The last 28 days (ish)

Feb 28
I have a job interview this morning. This means I have to leave the house. I haven’t been doing that much lately, due to unemployment and general anti-social tendencies. As soon as I get off the Luas, I scrub my hands with hand-sanitiser. When I shake hands with the people interviewing me, I reassure them that my hands are germ free.

I’ve started counting to twenty while I wash my hands. I’ve also started washing them more and more frequently as the corona virus gets gradually closer. I’ve been following the news about China, and Italy and the Diamond Princess cruise ship since the beginning of the year but now, with cases confirmed in Northern Ireland and the cancellation of the Six Nations match with Italy, it’s starting to take up more space in my brain.

This evening, I get a call to say I got the job. I’m delighted and more than a little relieved. It feels like a weight off my shoulders. I’d been unemployed for 4 months, and while I had been taking a bit of a break and being a bit fussy about what I was applied for, I was starting to worry that I may never work again. It’s a piece of good news for a Friday evening. I’m looking forward to joining the world of work again.

Feb  29
Storm Jorge is on his way and there’s heavy rain and wind forecast, but it’s a beautiful sunny morning in Dublin so I walk into town for lunch in Kim Chi. It’s a treat for being a newly employed person. Afterwards I go to see The Fall of the Second Republic at the Abbey. In the theatre, all the talk around me is about the virus, whether we were safe sitting so close to each other, what outings people would and wouldn’t give up. I don’t know it yet, but this is the last show I’ll see before the theatres close.

When I come out of the Abbey the storm has turned up as promised and I get the Luas home in the rain. I get soaked on the 5 minute walk from the Luas stop.

The first case of covid-19 is confirmed in Ireland.

KimChi
Kim Chi lunch

Mar 2
I start my Monday morning in the Criminal Courts because today is my first day of jury service. While I am keen to do my civic duty, it is standing between me and the start date of my new job so I’m hoping I don’t get called to serve on a trial. I spend the morning in a big, crowded room with the other potential jurors, all of us waiting to be told what to do. I’m reading One Perfect Day by Ira Levin, who also wrote The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby. It was written in 1970 but set in the distant future, in a creepy utopia where everyone is happy and healthy and well-looked after, but also constantly monitored and heavily medicated. It’s a good read and helps pass the time.

They start calling names shortly after 12.30pm. My name is not called and leave around half one.

Mar 3
Back in the criminal courts for another day of waiting around. When it’s time to select a jury, the court room appears on the big screen, the judge introduces the case and then name and numbers are drawn from a drum. During today’s second jury selection my name is drawn. I’m brought up to the court with the rest of the “raffle winners”. When my name is called a second time I’m handed a bible and swore in. The trial is expected to last 3 days which means I’ll still be able to start my job next week.

Mar 4
When I arrive in the courts this morning, I’m brought up to the dining room, to the table is assigned to my jury. This is where we’ll go each morning and lunchtime. The first job of the day it to decide what we want for lunch. There’s a choice of three dishes and we’re given a little slip of paper with A, B or C on it, depending what we chose. When it’s time to go up to the court, we have to move as a group – all 12 of us, plus of our Jury Minder – squeeze into the lift together. No room for social distancing here.

For various reasons, we’re dismissed early and told we won’t be needed again until the following Monday. Again, I’m wondering how long this is going to take and when I’ll be able to start the new job. There’s no many unknowns and it’s hard to cope with the uncertainty.

Mar 6
I meet a friend for coffee in Bang Bang. I give her a tube of hand cream as part of her birthday present, to combat all the hand-washing. We chat over coffee and sandwiches. It’s lovely to catch-up but still the virus is never far from my thoughts. On my way home I go into Boots and buy multivitamins and some zinc and vitamin C effervescent tablets. I don’t know what’s coming but feel the need to prepare for it in anyway. Giving my immune system a bit of a boost can’t hurt and helps me feel like I’m doing something useful.

HandSanitzerMar 9
Monday morning and I’m back in the criminal courts again. Hand-washing has ramped up. I scrub my hands after I arrive, and again before we go into court. On my way home at the end of the day, I drop into the supermarket to buy a few bits. Tinned tomatoes, pasta, chick-peas. Things I eat anyway, but don’t necessarily need right now.

