Writer’s Block with Ciara Geraghty

Sophie Grenham speaks to author CIARA GERAGHTY about her latest novel, Rules of the Road …

Photograph by Doreen Kilfeather

Ciara Geraghty is the bestselling author of seven novels, including Saving Grace (2009), Finding Mr Flood (2011), Lifesaving For Beginners (2013) and This is Now (2017). She has also published a selection of short fiction and a novella, The Stories That Remain as part of Open Door, an adult literacy series with New Island Books in 2015.

Geraghty’s new novel, Rules of the Road, is a deeply engrossing story of family, female friendship and the great adventures that life has a way of presenting. Rights to the work have already sold in many regions, including the USA, Germany, Italy and Holland.

The author’s storytelling craft has the winning formula of engaging dialogue and vivid colour, while maintaining a subtlety that allows readers to wade into the narrative of their own accord. Here we meet Terry, a mother, wife and constant worrier who has an obsession with cleanliness and washing instructions. Her best friend is Iris, a fashionable, outgoing MS patient who wants to achieve bodily autonomy by ending her life at a clinic in Switzerland. Determined to stop her, Terry manages to catch up with Iris leaving Dublin port. In a whimsical move, her father Eugene who suffers from dementia, gets thrown into the mix. What follows is an unforgettable trip, making Rules of the Road proof that sometimes the best stories are not about the destination.

Patricia Scanlan has said, “Rules of the Road had me laughing and crying on the same page. What a talented writer Ciara Geraghty is!” while the Irish Examiner has said, “A superb writer…the Irish Jojo Moyes.”

Ciara Geraghty lives in Dublin with her husband, three children and their adopted dog. She is currently writing her next novel.

Rules of the Road (€13.99) is published by HarperCollins and available from bookshops nationwide.

On home

I live with one fully grown adult (he will soon be celebrating a “significant” birthday…it’s got the number 5 in it), two fledgling adults (18 and 21), one kid (11, probably the most mature out of all of us) and an adopted dog (also 11). I live in Donabate in north county Dublin and my favourite thing to do here is walk from my house through the woods to the beach. I am often accompanied by my dog who loves chasing stones on the strand but now, with her arthritic legs and creaking hips, I wheel her to the coast in a buggy (on loan from Louise Skully – many thanks!) as, try as she might, she can no longer make it all the way there and back.

On roots

I grew up in Malahide, also in north county Dublin and my most enduring memory is the day we moved there when I was eight years old. I could see the sea from my bedroom window (it was actually the Broadmeadow estuary but when you’re eight, an estuary is as vast as an ocean). I remember the net curtains in my bedroom and my face pressed against the window watching the water, always moving, and the great tangy whiff off it and imagining all the things I could not see, beneath the surface. Since then, I have always felt most at home when I am near the water. Many of my books are based in north Dublin. I am familiar with the roads and paths and landscape and people and I suppose, in setting the stories here, I am writing what I know.

On early reading

My mother always encouraged me to read and my dad took me to the library. I was a typical kid growing up in the 70s and 80s in Ireland, an enthusiastic reader with a passion for Enid Blyton and her gangs of children and dogs and their various adventures. My favourites were the The Five Find-Outers which were written with more humour than the others. I also adored Malory Towers and St. Clare’s and begged my mam to send me to boarding school. She, who had been to an actual, non-fictional boarding school, refused, explaining that it might not live up to my fairly elevated expectations.

On creating

When I started writing, I wrote at the kitchen table which, as any writer will tell you (and women writers in particular), can be a distracting place, especially when you share your home with one fully grown adult, two fledgling adults, one kid and an adopted dog. So, eight years ago, I converted the attic into an office for myself. A room of my own, as Virginia Woolf recommended. Oddly, even though I’d lived in the house for ten years at that stage, I’d never been in the attic, having an aversion to dark, cramped spaces where creepy-crawlies might be creeping and/or crawling. So the first time I went up to the attic, it was already my office and bore no relation to the attic of my previous notions. With two enormous Velux windows and pale timber ceiling and floors, it was like walking right inside the break of day. I was in love. I bought a silvery-green desk, a lamp, a filing cabinet, a pedestal, one of those ergonomic chairs that swivels. I like to swivel when I’m thinking. In went an old sofa-bed that I covered with throws and cushions to make it look new. My laptop took pride of place on the desk, my husband got me a swanky wireless keyboard and his mother presented me with a candle that smelled of vanilla pods.

