In the real world she was a journalist for many years and now has her own communications company. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading too much, growing food and swimming in the Atlantic. This essay is dedicated to her coven of witchy mermaids, the Blackrock Babes.
--interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q1 2021 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?
Gráinne: Thank you so much Marcia! I was thrilled and shocked.
I had resolved in 2020 to become a bit braver about putting my work out into the world and had entered a couple of competitions with some success. When I saw the WOW call, I actually had something written that I thought would fit the brief. The original piece was too long so I chopped it down to the required word count, sent it in and promptly forgot completely about it. I just never thought that my very personal experience would actually translate successfully.
WOW: I loved your entry, "Something Else, Altogether,"and felt like I was there with you and your friends. What inspired you to write this particular essay?
Gráinne: Well, I’m drawing a lot of my inspiration from the ocean at the moment. I’ve been swimming year-round for four years now and it is the most extraordinary thing. It’s very cold so it sucks you right back into yourself, no matter what is going on in your life. There are so many small details that you would never otherwise experience; the shapes hailstones make when hitting the surface of the water; sea birds swimming right beside you, barely aware you’re there; the way the water goes from navy blue to liquid gold if you’re swimming at sunrise; what it’s like to be enveloped in the dark, when swimming at night, trusting that it’s seaweed and not some ocean monster brushing by your knees.
That said, until that piece, I hadn’t written about it at all. I tried, but nothing came out right.
In terms of the surgery, I had written about my double mastectomy before (preventative – the one thing Angelina Jolie and I have in common) but by the time this second surgery came around I was so exhausted and drained by the whole thing, I just didn’t want to go there. I think when an experience is quite visceral and traumatic, like that surgery was, it can take some time to gain a little distance.
It wasn’t until I had to write something for a deadline, that I sat down and this piece came pouring out. It started to be about the swim but then, suddenly all of this stuff about the surgery came alive (the original version has more of that). The two intertwined and the connection between them crystallised. Swimming has helped me through so much of that. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought to combine them before.
WOW: You mention that you’re working on a novel. Can you tell us anything about it, and what your novel writing journey has been like so far?
Gráinne: The novel is in a drawer – I read On Writing by Stephen King and he recommends finishing something, putting it in a drawer and starting something else, so that’s what I am doing. The bulk of that novel was written in the few months post-surgery. It was as though in the aftermath, I suddenly had a heap of space in my brain that had been occupied by stress. In the past few months I have redrafted it, and now I’m just waiting to do a few more edits. The journey has been one of pushing through. Sometimes it’s a pleasure. Most of the time, it’s graft.
The manuscript in the drawer is a story about a time when much of the world has drowned, and an energy crisis means that each individual must make a particular kind of contribution to ensure the survival of their society. It’s an exploration of interdependence and the individual versus the whole, but it’s also an adventure story. I’m aiming for gripping and well written. Hopefully that will hold up when I read it again.
The thing I’m working on at the moment is pretty embryonic but I’m still experiencing that thrill of a new idea. Hopefully that lasts a while…
WOW: Good luck with the final edits and beyond! What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?
On audiobook I am listening to The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It’s one of the best I’ve heard in ages. I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen. I love a beautifully written book that keeps me engaged. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell was another of those. That was my book of 2020 for sure. Next up is A Ghost in theThroat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa. There is so much incredible writing coming out of Ireland right now.
WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Gráinne! Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?
Gráinne: Just do it. Pressing send is the most difficult part a lot of the time. I entered a contest recently where they gave you a subject and I had written a story, but I would have killed for another few days to polish it up. I nearly didn’t send it, but at the last minute I did, and it ended up getting published in an actual book which was very exciting. Don’t let the great be the enemy of the good in other words. You could surprise yourself.