Saturday 18 November 2017

A romance write from the heart

Bernice Barrington says her debut novel was made possible by her husband Brian's support and help

Brian and Bernice Barrington are due their first baby next month. Photo: Damien Eagers.
Brian and Bernice Barrington are due their first baby next month. Photo: Damien Eagers.
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

When expectant parents Brian and Bernice Barrington first met at a weekly creative writing class in Dun Laoghaire in 2002, she was 23 and he was 27. They hit it off and he invited her out for a coffee, and all was going swimmingly until she mentioned she had just begun seeing a French guy.

"All of a sudden Bernice started talking about the hunky Jean Baptiste, and my face fell to the ground," says Brian, who had romantic designs on the Longford woman. "I noticed she was beautiful in our first class, and when she started reading her writing aloud, it became apparent that she was funny and clever too. She was the whole package."

Bernice and Brian chatted for hours, and she came home confused as she had felt a connection to him, even though she thought they were just pals. She also loved his writing and deemed him funny and talented. The course ended and she and Brian lost touch, and then her French boyfriend moved to France but the long-distance thing didn't work out.

When she was in the creative writing class, Bernice was actually on an internship at Image magazine by day. (She had done a degree in English and German at Trinity after school.) She then moved to Galway for a year to do an MA in writing, but found that she still held a place for Brian in her heart. "We hadn't even kissed but I kept thinking there was something there between us," she says. "He was so incredibly funny and always made me laugh. I remember telling a friend that I was going to write to Brian and declare my feelings as I'm an all-or-nothing person, but he told me that was a bit nuts."

After her MA, Bernice worked as a journalist with the Longford Leader for a few years. It was her local paper as she grew up on a farm in Aughnacliffe, Longford, as the eldest of Mary and Bryan Mulligan's three children.

One day on a trip to Dublin, she was in Tesco, Bloomfields, with a friend when she bumped unexpectedly into Brian. They were both delighted and went for a drink with Bernice's pal and exchanged numbers. They kept in touch and met up again a couple of times, and then the romance finally took off.

"We always had fun together," says Bernice, now 37. "Brian is very intelligent but he's modest and isn't like some clever men who are dying to show off how smart they are. He is lovely and tall, and tall, skinny men are my thing. I never felt beautiful, but he always made me feel that I was, in a very loving way."

Now 41, Brian is Clare and Ted Barrington's only child. His mum was an accountant and his dad was a diplomat with the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the family lived in Brussels until Brian was six. They came back to Dalkey and Brian and Bernice live there too, although Brian's parents have now moved to Rosslare. He studied philosophy and economics at Trinity, followed by a graduate diploma in IT at DCU, and now works as an information consultant with Amdocs, an Israeli company that provides customer experience software solutions.

Brian proposed to Bernice on Niijima Island in Japan in 2007, and they held their wedding at Cashel House Hotel in Connemara in 2008. They are expecting their first baby on July 25, and it's an exciting time, even if they can't agree on names. "The problem is that Brian likes really conservative names and I don't," groans Bernice. "I have had a good pregnancy, and our parents are very excited. It will be the first grandchild for Brian's parents, and the second for mine as my sister Lorraine has a gorgeous little girl Sarah."

Earlier this year, Bernice's first novel, Sisters and Lies, came out, and she was thrilled to see it in print. After she moved to Dublin to be with Brian, she worked for a publishing company, but was made redundant after six years. She had written 20,000 words of the book by then, which she sent to her agent, Sheila Crowley, who really liked it. She decided that as she had been made redundant, she would take the time out to finish it, and then she went to work as an account manager with Zahra Media Group, best known for publishing magazines like Xpose, Easy Food and Easy Parenting.

Sisters and Lies centres around two sisters. Rachel Darcy gets a call to say that her sister Evie has been in a car crash and is in a coma. When Rachel starts digging for answers to what happened, she discovers how little she knows about her sister's life, but doesn't know that her own could be in danger. Evie is unable to move or communicate in hospital but is desperate to tell Rachel her side of the story. It's a great and absorbing read, perfect for the summer holidays, and has been widely praised as an assured debut from Bernice. "She was always so determined to write a book and get published and she did it," says proud hubby Brian.

Bernice says that Brian was a great help when she got stuck around plot twists and they went for a lot of long walks around Dalkey to tease out elements of the story.

"Brian has always been such a good support system and has helped me so much," says Bernice. "He supported me when I was made redundant, financially and emotionally, so none of this would have happened without him and also my parents."

Bernice Barrington's debut novel, Sisters and Lies, is out now. €17.99, Penguin Random House

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