I have been wanting to write this blog post for a while and given that, as I write this, we are on the eve of publication of Apple of My Eye - my TENTH published novel and second thriller, it seemed like now was the perfect time.
Yep. Ten novels, now published into other books and my, it has been one helluva journey. My life has changed in every way since that time 13 years ago when I first decided to try and write a novel.
I hadn't studied anything about writing a novel. I knew I had to write maybe 85,000 words and from that point I ran with an idea of a book about Grace Adams, a young mum swamped by Post Natal Depression and trying to find her sense of identity again.
Did I know it would be published? Nope.
Did I believe it would be published? Nope.
I just wanted, or actually, needed to write it. I was turning 30, I had lost a friend to cancer. I felt the need to DO SOMETHING big and that for me had always been to write a novel. So I did.
And it did get published, in 2007. And it went to number 2 in the Irish bestsellers and I wrote seven more novels for my Irish published Poolbeg Press and I learned something new from each and every one of them.
I have some personal favourites (Feels Like Maybe, It's Got To Be Perfect and The First Time I Said Goodbye if you want to know) but then I felt the need to do something a little different.
And my life was changing dramatically again. In the years between my first book with Poolbeg and my last, I had acquired another child, a couple of life changing health conditions and had even had a brush with a life-threatening illness. I was also turning 40 - and 40, just like 30, focused my mind.
So I wrote a book called 'A Single Red Thread' and nobody wanted it.
A lot of publishers said "erm... maybe... possibly.... but no".
So I wrote the start of another novel, then called 'What She Left Behind' and that - in time after a series of ups and downs and almost giving up became 'Her Name Was Rose'. It was a success. A big success. I am truly humbled by how much of a success it was. It was on a whole other level than my previous books and it was amazing.
But it did leave me UTTERLY terrified of a number of things.
I kept slipping into old habits in terms of writing - writing more to a women's fiction audience than at the pace crime readers demand. This was particularly hard for me. There were great swathes of what I thought was my best, most artistic, writing that I had to rip out of the book and with each cut/ delete I wanted to scream.
Through this time, my agent, Get Nichol, and my editor Phoebe Morgan, and my writing BFF and beta reader Fionnuala Kearney held my hand and mopped my brow like literary birthing partners and they made it all seem a little less terrifying.
This book went through an intensive edit period and again I learned SO MUCH about myself as a writer - and some of it was simply that when the going gets tough, the tough eat too many Maltesers, but we got there.
And I'm so proud of this book. I think I've taken my writing to a new level once again. I hope that as readers you all do too.
It's almost time for me, as the writer, to let go of my book. To let the book gods work their magic and hope that this book does well. It is terrifying and exhilarating. I know I have to brace myself for every kind of review. I know I have to be brave, full stop.
And it does take guts and my anxiety is at fever pitch because yes, this is Eliana and Louise's story but with every book I put a bit of myself out there for people to look at and judge. It's very much like sending your child to school and hoping no one pulls their hair or steals their lunchbox.
But TEN BOOKS in, I absolutely realise that I am extremely privileged to be in this position. I am lucky. I have worked hard to create that luck, but I am still lucky. I have an AMAZING team behind me in Avon Books and Harper Collins Ireland. I have amazing friends and family. I have the most supportive agent in the business. I have great friends in the book selling trade - people who were strangers to me 13 years ago. I have people wanting me to succeed as much as I do.
And most of all, I have THE BEST readers in the world. And I don't take a single one of you for granted. You have my heart, always.
So please, enjoy Apple of My Eye. Please don't steal her lunch.
I almost want to apologise for vaping. It's been something I have, in the past, dismissed as something hipster-ish and something I would be as likely to try as I would be to try and grow a big, fluffy, hipster-ish beard.
Even now, when I tell people I've been giving vaping a go they look at me strangely. "I didn't know you smoked," they say.
"You don't know what's in those things," they say.
When I add that I have been using a vaping device (yes, an e-cig if you want to give it its common name) to ingest CBD (cannabis oil) the eyebrows that were already raised have almost hit the ceiling.
"But... but.... do you get high?"
"Is that not illegal?"
"Do you get that on prescription?"
"How do you know what you're getting?"
