The Shape I’m In

“A dressmaker friend says I have a ‘writing’ shape and a ‘promoting’ shape. I lock myself away in my attic for months while I write my books, usually over the colder months, not exercising enough and fattening up in the same way a cat adds extra fur over winter,” she says.

“During the editing process in spring and summer, I become very active again, walking every day, slowly shedding the kilos in time to fit properly into my clothes again for my book tour. I really need to find a happy medium. A treadmill desk, perhaps.”

What shape are you in?


What are your healthiest eating habits?

I eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink a lot of water. I am also a fan of a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar every day, stirred into water. Apparently, its health-giving qualities verge on the miraculous. I certainly feel virtuous and brave after drinking it. Also, I eat very little chocolate, cakes, biscuits etc. Salty things and fresh bread are my downfalls.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

A Campari and soda and a packet of Tayto crisps at home on a Friday night at the end of the working/writing week.

What would keep you awake at night?

Coffee, if I ever let myself have a cup after 10am. I have enough trouble with an overly-busy mind causing insomnia as it is. In the early stages of each novel, I wake up every morning between 4.15 am and 4.30am and lie for an hour or so thinking over the plot. I usually get back to sleep before the alarm goes at 7.30am. I used to worry about it but after 12 novels, I’ve learned to let my subconscious enjoy that time.

How do you relax?

I take out my contact lenses and don’t put on my glasses, so everything is nicely blurry. Only at home, I promise, never in the wide world. I’m overly curious by nature, so limiting what I can see forces my mind to slow down.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Guests-wise, my husband and my Mum and all my family from Australia. Cooking-wise, a tag team of Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Neven Maguire. I would also request they brought all their waiting and cleaning-up staff with them so we had nothing to do afterwards but relax and chat and eat salty things. I’m from a big family of salt-lovers.

What’s your favourite smell?

Dinner being cooked downstairs by my husband when I’m upstairs in my attic writing. His speciality is pasta with a rich, tomato-based sauce with chicken, bacon, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and chilli.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

At 52, I’m just glad to be healthy and alive, so I will take whatever comes with the package I am living in. That said, I wish I could travel back in time to my younger self even briefly and have a firm discussion about the importance of sunscreen. I grew up in the Clare Valley of South Australia, where 40 degree summer days were commonplace, and we thought it was sensible to lie out in the sun slowly roasting ourselves.

When is the last time you cried?

Very unexpectedly, while watching the Irish crime-caper film Young Offenders on Netflix. I expected it to make me laugh — which it did, often — but I also found it surprisingly moving and tear-inducing.

What traits do you least like in others?

In a nutshell: unkindness.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

I’m inclined to proof-read my own life too much, to go over and over events and conversations, judging my behaviour, thinking of ways I could have done things better or different. Therein lies madness…

Do you pray?

Yes, I find repeating Hail Marys and Our Fathers learnt during childhood calms me down and gives me some peace, even though I am not a regular churchgoer any more. I also have my own expressions of gratitude, which are a kind of prayer in themselves.

What would cheer up your day?

A phonecall from my Mum or one of my three sisters in Australia. Luckily, I hear from them, and my three brothers, most days, via a family group chat. Because of the time difference between here and Australia, I often wake up to find they’ve been talking all day long. Reading through their messages can be like reading a sitcom script sometimes, with everyone trying to make each other laugh.