Shape I’m In: Emma Hannigan has staying power

NOTHING will stop bestselling author Emma Hannigan from writing — not even cancer.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for the disease she might never have discovered her gift for story telling.

“I started writing while I was in hospital. That was how I arrived at being an author and finding out what it was I was meant to do,” says Emma, 41, who had previously trained as a chef and a beauty therapist.

A carrier of the BRCA gene, she first developed breast cancer in 2007, despite having had surgery to remove her breasts and ovaries. She has gone on to develop cancer and recover nine times since.

But her illness has never slowed down her output — she has written two books a year for the past three years. “I am very fortunate with my job. When people are reading my novels they don’t know if I wrote part of it in my pyjamas or part of it in a suit. If I don’t feel up to going to the office I can transfer what I am working on the laptop and I can into bed for a couple of hours.

“No matter what treatments I’m having they have never really affected my ability to be able to write or to concentrate. I’m conditioned into writing almost when I’m not well because I started from a hospital bed. I mightn’t even have the concentration to read a book or watch a movie but I seem to be able to write. It’s a wonderful outlet. It’s escapism, it’s cathartic. And I get paid.

“It’s absolutely a dream come true. It’s definitely, along with my family, what gets me through. There is always that brightness in the darkness.”

Married to Cian McGrath, the couple live in Bray with their children Sacha, 14, and Kim, 12.

* The Summer Guest by Emma Hannigan, is published by Hatchette, €18.60.

What shape are you in?

Great shape — I’m still here. I finished 50 sessions of radiation almost a month ago and as far as I know the cancer is all gone. But I’m the laziest article you could come across. My husband owns and runs a triathlon store and is training for an iron man — he does enough exercise for the two of us. I walk the dog.

Do you have any health concerns?

I don’t worry about my health. My doctors, unfortunately, have to do that. They are amazing.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

My big thing is juicing. Every morning we all have fresh juice. This morning it was beetroot, carrot, orange and celery, which sounds disgusting but actually tastes lovely. I’m not intolerant but I don’t eat dairy or gluten, it doesn’t really agree with me.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

It has to be coffee — strong black espresso.

What would keep you awake at night?

Worrying about my kids, the same as any other mother.

How do you relax?

When I’m writing, which is wonderful because it’s my job. It’s takes me to another zone and it’s great freedom.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Along with my family, I’d love to have Oscar Wilde, Graham Norton and Katie Taylor.

What’s your favourite smell?

Fresh ginger. If it’s possible to have a smell that’s positive that’s it. It’s zingy and wakes you up.

What would you change about your appearance?

Thinner thighs.

When did you last cry?

I rarely cry. The last time was at my uncle’s funeral — he was 49 and died of cancer. We were very close.

What trait do you least like in others?

Lying. If someone is a liar you cannot trust them — you don’t know where you stand.

What trait do you least like in yourself?

I talk too much. My husband will vouch for that.

Do you pray?

No. But I do believe I have angels who watch over me. Unlike some of the organised religions, which can be very threatening, they are positive and gentle. I’m very a la carte with all my religious beliefs.

What would cheer up your day?

My children, every day. And our dog Herbie. He is such an eejit and smiles all the time.



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