To be perfectly honest, they are the same questions I have asked myself and the honest truth is no, I would not be vaping if I didn't see it as a chance to help improve my health and help me live with the chronic pain that plagues my life - pain which causes me rely on opioid pain medication such as Tramadol just to make it through the day.
No, I have never smoked before. Not so much as a quick puff behind the bike sheds or the end of a joint passed around at a student party. I have been resolutely anti-smoking since I can remember.
So this is not a natural move for me - but.... never say never.
In April 2016, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia - it's a poorly understood condition which causes, among other things, chronic pain, muscle weakness, fatigue and brain fog. Other symptoms can include nausea, IBS, numbness in the extremities, restless legs (and arms, in my case!) and much much more.
In short, it's horrible. There is no cure. There are periods of remission - or when I'm not in a flare and things are fairly manageable. I enjoyed a pretty long period of remission from January through to May of this year and then - boom - this summer has kicked my ass. Thoroughly.
To the point where my daily meds just take the edge off - but my options for prescription medications are limited.
So I've tried different things. I take strong Magnesium supplements. Vitamin B6. Vitamin B12. Vitamin D. Black Cohosh. Calcium.
In June, during a particular violent flare episode I was told about CBD drops. I bought them (perfectly legally) in Holland and Barrett - and while they were effective - they taste like death. Like actual death. And with nausea as one of my flaring symptoms, it became a struggle to keep them down.
So I was told about vaping - and ingesting the oil this way.
Here are a few keys points about it
Northern Ireland based company Ziggicig offered me the chance to try vaping with CBD oil - from the company Canavape - in return for my honest review of how I found the products. Because this is a health issues I must say this is *my* experience and what I will write below is 100% honest - but please bear in mind that no two people are the same and, needless to say, I'm not a medical professional.
I was given an Aspire e-cig and some Blue Skante flavoured oil (OMG, even the fact that the oil did not taste like DEATH was a bonus. It has a fruity taste with a slight hint of mint).
As I haven't smoked before, I did my fair bit of not inhaling properly, spluttering, wondering what I was doing over the first couple of days.
Yes, I noticed that if I used the vape the burning pain I feel in my arms and legs would subside for a bit. As it would with the drops. This was a good thing.
The big test came during the week when my body decided to uber flare. I could not sleep due to the pain I was in. My limbs were restless with shooting pains and jumpy legs, electric shock type pains in my arms and all over aching.
Normally, with such a strong flare, I would reach for a top up dose of 100mgs of Tramadol (And I'm already taking 300mgs a day... so the top up brings up to the very top of the safe daily limit for this very strong drug).
But I decided to see if the CBD oil would help first. It was 3 in the morning. I was exhausted and emotional. I started to vape. Within half an hour, and without having to top up with strong opioids, my limbs had settled and my pain had reduced which allowed me to be able to get some much needed sleep.
This was a DEFINITE GOOD THING.
I have been able to mostly get on with my life this week. If I feel achey, I have started to vape. Perhaps it's the oil. Perhaps it's taking ten minutes out - but it has worked. I've been able to manage the pain in my hands so that I have been able to keep writing and meet my work commitments.
I'm not pain free - but I'm more how I was in January when I felt it was relatively under control than how I have been over the course of the last eight weeks.
Fibromyalgia is variable though - it relapses and remits. I can only explain how I feel in this short period of time and to get a full picture, I'd need to vape for at least a month to see how it helps with my hormonal patterns fluctuating. That said, I've enough faith in it to keep going for the month - and perhaps beyond.
Ziggicig have a number of retail outlets throughout Northern Ireland and their staff will be able to advise you on what is the best product to suit your needs.
Last week the teen hugged me. A proper hug. One I don't always get from him because even though he still loves me, he's 13 and hugging your mammy isn't always considered cool.
But he walked into the kitchen and hugged me and I rested my head on his shoulder and he laughed and declared he was taller than me now (and I'm 5' 8") and I stepped back and looked at him - my baby. Man big.
He will grow more - he has a good few growing years ahead of him. While his face has taken on a more manly shape and there is a trace of a dark fluff on his upper lip - I know it will change further. His jawline will become more defined. The fluff become spiky. His voice has already dropped - I wonder if it will drop more.
