Arts Q&A: Dublin author Eithne Shortall

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, Dublin writer Eithne Shortall

Irish bestselling author Eithne Shortall
Irish bestselling author Eithne Shortall

1. When did you think about a career in writing and what were your first steps into it?

I’ve always written. The first I was paid for it, I was 12. I won a poetry competition in the Messenger magazine and a cool £20 was sent my way.

I studied journalism at college and wrote for newspapers after graduating. I started in news but I was trying to work my way into the arts pages, which happened eventually. I was always writing my own stuff but it was several more years before I attempted a novel. I took a three-month sabbatical from the day job and gave myself that deadline to write a first draft.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

I have the world’s worst memory, but ones that do stand out are Leonard Cohen at Lissadell House in Sligo in 2010 and Laura Marling at Whelan’s around the same time.

A special or intimate venue can really make a gig. I attended Other Voices in Dingle as an arts journalist a few times. On one occasion, I got to sit in a tiny living room as The National recorded an acoustic session for the TV show. It was like they were singing just for me, but without the awkwardness that you might expect to go with that. A real dream come true moment.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

If it’s a fantasy, then I’d pick The Band and all the guest performers that played on their iconic concert movie. That means you Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Ideally, as they were then, too.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island?

Joni Mitchell’s Blue is probably my favourite record but I might need something more hopeful for a life of being deserted. So probably Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

5. And the book you’d take to a desert island?

Something huge that I have yet to read but know I would love: Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy.

6. Top three films?

The Breakfast Club, Say Anything and Paris, Texas. I have a soft spot for 1980s teen movies and Paris, Texas is just a heart-breaking, beautiful, transcending work of art.

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7. Worst film you’ve seen?

Most of the truly terrible ones I have forgotten. I do recall how much I hated A Walk to Remember though. For some reason, it was the constant awful cardigan wearing by Mandy Moore that really got on my wick.

8. Favourite authors?

I could go on forever here and also this answer changes all the time. John Banville and Liane Moriarty are constant favourites and then my current obsession is Gillian McAllister. I am also in the middle of The Bee Sting by Paul Murray and loving the time spent reading it.

Eithne Shortall's latest novel, The Lodgers, is a tale of friendship, community and mystery
Eithne Shortall's latest novel, The Lodgers, is a tale of friendship, community and mystery

9. Sport(s) you most enjoy and top team(s)?

I know nothing about sport, honestly. I support Ireland in international games but that’s the height of it. Personally, I love to cycle. I go everywhere possible on my bike. I love it.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

Assuming my children, who are two and three, are coming too, I would stay in Ireland. The idea of going abroad with tiny children sounds more like a threat than a treat. All of our holidays are spent in Mayo – Louisburgh, to be exact – and I can’t think of anywhere better.

11. Pet hates?

Litter. It drives me mad. It takes one second to drop something on the ground, and for the whole rest of the day, it will have this small but negative effect on the well-being of all the people who pass it. I also hate people listening to music or watching something in public without headphones. Rude, rude, rude.

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? My granny’s lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese.

Dessert? Fruit crumble

Drink? Water. Or if we’re talking alcohol-specific: red wine.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

I have a few very close friends. One of them is Dawn, who The Lodgers is dedicated to, and who I have known since primary school. We became friends when we were eight and our parents met at a school mass and agreed that I would go over to Dawn’s house to play that afternoon.

14. Is there a God?

I wouldn’t presume to know the answer to that. I am not religious though. I was brought up Catholic, but no longer practice and my children are not baptised. I can see the value in religion, but it’s not for me.

Eithne Shortall’s fifth novel, The Lodgers, is published by Corvus and is out now. It tells the story of an older woman who takes two younger lodgers into her rickety, seaside home. They all come to the arrangement with personal baggage and secrets and end up being a makeshift family for each other.