Mar 10
I go to the library in the evening, joking that I need to stock up before we get locked down. I already have piles of unread books at home, technically I’ve been stock-piling for years, but now the St. Patrick’s Day parade has been cancelled and things are starting to feel more serious. I am actually worried about the libraries closing before I have a chance to take out a load of books.

There are 34 confirmed cases of covid-19 in Ireland.

LibraryHaul
Library haul

Mar 11
Being in court all day – without my phone, listening to the lawyers and the witnesses – is a good distraction from the virus. During the breaks though, we’re all looking at news on our phones. News and rumours. Rumours about schools being shut down, about the army being deployed. On my way home, I go into the supermarket and buy a few more bits, just in case. Bread, cheese, more tinned tomatoes.

Mar 12
This morning, during a break from our jury deliberations, we go downstairs to the main room and Simon Coveney is on all the big screens. He’s talking about how schools, colleges and creches will close from 6pm today. Later museums, theatres and other cultural institutions are added to the list. I was looking forward to attending the Where We Live festival in Project this weekend, while also worrying about distancing myself from people in the theatre.

Hand sanitisers appeared around the court building today. We wonder if the courts will be next on the lists of closures. It feels like a lot of people move through the building everyday. The dining room is busy at lunchtime and we’re still all crowding into the lift, 13 people at a time.

In the afternoon we return our verdict and are excused from jury duty for the next few years.

There are now 70 confirmed cases of covid-19 in the Republic of Ireland.

Mar 13
I finally start my new job. I’m a bit nervous. I refuse to shake hands with any of my new colleagues. Not that many people try and nobody insists but it still feels strange. The building is half-empty, lots of people are working from home. I get a tour and meet the colleagues who are left. We all try and keep our distance.

My evening plans have been cancelled – I was going to a theatre double-bill in Project – so I head straight home after work.

Mar 14
I’ve decided I need to do a big shop. Up to this point, I’ve just been buying random tinned foods, pasta and paracetamol. I need to figure out what I’m going to cook. I want to make things like bolognese and curries and soups that I can freeze in batches. I make a list. The aim is to have enough food to stay away from the shops for at least two weeks.

On my way to the supermarket, I worry that it’s going to be too crowded. I worry that there’ll be nothing left on the shelves. I get there it’s fine. It’s busy, lots of trolleys being filled, but people are making space for each other and having chats. The atmosphere is almost jolly. The only things I can’t find are chick peas and red lentils. I buy more cheese and lots of wine.

My aunt calls to cancel a family lunch planned for the next day. All week we were wondering if we should go ahead or not. It’s now definitely cancelled because she and my uncle both woke up with coughs this morning. They came back from Spain a few days ago so they are afraid they might have covid-19. The party’s cancelled while they try and get tested. Better to be safe than sorry.

Mar 15
It’s the first day of lockdown in Spain and my mum and my sister are at home with no kitchen. They live in an apartment in Andalusia. Work started on the new kitchen last week and right now it’s an empty shell with no sink and no oven. The builder is going to ask the police if he’s allowed to continue to work on it this week.

Mar 16
Monday morning and my second day in my new job. I’m a bit distracted, I’m glued to my phone, checking up on people. I want to know if my cousin is able to get her chemo today. (She is but can’t bring anyone in with her.) I want to know if the builder is coming to sort out my mum’s kitchen. (He gets permission from the police but all of his suppliers are closed so there’s nothing he can do.)

At lunchtime I buy more soap and more hand-cream in Boots. I buy stamps and a Mother’s Day card to send to Spain. I buy a birthday card and a cake for my sister. Her birthday is still over a week away but I don’t know when I’ll be in town again. Back in the office, I’m set-up on a work laptop so that I can work from home. The building is closing this evening and who knows when we’ll be back in.

Mar 17
I’m not one for going out on Paddy’s Day, either to the parade or the pubs so the stay-at-home advice doesn’t bother me today. I spend the morning watching the mini-parades online. St. Patrick driving out the corona virus is my favourite. I also enjoy the Muppets singing O Danny Boy. I sit out in the garden in the afternoon, enjoying the warm sun and a cold gin and tonic. It still feels like a bank holiday and a break from everything that’s going on.

