It's funny interviewing Rachael English about romance, when you are so used to listening to her dealing with the serious news topics of the day on Morning Ireland, but the RTE Radio One presenter readily admits to finding it equally weird having the spotlight turned on her.
We're having lunch at the Canal Bank Cafe, and Rachael is already practically over her day's work, given that she rises at 4.30am. She's in before 5.30am, and there is also a conference call every evening at 7.45pm with everyone who is involved in the following morning's show.
"I like the camaraderie of the show," she says, while tackling her spinach and cheddar omelette. "It's nice to work on a programme that has such a big listenership. It's lovely that you go in and start the day for people, but on the downside, if the news is consistently bad, as it has been lately, you are conscious of starting people's days with constant stories about crime, Gaza, Syria and Ebola. That is the programme though - people expect the news and don't want it sugar-coated."
Writing books has given Rachael the freedom to delve into another world, and is the perfect balance to her serious day job. She had an idea for a book a few years ago, but didn't tell anybody apart from her husband Eamon and mum Ruth, and just plugged away with it. She abandoned it after 60,000 words, and then decided that it was too much work not to try again, so she rewrote it.
"I knew it still wasn't right, so I got a professional editor in the UK to look at the book," she says. "It cost about €500, and she ripped it apart,but then was really encouraging and told me that my idea was good and it would sell if I took her advice on board. I had underestimated how much I would enjoy writing - I loved it, and there was such an element of escapism in it as it's a love story. At the time of my first book, the news was all about the economy going downhill or child abuse, so it was so nice to go home, open the laptop and write about young, attractive people falling in love with each other."
The editor recommended an agent, Robert Kirby, to Rachael, and it just so happened that she had interviewed him once. They met up and it led to her being signed on a two-book deal with Orion. Far more comfortable with grilling slippery politicians, Rachael found it quite strange going from interviewer to interviewee on the first book, particularly as she had always tried to keep her head down in the past.
There was a bit of focus on her overactive thyroid, which contained a lump, for example. "It drove me crazy but once it was sorted, it was fine," she says. "Some people have problems for years because their medication isn't right, but I was really fortunate. It was taken out with radiation, and the guy who did it got the dose spot on, so what I have left functions perfectly. I don't even have to take medication now. I only wish that I had gone to the doctor sooner and had been determined to be diagnosed, as the surface symptoms were being treated but it wasn't until I got really bad that I finally got it sorted."
Rachel, 45, was born in England, and is the only child of an English mum, Ruth, and an Irish dad, Tony. Her parents moved to Ireland when she was four, and she grew up in Shannon. She remains very close to them.
"I liked to know what was going on as a child and loved sticking my nose into things, so I suppose that's a journalist thing," she says. "I was a decent student and pretty competitive, but I wasn't the best of the best. I went to the local, mixed school in Shannon, and we didn't wear a uniform, and there were no head girls or anything like that, so it was very egalitarian. Being in a mixed school was good for me, because I was an only child and didn't have brothers, but I always had boys as friends. I would never have dated them though, as my friends and I looked down on the boys in our year - we wanted real men from Ennis or Limerick, who seemed way more exotic to us!"
Being an only child meant that Rachael became very self-reliant, which stood to her later on. It made it easier to go to Dublin by herself to study communications at DCU, and even though she knew no one, it didn't bother her.
Rachael lived in digs in first year, and then shared a house in Santry with five girls, including novelist Clare Dowling. They had great fun, and just as their course was finishing in 1989, all of the independent radio stations were starting up. Rachael's dad, a former stud farm manager, spotted an ad looking for people in Clare FM, so she applied and got a job as a junior reporter and newsreader.
"We had all planned to hang around Dublin for a few months and then go to London or something, and I never thought about going home," she admits. "Then, before I had even left college, I had a proper job back in Clare. I really loved it but I was so lonely, as I wanted to be back in Dublin with the girls. After a year and a bit, I left and came back to Dublin to work in PR with O'Herlihy Communications, but I was so bad at it. My boss was Bill O'Herlihy, and he called me in after six months and told me to do myself a favour and go back to journalism. I was only 21 and the job was all too serious for me."
Rachael managed to line up a bit of freelance work with Century Radio, and then RTE were hiring 15 people, and she got in. She loved it, because the new intake were all around her age, and it was like being at college again and getting paid for it. Plus her parents were delighted.
She rose through the ranks as a reporter, but ended up getting more and more presenting work, initially filling in for other people. She subsequently presented Five Seven Live, The Late Debate and Saturday View, and officially became the accomplished and polished presenter of Morning Ireland in October 2010.
"When I started presenting, I was very conscious of what people thought of me," she admits. "It took me a while not to obsess over my performance, and I was overly worried about it all the time. I couldn't just roll with it and enjoy it as much as I should have done. I started presenting when I was 31, and I think I was probably too young, as it overwhelmed me a bit. I wasn't ready, although, of course, I wasn't going to turn an opportunity like that down."
Would that be a regret, I ask her, over a coffee. "It is pointless to say that I regret it, because in a parallel life, I probably would have made the exact same decision," she says, reflectively. "After all, how often do jobs like that come up? If I was a bit older, I would have had more perspective about it, and I think that I just took too much on board and didn't handle it as well as I could have."
It was in RTE that Rachael met her husband, financial journalist Eamon Quinn, 14 years ago, when she was standing in for Myles Dungan, and they went for a drink to Kiely's in Donnybrook. So what attracted her to Eamon?
"It was instant for me," she smiles. "We got married nine years ago. There is a reason why journalists marry journalists, as we are the only people who would work in news all day and then come home and watch it on TV. It's not like we only discuss the news, but it helps that we are both so interested in it. We are also really interested in sport, particularly hurling. Eamon is originally from Belfast, but he kind of supports Clare with me. Meeting him has been a highlight for me, as I was very lucky to meet someone with whom I am so compatible."
So was it daunting writing love scenes in her books, and would she be romantic herself? "I wouldn't be overly slushy, but I would like to think I have some romance in my soul," she laughs. "I am not all hearts and flowers, but neither are my characters. I write love scenes and intimate stuff, but I don't think about it that much. I was more concerned about people thinking I couldn't write. My mother read it as I was going along, and she never commented on the intimate stuff."
The new novel, Rachael's second, is Each & Every One, a cracking story about a family called the Shines. Three of the four adult children have spent their lives relying on their parents' money, and when the money runs out, they all have to learn to fend for themselves, which they do rather badly.
"The Shines bear no resemblance to anyone who has been in the news, but when things were really falling apart, we saw lots of famous high-profile families who lost money," she says. "You start to think about how Daddy's business keeps an entire family going, and then without that, what do they do?"
The other big strand to the story is that the youngest daughter, Tara, is a journalist at the non-glamorous end of the business, and she becomes involved with a family featured in a story.
"As a journalist, some people always stay with you," says Rachael. "They are not the famous or powerful people, but even 10 years later, when you may not remember their full name, you still think about them and remember something they said or did."
Rachael English's novel, Each & Every One is out now.
From: Shannon, Co Clare
Family: Daughter of Ruth and Tony, married to Eamon Quinn
On women on air: "As much as there’s an issue in general, there’s certainly not an issue on Radio One. There are still more men than women, but years ago, nobody ever raised the question about why women weren’t hired. It was taken for granted that half of the population wasn’t capable of doing the job. There are more women coming through media courses and DJing in clubs, so I think there’ll be a lot more women on radio in future."