20 Questions: Jo Egan: 'I'd have risked life and limb to visit my little grandsons'

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Jo Egan, Belfast-based, writer and producer

Jo Egan talks to the Irish News. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Gail Bell

Belfast-based writer and producer Jo Egan. Picture by Hugh Russell.


Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I USUALLY waken up around 8am and check emails. Any meetings, Zoom or phone calls can be any time from 9am onwards. I prefer to do anything that means getting up and out in the morning. Any admin stuff or writing happens in the afternoon and on into the evening.


What might you eat in a typical working day for...Breakfast?

I'm not a breakfast person, so it's usually just coffee.


Corn cakes or oatcakes with cheese or hummus

Evening meal?

I'll normally cook dinner – favourites are chicken breasts, home-made burgers with wedges, chilli con carne or salmon.


Have you been able to work from home – if so, how have you found it?

I'd been on full blast until lockdown, so I spent the first month mostly chilling out. Since then, though, I've been working from home most days. I prefer to work away from the house, as it can take ages to get cranked up, but it's generally been okay.


Best/easiest lockdown meal?

I hadn't made lasagne for years and then I started making a few champion lasagnes, served with home-made potato wedges.


Weekend treat?

Fish supper from Kings on the Ormeau.


How have you kept physically and mentally fit during lockdown?

Our family started a Saturday night quiz, which is great for the spirit. At the start of lockdown, I was walking like billy-o, but I'm not so good now. I'm inclined to work quite late, but If I'm not in bed by midnight, everything goes pear-shaped.


What has been your daily outdoor exercise?

Walking and listening to music on the headphones. I've also been gardening.


How do you relax?

Watching TV or reading and chatting.


Teetotal or tipple?

I wouldn't drink on a daily basis, but there have been weekly online drinks with pals.


What book are you currently reading?

My lockdown book is The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard. Edel Magill recommended it 10 years ago and I finally read it. It's a stunning book about two sisters from Australia who move to England after WW2.


Best Netflix?

Ozark. Best series of lockdown.


Most surprising thing you've learned about yourself?

I would have thought being in lockdown would have driven me mad, but it was fine. I'm lucky that my eldest grandson, Oisin, lives with me, so that made it a whole lot more manageable.


On a scale of one to 10, where were you in relation to cabin fever and where are you now?

I'm one of the weird ones that enjoyed the down-time. The vacuum was welcome – everything was so peaceful and silent and the birdsong was phenomenal.


What are the three things you missed most during the beginning of lockdown?

I get the bus to Dublin each week to see my daughters and small grandsons, so not being able to see them was unbearable. Also, I miss not being able to go into a shop without having to queue.

And, a big one, MACHA's production of Body Politics was cancelled. We'd rehearsed for four weeks. At one stage, we thought we might get the show on for the first weekend, but daily news of the growing infections and deaths haunted the rehearsal room and we pulled the show on Friday, March 13. That's a year of hard work down the drain, but it could have been worse.


Where will you go and what will you do when restrictions are fully lifted?

Looking forward to my regular trips back down to Dublin. I also want to visit my sister and brother in England. If I had the money, Id love to head off on a great train journey or walk the Camino again.


Biggest gripe?

Financial support being offered to people working in the arts and culture sector here. Some, including myself, have received support from the Arts Council NI, but it's a relatively small pot for all the artists in the sector and some have had very little financial support since March.

Organisations such as Theatre NI are lobbying the Department of Communities for help as the situation is dire. It's gutting to see cinemas, bars and churches planning to open, while arts venues remain closed.


Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

I'm more appreciative of my family, my daughters and grandsons. My daughter, Rachel, moved to Belfast last year and I'm grateful for that. I spend too much time in front of the laptop and I definitely need to get more exercise. I'm feeling grateful that my family and friends have survived the pandemic, so far.


Any new skills or hobbies?

I got into copying these black ink drawings, originally produced by a Japanese artist called Mori Yuzan. It was a free download on Facebook. This all sounds terribly grand, but it's all based on spirals. Everything I do is so word-based, it was relaxing copying shapes.


What would you like to see change for good when this is all over?

I'd like to see a commitment to climate change. I want to use the car less and travel more by bus and try to incorporate changes that lessen my impact on the environment. Also, folk would have been lost these last months without TV and Netflix, so we should recognise the importance of a thriving arts and culture sector and support the one we have here.

And I really hope nobody forgets our NHS workers and carers in the community. It was gutting to see people fighting for a living wage in December and January suddenly being expected to sacrifice their own health and safety for the rest of us.


Has coronavirus changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

No, I think my rapid ageing is already doing that! The older you are, the more vulnerable, but, towards the end of lockdown, I was so desperate to see my little grandsons that I would have risked life and limb.

I'm of a mind that once you get a bit older, the amount of afflictions that can beset you are numerous, so every day is borrowed, really.

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