Wednesday 23 May 2018

Entertaining tale of teenage kicks

Radio presenter Ciara King's new book is a fictional account of her teenage years, with just a bit of fact thrown in

Ciara King: 'I wanted
Ciara King: 'I wanted "Ciara's Diary" to be funny and ridiculous, but also smart and kind'. Photo: MarkCondren

Emily Hourican

'You have to have gone through some kind of heartache in life, in order to appreciate life'

'It would be very easy to write a mean book about being a teenager, but I didn't want to do that. It's not my personality, and it's not reflective of my experience. I wanted to have a laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. I wanted Ciara's Diary to be funny and ridiculous, but also smart and kind."

So says radio presenter Ciara King (33), one half of Chris and Ciara on 2FM, about her new book, Ciara's Diary 1999-2002, which began as a segment on the radio show and is now flying free with a life of its own. The book starts when Ciara, or 'Teenage Ciara' as the actual, grown-up Ciara calls her, is 16, and obsessing over her friends, boys, school, getting the shift, losing her virginity, and getting out of the village where she lives and into the big bad world.

Sex and The City and The Osbournes are her cultural references. She feels strong kinship with Anne Frank, and suspects that she might be secretly particularly sensitive and empathetic.

So far, so typical - at least as far as I remember. Teenage Ciara is a kind of every-girl, in that she is neither the most popular girl in the school nor an outsider. She isn't drop-dead-gorgeous, but she's clearly pretty. She isn't genius-smart, but she's clever. She's alternately kind and resentful - of parental control, having to study, and her best friend getting a boyfriend first.

She gets drunk, smokes a bit of weed, throws up, kisses boys and develops crushes on plenty of unsuitable local legends, and carries on dreaming about losing her virginity.

So are these Ciara's actual diary entries? "No. I'm a very private person and I'd be very over-protective of my family and my friends, so I would never write their stories into it. There is a father, mother and brother in the book, but they're not my family, and not my friends. I chose to do what I do - radio, television - my friends and family don't. Also, no one would ever speak to me again if I wrote down the stories that did happen!

"I did keep a diary for certain periods of my teenage life," Ciara says, "only for I'd get bored and move on to something else. No, Ciara's Diary came about when Chris [Greene] and I were in iRadio, and I said, 'why don't I pretend to read out my teenage diary?' So I wrote three or four pages, read it out that evening on radio, and got a great reception. We started doing it every week after that, brought it to RTE with us, and we've been doing it ever since. I got really invested in it, I wanted to create a story and characters, and I wanted to include a lot of pop culture references - watching Winning Streak on a Saturday night, going to your first big gig, having a massive crush on someone who doesn't fancy you back. The rites of passage that teenagers of every generation go through."

And so Ciara wrote her 'diary' every week for five years, by hand, on A4 refill pads. Who exactly is the book for? Many of the cultural references - Robbie Williams at Slane, the Twin Towers, the death of Princess Diana - are very firmly of their time. "Both men and women like them, which is great, people my age - in their 30s - but teenagers too. "The main difference between the generations is social media; fundamentally, as human beings, we're the same. We want people to love us, our friends are our world, we all have the same issues about wanting to fit in, pretending to be an adult when you're not an adult. We all have the same fears."

Much of the appeal of the book comes from the well-conveyed sense of yearning - a longing to get out into the wide world - that I suspect is part of all teenage life, but must be all the more intense when you are living in a small village in the West of Ireland.

Ciara, who is from Roundstone in Co Galway, laughs, and agrees. "Now I go back, and go 'oh my God, this is amazing...' There's a pier right beside my house, overlooking the islands. All the things I appreciate now, but at the time - not a notion! I thought 'This is so boring, there's only one bus out of this village...' I did have that feeling. Growing up in a village, waiting for your life to start, thinking, 'once I get my Leaving Cert, I can go to college, get out of here, Life is out there...' I did feel that. I had a bit of frustration; 'come on come on, let's go...!'"

