Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Memoir finished - sick with nerves.

Finished my memoir On The Gradient Road last week - and am sick with nerves as I have sent it out to my agent and she is reading it at the moment. Or rather - she not been able to get to it yet - I have to keep calling her to check that the silence doesn't mean that she is sitting in her office with her head in her hands going "this is crap - HOW am I going to tell her." This is the very worst thing about writing - waiting for the first bit of feedback. I never mind editing, or re-writing - or rather over the years I have become immune to it through experience- it is just the initial read by my agent that cripples me with nerves. She is the best agent in Ireland, and one of the best in the world - but what makes her special is the commitment and integrity with which she approaches her work. If she likes it - or rather if she LOVES it - she will sell it - regardless of how "commercial" or not it is. So her early opinion is the make or break for everything I write. She likes thing that are written from the heart, and this book is a memoir - heart? Don;t be talking! I plumbed the very depths of my psyche, heart, soul -as some eminent writer (whose name got robbed with Tom's birth along with all sorts of miscellaneous information that might suggest I have an actual brain in my head) said "I opened a vein and wrote it drop by drop."

On The Gradient Road is a memoir of the past year of my life. Those of you who know me already know that 2009 was a mad intense time for me and my family - Niall and I both lost our only brothers - then his father died in January, with baby Tom being born into the middle of it. The book is the most intensely personal thing I have ever written. It was written as therapy because as a writer I make sense of my life through words on a page, and I found myself unable to move forward with my new novel until I had got all the emotional confusion and upheaval of the last year out of my system. I have no idea if it is any good or not - certainly if it is compelling enough to be published. As my sister Claire says "That's enough about me - let's talk some more about ME." Weird to write a book entirely about oneself and expect people to be interested (hello? I do that in my Irish Mail column every thursday - and here!)
Anyway - in the meantime I am paralysed with nerves, sitting here in my living room, pottering through Facebook, and blogging and waiting - oh and pulling baby Tom away from climbing up on the fire grate which seems to be the only thing in the house that interests him at the moment.
Will keep you posted.

Friday, June 25, 2010

the complaints department


“The complaints department is closed” is a phrase so over-used in our house that our son has started to use it as a retort. “Come on and eat your lovely dinner?” I plead. “The ‘COMPLAINTS department is CLOSED!” he says. I expect he’ll get the hang of ‘Eff off” like a normal eight year old anyday now.
Perhaps it because I am an ungracious reciever of complaints that I’m not a great complainer myself. I am a mutterer and so is my husband. We mutter over our lousy meals and our bad service, we sigh loudly in supermarket queues and splutter in quiet incredulity to ourselves over unavailable sundries. But actually forming our mouths around a public cricitism – well that’s just taking things a step to far. “Not worth it!” is the defence we non-complainers use and yet it is, usually, worth complaining. I know this because I have two English friends who are both magnificent complainers. One is mistress of the stiff letter to supermarkets in particular; “Imagine my disappointment when I drove an hour out of my way to your North London “Superstore” which purports to stock “everything” and discovered that there was no marscapone cheese. Not so “super” now eh?” For a number of years she managed to knock 30 per cent off her food bills by simply outwitting this well known superstore for not stocking culinary essentials such as anchovy paste and rocket pesto. The other friend goes more for the brute force of a hystrionic housewife. In Britain there are people trained to deal with people like her. Her proudest moment was in a well known chain where her failure to procure two jumbo packs of own-brand frozen cocktail sausages for an imminent barbeque send her into a furious frenzy drawing a well-mannered young man fresh from a Customer Services management course from out back. He foolishly suggested that she might buy fresh cocktail sausages.“Do I look as if I am MADE of money?” she shouted at him waving her brand new Nissan Jeep car keys gripped in fists made of expensively french manicured nails at him. ‘And,” not content to leave it at that she added, “You have a very poor selection of shortbreads!” Not ‘no shortbreads’, you understand, but a ‘poor selection’. That sort of detail seperates the men from the boys in the world of customer complaints.
This friend moved from London to Mayo a year ago and staff in her local supermarket have never seen her like. One day their customer services man tried to placate her over a “sub standard” bouquet with some free carnations. “Carnations!” she cried “Are you trying to insult me?” He returned with two bunchs of top-of-the-range lilies and was rewarded with the petulant shrug of a bad girlfriend.
Until relatively recently the complaining Brit was a rare abomination but my friend is spear heading something of a revolution. The area in which she lives is positively crawling with disillussioned English people who can’t afford to live in Surrey and have moved to Mayo instead. They complain about the weather and the smell of sileage and the fact that there is no Marks&Spencers – all of which is very, very annoying. But they also complain about the inflated price of things and there being no marscapone cheese and bad service. They ask for ‘skinny latte’s’ in café’s which are still struggling to come to terms with the concept of the cappuccino. And because they are so good at complaining it means the nice local people don’t have to. The other day I noticed my local café advertising chi-chi breakfast options. There is every possibilility that a Mayo café owner decided there was a market for organic porridge with fresh-fruit compote all by himself – but I like to think there is some repeatedly complaining Brit maurauding through Connaught towns demanding low-cal options for us all. Re-balancing the scales of history – one complaint at a time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

