Author & Wordsmith
A prize-winning author and scriptwriter with twenty years’ professional writing experience, I have published five novels, two non-fiction books and numerous short stories, plays, poems, film scripts, articles and book reviews.
My novels, published in Europe and the US and translated into many languages, are; Sucker, Spilt Milk, Transit, The Honey Trap, and The Brodsky Touch. My first non-fiction work, A Compendium of Kisses was 'book of the week' in The Economist which described it as ‘an intellectual and indulgent treat; a wonderful and comprehensive book on all things osculatory’.
Plays and scripts include The Love Saboteur and the multi-award-winning short films I was the Cigarette Girl and Hannah Cohen’s Holy Communion. Recipient of the Authors Foundation Award from the Society of Authors to develop my current book, The final Ascension of Annie Kaye, I am represented by literary agent Sarah Such.
A graduate of Trinity College Dublin and professionally trained actress with TV, theatre and film credits, my experience spans standup comedy, documentary presenter, radio host, interviewee, chair and performer. I have appeared at numerous book festivals from Hay-on-Wye to Glastonbury (including many other literary festivals in the UK, Ireland and Europe). My podcast The Diary of an Accidental Mother on Radio Morley was originally published in the Huffington Post. I will be appearing in Rachel Khoo’s Chocolate Series for Food Network to be broadcast globally in the New Year.
IN THE PRESS
FilMs & Words
There is lipstick on his collar, red lipstick. I say nothing. The doors open, I alight and sense the beginning of a story.
He says, – I’m on my way.
She says, – You’re late.
I’m always late.
It’s a surprise party, the guests are meant to arrive before the host.
Do you want me to pick anything up?
Was that meant to be funny?
It’s Saturday night in London and my lips are stained with mischief. There is wine to be drunk, merry to be made. There are kisses to be pressed. I raise a glass of red. We toast the future, salute the past, we recognise the silent pauses. I left my mark on a stranger’s collar and this glass in hand.
She may not notice until the morning. She may not notice at all. She may spot it later that very evening at the party. He will be talking to a woman she has always felt slightly jealous of or threatened by. She will think he has been up to no good and his protestations will only serve to further provoke her. He will not understand. He won’t get it. His clean shirt so expertly branded. Her shackles may rise and she might give voice to a seething anger that is only heard on the rarest occasions or perhaps clouds of tears will gather and mascara stain her cheeks. Still, he will not understand. He still won’t get it. All will be denied bar his innocence.
I have winter on my breath and a kindling heart.
Later to quell the storm his lips will seek out hers; begging forgiveness, a stream of reassurances, perhaps even a love ever after.
Passion will arise from a misplaced kiss.
My lips are sealed. On the homebound journey, I travel in an empty carriage, the Sunday papers lie in the seat to my side.
I begin to walk the short distance, my restless fingers picking at leaves poking out from tended hedges, ripping them from their stems. I pass the judge’s house. I have heard about the judge but never seen him, only his housekeeper. She has been with him years. Once, she offered my sister and I some lemonade and biscuits. We followed her inside and she showed us the beautiful sunken Italian garden out the back.
I cross the road before the bend so I have a clear view of all oncoming traffic. On the verge, I stand. I look right, left, mindful of the green cross code then step out from the pavement.
My friend’s house is hidden from view, behind a wall and barrier of mature shrubbery. Their car is parked in the driveway; a sign they are in. This makes me happy. I skip up the pebbled drive and present my uncalled for presence at the blue-grey front door and press the bell.
My friend is the youngest child, her elder siblings long since left home, her parents older than everyone else’s. I have been in their house only once, for a birthday party. It was old fashioned and had a musty smell.
The door remains unanswered, yet I hear the television from the front room window. I am persistent and ring their bell again, in case they hadn’t heard the first time.
I wait and wait. I move toward the windows of the front room, they are curtained in lace and I cup my hands around my eyes to try to peer in. As I do, I am caught, the curtain pulled back by my friend’s father. He stands with a glower on his face. I have disturbed him. I wave a friendly wave, ‘Hi Mr D… and ask if C. is allowed out to play, punctuating the end of my request with a hopeful smile.
