now.