Wednesday 19 June 2019

'My closest friends are like the Avengers assembling' - Lisa Carey and Caroline Grace-Cassidy talk co-authoring a novel

Close bonds and family tragedy inspired Lisa Carey and Caroline Grace-Cassidy to co-author a novel, finds Emily Hourican

Lisa Carey. Photo: Damien Eagers
Lisa Carey. Photo: Damien Eagers
Bride Squad Runaway

Emily Hourican

Bride Squad Runaway is a book about love, betrayal, and honesty. It's also - maybe more so - a book about female friendship as protagonist Ava realises that when the chips are very down only her old friends, estranged though they are, can help her.

"It's true," says Lisa Carey, co-author along with Caroline Grace- Cassidy. "That's what I've found. Any time the s*** really hits the fan, as it has twice in my life, my closest friends, they are like the Avengers assembling. It's like an invisible wall of Girl Power."

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The first time the proverbial hit the fan, Lisa was 15 and her mother died of breast cancer: "That was 1987. I was 15, the eldest of four girls. Everyone says 'you became the mom?' I certainly did not.

"I had exceptional support, amazing friends. My parents had amazing friends. That network carried us through those years." It was, Lisa says, "appalling. My mum was 41. When you're a teenager, 41 is really old; then you get there, and you realise how young it is. When I turned 41 (she is now 46), I remember thinking, 'I survived this far…' It was crazy but very real."

Growing up, theirs was a house "like Grand Central Station. There was always electricity and fun in our house. My mum was working, she was raising four kids, my dad was working, there was this great sense of community. There were always friends in the house - their friends, our friends - and my mum and dad always said you cannot put a price on great friends."

It is fitting therefore, Lisa has co-written this book with Caroline as the two have been best friends since the age of 12 when they met in Sancta Maria College, Rathfarnham. Later, they both studied broadcast journalism at Ballyfermot and landed part-time jobs in RTE, Lisa on The Den and Beatbox, Caroline on Scratch Saturday.

"Caroline has known me since before my mum died," Lisa says. "There is nothing better." Have they ever fallen out? "Never. That sounds puke and we do argue about stuff, but no, never a falling out. We have very much the same sense of humour, and the same perspective on life. We don't take it completely seriously."

Caroline has written five previous novels. Three years ago, she and Lisa began collaborating on a screenplay. That evolved into the book in a process that Lisa - who lives in Los Angeles ("I won the Green Card lottery") where she works as an ad agency creative - describes as "writing tennis": "We didn't write any of it in the same room together. I'd write a chapter, I'd kick it back to her, she'd make comments, write another chapter, and so on. We were the Venus and Serena Williams of writing."

They knew exactly what they wanted to do - "We wanted the book to be funny, honest and relatable, with all the observations of 'this is how it is in our 40s', because we found we were facing things we hadn't a clue about," says Lisa, who is married to an Irishman, Des, who she met over in San Fran, and they have one son, John Paul (named for two of The Beatles, not the Pope!).

Like what? "Well, like the perimenopause for a start; nobody talks about that. We had never heard about it, and we found that we weren't the only ones not to have a clue. People are squeamish, it's like no one wants to admit they are getting older."

Both knew exactly what they wanted to do with proceeds from the book. The second time "the s*** hit the fan" in Lisa's life was when her sister Sarah, youngest of the four girls, also died of cancer.

"Sarah was diagnosed in 2013, with cancer of unknown primary (CUP). She was 29. It took-months to get that diagnosis, with at least six visits to an oncologist."

Worse, Sarah's family found "there was no CUP specialist in Ireland, no nurse practitioner, no support group". They established the Sarah Jennifer Knox Foundation, providing funding for the first Molecular Tumour Board in Ireland, a research project into CUP.

She says: "There was nothing like that for Sarah. She was fighting an invisible enemy, we could never identify what it was."

During the terrible months of waiting, Sarah had insisted "whatever diagnosis comes my way, if it's bad, I don't want to know. What is the point in living if you know you're going to die?" After the diagnosis, "we talked to her again," Lisa says, "and she said '100pc, I don't want to know. I'm going to kick this in the ass, I am fighting'.

"She had 18 rounds of chemo, and countless radiation therapies. She was a lion. Unfortunately, ultimately, it didn't go her way. She passed away in April 2015."

So what's next? Are there plans for more book collaborations? "Of course. We have ideas of where we would take the characters next. We love them. Me and Caroline are really bummed that they're not real people."

Bride Squad Runaway, by Caroline Grace-Cassidy and Lisa C Carey, is out now, (Black & White Publishing. www.sjkfoundation.org)

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