And most of all - when he leaves his shoes lying around the house - which he does quite often - I don't always know if he they are his, or his daddy's.
In the last year his feet have gone from a size 6 to a size 10.
A man's size 10.
No buying in the kid's section any more. No call for shoes which light up when he stomps in them. No desire to wear his welly boots all the time any more - even in summer.
Like most mums, I remember the day I bought his first pair of shoes. A rite of passage every mother and child goes through - they were a size 7 (baby size), with velcro straps. He toddled across the floor at Clarkes and I tried not to think that of adage about the day you put your child's first shoes on them they are one step closer to walking away from you. (Right? Because a mother of a toddler needs to hear that?).
But still I thought it was forever away - and I suppose it is still somewhere in the distance but that baby is gone.
The hugs on my knee, the way I carried him on my hip. The way he would crawl into bed beside me for a snuggle. The way for a few precious years I was the centre of his universe and he was the centre of mine. Our shared childish jokes and laughs. It felt so hard learning to be a mother then - but it's harder trying to figure out how to be a mother now. How to start preparing myself for the day when I let him go.
He is already talking of his desire to study at university in Liverpool. My heart sinks but I plaster on a smile because this is his life and not mine.
But the thought that those size 10 shoes won't always clutter up my hallway? Well that breaks my heart just a little.
I've never lied about my struggles with my mental health - and when I reflect on the periods where things have been the most stressful, it's really no coincidence that for me the biggest challenges to my mental health have come at times of great change - of the kind of change that makes me have to reassess my identity.
For example - those first few months of motherhood, where I didn't know what day of the week it was never mind who I was any more. I had gone from being the career woman who always did everything right to being this zombie who couldn't soothe a colic ridden baby.
Then there was pregnancy number 2 - the hyperemesis months - where I had so longed for a lovely pregnancy but ended up living in perpetual fear of boking my anatomy in public. (Which I did, on several memorable occasions). I could not control my body - and this led my mind to take a little wander all of its own.
Other periods of ill health have come with their challenges but most recently it has been the redefining of who I am that has had me swimming in a pit of anxiety. And that pit is a horrible place to me. It's quite dark. It's too warm. It's clammy and sticky and it makes you smell bad. There are distorted mirrors on the walls - so you never see a true reflection of who you are - just weird, fucked up images which make you wonder if you ever really knew yourself at all.
Kind of. But anxiety is a strange place. It's both overly, horrible melodramatic with lashings of over sensitivity and paranoia but it is also, almost impossibly, numbing. Hours have been spent just staring - at nothing. At everything. Watching the numbers tick over on the clock. Crawling under the duvet and sleeping away 2, 3, 4 hours during the day then sitting awake at night - anxiety firing on all cylinders. (One upshot is that my housework gets done with little interruption in the wee small hours).
The accelerator for this current madness?
It's hard to know. I think not having the identity of Claire who works for the Journal any more has played a part. That was 18 years of my life - that is now gone.
Pushing myself creatively - into darker places - has also played a part because to achieve what I want I have to work harder, have to put myself out there more. Have to be afraid of once again (although metaphorically this time) boking my anatomy in public. Having to stand there - vulnerable, exposed, hoping people like the new you. Hoping they validate your choices.
Or maybe, just maybe, there's a little piece of my brain that's always going to be wired a little differently. It's always going to take notions to act the maggot from time to time.
And through it all I, like so many people out there, just keep going. Because that's what we need to do. Even when it is scary (and I am scared a lot of the time at the moment) and even when it hurts (and I hurt a lot at the moment) and even when we really, really don't want to.
My lovely writing friend Rowan Coleman shared a picture of a Post It Note on which she had written "Keep Showing Up" recently. I know Rowan loves that motto - but for me it has been one that really has kept me afloat these last few weeks. Just Keep Showing Up - push through and do it, because the alternative is unacceptable.
Although the headline on this blog post says I refuse to feel ashamed - something happened this morning which jolted a wave of shame inside me.
It was the sharing of a stupid Meme on Facebook - by someone I know would not have intended to offend. It's the same Meme I have seen shared many times - it seems to do the rounds every three or four months - and each time it makes me feel unsettled.