In the evening, we watch Leo addresses the nation. He does a good job – he’s serious without scaremongering.

Mar 18
It’s the first day of working from home. I’m mostly trying to figure out what my job is and what I should be doing. I’m working upstairs and my sister’s working downstairs. We meet up for lunch and morning and afternoon tea-breaks.

There are 366 confirmed cases of covid-19 in the Republic.

Mar 19
Today we got a cat. It was my sister’s idea – her argument was that it’s an ideal time to get a pet because we’re going to be at home all the time. She sent a few texts asking if anyone knew of a cat looking for a home and my auntie offered one of hers. Edgar arrived today and he’s a delightful addition to the household.

Edgar
Handsome Edgar

Mar 21
A week ago I had never heard of Zoom. Today I have two separate Zoom meet-ups.

On the Zoom family chat, my aunt and uncle tell us that they got tested for the virus on Friday. They are now waiting for the results but have had no symptoms since last the weekend, so they think they’re probably fine. In Spain, they still have no kitchen but the gas hob is set up and they have a fridge and microwave so they’re ok.

Mar 23
Week 2 of working from home. I’m finding it hard, my attention span is shattered and I struggle to focus on anything for more than 10 minutes. It takes me a while to realise that this is more than just struggling to work during a global pandemic. I was out of work for four months, and now I’m trying to remember how to be an employee and how to interact with colleagues, while also trying to figure out the new job and get used to working from home. I’m trying to manage it by being kind to myself, reminding myself that’s it’s ok to find it hard. I’m also making lists and trying to do one small task at a time.

All the while the global pandemic continues. There are now 1125 confirmed cases in the Republic of Ireland and over 40,000 people waiting for tests. Six people have died as a result of covid-19 in Ireland.

Mar 25
CakeCandlesToday is my sister’s birthday. Cards came in the post, she got a Just-Eat voucher and a homemade voucher for “future pints”. We have birthday cake, and candles and singing. I put the candles in the box instead of the cake because it doesn’t seem like a good idea at the moment to breath all over food.

Mar 26
I’ve started writing down my scheduled Zoom meet-ups in my paper diary. This is partly because the blank pages and the cancelled events are depressing me and partly because my brain is turning to mush and I worry if I don’t write it down, I will forget to turn up.

Mar 27
There is so much I’m grateful for. I’m grateful to live in a country that is taking this threat seriously. I am grateful for good broadband. I’m grateful that my mum has good broadband and we’re able to keep in touch. I’m grateful for the lock-down which means I don’t have to nag her to stay home because the Spanish police are doing that for me. I’m grateful to have a job that I’m able to do at home, grateful to have something to do and for the wages. I’m grateful to have a house that I like spending time in, that’s comfortable and roomy. I’m grateful to have a garden. I’m grateful that An Post is still working. I’m grateful to the wonderful medical staff and all that they are doing, while at same time hoping that I won’t need their services. Everybody morning I’m grateful to wake and feel well. Really I have nothing to complain about.
This diary was written retrospectively this week. It’s an attempt to record how quickly things changed and also to paint a picture of where I’m at right now. It felt important to do that because there are going to be more fast, dramatic changes over the next few weeks and months. It stops where it does because I feel like the extra restrictions on movements that came into affect on Saturday morning marked the beginning of a new phase of the crisis. 

This meant I didn’t write about how different my grocery shop this weekend felt in comparison to the last big shop two weeks ago. It felt a lot less less like Christmas Eve and a lot more anxious. And who knew the end of the world would involve so much queuing? I know we will get through this, that it’s not really the end of the world, but it feels like the end of the world as we know it. We will be changed by this and when we come out the other side, the world will be different as well.

Mind yourself, mind each other, change the world.

