SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author EITHNE SHORTALL about journalism, playing the MATCHMAKER and writing her FIRST NOVEL …
Eithne Shortall is one of Ireland’s most recognised young journalists. Currently the chief arts correspondent for the Sunday Times Ireland, Eithne is also a presenter on TG4’s Ceol ar an Imeall and a regular contributor to RTÉ’s Arena. When Eithne isn’t interviewing the crème de la crème of Ireland’s arts scene, she writes fiction. The splendid result of her efforts is debut novel Love In Row 27, an uplifting romance that has drawn comparison to Maeve Binchy and won glowing praise from Marian Keyes, who called the book ‘fresh, fun and very charming’.
A dedicated matchmaker herself, Eithne has cleverly penned a unique tale of cupid flying the friendly skies. The author has done a fair bit of travelling over the years, with previous residences in London, France and America.
Eithne Shortall lives in North Dublin. She is currently writing her next novel.
Love In Row 27 (€7.49) is published by Corvus and available from bookshops nationwide.
I grew up in Drumcondra and am currently renting a house not too far away in Cabra. I was trying to buy a home but after a year of disappointment, I gave up. When I moved in to my current house, the locals informed me that I wasn’t living in Cabra… I was living in Cabra East. This distinction is important, apparently. I don’t even want to know what goes on in Cabra West. One of the best things about Cabra is Harry’s Fishmongers. It’s on Dowth Avenue. He does great fish and it’s good-value, much like everything else in Cabra – the natives wouldn’t be having any of hipsters coming in and driving up the prices. I love Woodstock in Phibsborough. It’s about a ten minute walk from my house, and they do great scones. Their vegan wrap is one of the nicest lunches you’ll find in Dublin. And I’m not even a vegetarian, never mind a vegan.
When you’re renting, the notion of home is moveable. It probably shouldn’t be like that as there’s a chance I will rent for my entire life, but I can’t help it. I guess I still think of my ‘home-home’ as the house where I grew up, and where my parents still live, in Drumcondra. For as long as they reside there, my heart will too. I grew up on a cul-de-sac and it’s only as an adult that I realise how brilliant that was. There were lots of kids on the road and we’d stay out till all hours making up dance routines to pop songs and playing rounders. There was a wonderful sense of community on the road and still is. I had my book launch in Eason’s on O’Connell Street, and several of those childhood neighbours came in for it. I was very touched. I smile every time I put the key in the door of the house where I grew up, and I particularly love visiting in the summer. Happiness is the smell of dinner, warm summer evenings and the sound of children playing.
I lived in London for a few months when I was writing Love In Row 27. I wanted to get away so I wouldn’t be distracted by friends and other fun things. The book was set in London, mainly Heathrow airport but also Finsbury Park where I was renting a flat. I also wanted to give London a chance. I like it so much more now that I’ve lived there. Having a bike was crucial. I hate the stagnant air on the London underground. I am happiest on two wheels. I spent several months in West Virginia while at university. We could go anywhere for our semester abroad – California, Sydney, France – and I chose one of the poorest states in America. My reasoning was that I’d go on holidays to all the other places, but this was probably my once chance to go somewhere like West Virginia. I’m very glad I did. I lived in Paris for more than a year in my early twenties. I went to perfect my French; I stayed to drink wine, visit galleries and experience dramatic love. Paris, and the Seine in particular, has my heart.
I wrote Love in Row 27 in libraries and cafés in London, and edited it mainly in a bungalow my parents own in Mayo. I’m working on my second book now and I’m finding it difficult to knuckle down. I attribute part of that to not having a proper place to write. Ideally, I’d be in the house in Mayo, but life requires me to be in Dublin. So currently I’m writing at a desk in the corner of my living room. There are three photographs of my grandmother above it, and another framed photograph of the beach near my parents’ bungalow in Mayo. There are a lot of post-it notes and scraps of paper too, and sometimes when the desk gets too messy I take my laptop to the couch. I really do need more structure. The living room itself is crowded with books. There’s no TV but there are shelves and shelves of novels and plays and poetry collections. I love the feeling of finishing a book and placing it on a shelf. The ones I have yet to read are stacked in my bedroom, giving me guilty looks every time I go to sleep without opening one of them.
I love bookshops. I think every writer does. A higher class of people work in bookshops. Dublin is full of gorgeous stores but if I’m to give a shout out to an independent bookshop then it’s got to be Books@One in Louisburgh, the Mayo village where myself and Jack the Dog go when I really need to write. Books@One is a Not For Profit organisation and it opened just last year. Any bookshop that opens in this age deserves our support. They have an array of coffee and comfy chairs. There are new and second hand books and they put on special events. The children’s section at the back of the store is something special. Neil, the manager, used to work in the movie business and he has signed Harry Potter posters among other treats for younger readers.
In Love in Row 27, Cora is matchmaking people to distract herself from her own life. She doesn’t know what she’s doing career wise – her job at the Aer Lingus check-in counter was supposed to be temporary; her mother is suffering from Early Onset Alzheimer’s; and her heart is broken from a particularly destructive relationship. She’s sick of herself and her own problems, so she decides to focus on everyone else. Matchmakers often think their life is too complicated, but everyone else’s is simple. Cora is working from this mentality. I have also been that hypocrite. She’s matchmaking strangers – so bases the pairings on information about them that she finds online – but in my own life I set up people I know, which is different. The crucial element of matchmaking is that both persons want to be in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if you think two people are made for each other; if they’re not open to love then it’s not going to happen.
I love interviewing people. It’s a great job and I never take it for granted. I’ve asked all kinds of people all kinds of questions on telly, on stages at literary events and mainly for print. The latter is the best because it’s more intimate. You can have a proper conversation. Some interviews can be hugely emotional – I can think of three instances where I’ve cried – and some have left lasting impressions on me for personal reasons. I recommend everyone spend some alone time with Michael Harding, for one. I love when an interviewee invites you to talk to them at their house. You immediately have a better sense of a person when you see how and where they live. I’ve been to all kinds of homes. I took a train, bus, taxi and hitched to get to artist Dorothy Cross’s house in the west of Galway. It didn’t disappoint. She had a whole shark in the freezer and two hospital trolley beds in her garden as sun loungers. I went to playwright Tom Murphy’s home and presented him with a bag of scones. He told me people usually bring him wine. It was 11am. I’ve been to author Jennifer Johnston’s majestic house in Derry, though I believe she doesn’t live there anymore, and author Kevin Barry’s former barracks home in Sligo. It’s a great job for the curious, and for the nosey. Though I like to think I’m more the former than the latter.
On what’s next
Love In Row 27 is part of a two-book deal so I’m desperately trying to get the second book done by its October deadline. Hopefully that will be out next summer. Love in Row 27 has sold to a lot of other territories so they should be appearing across the world next year too. I’m excited to see all the different covers. When I was writing, and even after signing the UK publishing deal, it never occurred to me that the book would be translated. Every time my agent sells it to a new country, I give myself a little hug. It is a special honour and I appreciate it. All those words in other languages; it feels like magic. The TV rights have sold too, but who knows if it’ll ever get made. I have an idea for an original TV series I’d like to write, and there’s a documentary I want to make. For now, though, I need to make writing that stubborn second book my priority.
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