You see this meme states that taking antidepressant medication is "shit" - and that the real antidepressant we should be looking for is a walk in the country.
I have thought about this a lot - especially as someone who has spent the lion share of the last 15 years on some form or another of antidepressant medication.
There are times I have come off it - and all has been well for a few months. Once I managed almost a year. And then, you see, the old feelings started to creep back in. The dark thoughts. The loss of interest in anything. The self destruct button was primed and ready for pushing.
The scary thing is, each and every time those thoughts came back - they came back harder, stronger, deeper, scarier.
Until the time I found myself pounding my head with my hands to try and get them out. Banging my head off a wall, literally to stop them. Planning how I could stop them for good.
Or there was the time when I had a very detailed plan for how exactly I would end my own life - in a relatively calm/ peaceful manner. (In my job as a journalist I've attended enough inquests to know a thing or two about death - things that don't leave you. Things that add to the horror in your head.)
Each time I went on medication I told myself I would take them until i felt better and that because medication = bad, I would stop. My entire focus was on getting off the tablets as quickly as I could. Being fixed. Being better.
It wasn't about learning how to manage my illness. How to live with it. How to accept it was a part of me that didn't want to go away,
Because for the most part my depression has not been down to my circumstances. I have a good life. A career. Relative success. A husband. A house. A car. A supportive family. Good friends. I am lucky. The rational part of me knows that.
I'm one of those folks who just suffers from a chemical imbalance which gives me a predisposition to dark moods. I think a lot. I over think a WHOLE lot. I am an empathetic person - but sometimes I think I take onboard other people's feelings too much. If I see someone in pain - I feel their pain. I am a person who wants to fix things. To make things right. I am a creative who has to put herself in some very dark places to write stories that will resonate with people who have been in very dark places.
I have seen and heard a lot of things in the course of my journalism career that had deeply affected me - people whose stories I have carried with me every day. Grieving mothers sobbing over their children who aren't coming home, women shaking with fear recounting how they were beaten to within an inch of their lives, abuse victims recalling the horror they endured, injustice, illness, accidents - all things that were part of my job but which coloured my thoughts.
Of course, bad things have happened to me - and I have had to allow myself to feel those emotions to heal from the experiences but overall, I need a little help. I need some medication.
I've tried a lot of self care - supplements, exercise, complementary therapies, mindfulness, CBT etc - but the one thing that keeps me on a relatively even keel are the two tablets I pop each evening before bed.
They allow me to appreciate life. They allow me to find the strength to get out of bed when I want to hide under the duvet. They allow me to want to walk along a beach, or a country path and enjoy it - feel it, breathe it, live it.
They allow me to want to live.
But this Meme - it plays on all that. Most of all it plays on the feelings people with invisible illness have that they might just be going mad. They are weak. They are making things up. They are malingerers. They should just pull themselves together. They are broken in some way because they need help to deal with each day,.
It makes people feel ashamed to live with a condition they have little or no control over.
This morning it made me feel ashamed.
It made me feel wrong.
It made me feel not good enough.
So I had to write this blog - to put my feelings down to allow me to cope with how I was feeling. To rationalise it. To remind myself the reason I'm still here today is because I took my medication AND I took care of myself.
The two can work beautifully, miraculously together.
Stop shaming people into thinking they don't.
There's no doubt I'm feeling reflective. December has arrived. Yesterday I battled with the scratchy branches of our Christmas tree to decorate the house.
I have been squirreling away Santa presents for months, and making the children have as magical a Christmas as possible (including Elf on the Shelf activities, which seemed a good idea when I started it).
But I suppose like a lot of people I'm finding it difficult to get fully into the festive spirit - because, as for many people, 2016 has been such a turbulent year for me.
I have been trying to process everything that happened - being one of those hokey sorts who believes every thing in life is a learning experience - and figure out what way I'm supposed to have progressed through the shit storm that 2016 brought.
World affairs aside (because, seriously? That's beyond depressing) - this year has been a challenging one personally for a host of reasons, many of which I have mentioned on this blog before.
Not least of course has been my decision to leave the relative safety net of my 18 year strong journalism career, to focus on my writing career, my family and my health.
There have been so many (SO. MANY.) personal challenges that I have felt like a reluctant passenger on a very high, very fast, very boke-inducing rollercoaster.