At the end of 2018, Theatre Forum carried out a survey on pay and working conditions in the performing arts. The results of the survey were accompanied by testimonials from artists who spoke candidly about their financial struggles. These were well-known theatre and dance artists, artists who make a new show every year, who have won awards for their work and toured internationally. They are so obviously successful in their chosen careers that it’s natural to assume that they would also be making a good living but despite appearances, their livelihoods still felt precarious. The results of the survey proved that this was more than just a feeling. According to the 144 artists and creative practitioners and 97 arts organisations who responded, average weekly earnings in the arts in 2018 were 30% lower that the average across all sectors (€494.98 compared to €740.32). As well as low wages, the precarious nature of the work means a lack of financial stability, as well as difficulty keeping up with PRSI contributions. There’s also the fact that most arts organisations do not make employer pension contributions or provide a top up to state maternity benefit.

ArtistPayPresentation

People don’t go into the arts for the money. Jobs in theatre in particular are not sought after for their earning potential. As a result, theatre artists tend to be resourceful and good at surviving on low wages. When they turn around and say that this is no longer sustainable, it’s a clear indication that we have reached a crisis point in the industry. Not only are wages falling while inflation rises, there is also a lack of opportunity for career advancement. The possibility of getting to a point where you can earn higher wages, or have the security of regular work is becoming more and more distant. Theatre and the arts are not the only careers where career progression is slow and sometimes seems impossible. The idea of spending your entire working life with one company is becoming more and more unlikely but now even permanent jobs are becoming harder to find. Temporary contracts are becoming the norm, as well as freelancers being hired for jobs that 5-10 years ago would have been full-time, in-house roles. A lot of jobs are precarious nowadays, and job insecurity, especially when it is combined with financially insecurity, can really mess with your head.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/millennials-burnout-generation-debt-work

How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation is a Buzzfeed essay that went viral last January. In it, Anne Helen Peterson writes about how people now in their twenties and thirties, entered the job market during in a recession which meant they were competing with a larger number of applicants for a reduced number of jobs. She talks about how these workers learnt to be the most efficient worker bees possible, optimising their leisure time so they could do more work and spending their free time “curating” their social media feeds to make themselves standout and be more attractive to future employers. But all that optimisation didn’t have the expected result. Peterson writes;

“Our efficiency hasn’t bucked wage stagnation; our steadfastness hasn’t made us more valuable. If anything, our commitment to work, no matter how exploitative, has simply encouraged and facilitated our exploitation. We put up with companies treating us poorly because we don’t see another option. We don’t quit. We internalize that we are not striving hard enough.”

The essay goes on to describe how this always on, always striving way of life almost inevitably leads to burnout.

Burnout can be described as emotional depletion caused by too much responsibility with too little authority. Burnout feels like the constant fluttery panic that you’ve forgotten something. Burnout makes you forget things. It disturbs your sleep because your brain can’t switch off. It keeps you hopping from task to task because your attention-span is shot to hell. It has you on the verge of tears when someone asked “how are you?”; because you don’t have the words to describe how you are but you know you’re not ok. Burnout is insidious. It creeps in slowly, like the lobster in the pot of water slowly being boiled alive. It’s hard to feel the water heating up because the idea of working all the time has been normalised. It’s worse than normal – it’s held up as the best possible way to get what you want and be successful. After all, everybody else is doing it and they seems fine so if you’re struggling, then you must be the problem.

This is the other thing that makes it really hard to spot burnout – you’re too busy blaming yourself. You’re not working hard enough; if you just get through this week, or this project, or this year, then you’ll catch your breath, get organised and it will all be fine again. Or maybe you need to try harder to have a good work/life balance, maybe you should try meditation or exercise or a self-care bubble bath. But these are just more things to fit into your day and none of it makes you feel better. You’re chasing something that’s impossible to catch, like the hamster on a wheel, running all the time and getting nowhere. It’s not even any fun anymore – the running, the projects, the work. That should be a red flag – when you stop enjoying things. If you’re not getting any joy or job satisfaction when you complete a project, when good news doesn’t feel like something to celebrate because it’s just another thing to stress about; then something has to change. The work isn’t going to get easier, you can’t work hard enough to fix it; you’re not broken, the situation is.

Anne Helen Peterson describes burnout as the base temperature for millennials, that it helps to recognise it but there’s not a whole lot we can do about it because it’s the way that the world is set up. She’s right – burnout can’t be fixed with self-care rituals or a life-hack. We have to change how the world is set up. We need to stop worrying about self-care and start dismantling the system.

