Writer's Block with Sheila Forsey - The Gloss Magazine

Writer’s Block with Sheila Forsey

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author SHEILA FORSEY about writing her debut novel MENDING LACE

Photograph by Eoin Rafferty

This autumn, Sheila Forsey made her entrance into the literary society with Mending Lace, her delicately woven debut novel. An intriguing study of outward appearances and inner turmoil, the story is an innovative approach to how drowned secrets eventually bubble back to the surface. Sive and Dan Gallagher appear to have an idyllic life – until a car accident brings to light a trail of deceit which threatens their future. Carmel Harrington has said, “Sheila has a fresh, unique voice and is unafraid to tackle the big issues that are relevant in Irish society today. She writes with emotion and beautiful descriptive prose.”

Prior to becoming a full-time wordsmith, Sheila lived with her family in Kilkenny for over a decade, where she owned and ran an award-winning beauty parlour. All the while, the burning desire to write kept flickering. In 2013 Sheila completed a certificate in Creative Writing with Maynooth University along with a further course in editing and proof-reading. In addition, she has written articles for the Kilkenny Advertiser and serves on the committee of the Wexford Literary Festival. Along with the written word, the author is passionate about the stage, winning several awards for drama including Best Actress in the All Ireland Drama Festival.

Sheila lives in County Wexford with her husband Shane and their three children Faye, Matthew and Ben. She is currently writing her second novel.

Mending Lace is published by Endeavour Press and available now from Amazon.co.uk (3.35 digital, €8.95 paperback) and selected bookshops. Sheila will launch Mending Lace today at the Wexford Book Centre from 7pm.

On home

Beautiful Kilkenny city was our home for many years but in 2015 with our three children we moved back to the village where I grew up in County Wexford. As much as we loved Kilkenny we missed the sea and we felt that a country upbringing for our children would hold its own charm. Kilmuckridge Village is on the sunny south-east coast of Wexford. It has the most beautiful beaches imaginable. There is a fantastic community within the village, including a vibrant drama group and a pantomime society that our children adore. The village is quiet and tranquil from autumn to spring but in summer it really does seem to have all the sunshine. In many ways, I have come full circle.

On roots

Growing up on a farm gave me a great connection to nature that is instilled now in my writing. I had a menagerie of kittens, hedgehogs, guinea pigs and a little Jack Russell called Nippy that had a special basket on the front of my bicycle to sit in as I meandered around. I get a great sense of nostalgia when I see the haymaking and the silage making, as when I was growing up it was such a big event, with everyone busy outside and inside. I had a really colourful collection of aunts and uncles that brought us so much fun, every occasion marked with songs and laughter. Our house was full of stories not from books but told from memories of the past. I am the youngest of a very large generation of cousins. My mother had eleven siblings. To this day I am called Little Sheila by many of my relatives. My father was well known for his recitations and stories of long ago and this instilled in me a love of words that was the foundation of my love of writing.

On creating

I work at home but the area that I write in depends on the time of year. I am forever cold so it is not unusual to see me tapping away on my laptop beside the stove in winter. On warmer days I go into the sun room. I love it because I can see all around the garden from it. My house is a mishmash of all sorts of items and furniture. I love old quirky pieces around me because they all have such a story to tell. I have a beautiful painting of one of the beaches close to me by a very talented local artist Claire Kavanagh, so I can always see the sea. We have three dogs, a cat and a kitten. They are often curled up near the stove snoozing as I write.

On bookshops

I adore the gorgeous Book Centre in Wexford town and it has a coffee shop which is crucial to a caffeine addict like me. Stone House books in Kilkenny is also another favourite of mine and Liz who owns it is such a lovely person who is so supportive.

On her nightstand

On my bedside table, I still have John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. It was incredible. Like his last book, his writing has the power to question how I think about things. I have finished it but I am not quite ready to take it off my table. I have just started The American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. To be honest I was drawn to the cover at first, but it’s a beautiful read. I love memoirs too and I am just finishing Edna O Brien’s Country Girl. I adore her descriptive voice especially in this book. I am a bit of a country girl myself I suppose, so I can really relate to this.

On escapes

When I need to get out to write, I bring a flask of coffee and head for one of the beautiful beaches that are all within a few miles drive. My favourite is called Knocknasilogue. It’s very remote and at the end of a narrow road, but when you get there it would steal your soul. There are always some friendly seals who pop their head up in welcome. I take out my flask and begin to write. I wrote the entire prologue to my novel sitting on this beach. It is quite a dark prologue and the rugged coastline certainly gave some atmospheric tension.

On ambition

When I left school, I wanted to do journalism but I didn’t get a place. At a complete loss for what to do, I waitressed for a while. Back then, that seemed to be it. I loved acting too and won a few awards but making a career of anything arty did not seem within my reach. Then a friend of mine was doing beauty therapy. So, without too much research into the industry (I am very impulsive) I trained to be a beauty therapist in the Galligan College of Beauty in Grafton Street. I adored make-up, perfume and all that glitters. I still do. I worked at this for many years and even ran my own business for over ten years in Kilkenny, winning Best New Entrepreneur for Kilkenny Chamber of Commerce. But I was constantly talking about writing and I was scribbling away in lots of notebooks. Eventually with much trepidation and the support of my husband, I walked away from my business a few years ago. It was a difficult financial decision, especially with three children to consider, but I knew for my soul and my sanity that I needed out. I then enrolled in the Creative Writing for Publication Certificate Course with NUI Maynooth and finally began the road not taken earlier in my life.

On the Wexford Literary Festival

At one stage while I was trying to finish Mending Lace, I became stuck. I felt my novel was in a hole and I had no idea how to get out of it. During that time, I met Carmel Harrington at a reading of one of her novels in Enniscorthy Library. I firmly believe people are sent into your life for a reason. Carmel’s support was immeasurable in helping me see my novel to the end. I was thrilled when I was invited to sit on the committee of Wexford Literary Festival which she co-founded. This is such a gorgeous festival held in Enniscorthy every year. Last year I had the lovely job of organising the evening event in Enniscorthy Castle, which is so mystical and beautiful. It’s like stepping back in time and it was a magical candle lit night with Sinead Moriarity in conversation with Carmel Harrington with lots of gin in china tea cups. Our other events are also held in historical settings and this gives a real richness and sense of history. It’s a very friendly festival and we try to allow everyone to go to lunch together, so you never know who you will meet.

On focus

I spent a long time procrastinating about not finishing my novel. I am not a very organised person, so having a time plan was just not working. But eventually I knew that I had come to an age where I didn’t want any regrets. I was tired of telling myself that I wanted to finish it. So, I just did it. I had no set routine, but wrote mostly in the mornings when the kids were at school and I pretended the house was not upside down. If I was to look back, I know there is never the right time to write. You must treat it like a friend and give it some precious time. Nobody else will care about it if you don’t. I got so many other ideas for different writing projects while I was writing this one but I had to ignore them and finish what I had started. Then when I began seriously writing, it was easier – it became my place to escape to. Reaching the end was wonderful but little did I know how much more work still had to go into it!

On what’s next

I am well into my second novel which is set in New York and Dingle. It is set in the past and the present. It has all the things I love – a big old house and lots of secrets set in the rugged coastline of Ireland and a beautiful apartment on Fifth Avenue, New York.

@SophieGrenham

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