saturday morning

Pancakes, piano lessons, Leo's choice of ghastly american TV kids comedy (Wizards of Waverly place.) Sun is bouncing off the sea, and thinking how powerful wriggler Tom is going to cope at his christening tomorrow (visions of him launching himself out of Father Paddy's arms into the font). Why do the days start with such a feeling of contentment then disintegrate into stress by lunchtime. Sometimes it's worth fostering the objective view of my life I have in the early mornings, before the engagement of busy-ness and responsibility kicks in and snatches my gratitude.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hi everyone - my brilliant husband Niall and his brilliant friend Jim Fleming have just got my web page up in time for my UK launch of Ellis Island on Monday. Check it out.....
Hi - this is just for Ellen at Mcamillan - promo videos for Ellis Island. But anyone else can watch them too it you want!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

me ranting about art

I have always loved art. Like almost every child up to the age of 10, my Picasso-fan parents considered me something of an abstract finger-painting art prodigy – until my teens when my very modest talents gave way to hanging around art galleries wearing boho '80s blouses and lots of black eyeliner hoping to pick up an older art student boyfriend.

None of this led to a place at art school as I hoped it might and so I had to content myself with being an art consumer. For a long time this meant simply going to galleries. As a journalist, I hung about on the edges of the art world and went to countless exhibition openings looking at wonderful stuff produced by young Irish artists, drinking in work by the likes of David Godbold thinking, "Gosh that's fantastic." But never, for one moment, did I think of actually buying anything. For some reason, buying art just did not seem feasible. Occasionally I would go to a posh house and see wonderful paintings hanging, but I always just assumed that original, contemporary art was something that materialized miraculously in the homes of people with taste and money. Like heirloom antiques and couture. Covetable, sure, but not for me.

Then something happened which changed everything. One of my friends opened a gallery.

When the Paul Kane Gallery opened in 1997 we all trooped up the stairs of his South William Street space on opening night. I thought I was in seventh heaven. A white-walled haven, just around the corner from my apartment, and I could pop in there any time I wanted and take in real 'art'.

One day I called in and stood for ages looking at a copper and red heathery landscape by Margaret Deignan.

"I love that," I said.

"Why don't you buy it?" said Paul.

I blushed, and if it had been any other gallery in the world I would have run out and never gone back. But because it was Paul I said, "How much is it?"

"£185," he said. Then looking at my shell-shocked expression he added, "you can pay me in installments."

I bought it and hung it up in my apartment and felt very grown-up and pleased with myself. I still have the landscape and enjoy it every day. It has – I discovered only in writing this article – quadrupled in value in 10 years. Which is a lot more than can be said for my prize bonds, bank savings or properties.

In the past decade my husband and I have bought a lot of art. Not enough to fill a warehouse or a holiday villa in Cannes and we don't own a Louis Le Brocquy or a Damian Hirst. We're not rich. It's just that we have come to value art more than designer handbags or golfing holidays in the Algarve.

So that when I visit a lavishly decorated interior space, be it a hotel or private house, and there is something nasty and makey-up on the walls, I notice it – and it makes me mad. Why is it that when every county in Ireland is bursting at the seams with talented artists who could transform an interior space for the price of a three-seater sofa – that so many decorators choose instead to spend the money on elaborate light fittings and either skimp on the art, or encourage the owner to put up representative landscapes by his wife's friend, for which he will have paid a small fortune?

Bad art in hotels is a particular bugbear. The interior designers go to trouble and expense to procure plush furnishings and stain-friendly carpets, then go and buy a job lot of ghastly prints to put on the walls. Or worse, the TV designers' version ("get three blank canvasses and paint them different shades of blue, then hang them next to each other").

A notable exception to this is the Ice House in Ballina. It had been sold to me as having great food, state-of-the-art spa – so far so every other new hotel ? but the first thing I noticed when I walked through this extraordinary architectural space was the art. Carefully chosen and – gasp! – commissioned pieces by Charles Tyrrell and Mike Gale add an edge to the lobby and dining rooms. Elsewhere, lesser-known artists liven up darkest corners. There is no compromise in the beautifully furnished bedrooms, each of which contains a piece of contemporary, orginal art. The owners, architects and designers that worked on the Ice House are clearly committed to visual excellence and not afraid to put their money where their mouth is. Or perhaps they are canny enough to realise that compromising on art is not only crass, but unnecessary.

Because the truth is Ireland is falling down with really brilliant artists - 'proper' art is everywhere and affordable to anyone who can afford a sun holiday. Think about it people next time you reach for that €500 handbag! Rant over.......