I speak Italian fluently.

A River in the Trees

A River in the Trees

I lived in Italy for three years in my early twenties. I went there knowing no Italian at all, and I had to learn it quickly, to survive. I watched a lot of American TV shows in Italian - Beverley Hills, 90210! – and I learned to match the sound of the words to the sense of the story. I was walking across a bridge in Padova one day when I realised that I could understand what the people passing me were saying: it wasn’t just a wave of noise anymore, but I could hear words, sentences. Living in another language affected me profoundly, and helped me become a writer. I still dream in Italian now. I still miss it.

I worked for Vogue.

I worked for Vogue in London as a writer and stylist for years in my late twenties and thirties. It was the era of Sex and the City, and my time at the magazine was a period of great freedom and excitement mixed with almost constant anxiety. We were poorly paid and drank too much and didn’t sleep enough but we were surrounded by the most beautiful clothes and the most beautiful people in the world and it was a heady combination. I was glad to leave Vogue, really. It was bad for the soul.

I have three young children, and I find writing about motherhood difficult.

It’s not easy for me to write about having children, because it’s such a raw, personal thing. I’m still too close to it to process it successfully in writing. My experience of being a mother is my own, and I’m nervous of presuming to understand how anyone else experiences it. The one thing I will confess to is that I don’t find having children easy. It’s not easy combining motherhood with anything else – writing, for example: writing, perhaps, especially. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

I grew up in the countryside, and I don’t like cities.

I like trees, and rivers, and fields. I like being able to see the horizon. I’ve lived in London for more than fifteen years, and I manage it only because I leave very regularly.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer.

There has never been a time when I’ve wanted to do anything else. And I’ve only ever wanted to write fiction. I was a journalist for years, and that was entirely different kind of writing. Writing fiction is what I was meant to do. I can’t cook, it took me five attempts to pass my driving test, I’m physically quite lazy, but I can write.

I spent a long time at university.

I have a BA from UCC, an MA from UCC and the University of Bologna, an MA from City University. I’ve been a visiting scholar for semesters at the universities of Leicester and Padova. I was a Fulbright scholar at Duke University, where I studied for my PhD in History. I went to Boston College as the Boston College Scholar. So much study, and I know so little, and less and less all the time.

I’ve lived in a few different countries.

I grew up in rural Ireland, near Cork, but I left as soon as I could. I lived in Italy, then Spain, then America, then Scotland, then Australia, and then - now - England. There’s something in me that is restless, that likes to keep going. Throughout it all, though, I’ve always missed Ireland. I always stayed in Ireland in my head.

I have an unusual relationship with words.

Quite often, I see words as colours. Or they have a shape, a form, for me. It’s the same with numbers. I don’t like the number five, for example, because the number itself if a kind of brown colour to me, and fuzzy. And I don’t like the way the word five and the number five can’t sit properly together. I’m aware that this is a bit odd, of course, but it helps be write, I think: it adds an extra dimension to the words so I can almost feel them and how they fit together.

I’ve learned as much about storytelling from watching films as from reading books.

A good film has a perfect story arch, and all its pieces fit together like a puzzle. For my MA thesis I wrote about the idea of the road in Fellini’s films. I like the way cinema can capture the feeling of movement. You’re aware of something passing, ending, even as you’re watching a film. And I like the concentrated nature of film, how everything has to happen in, say, an hour and thirty minutes. I like the discipline of that.

There are more things that I don’t want you to know about me than I want you to know about me.

But all the things I don’t want you to know about me are in my writing, badly concealed.


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