Sunday, July 28, 2013

I am to London in a couple of days for a two week holiday.
I have a difficult relationship with the city where I was bought up. My parents were Irish, I was born in Scotland but we left there when I was two and moved to Hendon, a Jewish suburb of London (like Riverdale in NYC - which I love because it feels so familiar) - where I lived until I was in my late teens. I left home then and floated around London working as a hairdresser, then magazine journalist and eventually editor - always trying to find a place there that felt like home. The truth is, I felt more irish than English and my heart was in Mayo where I had spent my childhood holidays. I had friends here and there was a strong thread of affinity with the place running through the core of me that would not let me rest until I had moved my husband to Killala, County Mayo - within ten minutes of my grandmother's cottage in Ballina which has always felt like my true home.
One of my sisters moved over here too - but my middle sister and my closest sibling, my brother Tom - (who broke my heart by dying in 2009) are/were True Londoners. 'True Londoners' are a bit like New Yorkers in that New Yorkers love New York - and would not live anywhere else. However - London is such a huge, sprawling city - with so many parks you don't even need to leave it to visit the countryside (Central Park is like 'Meh' in comparison to even local parks like Richmond Common and Hampstead heath) True Londoners cannot see any reason why anybody would ever want to leave it. For any reason. Oh sure - they holiday abroad, but get in a car and drive outside its vast perimeters? What's the point. My brother and sister thought I was stone mad moving to rural Ireland. It was beyond their understanding.
I never loved London. To me is was the big scary city I grew up in and I was/am glad to be out of it and living somewhere that for me has been more human, more fruitful - a relaxed and peaceful nirvana where I can think and not worry about what I am wearing too much. I miss cappuccino and sushi - but we are catching up - yes - even here in County Mayo!
When Tom died - and we buried him - in his beloved London - my feeling of estrangement with my childhood city was complete. I flit in and flit out a few times a year for work. Short working trips, during which time I stuff myself with sushi and good coffee and collapse back into my rural idyll, grateful I don't have to live there. London is full of painful memories for me - of being a young, lonely woman trying to make my way in the city. Drinking too much, loving undeserving men too deeply - it always felt like a struggle. I hated being small and invisible in that vast sea of people - I felt like I was drowing. I needed to live in a smaller pond and now I do and I love it.
On one of these working trips earlier this year I bought my intern Danielle - a girl from Ballina. We stopped for a coffee in Starbucks Covent Garden and got to talking about London. HOW can I not LOVE the place - she said. Such a vibrant, BRILLIANT city. I was so LUCKY to grow up here!!!! I looked around the place - the teaming life outside the window, the lights, the exotic shops, the multi-cultural atmosphere and thought 'Tom loved this' - then I promptly burst into tears. She's right - Tom was right - London is a great place. And it is my city. Mine and Tom's. The last time I saw Tom we walked for a half day through these streets - dancing and laughing and being young again - which was always how I was with Tom. I miss him. London took him from me - in death but also in life because we lived different lives in different places.
Next week I am going back to London with my sons and I am going to reclaim it back as my city. We are going to go to museums - walk about - but not to my 'old haunts' as I have always done before. I don't want London to be about the past any more - I want it to be about the future. I want my sons to love London how I loved Ballina - for it to be their holiday home - a place they love and might want to live one day.
We leave on Wednesday.
Tune into my Kate Kerrigan page for updates.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Museums are such an important part of my research and thankfully we have loads if great ones in Ireland. Me and Mam and the boys are off to Limerick on a road trip Monday to visit The Hunt Museum on a special mission for my new novel - but more on that later..... Today - I am beyond excited that one of the most original and important Irish collections recently opened in Ballina - my home town. The Jackie Clarke collection is the lifetime’s work of our local businessman and republican Jackie - who was also a great friend of my grandfather, Hugh Nolan. I am ashamed to say, I didn't make the official opening and have been caught up the kid’s holiday craziness since - so I didn't get in until yesterday and even then I had the Tominator in tow so it was a very quick visit. It was a hot day and starting to drizzle slightly so as we were passing I simply veered the kids towards the side door of the beautiful old bank building where the collection is on display. The first thing we saw was the most beautifully designed 'secret' garden and in it was a small, purpose built garden room which, aside from a video about Ballina and a few cabinet containing papers - there was a cabinet containing beautiful vintage children's toys and books - including two very old and doubtless very valuable Mickey Mouse teddies. Tommo (4) was dumbstruck and frankly - so was I. Another cabinet had a collection of old lemonade stickers and food packaging. Aside from acquiring Ireland's important political documents around the formation of the state (including our actual Proclamation of Independence) Jackie must have been hoarding from an early age - keeping his toys and all sorts of what must have seemed like valueless paraphernalia for the posterity of future generations. The woman who has spent the past few years of her life organising Jackie's 'stuff' into a properly curated collection (which first must have amounted to a gargantuan shed-clearing exercise if the breath of the brief first-look I had is anything to go by) Sinead McCoole is one of Ireland's leading historians and boy - are we lucky to have imported her into our corner of County Mayo.  I've a feeling I'm going to be in here a lot.....

Friday, July 12, 2013


We have passed the halfway mark now of my sons summer holiday. Thank god! "Holiday" is a word fraught with the pressure of relaxing and enjoying oneself. Relaxation and enjoyment shouldn't be things that cause stress, but I find that they are.

Firstly, my son's school holiday is three months long. So that's three months during which time I have to ensure his relaxation and enjoyment because the rest of the time the poor child has to go to school – an experience which I loathed.

