What is your birthdate?:1/23
Previous occupations:When I left University I went to work as Administrator and then Manager of a professional theatre company. Since then I've also worked as a facilitator for Creative Writing groups, a tutor in English Literature and Italian, and as a freelance fundraiser for arts organizations.
Favorite job:The one I have now, writing for a living.
High school and/or college:I went to St. Patrick's HIgh School in Maghera, Co. Derry, Northern Ireland and then Queen's University in Belfast.
Name of your favorite composer or music artist?:This is very difficult, but I'll go for Van Morrison. He's a good man to have on your iPod when you're walking the beach, trying to put the world to rights.
Favorite movie:Sense and Sensibility directed by Ang Lee. It has a brilliant cast. I cry every time. Not quiet tears, but great wracking sobs, especially when Marianne is ill.
Favorite television show:At the moment, it's Miranda. She's very, very funny.
- Q. How would you describe your life in only 8 words?
- A. family, writing, teaching, reading, researching, eating, cooking, laundry
- Q. What is your motto or maxim?
- A. Currently, I'm fond of 'Abandon your story'. It's about allowing yourself to stop writing and allowing other people to start reading your work, which is, after all, the point of the exercise.
- Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
- A. Installed in a little villa in Tuscany or Umbria with a self-cleaning pool, my own tomatoes growing in the garden, a hammock strung between the pines, a never-emptying bottle of prosecco in the fridge, shelves groaning with books, a free trattoria within staggering distance, and family and good friends to share it.
- Q. What’s your greatest fear?
- A. That harm should come to any of the people I love.
- Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
- A. Right now, here is good, doing this. But for a few years down the line, see my idea of perfect happiness.
- Q. With whom in history do you most identify?
- A. I'm very fond of the boy who said the Emperor wasn't wearing any clothes. I know that, strictly speaking, he's a fictional character, but there have been such people in history too. It's just that their names don't usually get remembered.
- Q. Which living person do you most admire?
- A. I'm a big fan of Mary McAleese, the Irish President.
- Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?
- A. 'Fair play to you, Dolly!' Also: 'What's for you won't go by you.'
- Q. What do you regret most?
- A. Nothing, it's all taking you somewhere.
- Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
- A. To play the guitar.
- Q. What is your greatest achievement?
- A. My children.
- Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
- A. I have too much anxiety about the bad things that could happen.
- Q. What’s your best quality?
- A. I'm a very good listener.
- Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
- A. A time-traveling companion to Jane Austen, while she was writing, knowing what I know.
- Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?
- A. I have big ears. (See question 14.)
- Q. Who is your favorite fictional hero?
- A. Very difficult. It's a tie, I'd say, between Celie Johnson from The Color Purple and Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility.
- Q. Who is your favorite fictional villain?
- A. Heathcliff
- Q. If you could meet any historical character, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
- A. I'd be interested to meet Emily Davison, the English campaigner for suffragism who threw herself under the King's horse at Ascot in 1913, in protest that women did not have the vote. I'd want to ask her if she'd thought about it fully before she did it, if she was committed to dying for the cause. I'd want to know if she thought it was worth it. I'd like to know what she makes of us all today.
- Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
- A. Politicians delivering bad news who think if they put 'going forward' in the sentence, that everyone listening will be fooled into thinking that the news is good.
- Q. What is your favorite occupation, when you’re not writing?
- A. Walking or reading, but not at the same time. I saw a woman on the beach once doing both. I think that's taking multi-tasking far too far.
- Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
- A. Singer/songwriter/guitar player. (Not one of these. All three of these.)
- Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
- A. Sincerity, humor, intelligence.
- Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
- A. Pasta.
- Q. What are your 5 favorite songs?
- A. Only five? Seriously? Well, for now, because of their associations as well as their stories: Van Morrison's 'In the Garden'; Elbow's 'Starlings'; The Waterboys' 'The Whole of the Moon'; Snow Patrol and Martha Wainwright's 'Set the Fire to the Third Bar'; Damien Rice's 'The Blower's Daughter'
- Q. Who are your favorite authors?
Margaret Atwood, Pat Barker, A.S. Byatt, Peter Carey, Anne Enright, Claire Keegan, Flannery O'Connor, Andrea Levy, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Michaels, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Maggie O'Farrell, Annie Proulx, Alice Sebold, Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Alice Walker, John Banville, Sebastian Barry, Patrick McCabe, Eoin McNamee, Joseph O'Connor, Flann O'Brien.
- Q. What are your 5 favorite books of all time?
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I’d spent years at University reading books that were supposed to be good for me. I didn’t know that there were books like this – beautifully written books that you would want to read, that told a cracking good story.
Possession by A S Byatt. My friend and I (both English graduates) spent hours talking about how much we adored this book when what we were actually saying was, we really wanted to be Maud Bailey.
Beloved by Toni Morrison. A stunning book, a ghost story told matter-of-fact and an eye-opener as well as an ear-opener when I was in my twenties.
The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe. Dark, very dark, and quite, quite brilliant.
At Swim, Two Birds by Flann O'Brien. Very funny, quite anarchic and (first published in 1939), way ahead of its time.
- Q. Is there a book you love to reread?
- A. I always think that when I have more time I'll go back and read my favorite books, but I'm too greedy for new books to do that now.
- Q. Do you have one sentence of advice for new writers?
- A. Read as much and as widely as you can, books by writers from different cultures and backgrounds to your own as well as those that are more familiar, and write, write, write.
- Q. What comment do you hear most often from your readers?
- A. Quite a few people have said to me that they read The Butterfly Cabinet in one sitting. I'm delighted they found it compelling, but I have mixed feelings about that. It took me five years to write!