Saturday 23 September 2017

Warm hearts, Cold Feet and big hugs

Author Carmel Harrington and her husband Roger have made their home in Wexford a haven of family love

Roger and Carmel Harrington... 'We knew that first night that we had something special'. Photo: David Conachy
Roger and Carmel Harrington... 'We knew that first night that we had something special'. Photo: David Conachy
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

When Roger Harrington first spotted his future wife Carmel in Ron Black's pub in 2006, she was wearing a red beret, which he thought was very chic. They got talking and he made her laugh, and they ended up going for a drink to The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

"I thought Carmel was very attractive and friendly," says Roger, then 38. "The conversation flowed, and in the first six months of our relationship, it struck me that I hadn't been in a relationship like this before in terms of how easily I could talk to her. We were really on the same page and it just felt so right."

At the time, both were just out of long-term relationships, and Roger had a three-year-old daughter, Eva. Carmel, then 35, felt that he had a twinkle in his eye and looked like he was up for a bit of fun, but as they chatted, she realised that there was more to him than meets the eye.

"We knew that first night that we had something special," she says. "My parents had a place in Florida and we went there via New York after three months, which I felt would make or break us. It was the best thing we ever did as we really fell in love there and our relationship blossomed."

The son of Evelyn and the late Roger, Roger, now 49, has three sisters, including his twin, also called Evelyn. The family moved from Kildare to Clontarf when he and Evelyn were 12. He worked in the family shop, The Beanstalk, in Raheny until he joined the civil service in 1990, aged 22. He rose through the ranks in different departments and grades, including being private secretary to the Minister for Transport in 2002, Seamus Brennan. He and Carmel moved to Wexford in 2010 as Roger took up a post there. He is now principal officer in the marine planning and foreshore section of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

Carmel, now 46, comes second of Mick and Tina O'Grady's four children. The family lived in London, where her mum is from, until she was 10 and then moved to Wexford, where her dad is from. She took a job with Aer Lingus aged 18, ending up in sales and marketing, and after 10 years, moved to 3M, where she remained for a decade.

She and Roger got married in 2008, and went on honeymoon to Las Vegas. They renewed their vows there with 'Elvis,' for a bit of fun, who sang as he walked Carmel down the aisle. Roger's daughter Eva, now aged 14, was flower girl at the Irish wedding. "I love her like she is my own," says Carmel. "She is gorgeous and we are very close and both love books." Roger and I were delighted to have two children, Amelia (seven) and Nate (five), and they're best friends, so life has been really happy for us. They adore Eva and think she's the coolest thing ever."

When Carmel met Roger, he was the first person she told about her dream to write. When they moved to Wexford, Carmel decided to be a stay-at-home mum, and Roger suggested that this would be the ideal time to start writing.

"There was a few quid there, so I told Carmel that she would never get a better opportunity," he says. "I told her to take a year, take some cash and go do it."

Carmel self-published her first book, Beyond Grace's Rainbow, as an e-book, and it did really well, reaching number one in its genre. She was picked up by an agent and, in turn, got the first of several deals with HarperCollins. Her books have done very well and have been translated into eight languages, and the latest, The Woman at 72 Derry Lane, is out now in traditional paperback and e-book. She also signed a contract earlier this year with ITV to write a novel, based on the hit show Cold Feet. That show ended in 2003 and began filming again in 2016, so Carmel was commissioned to write a novel about what happened to the characters in the intervening years. Cold Feet: The Lost Years comes out this week, to coincide with the airing of the new series of the show.

"I'm extremely proud of Carmel," says Roger. "We both went to the Irish Book Awards and the set of Cold Feet, and I carried her handbag as she walked up the red carpets. It always struck me how creative she is, and when she started writing, there was no doubt in my mind that she would make it a success.

"It has really taken off in a much bigger way this year, and I think she will go on to achieve huge things. She is also very funny, and has a very strong sense of family, and we have this amazing feeling of comfort at home. I'm away a bit with the job, and when I come home and see her smiling at the front door, we instantly reconnect."

Carmel is chair of Wexford Literary Festival, which she co-founded, and a panellist on TV3's Elaine. She says Roger is very calming, grounding and wise, and when something goes wrong, he'll always find the right words to comfort her. While he says her impulsiveness can drive him mad, she says he's a bit of a 'grump' at times, but apart from that, they get on famously. "I still fancy Roger as much as I did the first day I met him," says Carmel. "My safe harbour is when he puts his arms around me and I fit in just under his chin. If I have a bad day, I know I just need a big hug from Roger to make it better."

The Woman at 72 Derry Lane, HarperCollins, €11.99 Cold Feet: The Lost Years, Hodder & Stoughton, €7.99

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