In the latest of our books series, newcomer on the literary scene, FAITH HOGAN talks Ballina’s INIMITABLE CHARM, her very busy household and ESCAPES TO COUNTRY MANORS …
Newcomer Faith Hogan had a number of adventures before embarking on the journey to publication. After the completion of a BA in English Literature and Psychology in DCU followed by a postgraduate course, she was a model, an events organiser and now works in the intellectual disability and mental health sector.
Faith was a winner at the prestigious Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair in 2014, which resulted in a three book deal.
Her debut novel, My Husband’s Wives, is a tale of love, jealousy and unlikely friendship, which has earned many positive reviews since its release last month.
The poet Afric McGlinchey has said of the author, “Faith Hogan navigates beautifully between the community and the individual, forensically investigating moral issues with an unflinching, yet humane eye. She is one of the most original and exciting writers to emerge from Ireland in recent times.”
Faith lives in Ballina, County Mayo with her husband, four children and a very fat cat named Norris. She is currently working on her next novel.
I’m a Ballina girl, through and through. I love living in the west of Ireland. Like everyone else, I had to leave for a few years but unlike many, I didn’t have to go to appreciate what was here. My mother is here, my family are here and everything I need is on my doorstep. I love that within three minutes of leaving my front door I’m in the middle of town, a few more minutes and I can walk through Belleek woods and sit by the River Moy. If I’m feeling really adventurous, Enniscrone beach is just eight miles away. Our skyline is filled with the Ox Mountains on the east and Nephin on the west. In summer time, there is nothing nicer than heading off up to Lough Easkey and spending the day fishing or picnicking, when we are the only people there for miles around. But Ballina is not just about the landmarks – the greatest strength of our town is the people. There is a community here that has buoyed us up when times were tough and even now, while the east coast is recovering, I have far more faith in the local community spirit moving us back onto our feet again than I have in Enda Kenny.
In the last few years, we’ve had new chains arrive in town, we probably have the best Penny’s and Lidl’s for counties around, but it is the local shops and shopkeepers that make the town. I walk through the town most days and it is those familiar faces, the aroma of Bacus Bakery, Hazel Jewellers with Joe handing on the tradition to his son now, and of course The Junction, where pensioners and paupers sit beside solicitors and accountants for their morning coffee. That’s Ballina, that’s the real town.
I live in an unassuming looking, large house just within the fifty-kilometre speed limit of Ballina. My home, which is now filled with my husband James, four children – twins Sean and Roisin who are thirteen, Tomas ten and Cristin six, started out with an entirely different purpose in mind. James toyed with the idea of selling it on as a nursing home or B&B – it’s certainly big enough. We have nine toilets and ten sinks, (lots of Domestos and Marigolds!) and not as many beds as we once had, but enough for everyone and some to spare. It’s been lucky really, because there was no cost when I took one bedroom over as a home office.
My office is at the top of the house, I write at a desk that James bought on our honeymoon. I have an old swivel chair that I keep meaning to replace and an even older one that belonged to James’s uncle that I’ll never let go. We are lucky to have a large garden to the back and with a couple of avid golfers I can see it yet being turned into a putting green – an old goal sits at the bottom, forlornly beside a swing we’ll never grow out of.
I write at home mostly. I have written when I’ve been on holidays, in hotel lobbies and yes, even once in a coffee shop and I must say I do like the idea of that. But the reality, for me at least, is that if I park myself in a coffee shop alone in Ballina, I will not be alone for very long. You see, everyone knows everyone here, so naturally they’ll plonk themselves beside you and the one thing I don’t need encouragement in is procrastinating.
So I content myself with settling into my office at home. I turn off the Wi-Fi. I leave my phone in another room and I sit at my desk. Before me, my laptop sits over the first school bag I ever used. My mum bought it for me in a shop called Wellworths and it still has my name inside. For years, it held mementos (love letters that I should have thrown out!). Now mostly it holds bills or memorabilia from the kids. On the wall, I have a melange of artwork created by the children over the last ten years and lots of school photos of them also. I have one photo of a back street in Paris and I swear, when I look at it and close my eyes, I think I can smell the boulangerie.
There are two things that are particularly great about my writing room. First of all, I have only a sky light window – this cuts down on distractions. Secondly, I have an en-suite bathroom; again it cuts down on my habit of seeing little jobs to be done before I return to the computer. The great essential is a kettle and decent coffee at my back at all times.
This is probably one of the saddest things about the recession in Ballina. We lost Keohanes, which was a family owned bookshop and there since long before I remember. We do have Eason’s and although it’s a chain, the girls who work there make it feel like it’s a local shop. Like every other writer, I love bookshops. In Sligo, for me it’s all about Liber on O’Connell Street. They have a great Yeats section and their staff are knowledgeable – true book lovers everyone. In Dublin, it has to be the Winding Stair. There is really, nothing more decadent on a sunny afternoon than browsing, selecting and then bagging a window table with a nice coffee and ignoring the whole world go by.
On time off
With four children, sometimes, just getting for a walk in the woods is like a personal escape. Walking is one of the things that I love to do. Walking in the woods, on the beach or by the river – the weather doesn’t matter to me, although, if it’s very wet, I prefer to walk in the dark. My collection of hats is much too embarrassing now that I have teenagers to answer to. My other big escapes are castles. James and I have stayed in castles all over the country. From the grandest Ashford to old country houses and estates like Rosleague Manor in Connemara. You can truly lose yourself in the opulence of these places. There is a level of fine living that isn’t upstaged by contemporary distractions. These breaks have proved a great way to reconnect, not just with each other, but within ourselves.
My Husband’s Wives is published by Aria (Head of Zeus) and can be purchased in digital format from Amazon.co.uk (€1.30) and iTunes (€3.99). It will soon be available in print from Amazon.
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