The comedy - and the book is funny - comes from Teenage Ciara's utter naivety. She thinks cunnilingus is a new range from The Body Shop and has to be enlightened by a far more precocious pal. And in a way, what is most instantly noticeable about the book is the innocence of the time. These teenagers are a very far cry from the ultra-sophisticated Insta-ready lot of the current generation. "I feel so sorry for teenagers these days," Ciara says. "I was 18 when I got my first mobile, Bebo was just kind of kicking off, Facebook. We were so lucky. I am not surprised there are boys and girls in their 20s suffering massively from anxiety. Nothing is real, everything is filtered. Self-worth now is based on how many likes we get. We all do it, I have Instagram and Twitter" - she has nearly 20,000 Twitter followers - "I mainly do it for work, but there will be times when I'll think, 'God, I thought that photo would get more of a reaction...' but then I cop on: 'Ciara, this is ridiculous; get likes in real life'."

Because the Diary is fictional, but with bits that are based on Ciara's life (she really was the first altar girl at her local church, Robbie Williams at Slane really was her first big gig), there is an amount of blurring of boundaries that I imagine could feel tricky. After all, if some bits are true, anyone who knows her is bound to speculate over the other bits.

Does she worry about that? "Yes. One of the things that comes across in Ciara's Diary - I realise that I've got a really dark sense of humour. I'm worried that people in the village will be like, 'I thought Ciara King was a lovely girl...' Mum's getting asked questions now, 'are they Ciara's real diaries...?'"

And so yes, it is nerve-racking. "I've worked so hard, and I'm the hardest person on myself. I'm my biggest critic, and I don't like being the centre of attention, and it's all pretty overwhelming... I feel really bad, because I'm like, I'm in a really privileged position and people are asking, 'are you really proud and excited?' and I'm saying, 'I'm not feeling these two emotions...' I'm nervous and I'm anxious and I'm beating myself up about different things." But she is also delighted by the support. "I think sometimes you forget that people genuinely have your back, and this process has opened my eyes and showed me there's a whole lot of people who love me, which is something I might have forgotten a little bit."

There is, we agree, never any harm in being reminded of that.

If the real Teenage Ciara could see her now - as well as the radio show, Ciara is a regular on TV3's The Six O'Clock Show and - would she be impressed? "Yes." Is it the dream job? "It is." So how did it all come about? With relative ease, it seems.

"I kind of tripped into radio by accident," she says. "I went to NUI Galway to do Arts, then a Masters in journalism. I got my work experience in RTE Radio 1 with Sean O'Rourke, and then I got the job in iRadio, so radio just seemed to be my path, and I just went with it. First, I was a producer on another radio show. The presenter got sick and Chris was called in, and myself and Chris had a bit of banter on air - this is about eight years ago - and two weeks later it was like, 'this is the thing...' so that's how Chris and Ciara happened. Then we were head-hunted together to go to 2FM."

As for the process of working for eight years in "a tiny little box" with Chris, she says with a laugh, "It's the best preparation I think that I'll ever need to get married. It's an on-air relationship. We have to like each other to do what we do, because it would be absolute and utter torture otherwise and there would be no chemistry. You can't fake it. I say to Chris all the time "How is it that you're the main male that I've spent the last eight years with?'"

Do they know everything about each other? "Chris would know everything about me, but I would not know everything about Chris at all. I'm the one that talks. Chris listens but doesn't give much away."

Recently, Ciara went to Italy on holiday, on her own. "I'm single and all my girlfriends are married or they have partners. I always thought I couldn't go away by myself, but I hopped on a plane, and found myself having a coffee overlooking the gondolas in Venice and laughing to myself. The coffee cost me €10, but it was worth it. I was really content, and not lonely. It was brilliant."

At the end of the acknowledgements for Ciara's Diary, she mentions "my brother Darragh, who never got the chance to be a teenager". It is an unexpected and tragic note among the many cheerful thank-yous and shout-outs. "Darragh was seven when he passed away," Ciara says. "He was my older brother and I don't want to talk about it too much because I would be protective of my parents, but when I was writing the acknowledgements, and I came towards the end, I thought, I can't not mention him."

Ciara was two-and-a-half when Darragh died, and doesn't have many conscious memories of him. "But it goes to forming part of your personality and outlook on life. I think that's probably where my dark sense of humour comes from. I think you have to have gone through some kind of heartache in life, in order to appreciate life and be able to think 'this is so shit but I can still laugh...'"

Light, shade, laughs and heart-break; such, indeed, is life.

Ciara's Diary 1999-2002, by Ciara King, is published September 8 by Gill Books.

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