From personal relationships to friendships, to illness of family members, to concerns about challenges facing those I love - it has been one hell of a c year and I'm well aware it isn't over yet.
But it has taught me a number of things, which, if you don't mind, I'd like to share with you now.
I know all this is a bit mushy - but if you can't be mushy at Christmas, when can you?
Thank you all for reading, for chatting, for laughing, for supporting.
Today is World Sepsis Awareness Day.
It's not a very sexy condition. In fact, it's really kind of rotten. And it can kill - in the matter of a few hours.
According to the Sepsis Trust, Sepsis is "Sepsis is a life threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. Sepsis leads to shock, multiple organ failure and death especially if not recognized early and treated promptly."
It can be caused by any number of common bacteria - and essentially it's when your body has a shit fit over a bacteria it would normally ass kick.
It's scary. It's really scary.
And I know this because about 18 months ago I was a sepsis patient. And I wasn't even a near death, Sepsis shock patient, but the thing I remember most of all about it is the feeling that I actually could die - and that I felt so absolutely wretched that it would be okay if I did.
Sepsis sneaks up on you. At first I thought I had the flu. Two days later, I thought I had a stomach bug. The day after that - I felt utterly horrid and could no longer keep down any fluids or food. My body ached - so badly. My abdomen (most likely the infection site) was in spasms of pain. It hurt to blink. I think I will always remember that I could hear myself blink and it was excruciating.
My husband had gone to work. My mother had called in but had to go on to another commitment, but I was, at that stage (it didn't hurt to blink yet) sure I would be fine. And I'm a bit dramatic at times - and was determined not to be this time.
But alone at home, as that morning progressed, I felt worse and worse. I remember throwing myself rather dramatically around my bed as the spasms of pain kicked in. I remember screaming in pain - the kind of noises I hadn't heard from my mouth since child birth. Then the noisy blinking started (It actually sounded like windscreen wipers scraping across a dry windscreen).
I couldn't get comfortable, so I went downstairs. I text my husband and told him I wasn't feeling well. I asked him to come home. Normally he would tell me to stop being a drama queen (guilty as charged!) but this time, for whatever reason, he decided to come home.
And that in itself probably explains why I'm here.
By the time he arrived home, the only place I could find any kind of comfort was curled on a ball on the cool living room floor. I remember thinking I was dying. I knew I was sick - really sick. We lived five minutes from the hospital and rather than call an ambulance, my husband bundled me in the car.
This was not my finest moment. I had been sick - hadn't showered in two days as I was too weak. I was wearing my pyjamas (mismatched, of course, not my nice matchy pair!). My feet were shoved into boots. I had my winter coat on.
My husband pulled up at A&E and I got out of the car while he parked. I remember trying to find the reception (the A&E was undergoing a refurbishment) and being doubled over in pain and convinced I was going to pass out at any second.
Directed to the waiting room, with tablets I couldn't take, I sat looking like the walking dead, actually crying out in pain and apologising to the horrified looking fellow patients, until a nurse took one look at me and rushed me to through to the treatment area.
It's a bit of a blur after that, Blood tests (a young doctor who apologised because he didn't normally put canulas in), painkillers, anti spasmodic medication, anti sickness medication, more painkillers, worried looks "a very serious infection indeed", morphine, antibiotics, isolation in a room where not even my family were allowed to visit. "You don't want to be in there," a nurse told my mother when she came to see me.
Tests, scans, poked and prodded. An argument with an arrogant and horrible doctor. Nurses who were worth their weight in gold. Fear.
Feeling like every cell in my body hurt. I was in a hospital bed but, bizarrely and I don't think I'll ever forget it, I felt as though I was lying on a hard slab. Hallucinations. I batted away an imaginary nurse who was trying to cut my hair.
Sleeping for what seemed like hours to find that only five minutes had passed. I wasn't sure what memories were real and what were dreams any more. I couldn't understanding why time was playing tricks on me.
Feeling so utterly wretched that if someone had told me I was dying, I'd have said: "No bother. Cheers. Tell my wains I love them."
Of course when you feel so sick, so utterly awful, death seems okay. But as I got better - (six days in isolation, as I said, I was lucky. Shock had not set in. I felt awful - and that was the condition caught early!!) the real fear set in. The reality set in.
