Sunday 25 February 2018

Anita's glittering career leaves us with one final gem

Anita Notaro is a woman who seems to have it all. She used to be a top TV producer/director with an 18-year career in RTÉ.

Ten years ago, she gave it all up to follow her dream of becoming a writer. And characteristically, she was a huge success all over again.

Her five novels published over nine years, starting with Back After the Break in 2003, were all bestsellers.

She also was a hit with the critics, who admired her witty, sassy style and detailed storylines. She won the Popular Fiction Book of the Year prize at the Irish Book Awards in 2008.

Her personal life was equally successful. A late marriage to a loving husband, RTÉ executive Gerry McGuinness, completed her happiness. They are a couple who clearly adore each other.

In recent years, Anita seemed to have everything one could wish for: success doing something she loved, happiness, contentment.

But, just as in novels, real life can be unpredictable -- even cruel. Tragically, Anita's new novel, which comes out this weekend, will be her last. She has been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia and the progression of the disease has been too swift to allow her to attempt another book.

For the same reason she won't be doing any interviews to promote this novel, which has turned out to be her goodbye book.

Anita had finished the book last year before the onset of the disease. The editing process in recent months was completed by her publishers, Transworld, and her husband Gerry.

It is as good as anything she has written (see review below). But this new novel, her sixth, is definitely her last book.

The acknowledgements for the novel, titled A Moment Like This, make this clear. They include all of the usual thanks and praise for families, friends, agents and publishers. Nothing unusual there but, while most authors' notes are written by the author, the note at the back of Anita's book is penned by Gerry.

It makes poignant reading. Instead of the familiar happy tone struck by authors at the end of a book, it reveals to the reader the tragic news that this is her last book, an announcement that will sadden and shock her many devoted fans.

"Sadly, Anita became ill shortly after completing this novel," the note begins, and what follows is Gerry's moving tribute to his wife.

Anita and Gerry clearly have a special relationship. They met in the 1990s when he was a film consultant and she was a senior producer with RTÉ, having also worked for the BBC and Channel 4.

She has spoken of him fondly in almost every interview she has done, crediting him with supporting her and encouraging her to to pursue her dream of writing novels.

She dedicated her first book, Back After The Break, to him, with the touching line: "I don't know how I ever got so lucky."

She even included elements of their own love story in the novel, as one of her characters turned up on a first date bearing dog treats for the heroine's pet, something she said Gerry had done when they first met.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent in 2003, she talked about the first time they met.

He was wearing a ring on his ring finger. "I remember thinking, I'm not surprised somebody's nabbed him. I remember thinking, of course he was married, because he was so funny and so cute."

But he wasn't married and he proposed to Notaro in 2001 in a most romantic way, carving the letters 'MARRY ME' into the sand on a holiday in southern Spain.

It was an unforgettable trip for Anita for another reason also. She had sent chapters of her first book to an English publisher on her way to the airport and the day before her return, she got a phone call accepting it for publication.

She scored a three-book publishing deal with Transworld, one of the biggest publishers in the world. After that, she was picked up by super agent Marianne Gunn O'Connor (who also represents Cecelia Ahern) and went on to write six outstanding popular fiction books.

She and Gerry married in Wicklow in 2004, a place where they have spent a lot of time since and where Anita has done much of her writing.

"At first we had a mobile home in Brittas but wanted to be here in winter so bought a house," she told the Gorey Guardian early last year.

"I love being here in Wicklow and do most of my writing in this house. I appreciate this peaceful setting here and the beautiful countryside. I love listening to the birds, being able to see horses and cows nearby and also close enough to look out at the sea. It really is the perfect place to write."

Her impressive output of novels since her debut in 2003 is some indication of her high level of production and achievement.

First was Back After the Break, followed by Behind the Scenes, The WWW Club, Take A Look At Me Now and No Ordinary Love, all bestsellers. Now her sixth book, A Moment Like This, is in the shops.

Born to an Irish mother and an Italian father, Anita is the eldest of four daughters and proved exceptionally talented in her career in RTÉ, whether in charge of general elections or the Eurovision Song Contest or directing episodes of Fair City.

She has faced some adversity in the past, too, battling breast cancer in 2005. But that was behind her and all seemed to be well until this latest devastating news.

As he nears the end of his acknowledgements in his wife's new and last novel, Gerry McGuinness says: "The good thing about writing these acknowledgements is that I can thank Anita herself. She has brought joy to everyone she has met and has given of her time selflessly.

"She has always had such an interest in everything that was important, and the clarity of thought not to be concerned about things that didn't matter.

"I thank her from the bottom of my broken heart for her love, her trust, her company, her laughter and the experiences we've had together. It would be her sincere wish that you enjoy this final book."

Perhaps that is the best tribute readers could possibly pay Anita Notaro.

We wish her well.

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