This much I know: Author Sarah Crossan

I always knew that I wanted to write.

This much I know: Author Sarah Crossan

I always knew that I wanted to write.

I just didn’t think it was something that a real, grown-up human being could do for a living.

I came from a family where it was all about working hard. The arts were appreciated, but were not seen as a necessity. My dad was an architect and my mother was a home-maker and I had three brothers.

I was a quiet child, growing up in a house full of boys. Amidst the soccer and noise and rough-and-tumble, I was a bit weird, as I was happy to sit on my own.

I was born in London. My parents were on extended holiday in the UK and my mother wasn’t able to come back to Ireland, in time for me to have been born here. I was the only one in my family who was not born in Ireland and they used to mock me for it. But I grew up in Churchtown, in Dublin.

I did a degree in philosophy and literature and taught English for ten years. The only reason I tried to be a teacher, initially, was because I was so shy. It was a way of forcing myself to speak up.

One day, when I was giving one of those lessons about living your dream, a student asked me if I was living mine. At first, I thought he had a bit of a cheek, but, later, I admitted to myself, no, that I certainly wasn’t living my dream.

And that I wanted to be a writer. My breakthrough moment came soon after, when I was going through a difficult period and my uncle asked ‘What is it that you want from life that is within your control?’ I went to my head teacher and asked for the mornings off, so that I could write.

I began writing an adult novel set in an old castle. I spent years on that book. I made all my mistakes with that novel. I was imitating Anne Enright.

It was my apprenticeship and it’s how I eventually found my own voice, although I abandoned that first book and waited until my next one was good enough, before I sent it out to agents. Julia Churchill accepted me, but it was a very long journey.

Getting published was important for me. I felt validated. Up until then, I didn’t feel as if I was a ‘real’ writer and I never felt it was OK to say I was a writer. It felt pretentious. Maybe it’s a gender thing.

My advice to anyone who wants to write is to simply do the work and don’t send it out until it’s ready. I’m speaking as someone who spent eight years on one book.

I’ve always been an early riser. I’ll get up at 5am, rather than stay up late. I tend to go to bed early, of course. Now that I have a six-year-old daughter, I work around the school day.

If I could be someone else for a day, I’d be Mary Magdalene. There will be a time when I will write about her; she is such a mysterious character.

I consider myself to be spiritual and was brought up Catholic. I believe in the power of the universe. I’ve been conditioned to think that there is a higher power. It doesn’t mean I don’t put in the work.

When it comes to dealing with stress and challenging times, I try to practice positive thinking. I write gratitude lists to remind myself, of all the things I have to be thankful for, from my healthy child to hot running water. It helps me to put my problems in perspective.

The best advice I ever received was to ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’. Fear stops us — fear of not being good enough, that we can’t do it — but you just have to steel yourself. Courage is fear walking.

When I was going through a particularly bad time, something that blindsided me, the only thing that helped was writing. I was literally on the floor. My brother asked why I wasn’t writing and I realised that writing was the medicine. The Weight of Water was written out of the grief of that time.

I was thrilled to have been appointed Laureate na nÓg, by President Michael D Higgins, earlier this year. We don’t want to lose children to reading or poetry when they are young, because, then, they might be lost to it forever.

When I’m not writing, I like to paint, in acrylics. And I enjoy walking and hiking.

The lesson, so far, has been that no matter how much you imagine that you won’t ever get over a particularly bad time, no matter how much you fear that you will remain in that state forever, you won’t. Most of us have a lot more grit in us than we imagine.

Sarah Crossan, Laureate na nÓg, and Lauren Child, UK Children’s Laureate, will speak about the power of imagination and dreaming in children’s literature, at the Children’s Books Ireland International Conference on Sunday, September 23, at the Lighthouse Cinema, Smithfield, Dublin 7. More information: www.childrensbooksireland.ie.

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