How you came to be at St. Conleth’s.
I started at St. Conleth’s in 2012 in my fifth year, at that time girls could only attend for their final two years. I’d come from an all-girls school and wanted a change, and my two brothers had attended St. Conleth’s so it seemed like an obvious choice.
What was your favourite and/or least favourite subject in school.
My favourite subject was English, with Classics as a close second, because I’ve always loved stories. I never wanted to rote learn essay questions for exams, I wanted to engage with the ideas presented in the texts and answer organically with my own thoughts. I loved studying poetry most of all.
I enjoyed all of the subjects I took for my Leaving Cert, I chose them because I was honestly interested in them all. Looking back, however, it might have been more strategic to focus on one area. I ended up taking eight higher level subjects: English, Irish, Maths, Spanish, Physics, Classics, Art, and Japanese. I didn’t have a least favourite subject, but by the end of my sixth year I was the only girl still hanging on in higher level maths and physics, which presented its own challenges. I’m glad I stuck with them, although I can’t say I’ve done a quadratic equation since.
Who/what influenced you to pursue your chosen field.
I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer, of one sort or another. The question wasn’t whether I wanted to be a writer, but if it was actually possible to be one. When I was younger, I had big ideas for stories but little talent to pull them off. That didn’t stop me though. I wanted to learn how to make words leap off the page and create something in the minds of other people.
Seamus Gallagher was my English teacher, and I think the first person to take my writing seriously. He engaged with my ideas and saw the vision of what I was trying to pull off, even if it was some bizarre horror story about zombies. When I was a teenager I wanted to write things that challenged people’s expectations, that took what they saw as a limitation and made that the central turning point of the story. Being in a classroom with a teacher who wasn’t only trying to teach me how to pass an exam helped me to hone that instinct.
Tell us about your education/ career path.
After graduating from St. Conleth’s, I went on to study English at Trinity. I didn’t go with an agenda, there isn’t a clear path to being a writer, but with a desire to learn more about the subject I’d always loved.
There, I studied widely. I think I spent a significant portion of my first two years feeling insecure whenever anyone asked me what my favourite book was, because the answer never felt literary enough. Then, I spent my final two years searching for explanations and wanting to justify why popular literature deserves to be studied. I wrote my dissertation on the subversive power of the fantasy genre.
I didn’t write much prose during my time at Trinity. Rather, I spent my time debating in various arts blocks in various colleges in various countries. This time helped me to understand the world, and people, and I came out the other side with an ability to see the connections between seemingly disparate ideas. For a brief time I considered changing discipline and studying something to do with politics, or international relations, or conflict resolution.
This all changed when I googled ‘Masters Fantasy Literature’, just to see what would come up. About two sentences into the course description I knew I had to study at Glasgow and that was that. My mother asked me what job I planned to get with such a specific and unemployable extra qualification, and I shrugged and said a writer or a tour guide on the set of Game of Thrones.
After my masters I came back to Dublin with the general plan of working and finding myself, which was cut short due to the pandemic. Suddenly, I had endless time and no more excuses not to finish the novel I’d started writing. It seemed like a pipe-dream, but it was also a good way to find focus and purpose during the first lockdown. I finished my first draft in September of 2020, I signed with my agent in December, and sold the book in February of this year.
Proudest achievement to date.
Either winning the Woodsbowl in my final year at St. Conleth’s, the first time my writing was recognised, or finishing as the third best all-female team at the 2018 European University Debating Championships.
Advice for people wanting to work in your sector/ general advice.
If you want to write a book, there are only two pieces of advice that matter.
The first is to just do it. Force yourself to write when you don’t want to, set yourself goals, hold yourself accountable. What helped me was thinking about all of the bad books I’ve read or bad TV shows I’ve watched; someone thought they were worth publishing/making. And, evidently, I thought they were worth consuming. If you hold yourself to a writing schedule suddenly ideas will come to you in the shower, or when you’re out on a walk. Write these ideas down so you don’t forget them. The first hurdle most people fall down at is never finishing the book. You can’t sell what you don’t have, and you can’t start to improve a blank page.
Which brings us to the second piece of advice; edit. You have to be ruthless with yourself, and kind to the people who are willing to help you. Take your work as far as you possibly can by yourself, and trust your readers to offer you constructive criticism. It’s no good asking for advice if you already know your characters are bad, or the dialogue sucks, or the plot has a million holes. You need to fix all of those problems first before asking people for advice, and if you’re lucky they’ll put into words the exact thing you know you’re missing.
I don’t believe I have any special talent or gift for writing, but I do have the willpower to push through writer’s block and a critical eye that helps me to improve even the worst first draft. You have to start somewhere, so why not start now?