This much I know: Liz Nugent, Writer

I’m not a risk taker. I don’t do roller-coasters. When I got a book deal I took a two year leave of absence rather than quit my job because I need the safety net.

I started writing when I was working as a story associate on RTÉ’s Fair City. I had some success with short story competitions. I spent six years, on and off, working on a novel and then, in August 2012, I got a book deal.

I’ve always had my head in a book but my earliest memory is of trying to copy my sister’s joined-up writing before I even knew the meaning of the shapes I was making.

Growing up, I was a rebel. I was always being told not to do things. Like, ‘don’t slide down the bannisters’. When I was six I fell off, landed on my head and had a brain hemorrhage.

I was in a coma and lost the use of one hand. That’s why I have a limp and type with one hand. I had to learn how to write with my left instead of my right, which meant I was slower than everybody else. I’m number five of nine children so there was no room for self-pity or thinking I was special.

By the time I did my Leaving Certificate I had given up on school. My sister was head girl and I was the black sheep coming up behind her. I was cheeky and rude. I regret it now but adolescence hit me hard, I was miserable.

I wanted to study theatre in TCD but the points were sky high and I didn’t get in. So I got on the boat to London and had a variety of jobs. I quite enjoyed it until I fell in the shower and dislocated a knee cap. Due to my earlier accident, it sent all my leg muscles into spasm. I spent a year in hospital in Dublin.

I was completely crushed. But, it didn’t kill me.

Theatre is my big love. I like being told stories. There’s nothing like sitting in a dark auditorium when the lights go down, not knowing what’s going to happen.

I went to The Gaiety School of Acting but acting full-time was not realistic because of my limp. But mostly because I didn’t have the courage to go for an audition. I went for stage management and worked for production companies all over Ireland, then at the Gate and then on Riverdance.

I couldn’t live without humour. My first book Unravelling Oliver may be about a sociopath, but a wry humour runs throughout.

I believe in fate. My husband-to-be lived down the road from me in Rathmines, but we met in New York. It was serendipitous as neither of us were supposed to be there. I’d left Riverdance but they asked me to fill in urgently when they were opening on Broadway, until their stage manager’s work visa came through, as mine was still current. Richard had worked on the music and as a thank you they flew him out to the opening. Then, they had some sound problems, and he was drafted in to help.

It was a star-crossed thing. I knew the second I met him. Next day, sightseeing, we discussed marriage although it was seven years before we wed.

I’ve learnt that there are two ways to do everything. I used to think my way was the right way. I remember watching him hang clothes on the line by the bottom of each shirt. I said no, you must hang them from under the arms. Then I realised it actually makes no difference.

My writing is like my baby. My main fault is being over sensitive. I wish I had a tougher skin. When someone says something harsh I forget the hundreds of other positive things that have been said.

I’m gobsmacked that my first book has been such a hit.

I smoke and drink and eat bad food but in the run up to the launch I dropped half a stone. I was so stressed. I’d spent my entire life backstage and now here I was, suddenly in the foreground.

Liz Nugent’s Number One bestseller Unravelling Oliver, published by Penguin, is in all good bookshops and available online here.


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