BurntLightBulb

Most improvements to labors laws happened as a result of trade union activism. Things that seemed radical at the time like weekends and paid overtime and holiday pay (things that arts workers still don’t always get) happened because of pressure from workers and their unions. Artists often aren’t considered workers in the same way as bus drivers or teachers. They’re told that they are “lucky to do something they love” and are always in danger of having their work treated as a hobby. But artists are workers – they are doing a job and trying to make a living – and they should be entitled to the same rights and conditions as other workers. Art workers also struggle with the same things that cause hardship for other workers, things like the high cost of rent and child-care. As well as working to improving conditions within a workplace, unions also work to improve the conditions of the society we live in.

The only time I was a member of a union was when I worked for a trade union. It wasn’t compulsory but it was encouraged. There were union reps on staff and every now and then an email would go round asking if anyone wanted to join. Joining was easy – you just filled out a form and the subscriptions would be deducted from your salary. There were also semi-regular meetings which you got time off to attend. This meant the union felt active, even though we didn’t have any big disputes while I was there. This also meant I got to see the “business as usual” work of a union. Unions bring people together – nothing bonds people quicker than a common enemy – but at union meetings the bitching about the bosses that happens in quiet corners around the office, start happening around the table with everybody. It’s taken seriously and instead of just venting, you get to decide what action you want to take. There was often discussions around pensions and wages; unions are really helpful to bring money issues into the open. Concerns and complaints can be raised by “the staff” so no one person has to worry about repercussions or drawing attention to themselves. A company responds different to the union. That collective bargaining is pretty radical stuff.

EquityNCFA   TheatreForum

At Theatre Forum’s annual conference in June 2019, there was a panel called Valuing Artists that looked at a lot of these issues. One of the speakers was Ann Russell from Irish Equity. They are a trade union that represents actors, theatre directors, stage and set designers in Ireland and are part of SIPTU. She put the membership at 600 members which I felt was surprisingly low compared to the number of people working in theatre in Ireland but at the same time, Equity doesn’t have a very visible presence here. The workers that Equity represent are often freelance artists so they are not in a workplace where everyone’s a member of the union and joining is just the done things to do. It is harder for freelance artists to get involved in a union but it is worth doing. Equity has had some recent wins on behalf of its members; they got the welfare system for actors extended (often referred to as the artist’s dole) last year and they are also working on getting a three year tax assessments for artists. The strength of a union is in numbers. Equity membership costs less than €2 a week. (That figure is from an Equity spokesperson at another Theatre Forum event in December, I can’t find a breakdown of subscriptions on their website.) Being part of a union gives you somewhere to go with complaints and grievances, whether they are about unfair work practices or bullying and harassment.

Having a strong, collective voice is a vital part of improving working conditions in any sector but it can be hard to find that voice in an industry that’s made up predominately of freelancers. Trade unions and member organisations like Theatre Forum help their members make their voices heard because they speak louder because they speak together. Another organisation that shares this aim is the NCFA.

NCFA (National Campaign for the Arts) is a volunteer-led, grassroots movement that makes the case for the Arts in Ireland. It was formed in 2009, during the last recession and seeks to ensure that the arts are recognised as a vital part of contemporary Irish life. Often this means asking the government for more arts funding and suggesting better ways of distributing that money. In Budget 2020, the arts received just under €193 million. This is still a long way off the pre-recession, 2008 arts budget of €245 million. Of course there are many under-funded services across the state but the choice doesn’t have to be to fund a hospital or fund the arts. Trump’s visit last year cost the tax payer more than €10 million. The Papal visit in 2018 cost €18 million. These are two events only that took place over a couple of days. The Arts Council received €80 million in the most recent budget and that’s for the entire year.

Arts funding is not about giving artists money to make stuff, it’s about enabling artists to share their work with audiences and making the work accessible to as many people as possible. By funding the arts properly, a government not only demonstrates that it believes art is important, it also shows that it values its citizens and believes they deserve to have art in their lives. Supporting artists is important because art is a valuable, necessary part of life. We need stories and new ways of seeing things. Art is a way of keeping the darkness at bay. It can be a place of refuge when you are feeling burntout and empty. The value and importance of art is what the NCFA is trying to get across to the government. You can find out how to help on their website. You don’t have to work in the arts to support the NCFA, you just have to think that art is valuable. They are currently running a survey to find out what is most important to people when it comes to the arts. You can fill that out here and you can also sign up to help campaign in the upcoming General Election and make sure the arts is on the political agenda.

