Shape I’m In: Blake Morrison, poet and author

BRITISH poet and author Blake Morrison has earned a strong international reputation for his work, wining a string of literary awards along the way.

He can even boast that A-list actor Colin Firth played him in the film version of his best-selling memoir, When Did You See My Father? But when we speak it’s not his latest project or indeed his impressive back list he dwells on, it’s his Irish mother, Dr Agnes O’Shea.

Born in Kilorglin, Co Kerry, she was one of 20 children. Seven of her siblings died in infancy or childhood.

“My grandfather was a wool merchant and owned a pub. I think [the family’s] fortunes came and went, they weren’t hugely rich. They were a large Catholic family ... the father seemed to believe in educating his daughters.”
After finishing her studies in UCD, Agnes left in 1943 to work at Hope Hospital in Salford near Manchester. “My father [who was also a doctor] had recently joined the RAF. He came back and met her at a dance.”

The couple married and moved to rural Yorkshire to raise their two children. His mother, who inspired his autobiographical novel, Things My Mother Never Told Me, “effectively worked” as a GP until she retired. And she never looked back.

“She came and she left the past behind.

“We only ever had one holiday in Ireland when I was about five years old. We went back to Kerry and met our relatives.

“Many children of Irish parents who have come to England spend the whole summer back in Ireland but not me. It’s not something I had enough of as a child.”
In recent years, he has visited Ireland about three times a year “when I get asked”.

Does he have a sense of belonging to his mother’s native land?

“I’ve never lived in Ireland and I can’t pretend to be truly Irish. But it’s a part of me that matters.” Aged 63, he lives in London with his wife Katherine. They have three adult children.

* Blake Morrison will talk about his writing and answer questions in Bantry House Tearoom today at 10am as part of the West Cork Literary Festival. For more details see www.westcorkliteraryfestival.ie or Locall 1850 788 789

What shape are you in?

I’m still reasonably fit. Like everyone else, I wouldn’t mind being a few pounds lighter but I’m not really overweight. We are all vain — we’d all like to be thinner than we are. I play tennis two or three times a week... I’ve got a bit more serious about it in the last two or three years. Joining a club and playing more regularly.

Have you any health concerns?

I get eczema, which isn’t a major problem. I’m told as you get older your body doesn’t produce natural oils in the same way and I think it has all to do with that.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

Plenty of fruit, plenty of vegetables and, at this time of year, plenty of salads. We’ve taken up growing vegetables in the last three years.. There is a lot of stuff in the garden at the minute — raspberries, courgettes, broad beans, spinach — we are finding it hard to keep up.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

I guess it’s alcoholic wine but I don’t even feel that guilty. I like particularly like a New Zealand Malborough white sauvigon. And chocolate — fruit and nut.

What would keep you awake at night?

Trivial work worries that circles one’s mind. It’s not so much keeping me up but waking me early — sometimes, not often.

How do you relax?

I play tennis, I garden. I sit and read. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

A rather predictable lot really. Dr Johnson, Samuel Pepys, Shakespeare, Philip Larkin, Helen of Troy, Mata Hari, and the first woman English playwright Aphra Behn.

What’s your favourite smell?

It’s a toss up between peaches — after the first bite you get a nice smell — and tomatoes in a greenhouse.

What would you change about your appearance?

I wouldn’t mind being about 4in taller. I’m about 5ft8in, but I feel small now amongst the younger generation.

When did you last cry?

When my mother died in 1997 — she was 80 years old. I well up at ridiculous things like when a national anthem is playing — it’s just the whole business of somebody achieving something for their country.

What trait do you least like in others?

Bullying.

What trait do you least like in yourself?

Defensiveness. Do you pray?

No. I don’t believe there is a God.

What would cheer up your day?

Sunshine — good weather always cheers me up. I like the summer.


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