My writing day didn’t change much. I still started work after the school drop-off at 9am. I still finished just before school pick-up time at 2.30pm. The main difference happened when I returned home after the school run, I no longer had to face the horror of the kitchen table (puddles of milk, toast crumbs and bits of Weetabix, drying like cement). I didn’t even have to make eye-contact with the kitchen table. Instead, I brewed my tea and carried it up the stairs to the room. My room. Here I am still, all these years later, on my swivel chair. Swivelling. The door below is closed. It’s quiet. And bright. Just me and my laptop. And the dog of course, who lies at my feet, supplying her usual brand of uncomplicated company.

On independent bookshops

I love The Book Haven (formerly The Wise Owl) in Swords, Co Dublin. This is where I first bought my – now fairly battered – copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which is how I managed to find my agent when I was starting out. It is also a bookshop where the staff know and love books and that is always a pleasure for a book-lover like me.

On her “To Be Read” pile

Edna O’Brien’s classic The Country Girls trilogy which I read years ago but intend to re-read, since it’s the Dublin One City One Book choice for 2019. This is a Dublin City Council initiative, led by Dublin City Public Libraries, which encourages everyone to read a book connected with the capital city during April every year. Edna O’Brien is a writer I admire hugely. She was subject to loud and harsh criticism from her own people, her own country, when The Country Girls was first published. The book was then banned by the Irish Censorship Board. In some towns, public burnings of her books took place, even in her own home town of Tuamgraney. In spite of all this, O’Brien never faltered, she never stopped writing, she was an incredibly brave woman writer at a time when it was hard to be any of those things. She is someone who has paved the way for me and many other Irish women writers. In fact, she dug it, with her own two hands. She is someone who told us how she did it and then gave us permission to do it too.

I am looking forward to reading Terrific Mother, a short story by Lorrie Moore which my friend, Bernie Furlong, got me for mother’s day. It’s about a “childless woman” who accidentally kills her friend’s baby at a Labor Day picnic.

And I just got a notification from my local library that the book I ordered – The Wife, by Meg Wolowitz – is ready and waiting for me. I missed the film with Glenn Close which is what prompted me to look for the book. It’s about the wife of a writer and deals with themes such as gender, writing and identity, all of which are subjects that interest me.

On escape

It’s Ardara in Co Donegal. It’s a town that has carved out a space for itself between the Atlantic ocean and the mountains. It is the only place in the world where I can walk into a pub – Doherty’s. The owner, Eamon Doherty, smiles when he sees me and calls me by my name. The locals lift a forefinger from the steering wheels of their cars in greeting, as they drive past you. The sand is fine and white and the sea is by turns blue, green, grey, sometimes still and clear as glass, more often wild and ferocious. I wade in and dive beneath the surface and the world goes quiet. Here, I feel more alive, more supple and strong, more myself, than anywhere else on the planet. But please don’t tell anyone about it, otherwise they’ll all want to go.

On Rules of the Road

Female friendship and solidarity are things that have always been very important to me and I am lucky to have a group of amazing women around me that I can count on. I wanted to examine such a relationship in Rules of the Road, the importance of female friendship and support, the significance it has, the difference it makes. When I was writing the book, we had two referendums in Ireland – marriage equality and access to abortion and both were passed with resounding majorities. While my book does not deal with these specific issues, it is a book about personal autonomy, bodily autonomy, a person’s (and in this case, a woman’s) right to choose. My subject matter suddenly felt very relevant and positive and hopeful. While the book has a dark heart, Iris, one of my main characters, is determined to end her life in a clinic in Switzerland. I always meant for the book to be ultimately uplifting; a love song between women.

During the writing of the book, my father was dying of dementia. I found the writing of Eugene – Terry’s father in Rules who has dementia – a very cathartic experience. I sometimes find it difficult to express my emotions verbally and it is in writing that I can make sense of the world. Make sense of my feelings.

On the journey

The journey is always the most interesting part. We’re all destined to suffer the same fate in the end. We’re all heading towards the same conclusion. It’s what happens along the way that makes the story interesting. Mary Oliver, the American poet who died earlier this year, says it best in her poem, The Summer Day:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

On what’s next

I’m writing another novel at the moment. It’s about a woman called Marianne who, following a series of unfortunate events, is forced to return to her childhood home, a sprawling, somewhat dilapidated house perched on a cliff in a wild and remote part of north county Dublin. The novel centres on the relationship between two very different women; Marianne, a socially awkward accountant who needs to be in control of every situation, and her mother, Rita, a flamboyant artist and recovering alcoholic, who lives by her own rules and runs recovery programmes for addicts in the house.

@SophieGrenham

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