The Shape I'm in: Author Sheila O'Flanagan on what it takes to write a bestseller

SHEILA O’Flanagan has decamped to her summer home outside Alicante. But while the summer sun is pouring down outside, her mind is on a white winter.

“I’m currently editing some work for a piece for Christmas so I’m thinking about snow,” she says with a laugh.

Though there is a deadline looming, she maintains a good work-life balance. “I always start around eight, sometimes it would be later. I usually do about two-and-a-half hours — it depends on the day and on what I might have planned to do.”

You’d imagine with a children’s book out earlier this year, a novel currently on the bestsellers’ list, and another one in the offing, there’s little time for other activities. But you’d be wrong. The award-winning writer is also a director of the Irish Sports Council — she’s a keen badminton player— an ambassador for the Women’s Fund — The Community Foundation of Ireland, and a director of Fighting Words, a creative writing centre.

“These things come in waves,” she says, pointing to the flexibility that comes with writing as a career choice.

“I’m involved in them all because they are all something that interests me. Fighting Words is probably the closest to my heart because I just love the idea of helping children to be creative. I think it is fantastic for them to be able to make up their own stories and take control of their own stories.

“At the same time, I’ve worked in business for over 20 years and I do like advocating for women in business and women pushing themselves forward and making their job and their career the best it can be. That’s really important to me.

“On the sports side, I spend a lot of time sitting on my arse — it also good for people to have something completely different to do and to be active to enjoy competing and winning and enjoy being active.

“In different ways, all those things are really important to me.”

  • What Happened That Night by Sheila O’Flanagan is out now


What shape are you in?

Not bad but somewhat past my prime. I have ongoing niggles that I have to be aware of. I see a chiropractor to maintain my lower back and I have occasional problems with my achilles’ tendons, probably as a result of having played a lot of badminton on hard surfaces.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I don’t snack and I’m not really into fast food. I don’t like sweet things.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

A glass of wine in front of the TV. I always feel like I should be doing something more active but there are times when it’s nice to surrender to the screen with a nice wine in hand.

What would keep you awake at night?

I often plot my novels before I go to sleep, testing different scenarios in my head. Even when I’m tired I can’t help myself and sometimes the latest plot-line can keep me awake for hours.

How do you relax?

Not surprisingly, I like to read. My tastes are very eclectic though when I’m working on one of my own books I like to immerse myself in gory crime because it’s so different. Although it’s an active thing to do, playing badminton for me is a great way of relaxing because it switches off the creative side of my brain for a while.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Rafa Nadal, Queen Letizia of Spain, Michelle Obama, JK Rowling, Dara O Briain, and Commander Chris Hadfield. I’m going for an eclectic mix here so I hope it would work.

What’s your favourite smell?

Freshly mown grass. Also Jo Malone grapefruit perfume.

What would you change about your appearance?

Those damn fine lines and wrinkles which I never notice on other people but which mock me whenever I look in the mirror these days.

When is the last time you cried?

I was listening to the Concierto de Aranjuez in the garden the other night and the sheer beauty of the music made me cry.

What traits do you least like in others?

Alternative Fact-ers. People who will tell a barefaced lie with no shame and who believe an opinion is just as valid as a fact, even when that opinion has been proven to be completely wrong.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

Impatience. Also, I dislike confrontation and will often give in simply because I can’t be bothered with an argument even though that only stores up more trouble in the future.

Do you pray?


What would cheer up your day?

A blue sky. Once I can see that, I’m happy.

Irene Feighan


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