I could have died. If my husband hadn't come home when he did.... well, with sepsis every second counts.
The recovery was slow - physically and emotionally.
I felt raw. Exposed. Mortal. I felt so very, very tired. And sick. And as if everything had changed. I wanted/ needed to sleep but I wanted to grab life by the balls as well. I had to learn my limitations.
I would panic every time my temperature went up. Every ache and pain brought on a fear that "it" was coming back. Flashbacks. That feeling of lying on that "slab", time on a loop, hallucinations, pain, shame (was it my fault I had an infection?), feeling silly, feeling grateful, feeling sad Panic attacks. LOTS of panic attacks.
It changed my life - that experience.
In the 18 months that have passed we bought our little bolthole (caravan!) by the sea. I moved on from my publishers. I took voluntary redundancy from my job. I lost 4 stone at Slimming World. I went blonde again.
I've written two books. I went on my first "girls only" holiday. I grabbed life by the balls.
Am I still affected by it? Yes - quite possibly it contributed to my developing Fibromyalgia. We will never know but trauma like that to the body can trigger Fibro. Do I still get nervous every time anyone I know develops a fever? Yes. Do I still remember the fear?
I will never forget it.
And I was lucky.
I'm relatively unscathed.
Make yourself aware of Sepsis. Never be afraid to ask questions if someone takes unwell.
And I hope you never have to tell your own Sepsis story.
It's Rose of Tralee week again. The island of Ireland has gone into 'lovely girls' overdrive as young, available women of Irish origin compete for the Rose crown.
It's not a beauty contest, per se, although value is placed on what lovely frocks the lovely girls wear and how they carry themselves. You won't see a fat rose grace the stage of the dome.
You won't see anything other that a beautifully groomed young woman in formal attire looking as lovely as she possibly can. and, worst of all, doing a "party piece" - to show that not only is she a lovely girl she can also do a jig or sing a song about her mother country or play a recorder.
The winning rose will of course spend a year smiling and wearing a crown and sash and doing good works.
(We'll not even get into how she needs a male escort to help make everything look above board and make sure no harm comes to her.)
If I have not made it clear enough, I detest the Rose of Tralee and all it stands for. I hate the dated, sexist, old country Irish-ism of it al.
I hate that we are fawning over it in a week when two Irish women publicly shared their trip to England to secure an abortion because they are not allowed to have one in their own country.
I hate that we went one day from being a country that raged about how terribly awfully Ireland treats women - and how it has always treated women as second class citizens who wouldn't know what to do with themselves if their lives depended on it - (Which resulted, of course, in the case of Savita Halappanavar -who died when doctors refused to terminate her doomed pregnancy, even when sepsis was setting in.) to a country that welcomed the annual pageant and even got excited about it.
Now, I'm not a total arse. I get that we can poke fun at it. I get that we can watch it with disdain and even get a laugh out of it - but we shouldn't have to.
We shouldn't want to.
If we are to really forward the cause of women in Ireland - we shouldn't be accepting the Rose of Tralee as something wholesome and intrinsically Irish and "just a bit of fun".
It's not just a bit of fun. Not when women are still fighting for their rights in this country. Not when women are still dying because they don't have autonomy over their own bodies.
Otherwise, it just becomes an international joke. A celebration of our backwardness. A public week long celebration of women as objects - as trophies who entertain with their party pieces and who look lovely in satin with their hair pinned to the top of their head - like all good girls should.
I suppose at least on Monday night we had one joyous reprieve when the Sydney Rose, called out Ireland on our attitude to reproductive health - stating it was time to repeal the eighth amendment.
I was expecting the dome to descend into silence - for tumbleweed to rattle across the stage and for poor Daithi to take a full on conniption on an epic scale.
But there was applause - and I wondered if we were finally, albeit, very slowly moving in the right direction.
Still, if the women of Ireland are to have equality, parity, respect and all we deserve, the Rose of Tralee must be allowed to wilt and die.
I bought a sideboard. An old, musty sideboard which has been lovingly up-cycled and given a new lease of life.