He tells me, no. He tells me to go away and not to call again. He doesn’t like our sort. He dismisses me with a wave, ‘Go on piss off. Piss off, you little Jew.’
Off I go… something has happened that has never happened before. At home, I tell my dad.
‘Understand,’ he says, ‘We are different.’. By ‘we’ he means, Jews. He says, ‘We will never be fully accepted by them,’ by ‘them’ he means everyone else. I understand. I am different.
I am seven and my head is full of dreams… still, there is no one to play with.
Early dawn breaks, we wake to her torments, she is screaming fluently in Russian, English and Spanish. ‘Let me in,’ she rails, ‘This is my house, mia casa,’. A male voice intercedes and an argument ensues. By now fully awake, I get up and cross the room to the balcony, push aside a heavy sheet used a makeshift curtain and am met by a sea of faces; all the neighbours have been roused and stand on their own balconies to watch the unfolding drama below.
This young woman, the street junkie, smack addict will not be hushed. She carries a skateboard in her arm and smashes it against the white shutters, oblivious to the racquet she has created, the disturbance she is causing. Water is thrown at her from neighbour’s stewing pot. The junkie laughs and shrugs it off continuing to unleash her woes. The man arguing with her is one of the street residents, he appeals to her to cease her raving, he yells at her to shut up, raises his fist at her. His stances are aggressive but impotent, mere postures thrown which she dances around. The entire street is united in its desire to shut her up but no one calls the police. This early morning, smackhead cockerel is a problem; a regular nocturnal happening still and all it is not a police matter.
The next day she hangs outside the house with a girlfriend. I can see she is young early twenties, a slight skinny frame; there are sores around her mouth and various tattoos scratched on to her arms. She is calm and curious when we appear, wanting to know who we are and what we do.
Later when her high has subsided this calmness is eradicated. She attacks her friend, hurls abuse at her and vomits up her agonies, once again in impeccable Russian, Spanish and English.
Barcelona’s city planners are a proud and practical lot, the populace enjoys the beaches, the parks and hills, there is much for all to share. It is a fair city, socially equitable in many ways, there’s a square around every other corner, with play areas and benches; even the seats are arranged in such a way conducive to striking up a conversation.
In leafy suburban NW London, such behaviour would not be tolerated. The police would have been phoned immediately. She would have been removed. Yet here all live together, the toxic, the tormented, good, bad, fools scoundrels, young, old there is a clearly a strong sense of community of which our street junkie (albeit unwanted) is a part.
Our last night passes peacefully. We rise early the next morning, our sleep for the first time uninterrupted and wonder at her silence, it’s a worry...
I had not seen X since we were teenagers. Scarcely recognizable from the photo, he was now a man of middle age. He smoked a cigar and sported the affectations of wealth. Most obviously, there was a beautiful younger woman by his side, two children and a large house looming in the background.
We were never friends, at best acquaintances, yet I am still shamed by an incident that happened between us. A memory stain that has calcified.
Back then X was not ‘cool’; at least not in my eyes. I knew him because we both belonged to a Jewish youth group, much like a teenage mixed scout group. On the evening in question, we were at Maccabi, the Jewish sports club in Terenure, the grounds long since sold off as the community dwindled.
We, a gaggle of girls, were gathering forces in the community hall as there was mention of a food fight. X was present with another boy… perhaps they were teasing us, edging us toward action. I cannot recall specific events. However, it was not long before a chase ensued.
X fled out into the grounds, across the football pitch toward the new tennis courts. We followed, pelting him with flour, eggs and water; our weapons were by no means deadly but we acted as a mob, stripping him of his blue Levi’s, reducing him, making him cry like a baby.
X was our prey. Even a child knows there is a pleasure to be had in violence.
Later, one of the leaders chastened us, the joke had gone too far. We had ruined X’s new jeans; new jeans did not come cheap. X wasn’t one of the rich kids, his dad had recently died. Didn’t we know that? It was just X and his mum.
Years pass and a mother myself the thought of my own son being so humiliated cuts to the quick. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive… far worse has happened to me and to those I love since then. Life, as it is want to do, has been unjust and unfair yet for some reason this moment lingered.
I am glad X looks happy in his Facebook photos.