If you're up for helping out with the NCFA campaign in your local area, email us at info@ncfa.ie right now with your contact details and which constituency you live and vote in, and we'll get back to you very soon

Getting involved in organisations like NCFA is a good way to help bring about change but it can have more immediate benefits as well. On the same Valuing Artists panel at the Theatre Forum conference in Wexford, theatre director and NCFA steering committee member Eoghan Carrick said that getting involved with the NCFA was beneficial for his mental health because it meant he felt better informed about what was being done or not being done. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Generally, the more in control of your life you feel, the happier you are. Getting informed and involved helps you take some control. It’s the opposite of the feeling of too little authority that contributes to burnout.

The way the world of work is currently set up is not good for us. Work isn’t meant to feel like an endless slog that drains the joy from every other aspect of your life. Hoping that it will get easier or that you’ll get better at coping isn’t going to work. If you’re feeling burnt-out, recognise it, name it and try not to blame yourself. You’re not the one that’s broken. At the same time, try not to indulge in burnout behaviour or expect it from others. Take time away from work, don’t say yes to too many tasks, get a hobby. It can be an indulgence because being busy feels good, as Emilie Pine articulates beautifully in her article about the pleasure of overworking – When Burnout Becomes a Badge of Honour. This is another reason why it’s hard to make changes on your own and why we need to change the system that encourages and rewards this destructive behaviour. So mind yourself but also join a union, get involved politically and help create the world you want to live in.

"We close to return with more energy/Cerramos para volver con + energia"
A sign outside a restaurant in Spain. May we all take a break so we can return with more energy.

Tana French in conversation

In May I saw Tana French being interviewed by Anna Carey in Smock Alley. The event was part of the International Festival of Literature. I am a huge admirer of her writing but I’d never heard her speak about it before so I was really looking forward to the event. She didn’t disappoint.

Tana French is an award-winning, best-selling Irish crime writer. In 2007, her debut novel In The Woods was published to critical acclaim and became an award-winning best seller. I wasn’t aware of her books until 2012 when I was introduced to her writing by an American friend. French’s novels have spent many weeks on The New York Times bestseller lists and is maybe better known in the US than she is here.

The friend who told me about Tana French was a fellow drama student in Galway. At the end of the school year, when she was getting ready to head back to the States, she mentioned that one of her favourite authors had a new book out that she planned to buy for the flight home. She was saving this book and looking forward to enjoying it during the long trip. A few weeks later I moved home and was stuck in that mild post-graduation depression/identity-crisis when you’re not a student anymore but you haven’t figured out what the next stage of your life looks like yet. I remembered my friend’s enthusiasm for an Irish author I’d never heard of and went looking for Tana French in the library. I found her first novel In The Woods and promptly did nothing but read it for the next few days. I loved it. I kept going, working my way through her books and recommending them to anyone who asked.

Tana French’s crime fiction almost always involves a murder that is investigated by the Dublin Murder Squad. Her books are brilliant whodunits but what makes them so captivating are her characters. French was an actress before she was a writer and she has a wonderful skill of inhabiting characters and bringing them to life. Although her books are all based around the Murder Squad, the main character and narrator of each book is different.

In Smock Alley, she talked about her decision not to write a traditional series centred about a single detective because putting a different character at the centre of each book, allowed her to encounter that character at a major turning point in their lives or working on a case that had a special significance to the character. She felt that this would be hard to do if she always had the same protagonist. One person’s life can only sustain so many major turning points. It also makes for a much more interesting and revelatory reading experience. Her characters might not always be the self-reflective sort, but as a writer she skillfully reveals things about the way they see themselves over the course of the book.

TFrench

Listening to French talk about her work, it’s clear that the characters are always central to the story. She is very articulate and passionate in the way that she talks about her work. One of the most fascinating things I find about her writing process is that she doesn’t plan; she says she doesn’t do any major plotting, she just writes blind. I find this impressive because her books are tightly plotted, as any mystery or crime novel has to be. She says she achieves this by doing lots and lots of rewrites.

