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Confessions of an eleventh-hour addict

Irish Times, Sat, August 21, 1999



Confession time. Dare I expose the wild and passionate scramble that my writing experience is? Will people say: oh, well, that's how it reads, too? Writing is all exposure - but this is the last preserve. The truth is I'm a "lone parent" with three kids and I've written four books in five years. I therefore live and write by that mad juggling process familiar to modern mothers.

At first I was on the dole, with part-time editorial work. The dreaded dole, with its energy-consuming struggles: shopping in daily bits and pieces because otherwise the money won't last the week; lying awake scheming how to pay that ESB bill (or buy the dinner), not planning your next plot. There never has been time enough to write. I write on the go, running up and down the stairs to the computer. Washing on the line - up to the computer; dinner on the cooker - up to the computer; 10.30, homework quarrelled through, kids in bed - maybe now I can start my writing day . . .

It's also a matter of temperament. I'm an eleventh-hour person. I never pack until the taxi is at the door. And I find the writing experience so all-consuming that I can't stay in there too long, anyway. When I'm lying awake at night with my head buzzing, it becomes a race between getting the book done and losing my mind. I accelerate further at that point. When I actually do finish, of course, I'm desolate.

This may sound slapdash but in fact I've been a perfectionist since childhood. My teachers used to try to get me to be less conscientious. My books, especially the Cork ones, have demanded intense and meticulous work to get the cultural references right, to keep the scheme of characteristic speech perfect. There's method in my madness. I am now editor for Poolbeg Press. I work from home with the full panoply of fax, computers and so on. And the bell still tolls at the eleventh hour. My last book was written in evenings, at weekends, a bit grabbed here, a bit grabbed there. Obviously, I can't continue like this forever. I'm going to change my ways - next time. Believe me.

*Gaye Shortland's novel, Harmattan, has just been published by Poolbeg

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