Momentarily I had stepped into a twilight zone. My actual reality was of a heavily pregnant woman, loitering self consciously, not the little Jewish girl before me. This strange state of being was a fallacy, a dream dreamt in a West London, Maida Vale apartment eight months ago.
Eight months ago I stretched and teased an emotional memory to its extreme. It began as a feeling, scribbled out as prose, 300 words capturing an instant of childhood consciousness; a mere moment when a bubble of innocence burst and a step toward adulthood was reluctantly taken.
It is early summer and the shy Irish sun shines. Hannah Cohen sits on a front garden wall. Bored, she flicks rose petals on the pavement when suddenly she sees her best friend Roisin dressed in Holy Communion finery. Rosin looks gorgeous, like a real princess.
If only Hannah could have her own holy communion. If only that were possible …but of course when one is 6 and three-quarters everything is possible and so began our film.
I wonder if one ever truly leaves one’s country of birth. Almost twenty years on and still I keep a constant backward glance, a toe wedged in the door. Last October I sent Irish film director, Shimmy Marcus a script I was working on. He promptly emailed it back pointing out the gaping holes within. Undeterred, I set to rethinking, fixing and cementing. Ironically, as I worked on this foetal script, there was a renegade cluster of cells dividing and subdividing inside me, a most accidental inner production.
Over the next 3 months, two stories developed in tandem. Scripts sent to Shimmy returned to my inbox with notes, questions and red crosses until finally, the story began to breathe. Still, I had yet to persuade him to direct it. There was an upcoming funding competition, ‘Would he consider directing if I were to enter the script?
He replied, ‘… funding as every filmmaker knows is a huge gamble’. Nevertheless, we took a chance, rolled the dice and entered.
As for the other production, it too survived and eight months later… I was the mother of two green-lit productions.
On the home front, my belly was huge. The film was shooting in Dublin and I, on the way to Heathrow. In my sensitive /fragile condition I had had to prove I was capable of movement. The hurdles to overcome entailed 3 visits to the doctor just to secure letters of transit. During the flight, I was half expecting to swell beyond recognition or worse, blow-up. I didn’t expand, instead upon ascent time took to trickery. See it began to reverse, all the way across the Irish Chanel to touch down in the mid-1970’s to where I then found myself, in my realised imagination.
It was a pretty church. I entered the back having spotted some film types. I passed through a makeshift wardrobe department and then the main part of the church. On the technical side, there was crew, cast, extra’s, a vast amount of equipment, tracks, monitors, booms, mikes, lights, camera…
Hannah approaches the altar to join her friends who look at her wide-eyed. ‘What are you doing here?’ one mouths as she kneels down alongside them.
This present scene was played out in short bursts of controlled takes. I looked at the star of the film. I was never this Dublin Jewish girl. By the time the script ripened there was scarce any personal residue left. Our star was the radiant six-year-old Lucy Dunne. She had taken the story from me and lived it, whilst I, the writer loomed in the background. The priest approached her. Mind, this was not just any priest… as the ad goes, this was the M&S of all priests.
Jim Sheridan, six times Oscar-nominated director of films such as My Left Foot, In the name of the Father and The Field was playing the priest in our film. If Ireland were a monarchy; he would be Irish royalty, he would be king.
Confession of awe
I am not sure why but this project seems to have struck a universal chord and the support for it has been phenomenal. Despite the funding award, we are operating on a shoestring. Despite the shoestring, the production levels are incredibly high.
We have been blessed by a stellar cast and crew – (I give thanks) there is magic in the air.
Slainte and Lechaim
To the good health of one and all.
Wowed to meet Jim, we chatted briefly in front of the monitor watching out-takes. Of course, Dublin is small and I recognized the wonderful Marion O’Dwyer who acted in one of my BBC Radio 4 plays and then Gareth Keogh with whom I acted a zillion years ago…. and then I noticed my blue ’70’s nylon housecoat - a present from my son bought from a charity shop years back. I had sent it to the director as an example of what the Mother could wear and indeed, she was wearing it.
‘She’ was Elaine Cassidy award-winning actress and leading lady in the American CBS TV series Harper's Island, Felicia's Journey, Disco Pigs and most recently signed on for the new BBC Drama, The Paradise.