You can, of course, train them to occupy themselves all summer with television and computers (check) but you are obliged to let them out into the fresh air once in a while and allow them mix with other human beings.

Last year I was scheduling an intricate childcare rota which involved various summer camps and grandparents when my ex housekeeper Theresa  (I miss her!) once said when I was trying to rope into helping me create a child-free working summer, pointed out: "It's supposed to be their holiday."

Theresa is great like that – she can always cut straight to the point. A useful talent for when she has to manage the people as well as the house.

This summer has been a successful one for junior. We have the usual excitement when my mother’s ebullient sister Auntie Sheila comes to stay followed by Mum’s birthday dinner and lots of sleepovers with the cousins. In a couple of weeks we are off to London – a first for us all which we are all very much looking forward to.
We have a network of fantastic friends so there is rarely a shortage of playmates and my house is familiar with the mayhem of small children running up and down the stairs going "Yeeeee-hoooow!"

However while friends occupy them, they still have to be invited, and fed, and scraped off one another – and in amongst all of this I have to write a book. Because, allegedly, I am a writer who has to start writing another novel, although at the moment it doesn't feel much like it. At the moment it feels like I am caught in some awful suspended reality where I should be working, where I want to be working, but I'm not. It's not writer's block. It's summer holiday block, and it happens to me every year.

Every year I am behind when June comes and I decide I have to "work" hard through the summer to catch up. But writing is such an absorbing activity that I find it impossible with another person – never mind a gang of children – in the house.

When I am working I feel guilty that I am not camping – and when I am camping, I feel guilty that I am not working. I wish I was one of these focused writers who can zone out and switch off from human contact and write with a fierce concentration, but I'm not. There is always a small part of me open to distraction – and there is nothing more distracting than my beautiful sons.

Or as Theresa put it when I tutted after the Tominator landed in on top of me this morning to give me a no-reason kiss: "It's your summer holiday too, you know."

Friday, July 5, 2013


I’m really, really busy at the moment. Have I already done a blog on how busy I am? I can’t remember. I can’t remember much these days. I probably have because I seem to be repeating myself constantly. Late motherhood and recession-anxiety have conspired and turned my life into nothing more than dozens of small, acts repeated over and over again.
There are important things that need to be done; big things like writing a whole book, then smaller, but equally important things like getting some exercise so that I don’t keel over and have a heart attack before the next book is finished, and getting my teeth cleaned before I go on the next American book tour so that I don’t get turned away at JFK airport for having yellowed, European knashers.
Yet I can’t seem to get to any of these important tasks completed because my life has become clogged up with the “two minute” jobs.
“It’ll take you two minutes,” my husband says about almost everything and he’s right. Ordering in the oil online, cashing in that birthday amazon voucher for the Kindle I so desperately wanted two months ago and yet haven’t bought yet, leaving my glasses in to the opticians for new lenses, hanging up the washing, emptying the dishwasher, booking that hotel for my mum, firing off an email to my agent, firing off an email to my editor, firing off an email to my sister, feeding the baby, wiping the baby down, feeding the dog, brushing the dog, making a hair appointment – all these things only take two minutes. Put them all together in one ghastly relay and they are my entire life.
I have started to have days where I have got no discernable work done at all. Whole days are being swallowed up with these two minute jobs.
“I HAVEN’T GOT TWO MINUTES!” I roared at my husband the other night when he suggested I – I can’t remember – looked up something online or ordered that Kindle.

I was beside myself with rage and frustration having been trying to fill in an online funding form for the best part of the evening. I kept going back and wiping the whole thing and having to start again.  A two-minute job that was threatening to never finish, like one of those hideous dreams when you are locked in Brown Thomas overnight and told you can have whatever you want, but you can’t choose (Just me? surely not!) or keep running but find yourself on the same spot forever!
I took a break and switched my computer back on at 8pm, after the dinner had been eaten, and the plates put in the dishwasher, and the kids put to bed and it was “couples” time.
My husband took a deep breath as the laptop went “ping”. If he’d have said whatever he was thinking out-loud there would have been crockery broken and we haven’t got the time (or the money) to repair broken crockery these days.
What he was thinking was; “Jesus – give it up woman!”
What I was thinking was; “This is ALL your fault!”
Even though, of course, it wasn’t. But that’s what marriage comes down to sometimes. Having somebody else to blame for your own failings.
I know this overwhelming too-much-to-do meltdown is my fault. And if I didn’t have so much to do I might be able to sit down and figure out exactly why.
I suppose it’s a combination of things. Lack of organisation and no routine would be a start. I have always been one of those people who has to do a thing the moment it pops into my head. Which is why I’ll put the pan on because I fancy sausages, then while it’s warming up get started on writing a column and forget about it until my husband points out that the kitchen is on fire.  I have no set routine to my working day so that, if I want to work from the moment I wake up to the moment I go back to bed, I can.  My work as a writer, novelist, columnist has no beginning middle and end. Each column, each book melds into the other; my work, as they say is never done.
Yes, I am a busy working mother and I could be more organised but the underlying truth is that I drive myself too hard for perfection. I take too much on. I cannot accept my limitations. I can’t relax. I thought, after my brother died, that I would take life more slowly – relish it more. Instead I feel as if I am running out of time and want to cram everything in. I know I am driving my husband and indeed myself mad with this compulsive achieving. Maybe just knowing it is the first step.