This much I know: Michael Harding

I’m delighted at the success of my book Staring at Lakes, but I have to admit I’m surprised by it.

This much I know: Michael Harding

I was 11 when I first got published. I had two poems in Junior Digest and from then on, I wanted to be a writer. I had a wonderful uncle who bought me a typewriter when I was 14 and showed me how to type.

I think writers can come up out of nowhere, it hasn’t so much to do with lineage. It’s like the accident of your life forces you to become a writer, there is almost nothing you can do about it. Although, my dad was a bit of a writer — he did reviews and articles for The Irish Press — and a great reader. He certainly encouraged me.

I was a very shy and aloof child, probably lonely. I didn’t play sport, in a culture that revered and prioritised GAA, and I didn’t engage with people. But from 17 on I was involved in amateur drama — I think it was a substitute for life — and writing plays was a natural progression from that.

My first job was as a social worker and then a youth worker in Sligo but it was not fulfilling me so in 1976, like a mad man, I signed up to be a priest. At the time, we were convinced that the church was on the brink of major change and that married and women priests were just a matter of time. Nobody could have imagined what the following decades were actually to hold for the church.

I stayed for four years. It opened my mind and heart as nothing else could have done and it allowed me to take risks. But before I was ordained, I made it clear that there was no way I was going to spend the rest of my life as a cleric.

I don’t feel anger about the state of the Catholic church. I’m too old to feel anger. But I understand why women and younger people might be angry about it.

I write with my ears. I’m always absorbing conversations around me. When I heard, or saw, something interesting I used to record it by speaking into a little tape recorder. That made me look a little odd, going around talking to myself, so I’m delighted with my new iPhone recording app.

I’ve been writing full time since 1985. I’m not intense about it. I can write anywhere — in a restaurant or train — once I have my laptop.

My biggest challenge was the complete breakdown that I had two years ago. I’d always had bouts of melancholy, but this was something much more severe — I could not easily pull myself out of it. My whole body collapsed.

My wife looked after me for 12 months. She could have thrown me over a cliff, but she didn’t. I wouldn’t have made it through without her.

Part of my depression was thinking that all my religious endeavours had been a waste of time. That they were merely a glove to hide a deeper sense of depression.

The Buddhists have a great phrase, to ‘make all practice one practice’ — which means everything you do becomes part of your practice. That’s what I am aiming for now.

My wife is a sculptor. We met in 1984 in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. After a while, we separated and I went to Mullingar for five years. We’d been spending 24/7 together and were bored with each other. I think we would have divorced if we hadn’t spent some time apart: it gave us some space.

We have an acre of land in Leitrim that was nothing but rushes and swamp until I planted birches and beeches 20 years ago. Now I have a little wood with 20 foot high trees.

I love being in the garden and, when I’m not writing, I enjoy listening to music — and, I play the flute a little.

So far, life has taught me to trust other people, as well as yourself.

My advice is to only ever write if you’re in love. In the long run, all the good stories are love stories.

Staring At Lakes by Michael Harding is published by Hachette Books Ireland. Catch Michael for An Evening Staring at Lakes, Sept 6, Galway Town Hall.

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