Thursday 19 July 2018

Authors pen their own love story

In the interests of marital harmony, Alison Walsh and Colm O'Gaora don't critique each other's books

Alison Walsh and Colm O'Gaora are both published authors. Photo: Tony Gavin
Alison Walsh and Colm O'Gaora are both published authors. Photo: Tony Gavin
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

There are huge similarities between Colm O'Gaora and Alison Walsh. Both were born in 1966, grew up in Blackrock, went to UCD and are published authors. They even met aged 19 while working at the Merrion Inn as lounge staff. Their workmates spotted their suitability before they did, however, but they were both shy and hesitant.

It took 11 months for the sparks to turn into a flame, and Colm asked Alison out a week before she was due to head off to London for the summer. "We cycled home together for months before we started going out," Alison recalls. "It was like a Victorian courtship - straight out of a Jane Austen novel. Colm was very calm and thoughtful, whereas I was a little more excitable. He was quite dramatic looking and had a head of dark curls and used to wear a black Crombie coat. There was a sort of post-punk and 'writerly' edge to him that was quite Byronic."

Alison liked that while she's just under five-feet tall, English student Colm was a foot taller. He thought she was cute because she was tiny and wore colourful jackets. "Alison is very much a people's person, in a way that sometimes I'm not," says Colm. "I liked that she was 'sparky' too and had an eclectic style. I think about things quite deeply and like high culture and a bit of an intellectual bent on things, and I enjoy art, music and books. It was great to have someone to connect with on that intellectual level."

After they graduated, Colm and Alison went their separate ways, literally and romantically. He went to London via Boston, while Alison, the Francophile, went to Paris to teach English. She moved to London in 1989 and began working in publishing with HarperCollins. By the time she left the city six years later, she was a commissioning editor with Orion. Colm was working in property but he started writing fiction and got published very quickly. His collection of short stories, Giving Ground, was published first, followed by his debut novel, A Crooked Field, in 1993.

Colm and Alison resumed dating and then stopped again, and then one day she turned up and said, "Let's get married". "When you've been dating back and forth for a while, there comes a point where you make your decision," she explains. "I thought, 'Either I make this commitment or I don't. No more messing'. I knew it was up to me because I was the one who was more wobbly and unsure."

Colm and Alison were married in Dublin on an unseasonably cold day in September 1991 - the poor bride had to buy a not-very-romantic thermal vest to wear under her wedding dress. Their friends and families were present, including her parents Maurice and Pauline, and his parents, Annette and Padraic - Padraic is former head of RTE Nuacht.

After being involved in a car crash when Alison was seven months pregnant, the pair concluded that they really wanted to return to Ireland, which they did after their eldest son Eoin was born. He is now 19 and a UCD student. Colm and Alison also have a daughter, Niamh (17), and a younger son, Cian (13). The family lives in Dublin's Harold's Cross.

When they moved back, Alison worked with Gill Books before going freelance in 2005. She also writes features on books for the Sunday Independent. It's probably no surprise that she has literary talents, as Alison is the great-granddaughter of Maurice Walsh, who wrote The Quiet Man. Her own writing career began when she wrote a motherhood memoir called In My Mother's Shoes in 2010. This was followed by her debut novel, All That I Leave Behind (2015), and she has just released her third novel, The Weekend Dad. It's about a guy who goes to London when he discovers that he has a seven-year-old daughter Misty by a previous girlfriend. He takes her at weekends and is the worst dad, but then has to up his game when he becomes the full-time parent of the child by himself in this engaging tale.

Colm says that Alison's stories flourish with personalities who clash beautifully against one another. "I like that her work is more chatty and garrulous and humorous than mine," he says. "She pushes herself on with each book and isn't content to do the same thing over again. The Weekend Dad is a bit of shift in direction into something meatier and more vigorous."

Alison remembers the thrill of Colm being offered a contract by Jonathan Cape, aged 25, for his short story collection, and he has just completed writing his fourth novel, St. Stephen's Day. He also works as creative director with advertising agency BBDO Dublin. "We've always been very pleased for each other around our writing, because we understand what it means as an achievement," says Colm. "We're relatively quiet people, but we're not afraid to go off and do different things."

The creative pair have taken it in turns to concentrate full-time on writing and while Alison writes in the shed, Colm writes from the kitchen table. In the interests of marital harmony, they don't really talk about what they're writing to each other and aren't each other's first readers. "I've never read any of Colm's books until they were at least in proof stage," says Alison. "I'm an editor so I'd be able to analyse and critique but there's no way I'd do it. The quality of the writing is beautiful, but Colm's thoughtfulness and the space in his books for reflection really comes through."

The Weekend Dad, Hachette Ireland, €10.49

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