Tana French started writing when she got an idea for a story while working part-time at an archaeological dig. She was a jobbing-actor at the time and this was a day-job between acting roles. She realised that she was serious about the book when she started turning down acting work so she could focus on writing her own story instead. That book became In The Woods. Comparing writing to acting, she says that she loves writing because she doesn’t have to wait for someone to give her a job, she can just do it herself. She is very enthusiastic about writing for a living, while still acknowledging that there comes a difficult point in every book when she wants to quit and go back to being a broke actor.

She still has an affinity with actors and the difficulties that they face finding work. This came across when she talked about the upcoming tv adaptation of her first two novels. She seemed genuinely delighted that the show was providing work for Irish actors. The show, Dublin Murders, stars Killian Scott and Sarah Greene, and is written by Sarah Phelps who has a couple of very good Agatha Christie tv adaptations under her belt. (And There Was None and The Witness for the Prosecution.) French said that she decided not to have anything to do with the tv adaptation when it became clear that it was not going to be a straight translation of the books – the 8-part tv series will feature the investigations from In The Woods and The Likeness – and decided to let it be a thing on it’s own.

She also talked about her most recent novel The Wych Elm which is a departure from the previous books because it is not set within the Dublin Murder Squad. Instead it follows Toby, a privileged young man who has been lucky all his life, until one night when he is the victim of a violent crime. Toby is young, male and good looking. He’s charming and intelligent and comes from an upper middle-class background. He’s not a bad guy but he has trouble understanding that not everybody’s life is as charmed or easy as his. He’s a fascinating character. During the Q&A portion of the evening, someone asked a question about a writer’s right to inhabit another gender and to say less than flattering things about that gender. I was very impressed with French’s response as she side-stepped the veiled attack and instead focused on the fact that Toby’s privileges, and by extension his character and short-comings, are only partly about gender, they are much more about class. She said that nobody really wants to talk about that though.

As well as being character-driven, French’s novels also have a very strong sense of place. She talked about her nomadic childhood, that moving around a lot made her feel a bit of an outsider, but was good training for a novelist. She came to Dublin for college in the 1990s and since then it has become her home. She spoke movingly about finding a home in Dublin after moving around so much. Her affection for Dublin and for that feeling of belonging came across strongly in the interview and is also in her fiction. Her characters are very much of the places they’re from. She also creates beautiful buildings in her fiction such as the shared house in The Likeness, the Ivy House in The Wych Elm or the school in The Secret Place. She seems grateful for having a place that feels like home, that she knows so well, and the beautifully created places are almost a thank you to Dublin for giving her that. The books are so rooted in Dublin and Ireland. Despite her international readership her characters tend to speak Hiberno-English. They always feel very Irish and that clear sense of place contributes to the enjoyment I get from her books.

Throughout the interview gives the impression of being a very dedicated, hard-working nerd. She is enthusiastic about her work and clearly enjoys it but it also feels like she knows how lucky she is to get to do it and doesn’t want to mess that up. She does lots of research and lots of rewrites. She wants each book to be different from the last, for her own sake as well as the readers. This dedication to her craft comes across in her writing – as a reader, you feel like you’re in safe hands within her pages.

She plans to continue to challenge herself and wants to write a short book next, something like Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, just to see if she can tell a story in that sort of condensed way. I wish her every success, and I look forward to reading her next book, no matter what size it is!

7 ways to start preparing for the next recession now

Based on nothing more than a hunch, I think there’s another recession coming. A hunch, and the fact that stock markets are plummeting, the US is becoming increasingly unstable and if the UK succeed in crashing out of the EU, they are going to take us down with them. At home, the soaring rents and house prices aren’t sustainable – can’t be sustainable – and in the boom and bust cycle which we seem cursed to repeat, that means a recession is on it’s way.

Nearly €2.5bn wiped off Irish stocks amid global slump
From the Irish Times on Dec 6th 2018

After seeing this terrifying headline early this month, I started thinking about what I could do to prepare for this inevitable recession. I always feel better when I have a plan.

