‘I got a C in English in school’

I live in Mullingar with my husband and son within walking distance of the town, which is great for the Dub in me. I’m from one of the few council estates in Blackrock originally so it’s really nice to still have a little bit of a buzz around.

I’m the youngest of four. My dad is 91 now and my mum is going to be 86 this year. They’re amazing. My earliest memory is when my granny came to stay with us in Blackrock. I remember sitting in the bed beside her and her reading me a story. The warmth of that bed and her arm around me, it was the best thing.

I got into writing late in life, I was 44 when I started. Before that, I had worked for Waterstones booksellers and also for various charities as a community development worker and in financial management. Writing was a bit of a surprise. It was supposed to be a pastime to begin with and then I started to feel like there was something quite good there and I kept going.

The greatest challenge I ever faced was doing my masters in creative writing at UCD in 2015. I really wasn’t very good at English in school. I was a C grade. When I went in to do the MA I was 44 years of age and had written a couple of short stories and had a draft of When All Is Said under my arm. Here I was sitting amongst all of these people who were so talented. I was being taught by Anne Enright and Frank McGuinness and I thought: ‘Holy God what am I doing?’

When All is Said by Anne Griffin

I was terrified most of the time. I remember standing behind a pillar waiting for the bus back to Mullingar one day crying my eyes out to John Boyne, who is a close friend of mine, and him talking me down to a point that I was able to go in the following Monday. I certainly didn’t think my success was going to happen but it did. You have to follow your heart and feel the fear and do it anyway.

I could say the An Post Book Awards but honestly, my proudest achievement is creating a home for my family. We’re like any other family, we kill each other half the time, but we just have something very lovely here and we’ve all done it together. It’s genuinely my proudest thing.

My son surprises me. He’s 16 and just watching him come into adulthood. He’s amazing. He has a quiet determination and is a very gentle person but has very deep thoughts. I’m in awe of him.

My husband, James, is the person I turn to most. We’ve been together for 21 years. He’s been through the highs and the lows for me and I have for him. We’re so chalk and cheese but we meet somewhere in the middle. If it’s anything professionally then I’m on to John Boyne.

I think it’s very important in life to have friends and people around you that you can trust and that means the world to me. So I’ve tried to do that for my friends and my husband and son. They can tell me anything. Even when I was little it was so important to me that if someone told me a secret, nobody would ever know. It’s sacred to me and it’s a quality I admire in other people.

The lesson I would like to pass on is to keep learning and keep an open mind. Embrace difference and stop being afraid and have a natural curiosity about everything. There is nothing that gives me greater happiness than learning something new. Curiosity is one of the greatest gifts we have as human beings.

If I want to do something I will just go for it, for example changing careers. I don’t care once I can pay my bills. If I know that taking on something new is going to get me to my end goals, I’ll do it and I will not give up. Even if it’s changing the sitting room around. I’ll break my back trying to move the couch that is unmovable.

The greatest advice I’ve ever been given is to stop catastrophising. I am a pessimist. I always think everything is going to go wrong. One of the things I was told and I have to remember is to say: ‘Why waste your energy on thinking that something is going to be dreadful? You can’t see into the future’.

I have a belief that we’re born to do many things. I think there are one or two things we feel most comfortable in and right now for me that’s writing but I’m not closed to the idea that there might be something else around the corner for me. I’ve had so many forks on my road. I welcome the forks. I love to write and will continue to do it but I might shimmy into something else. I love knowing that there’s so much possibility out there.

Listening Still by Anne Griffin

Listening Still by Anne Griffin
  • Anne Griffin’s second novel Listening Still is out now.

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