People assumed I would become a writer. It was not something I chose. I don’t think you become a writer in the way that you become a doctor or a lawyer. It was a type of arranged marriage and I am happy with the arrangement.
Growing up, I was very content to be alone. I am not a constant communicator. I come from a family of readers and there were always lots of books at home.
I studied English and philosophy in Trinity and then went to East Anglia to do an MA in creative writing. I wrote nothing there, it was a disaster as far as that was concerned, and I found it a lonely and difficult year. I started on an overambitious novel and had no idea what I was doing. What I did learn is how to fail. I failed all the time and on a daily basis.
Once I was through that epic failure, I got used to it. The ability to keep going despite failing is what going keeps writers in the chair.
My mother, a terrible one for newspaper clippings, kept slipping me little cuttings for jobs she’d found in the paper. One of those was for a producer/director in RTÉ. I had a background in drama. I applied and got the job.
In 1993, I started writing full-time. The trick was to lower my expectations and to live as modestly as I could.
The only thing I ever manage to do is to write books. I could never claim to be a disciplined person.
Getting up at 8am and going for a walk each day and so on — none of that ever applies. I don’t worry about it. I don’t clean the car because cleaning the car is not my job.
If I do ever find myself cleaning the car, I go back and write.
They say writers are good at solitude but I think we are just tenacious. It can take years to complete a novel.
With experience, I do think you learn to manage your anxieties better and you also become more technically adept, but the basic act of making sure that you are telling the right story is never easy.
The best advice I ever received was from my mother: never use a big word when a small one will do.
My advice to anyone who wants to write is to get over yourself.
The only challenge I have as a writer is the problem on the page. People surround themselves with this and that — they have nowhere quiet to work, or the room is too hot, or too cold — but they’re in a state of delusion. The real problem is that they cannot sit down and do the work.
I wrote every day for 30 years, even on weekends. My schedule has changed somewhat since becoming Laureate for Irish Fiction but I still believe in chipping away at it.
If I could be someone else for a day I’d like to be a great gardener. I am a keen gardener but I don’t know if I am any good. I was more of grave digger when I started out.
I write like me but I garden like Barbara Cartland — big blousy roses, that kind of thing.
I rely completely on my husband Martin. We have two children. I’m not sure if they will write, but one is very visual and the other is very interested in film.
I have a profound unease with organised religion but I’d say I have a pretty active spiritual mode.
If I could change one thing in our society I’d shift the gender balance in public life.
So far life has taught me that people are much more driven by status than I could ever have imagined. I’m not talking about money, but in terms of where they are ranked in all the different pecking orders.
Oh, and, don’t clean the car.