My plan does make some big assumptions. It buys into the narrative that there’s more money sloshing around right now than there was 5-10 years ago. I know this isn’t true for everyone. There are over 10,000 homeless people in Ireland. There are children growing up in hotel rooms. Over 15% of the population is living under the poverty line and the income gap is growing all the time. People are working good jobs and still broke because their salary is being eaten up by rent.

This silly listicle will not be relevant to a lot of people and I’m sorry about that. A better way to prepare for a recession would be for the government to take the Apple tax (and the Google tax, and the Facebook tax) and invest it in social housing and other public services. I can’t make that happen so here are some things to do instead.

1. Get out of debt.
Obvious one first. Pay off your loans, clear your credit card, get out of your overdraft. If you find yourself penniless and out of work, you don’t want to owe the bank anything. You’ll miss repayments and the interest will just keep clocking up. Clearing debt is a very boring use of money but if you are lucky enough to have a bit of extra cash now, invest it in becoming debt-free as soon as possible.

This also means that if you have a future financial emergency, those lines of credit will be available to you and might help you ride out the recession.

2. Save.
Another boring, practical piece of advice – start saving. Preferably with a credit union because it’s easier to borrow from them. Set up a savings account and a weekly (or monthly) direct debit into it. Even if it’s only for a small amount, some savings are better than none and being a regular saver looks good when you go looking for a loan. I also like the credit union because it’s hard to get at the money. There’s no cards or electronic transfers, you have to physically go into the building. That helps my savings grow!

3. Learn to cook
The cheapest way to eat well is to cook for yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy just learn how to make the thing you like. The BBC Good Food website has lots of easy recipes with clear instructions. (Personally I really like this two-step recipe for chicken, sweet potato and coconut curry.) Cooking well isn’t hard but it takes a bit of practice. Better to make your mistakes when you can afford to, so if the meal is completely inedible there’s a pizza in the freezer you can have instead.

Inviting friends over for dinner is also a good way to enhance your social life during a recession when nobody can afford to go out. Finally, as well as being able to feed yourself and others, being able to spend time preparing good grub is a great when you have too much time on your hands, because of unemployment or under-employment.

4. Invest in clothes that last, especially shoes/boots/coats.
If you can afford it, spend money on good quality shoes and coats that will see you through a few winters. This is good advice from a budgetary and environmental point of view but also because you find yourself walking more in a recession and it’s good to have things that keep you warm and dry.

5. Join the library! All those books!
Libraries are great. Not only are they full of books that you can take away for free, they are also warm places you can go and use the internet without spending any money. You’ll also be grateful for their weird collection of DVDs when you have to cancel your Netflix subscription and can’t afford to go to the cinema. You could argue that you don’t need to join a library now, but having lots of members help libraries stay open and (I imagine) help them argue for budget increases, so by joining today you can help make sure they’re still there when you need them. Also did I mention the free books?

Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times, part of Patrick Freyne's article on the Dublin Central Library in the Ilac Centre.
Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times, part of Patrick Freyne’s article on the Dublin Central Library in the Ilac Centre.

6. Vote for anti-capitalists.
I don’t know if the general election is going to happen before or after the recession hits but when it does, you should vote with the recession in mind. We need a government who doesn’t always take the side of the property developers or the landlords or the banks. We need more tenants and less landlords in the Dáil. We need more socialists who will increase investment in public services. We need people who will put an end to the boom and bust cycles.

Leo Varankar described himself as “the CEO of the organisation” on the Late Late Show recently. CEOs tend to be selfish, power-mad psychopaths and we shouldn’t let them be in charge anymore. We need a leader who is less like a CEO and more like a caretaker. Someone who looks after the country and has it’s best interests at heart, someone who identifies where cuts can be made and also where we need to invest. Someone who understands that they don’t own the country, they’re just looking after the place for bit. Please vote for someone like that, when the time comes!

7. Look on the bright side…
…a recession might be the only thing that will bring down our carbon emissions. The last recession really helped with that but they started climbing again as soon as the economy started to recover. Yes, this is clutching at straws and it is a fairly bleak bright side but we were identified as the worst offender in the EU for carbon emission last week, which is another super bleak and depressing headline, so I’ll take any bright side I can find. We need a few more politicians who give a shit about global warming in the next Dáil as well.