Sunday 25 June 2017

Mum’s the word

If you loved Bridget Jones’ Diary or Confessions of a Shopaholic you will love Marisa Mackle’s new book, Along Came a Stork, which is partly based on real-life experiences. Bernice Mulligan spoke to the writer about babies, writing and the family secret that inspired the book

'A few years ago I found out my grandmother had been a single mother and had given the baby up for adoption. Although she went on to marry and have more children, that secret went to the grave with her'
'A few years ago I found out my grandmother had been a single mother and had given the baby up for adoption. Although she went on to marry and have more children, that secret went to the grave with her'

Bernice Mulligan

Well-known author Marisa Mackle is the first to admit that she didn’t quite grasp how much effort a baby was going to be.

“A baby is so small, I kind of thought it would just fit into my life, a bit like getting a pet,” she laughs.

Two years after having her son, Gary, Mackle can attest to the reality being slightly different. “People are right when they say you’re life will change forever, but I wouldn’t swap it for anything. I still like going out, but I wouldn’t ever go back to my old life. When I think about some of the things I used to worry about – ‘does this handbag go with these shoes?’ I feel like a completely different person. But the truth is I’ve never been happier.”

To date Mackle has written 13 books, and Along Came a Stork was penned shortly after she gave birth to Gary. In the book, the main protagonist Diana finds herself unexpectedly pregnant just as she lands a high-flying job as a dating expert on TV, a plot line not a million miles away from Mackle’s own life.

“In my case I was writing a dating column in a national newspaper, and suddenly I was pregnant. I had the editor phoning me saying: ‘This dating angle isn’t really going to work anymore, is it?’, and I had to change tack.” Mackle, who split with the baby’s father when she was expecting Gary, can attest to the fact that being pregnant and dating are not particularly compatible.

“You don’t really have any desire to go on a date, but you know I actually did want to go out with my friends every so often. The only problem was I was never invited. I suppose they thought I would have no interest, or that having a pregnant girl in the group would put men off. To be honest, it did annoy me.”

In fact, Mackle admits she found her pregnancy a very lonely period.

“I was sick all the time, and because I wasn’t with Gary’s father I’d often find myself alone in waiting rooms full of couples. I remember at my 20-week scan the stenographer asked me if I was there by myself and I just burst out crying. I think it was the realisation I was having this baby on my own.”

However, Mackle says the advice of one of her sisters, who is a doctor, helped. “She told me that if I was stressed the baby would feel it, and that I needed to be strong for him. So I just tried to think of that when I was upset.”

Neither was Mackle’s experience of labour a straightforward one. “I had to have a caesarean and then Gary was in intensive care for eight days. I had to leave him in the hospital while I went home – it felt so weird not to be carrying out my little bundle like all the other mothers.”

The strength of Along Came a Stork clearly comes from Mackle’s own experiences of pregnancy. However, another aspect of the novel that also touches on real-life events relates to Mackle’s grandmother.

“A few years ago I found out my grandmother had been a single mother and had given the baby up for adoption. Although she went on to marry and have more children, that secret went to the grave with her.”

Mackle uses this background in Along Came a Stork when Diana finds her grandmother’s diaries and the book takes a darker twist.

“I was thinking of my grandmother as I wrote it. I’m only two generations on from that. I also volunteered in a Magdalene laundry when I was younger, and I met a lot of girls who were single mothers there. It’s very upsetting when you think of what these women had to go through.”

Since having Gary, Mackle has been raising her son alone, albeit in a completely changed Ireland. So, as a writer of romantic comedy, does she also hanker after the traditional happy ending?

“To be honest, I think this is a happy ending. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been. If someone great came along, then obviously I’m not going to say no. But my priority at the moment is Gary. I know a lot of women on their own who are very happy. So I don’t think having a man is the icing on the cake. Not at all.”

In terms of her writing, remarkably Mackle’s discipline hasn’t wavered since having a child.

“I’ve written almost every day for the last 17 years. I tend to work late after Gary has gone to bed, usually between 10pm and 1am. That’s the only time the phone stops ringing.”

Writing since her early 20s, Mackles says she would like to write 100 books in her lifetime.

“That’s about two books a year. Enid Blyton wrote 660 books apparently. So, really, how hard can it be?!”

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