Caroline Grace-Cassidy

Posted by Sue Leonard on Thursday 19th October 2017

Caroline Grace-Cassidy is looking glamorous when we meet in a Dublin café on a Monday afternoon.  She’s arrived fresh from TV3 where she was appearing on The Elaine Show – the show hosted by Elaine Crowley, which was formerly called Midday.

“I’m a regular panellist,” says the actress turned author. “That means I’m on call every other week. I have to be available in case someone drops out, and I’ll probably appear for 10 days a month. I love it! It’s handy money and the studio is only two minutes from my house. I’ve met some amazing women through the show – people I would never have met otherwise.”

Although Caroline still acts occasionally – she had a part in a film called Sanctuary which opened at the IFI in mid-July, she spends most of her time as a writer. And we’re here to discuss her seventh book in as many years.

The Importance of Being Me features Courtney Downey, a 38-year-old divorcee who has put her life on hold as mother of 15-year-old Susan. But she doesn’t ‘get’ the whole snap-chat world, and the two are growing apart. It doesn’t help that her ex’s new younger woman, Mar-nee, who runs a beauty parlour, becomes almost an icon for the teenage girl.

When Courtney gets offered a job transfer, to spend the summer in Cornwall, with a view to making the change permanent, she’s tempted to go. But Susan refuses to accompany her, so plans are put on hold.

“I wanted to write about the mother, teenage relationship,” says Caroline, sipping at her latte, “But when I started out I had no idea what the plot would be. I had two friends – Courtney and Claire – discussing how difficult it is for women to age, and let it roll from there.”

And roll it did. When Claire first mentioned that her husband was sick, the author had no idea that his illness would give the book a bi-sexual element. But she’s very pleased that it did.

“Now that, after the same sex marriage referendum we have equality, we tend to forget that people our age did marry wrongly. I know a lot of gay men who went out with a girl in their teens to fit into the norm, and who married and stayed married for years.”  She laughs. “I remember my mother saying, ‘He isn’t gay, he’s married,’ or ‘He can’t be gay. He’s got two children.’”

As a result of this revelation, Claire feels like fleeing, and she persuades Courtney that a fun filled summer in Cornwall is exactly what the two friends need. Issues aside, this is a novel about friendship, and that brings a warm-hearted element making the novel perfect for summer reading.

“We’re always gushing about our teenage friendships,” says Caroline, “but I love the fact that at nearly forty, Courtney and Claire still have that bond. Heading away for a summer at 40 can be just as exciting as at 16, yet society tells us we’re too old for it. We’re not.”

Caroline’s last novel, and her first with Black& White Publishing was extremely dark. The Week I Ruined My Life culminated in a mother leaving her family home because, although the marriage is bad, her husband is a wonderful father, and she doesn’t think it’s fair to make him leave the house and the children.

“After that novel, I wanted to write a lighter book, but I didn’t want to lose the theme of a woman who was losing herself. I was interested in women who, whether they are divorced or single, are bringing up children on their own. Irish mothers, especially, put their whole life into this child, yet they don’t understand the teenage culture.

“They wonder why the teen has to use snapchat every waking moment. In the book, Susan didn’t want to be in that world, but she had to be, or she would have been isolated at school; teenagers are being forced to be obsessed with it.”

Since finishing her new novel, Caroline has written a film script for The Week I Ruined My Life. Funded by The Broadcast Authority of Ireland, and the Canada Media Fund, the film is to be shot in Toronto in February next year.

“It’s to be a TV movie, and will be shown on TV3 here, and then it will go out to Netflix,” she says. “I’ve been working on the draft for three or four months now. It’s been going backwards and forwards, but I sent it in, finally, yesterday.”

It’s not her first venture into the world of film. Caroline makes short movies for Part Pictures – the studio she runs alongside her husband, Kevin Cassidy.  Her sixth short, Reach, premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh the day after we met.

“It’s about depression and loneliness. A woman, played by Sarah Flood, who was Suzanne in Fair City, is going around in an ordinary day, but she’s decided to kill herself. She doesn’t know it, but there’s a guy watching her. I love the art of short movies,” she says, “But there’s no money in it.”

There’s not a lot of money in writing either; but life, for Caroline, has rarely been financially sound. She did, however, make a promising start. When she first left drama college she walked straight into a part in Custer’s Last Stand, a joint BBC, RTE children’s TV show.

“I thought, ‘this is easy,’ but six months later I was looking for work again.  I loved acting up to a point, but you spend so much time auditioning.”

When, later, she became pregnant, she decided to write a book. She submitted it to a Write A Bestseller Competition, and as a runner up, secured a three book deal with Poolbeg. She was over the moon, but the deal didn’t bring riches.

“I remember the publisher saying to me, ‘Don’t give up the day job!’ and she was right. You work so hard for little financial reward. I’m seeing some royalties now, but that’s because I got to book number six!”

Caroline has written a TV series in collaboration with the writer Ciara Geraghty. She enjoyed that, but right now, she’s exhausted, and is planning on taking a break.

“Recently I looked at my diary and realised that on the first January I’d written just 4,000 words of the novel, and none of the screenplay. It’s like Patricia Scanlan says, my well has run dry. I need time for me so that the well can fill up again.”

Inspired by her parents, who gave her a wondrous childhood involving ponies and show-jumping, Caroline’s priority, for her daughters Grace, 9, and Maggie, 5, is that they are happy and healthy.

“Our childhood was all about our happiness,” she says. “Never about being pushed, or what our results were.  I’ll probably push the girls a bit harder than I was so that they have more options. I’d like them to be in jobs that are not so up and down as films or writing. It’s difficult when you are relying on other people to buy your books or give you money for films.”

She sighs, and admits that it will be hard for them to avoid the arts, when they spend so much time in the studio, making programmes for themselves.

“And I am living the dream,” she concedes. “I’d love, one day, to make a feature film. Meanwhile, when I open one of my books I go, ‘wow!’ And tomorrow I will sit in the Town Hall Theatre in Galway and see my work being performed on the big screen. That is amazing.”

 

The Importance of Being Me by Caroline Grace-Cassidy. Black & White Publishing: €8.24. Kindle: €3.17

Published in The Irish Examiner on 7th October, 2017.

© Sue Leonard. 2017

Leave a Reply