45, Kildare, Ireland
Originally from Armagh, Northern Ireland, (120 miles and an entire world apart)
What do you do for work?
I’ve had a chequered career. In my teens I stood on a production line in a commercial chicken-processing plant, making hundreds of Chicken Kievs per hour for 8 hours per day. I honestly believe everyone should have three months at a job like that in their youth, developing a bit of empathy and respect for so-called ‘unskilled workers.’ That’s not why I did it, though, we were not at all well off and my parents had six kids and one and a half very modest incomes. I queued up to get that job application form, with scores of other teenagers, and I was thrilled to get it. Hotel chamber-maid, groom for a show jumper, cleaner, fast-food, retail etc.
I spent my twenties working as a veterinary surgeon. I was pretty good at it, but my heart wasn’t in it. I knew within weeks of starting college that I had made the wrong choice; but I had escaped Northern Ireland and moved to Dublin to study. No way was I going back to Armagh at the height of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, so I stayed in Vet school, graduated first in the class, met my husband and some of the brightest, funniest, strongest women I know.
I spent my thirties as a full-time mother in the home, entirely by my own choice. I wanted six kids, but settled for four after four C-sections! I am the only woman I know who left full-time employment before her first child was even born. I am also ‘the village’ for a lot of other women; I’m calm, mobile, not tied to working hours, I’m often to be found at the side of hospital bed, while a friend has a shower, and a nap, or with three extra kids sleeping in the attic because their granny is dying. My husband never knows where I’ll be, or who will be in the house when he gets home.
Did I mention training as a secondary school teacher in the meantime? Never taught, though, couldn’t even get a job interview…
Now I’m living my best life ever. My first book, The Accidental Wife, won the Eludia award in 2014, was published in 2016 and had a life far beyond my imagination. My second book, The Flight of the Wren, tells the story of real and fictional Irish women who were transported, as criminals, to Australia by the British Crown, during the Irish Famine. It will be published in September 2018! My third book, Full of Grace, is coming in January 2019. After 25 years of adulthood, I have found my calling.
What do you do for play?
Reading, naturally. I’ve been reading since before I started primary school. I would average 100 books per year, of every genre except straightforward erotica… there would want to be a bloody good story attached, before I would be arsed (bothered) to read about someone else’s sex life.
I recently re-started pony-riding after a 25-year hiatus; I always say that singing is the cheapest form of Valium (Xanax) available, and horse-riding is the most expensive.
When I was about 20, my sister — who loves me very much but who is a rigidly conformist person who was raised not to ‘show-off’ or ‘draw attention to yourself’ (as I was) — found out that I had been singing, just for fun, with friends in a pub. She kindly and concernedly told me that I couldn’t sing, wasn’t musical, and had made a holy show of myself. She told me ‘never to open your mouth in public again, to avoid embarrassing yourself.’ I ignored so much really good advice over the years… why did I listen to this piece? I literally didn’t sing again for over 15 years. I started singing lessons at 38 years old; passed all my exams, joined a really good choir, set up a choir in my kids’ school, which competes, records, and participates in massed choral events. I’m singing, in a choir of thousands, for the Pope next week! As you can see, I have had a charmed life, as that’s my biggest regret in 45 years.
If you came with a warning label what would it be?
I am a very blunt person, and I know in the past that I have been blunt to the point of cruelty sometimes. I try to rein myself in, but sometimes (especially if friends are acting in a self-destructive way) I just explode.
What scares you?
Scary in a good way are the self-inflicted terrors of: drawing the first breath to sing a solo with the choir; turning my pony to face a bigger jump than before; the week before a book launch, when the imposter syndrome kicks in.
Scary in a bad way: Brexit, Trump, the rise of xenophobia in Europe, our failure to learn the lessons of the twentieth century.
Whats your fantasy version of your older self?
No problem describing this one, it’s all worked out. If I live long enough to get my youngest child into College, and let’s face it, the odds are good, I’m selling my home in Ireland and moving, with 5 women who are doing likewise, to live together in southern Italy. One of us is even bringing her husband, the rest of us are leaving ours at home, unless mine has a Damascene conversion, in the meantime. We women reckon we should have 10-15 years before our bodies start to fall apart, and we’d rather fall apart together than separately.
Xanax or weed?
Neither. I’ve never tried Xanax and, in Ireland, the drug trade among middle-class professionals like me is killing young working-class men and even children, who act as mules and runners etc, so I don’t partake. If it was legalized, I definitely would. I love the feeling of a warm, giggly buzz, but not enough to risk someone else’s life to get it. I have smoked in Holland, where it’s legal, and in the USA, long ago, where it definitely wasn’t!
Read Orla’s Work: