Catherine Daly talks about the themes in her debut novel 'All Shook Up'
1. In your novel you very cleverly handle the complexities of balancing working and family life that face the modern family. Did you have a similar choice to make yourself and is that why you are no longer working as a pharmacist?
‘I don’t think I actually saw it like that at the time. It was more a quality of life versus income equation. My income would have been almost completely swallowed up by childcare and taxes so was it really worth working? No matter whether you’re working because you need to, or to get out of the home, or to keep your place in the career structure, there’s always a price to be paid in terms of quality of life. We felt the price was too high in our case. And I was fortunate in that Pharmacy’s a career that it’s easy to take a break from. And of course it gave me the chance to pursue another career!
2. Do you feel that there is always loss in choice for women once they become parents?
‘Every time you get involved with another person, you narrow your choices to some degree. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing necessarily, not if you’re going to take that relationship seriously. When you get married you don’t date. When you have kids you don’t have a life! But seriously, of course children affect your choices, and yes, probably more for women more than for men. Because apart from the obvious biological differences (- we can send a space ship to Mars, we can grow human organs in a pig, but we have yet to make a man pregnant), women rather than men tend to play a greater part in home-making and raising children. So no matter what the reality of her situation, the woman will probably feel that it's her 'responsibility' to make the 'right' choice.
3. Do you think that modern day families are so busy trying to have the right house and send their kids to the right schools and earn the money to do so that in fact they've made things more difficult and stressful for themselves?
‘The empty house syndrome? All these beautifully furnished houses in the most desirable areas that are only occupied a few hours a week? I suppose so, but I think it’s a bit of a simplification. No one chooses to commute for twenty hours a week, or work eighty. But when people are forced out of their own communities by house prices or other pressures, then inevitably they need to compensate for the loss of more traditional social contacts. Nowadays people compensate by consuming.
4. Do you think it's important to have interests and friends outside of family unit to keep one sane?
‘Yes, although to be honest, I think it’s less of an issue for our generation than for our parents. We’ve been reading it in advice columns since before we started going to discos and so we all take it for granted that outside interests are important. Whereas interests, activities and friends that the family can share, are becoming more and more rare these days. Whether it’s family holidays or hectic weekends ferrying individual children separate activities, the emphasis today is firmly on allowing everyone to have time and space to develop on their own. ‘Family days’ seem to have vanished from the timetable.
5. The guilt factor -v- jealousy. Can men actually be as good homemakers and child minders as women? And can women cope with this?
‘Yes I believe that men are well capable of being the primary carer at home, as long as adequate provision is made for mothers who may want to breast feed beyond the sixteen weeks that the government seems to consider adequate maternity leave. Of course some men will be better at it than others in just the same way as women differ. Some women however, are unable to ‘let go’ of domestic responsibilities. Whether it’s out of guilt (hard to drive away no matter how rationally we look at it) or jealousy, I suppose depends on the woman. In a lot of cases it may even be an unwilling ‘perfectionism’ that creeps in. Never mind stay at home dads, how many women can watch her husband or partner vacuum the floor or cook a meal without itching to tell him where he’s going wrong?
Press release March 2005
Born in Dublin in 1966, Catherine had a varied childhood. At seven she moved to Brussels where her father was with the diplomatic service. The family spent seven years there, giving them plenty of opportunity to travel throughout Europe during the holidays. This gave Catherine a love of travel, which later led to many trips in Europe and Africa.
On returning to Ireland, Catherine went to school in Holy Child Killiney, following in the footsteps of Maeve Binchy and Eavan Boland. Although while at school, she enjoyed English, she did not yet entertain ideas of becoming a writer. (This was eighties Ireland - the advice was to get a qualification that guaranteed a job or a plane ticket or both.)
After leaving school, Catherine studied engineering in UCD for a year before switching to Pharmacy in Trinity and she qualified as a pharmacist in 1990. In between stints working in community pharmacy in Ireland, she worked for five years as a hospital pharmacist in Chichester in the South of England. Apart from the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life – both patients and other healthcare professionals, a hospital pharmacy offers unique opportunities to witness some of the more bizarre aspects of modern medical science. A relatively frequent task was the re-hydration of dried cartilage from cadavers for use in facial reconstructions. On another occasion leeches had to have catgut stitched into their tails so that they could be safely used in the mouth without a risk of their disappearing down a patient’s throat! While Catherine was happy enough see the creatures leaving the pharmacy floating in their little pots of brine, she hated when they returned two or three times their original size!
After the birth of her second child Catherine gave up pharmacy to devote more time to the family, and in her spare time started to write (early mornings, late nights, or scribbling on kitchen paper with a crayon while liquidising lamb stew!). Once she started she found she couldn’t stop and soon All Shook Up began to take shape.
On the release of Catherine’s first book, All Shook Up, she decided a website would be a great idea - her funds tended to disagree - and so Catherine did what no right minded person would do and decided not only to learn how to design a website but to learn how to work a computer in the first place!
Her stunning website www.catherinedaly.com is testament to the fact that this woman does not accept any obstacles…. She wanted to a website….so she built her own!
I decided I needed a website, but couldn’t afford to get someone to design and build me one. So I set about teaching myself (despite being so helpless at computers that I think I had my own personal assistant at the eircom help desk to answer my frantic emails about how to set up Outlook!). Since then, as well as www.catherinedaly.com I’ve built a website to manage our rental property in France and of course there’s, www.writeon-irishgirls.com which although took a lot of work, has taken off beyond my wildest dreams. (The forum/message board attached to the site had over 10,000 page loads in the month of November, although the site was only launch in September).
Catherine and her family spend as much time as possible in their French home in Lanquais. They bought the house on her husband’s birthday with funds previously allocated for an extension on their home in Dublin, but that plan went out the window when they saw and fell in love with the French property. Her description of her time spent there is like a story in itself:
I love wandering through the woods looking for truffles or ceps – (I haven’t found any yet but a French friend has promised to turn us into real French foragers!).
There’s a huge garden to rescue from the wilderness and plan for the future. We discovered several vines gone wild through the trees, so the temptations is there to learn to prune them properly and make our own wine at some time in the future!
We have a ruin on the property, which I redesign and renovate in my head every time I see it …. and fantasize about having the money to do it with!
Catherine has been writing for many years now and begins each book in the same way.
I always start with the characters rather than the plot. I like to have people with feelings, pasts, likes and dislikes, and then have interesting things happen to them, rather than have a series of events to fit characters around. In the case of Charlottes’ Way I was interested in the effect that being disconnected from one part of their past could have on the adult lives of two sisters.
Catherine’s favourite authors would be those that write in the American tradition of character led stories rather than plot led stories . For example Carole Shields, Ann Tyler and Anita Shreve would all be writers Catherine admires for their focus on everyday details and their lack of need to rely too heavily on big dramatic plots.
Catherine currently lives in Dublin with her husband and two children and considers herself a parent with a part time job as a writer. In her spare time, whenever she can make some, she likes to garden and entertains a love of good food and good wine. But the hobby taking up most of her free time is reading. She reads mainly fiction - novels or short stories - because she believes that the fiction writer is the writer most at liberty to explore real truth.