This Much I Know: Sheila O'Flanagan, writer

This Much I Know: Sheila O'Flanagan, writer
Sheila O'Flanagan

My childhood dream was to be an astronaut or a pro tennis player. Writer wasn’t on the list. Although, looking back, I always wrote. 

I’m a real introvert and I lived in my head a lot of the time. I enjoyed making up stories and providing new endings to the books I read. I loved creative writing in school and there was never a time when I wasn’t writing something.

My biggest challenge was dealing with the fact that my father was terminally ill. My only thought was to leave school and to go out there and get a job.

I did a one year commercial and business course which led to me being offered a job in the Central Bank. Learning to touch type on that course was the must useful thing ever I did.

I worked in the financial services sector for years, but I was secretly writing away. I completed a first draft of a novel and was advised, by Poolbeg, that they may be interested. If I wrote something else. 

I spent another two years doing so, which finally led to a publishing deal.

While I was still working, my full time job had long hours and so I often wouldn’t start writing until late in the evening. I’d keep going until the early hours of the morning. But sometimes I’d bring my laptop into the office and close myself away in my lunch hour to write.

My biggest extravagance is buying Apple products. I think it stems from those early laptops…

I decided to go for a writing career full-time, stepping into the unknown, because I knew that otherwise, I would never be fulfilled. My mother was terrified at the financial precariousness of it all but it was something I simply had to do.

The best advice I ever received on writing was from Maeve Binchy:if you write a page a day, you will have a book written within a year. Although I can’t say I follow it to the letter, I certainly agree with the sentiment. It helps to stop me becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of ‘writing a book’.

I’m not as disciplined as I used to be. I spend a lot of time thinking about each book before I start, or maybe doing research if that’s needed. After a couple of months of that, once I have the first chapter in my head, I begin. Then, once I get going, which is usually during the winter months, I do try to write every day.

I’m a practical person, not a spiritual person. I don’t believe in an after life. This is it.

I have a pretty stoic attitude to life. I try to face up to whatever is in front of me and to deal with it, knowing that I can’t make it unhappen.

The personality trait I admire most is honesty.

The thing that irritates me most about other people is hypocrisy.

If I could be reborn for a day I’d be a world number one tennis player. Or an astronaut. I’m still into astronomy, in an amateur way, I have a house in Spain with a huge telescope.

I got through lockdown OK, but it made me realise how much I truly depend on meeting and talking with friends - it helps fire off things in my head. I really missed that and it was a bit of a disaster for my fitness levels. I normally play a lot of badminton, but had to make do with doing some yoga and taking daily walks.

I live in Clontarf and that is one of my favourite places in Dublin. I love the sweep of the bay and the sense of serenity even though it’s so close to the city centre.

So far life has taught me when to say no, and when to say yes. And, if there is something that you really want to do - this applies to women more than men in my opinion - even if you are not 100% qualified, you have to give it a shot.

The Women Who Ran Away, Sheila O’Flanagan's latest book, is published in trade paperback by Headline, €13.99

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