Dublin had changed so much since I left. Since I left, Dublin had hardly changed. Our next location was the home I grew up in. I suggested it, as I had mentally set the story there. A 70’s dreamscape, the cast and crew loved it. The kitchen, in particular, had not changed – remaining in its original wood panelled, marble counter topped glory.
This was middle-class Dublin suburbia, wide blossom tree-lined roads, the Dublin mountains in the background, the houses, large hacienda styled and anchored between the generous front and rear gardens.
Hanging out in the now neglected and overgrown back garden, I noticed the birdsong, loud and varied, much more lyrical than the tweeters of W9. This place was less conscious of time, the air fresher, the light translucent, the sky surrounding immense. I floated as a ghost around the house, now full of unknown people revealing glimpses of my childhood to my partner who had joined me on the trip, especially the secret attics behind the wardrobes. Hidden alcoves installed by my father, God forbid there was ever an Irish anti-Semitic uprising.
A few days later a ‘wrap’ was called. On our last night, I sat with Shimmy in a hotel bar, sipping a whiskey and coke. Due to my condition, I could not manage very much and it occurred to me that these days my glass was always half full.
Too soon over and before I knew it I was back in W9 ensconced in reality.
It is summer, the end of term approaches, with it a change of school and an end to our morning meanderings. This new distance too great to travel by foot.
Today we are late, as always. We are always borderline late. A familiar array of faces punctuates our journey; the veiled mothers taking their kids to school, the group of smokers, drawing hard on their pre-work fags, the cute brunette who attends the local catholic school, already her top shirt button undone. The fashion for ties these days is for a thick, fat wide knot, not the knot I knew. Back then we wore ours thin, mod inspired.
We pass the church, the spiral clock chivvying us on, reminds us of the passing of time and old Joan, ever tending its rose bushes and magnolia trees, reminds us of mortality as each year she bends closer towards the earth. We cross the road and street swivel, the perm-a-tan man with jet-black hair and dreadful toupee must have found a different route, we haven’t seen him in months. We notice everything and nothing, rarely veering off course, treading the same old, same old path.
We are in love. We hate each other. We are at loggerheads, arguing, bickering, laughing, singing, beat-boxing, rapping, ‘times tables,’ repeating. We are just so, him and I, mother and son. There is no love like this. He walks in front of me, behind me, he is annoyed by me, embarrassed by me, blames me for everything. He doesn’t bother to look left or right but follows automatically in my footsteps. He is silent. I am silent. He has forgotten his homework and P.E. kit. I have forgotten his homework and P.E. kit. It is all very elemental; autumn, winter, spring, and summer. This year we have been lucky with the weather.
It is summer, the sun shines and we are weighted down with nothing more than a flimsy t-shirt and our dreams. He talks about murder, guns, X box, rappers, terrorism, super heroes, football, boy stuff. Most of it is noise that passes overhead and I grunt between appropriate pauses.
He says, ‘You’re not listening to me, Mum.’
‘Are you listening to me?’ I ask, as he fails to react to some piece of information integral to the smooth running of the day. We speak our own language, rhythm, mainly nonsense, homemade ditties, ridiculous drivel propelling us forward. Our fingers entwined, hands held.
Turning a corner we stray directly into the path of a pair of teenagers, on their lazy accentuated plod to the local comprehensive. He pulls away, my hand released. I have become accustomed to this holding of hands and conscious mine will hang empty in the coming years. He no longer needs me as before. The school gates appear and, as if rehearsing for his eventual departure, he leaves me. Every morning he leaves me, the last twenty yards taken at a mad dash and if lucky, he turns to give me a wave before disappearing behind the gate. Today, I am lucky.
Boy… blur… gone.
It occurs I forgot to notice him grow.
His lips reach my shoulders, three fleeting kisses.
Late one night, hours from home, a wild animal appeared above the pit dug to install the pumps. On the prowl, the animal circled it, trapping the men below. The next morning, thankful to be alive, my father returned to my mother. She, too, had had an eventful night, giving birth to a baby girl. ‘For her I survived,’ he said. That girl was me.