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New Year Resolutions: The write start to the New Year

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Sophie White. Photo: Kip Carroll

Sophie White. Photo: Kip Carroll

Niamh Horan. Photo: Kip Carroll

Niamh Horan. Photo: Kip Carroll

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Sophie White. Photo: Kip Carroll

A funeral is the best place to go if you want good solid career advice. It attracts the great and the good from all walks of life. You can network afterwards over free booze, and if you spot someone from the field you have chosen and manage to sidle up to them, grab the opportunity with both hands because you will be presented with their rawest, most honest take on what the job is really like.

They're emotional, they're staring death in the face and they're looking back and wondering what it's all about.

Mind you, they're looking forward, too, and asking themselves if this is really what they want to live out the rest of their days toiling away at.

When I was in my teens, my mom manoeuvred her way over to a great veteran political hack at a family send-off.

"Niamh wants to get into journalism," she laughed pleasantly, trying to hide the weight of her concern: "What do you think?"

She watched him. Waiting for that reassurance every mother needs before sending her child into the big bad world.

"It's a great career," he said finally, squeezing the wind out of my mother's lungs again. She looked at me with relief. But he didn't take his eyes off the coffin. "As long as she can handle the lifestyle."

Years later, as I come home to regale tales from the big smoke of parties, scandal and corruption, my mother always returns to that same day.

It's usually when she's resting her face in her hands at the kitchen table in that guilt-extracting pose only an Irish mother can do, when she says:

"I'll tell you something, Niamh Horan, I didn't know what that man meant back then, but I do now."

The work is the easy part.

I love what I do.

I get to meet people from every background and get to tell their stories.

It's the point where the pen stops and life takes flight that the battleground of morality begins.

Lying, cheating, ruthlessness, vengeance, lust, drugs and greed is the backdrop to one of the toughest businesses in the world.

And if you're not seeing it then you ain't doing your job properly.

What this profession effectively affords you is a ring-side seat into other people's lives. You get to watch them stripped of the masks they present to the outside world. You get a taste of the glamour and the destruction without any of the gain or any of the cost.

The only thing you walk away with -that is yours to keep - is the life experience.

I've met prostitutes who are truer to themselves than some politicians, and watched as men would throw their arm around their best friend only to double-cross him at the end of the night.

When you reach a certain level of success - be it in politics, business, showbiz or the media - it brings with it its demons.

There's a great line in the documentary Unravelled, about the fraudster Marc Dreier, who was once a high-flying American lawyer and was arrested for orchestrating a massive fraud scheme that netted hundreds of millions of dollars from hedge funds.

As Dreier prepared for the possibility of life imprisonment, with flashbacks of his actions, he captured the very essence of his downfall: "Most people say they would never cross the line. That's because they are never presented with it in the first place."

Temptation is all around in my work.

I see friends who clock into their jobs at 9am and out at 6pm, and at 6pm that's when their excitement, their love, their passions begin.

Mine is entwined with my work. It brings with it an exposure to a wild, but sometimes ugly side of life.

It's exciting, in a way, that I don't experience the daily drudge of everyday existence. You get to meet extraordinary people with extraordinary experiences.

Women who tuck their children in at night before going on the game; people who have tried to murder their lovers, who have betrayed their best friends; people whose family members have gone missing, or worse, were killed in cold blood.

Politicians having extra-marital affairs; butter-wouldn't-melt-in-their-mouth presenters snorting coke; innocent men accused of the most heinous of crimes.

And more than that, you get to ask them the most intimate questions about their personal lives and the inner workings of their mind.

People in other jobs can be more sheltered from the extremities of the human character and the moral looseness that comes with the success and fame of the people we read about every day in newspapers.

There's nothing that would shock me now. From lovers being passed from brother to sister, to the star who likes to take a late-night stroll in the Phoenix Park.

Life is a lot stranger than you think.

Does it make me cynical? Untrustworthy? Bored with reality? Hell, yeah.

I would have settled down and married long ago if I was working in a more run-of-the-mill career. But then where would the excitement be?

As living organisms, our number-one goal is survival. We have an innate desire to do one of two things - achieve everlasting life, which in our lifetime is impossible, or create a legacy. Most people choose children. But some are lucky enough to leave something behind in their work. So - knowing a child isn't in my immediate plans - I've decided to write a book.

A memoir, to be precise.

Yes, I know, every Tom, Dick and Harry is coming out now to say they are doing the same but I'll answer that in two parts.

First, with the Christmas book season, you'll always get the odd one with a flimsy notion and a desire make a quick buck. Whereas I have been keeping these notes for years.

Second, it makes me chuckle to see some of the people who are mulling it over in the press. They are married with plenty of ties to censor their memories. I, on the other hand, having nothing to lose.

It's been sporadic. The best stories to write are the ones that leave you at your most exhausted in the end. And to pick up a pen rather than an aspirin and a Bloody Mary is a discipline I have to master in the new year.

So my resolution is this: I am going to be more consistent with my notes to the point that once a week, no matter what - I will chalk it down.

Will it be flattering? To me? Nah.

That would just be dull.

I think the best personal accounts never are. But it will be fun, and, if nothing else, it will be honest.

It will be mostly about the lives of others that I've come across through my work and what I've observed, but I have had some good times too.

However, there is one caveat. My pet hate is kiss and tells. No woman has ever gone down that route and come out with her dignity intact. So if I add a personal encounter, I will only do so if I can pick up the phone and run it by the guy first to get the OK. It's the decent thing to do.

Still, I don't envisage a problem there.

As experiences go - how should I say this? - I feel that will be one of the more flattering elements of the book.

Sunday Independent


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