I bought the sideboard to go in what will become my dining room. Before now the room (the second reception room in our 50s Terrace) has been an odd mix of a playroom, a home office and a general dumping ground which I have loathed and despised from the moment we bought this house.
I have never found that room nice to be in. It was not a relaxing place to be. It was the kind of place that was frequently cluttered with piles of paperwork, stacks of books here and there and broken bits of plastic toys which no longer held any purpose and were probably a health hazard.
I'm sure behind an old toy Ikea kitchen there was probably a mouldy Wotsit from the neolithic age. I hated it. HATED it.
And it had the kind of mismatched furniture that set my teeth on edge.
So, when the mid-life-crisis hit and I decided to become a full time writer, one of my plans was to finally make this room lovely - as I will be spending more time at home than ever before.
And I bought a sideboard.
It has already given me so much joy, Not least because it reminds me of the sideboard my grandparents used to have in their house when I was a child.
In that sideboard, on the left hand side, there were all the treats the world had ever seen. Biscuits. Fancy biscuits. Biscuits my granny would dole out to us when we were visiting and looking particularly cute. Biscuits that were the precursor to the 10p that would be slipped into our hands before we left for home.
I had such warm memories of that sideboard - of that house, of the times we spent there - that when I saw what I now deem the sideboard of dreams, I knew I had to have it.
I had to have it and use it to make my home feel more homely. I have become obsessed with the idea of a formal dining room. No more TV at dinner time. No disappearing to our different parts of the house at meal times.
I have plans for family dinners, or sitting around together playing board games, and watching the kids doing their homework and, when they are being very cute, taking the biscuits out of the cupboard and offering them one.
I'll ignore the fact my children are fussy eaters. Or that the boy (12) will want to do his homework in his room. I'll ignore the fact that any biscuits in this house have to go under virtual lock and key due to biscuit eating monsters (I include myself in that group).
I'll ignore everything other than the warm feeling of nostalgia - the hopeful glow of nice family times.
Yes - a midlife crisis. A sideboard.
Things are getting strange here on Walton's Mountain.
When I left my career of 17 years, a colleague wrote me a very lovely card. In it she said she had always admired my confidence.
I was a bit taken aback because if you were to ask me, I'd have told you that I was the least confident person on the planet.
Even this move - this pack-in-the-day-job-and-give-writing-a-go move - was not borne out of any sense of confidence that I was about to become the next big thing in writing. In fact it was fair to say that the decision to leave was the least 'me-like' thing I have ever done,
I am not confident. I am not courageous. I am not brave. Like many people I have spent a very deal of my life feeling a bit like an intruder in the room - someone who is there by fluke or as the token quiet Derry girl.
I have spent my life waiting to be found out and - at the moment as I find my way in this full time writing world, I wonder if now is the time I finally will be.
I have never felt more like the quiet, ill equipped, Derry girl in the room.
And believe me, I have made that role my own in the past. I spoke to an old acquaintance recently - someone I was at journalism college with- and we got on to the topic of how quiet and shy I was back then.
Yes, forging a career breaking news stories, interviewing politicians, policy makers and celebs - and I couldn't bring myself to open my mouth to the people I was studying with.
The former class mate told me my shyness was "painful to watch' at times - and I felt like screaming that it was more painful to endure.
It wasn't that I didn't want to fit in - to have the craic, to go out on the nights out with my classmates, to be privy to all the scandal that went on - it was just that I didn't think I belonged. They - my classmates - all were confident, talented folks with the personalities to ask the right questions.
I was the girl on the bursary who did well in all the exams but failed dramatically at the living the university life bit.
I have to say, I've carried that with me for the past 20 years. The whole way through my journalism career. I have always felt embarrassed for the girl I was - who didn't even speak up when someone was making fun of her to her face.
I was awkward and clumsy and really, if I'm honest, a bit frumpy. When I wrote Rainy Days and Tuesdays and wrote about Grace, not sure who she was and a terrible journalist because she hated answering the phone - well... let's just say there was more than a little me there.
I'm not much different when it comes to writing. Why anyone thinks being an author makes you brave, or confident is beyond me. There are few and far between authors I know - from the amateurs to the bestsellers - who aren't frequently crippled with self doubt.
If they are lucky - they can hide it. We're not supposed to say we're nervous. Or scared. Or anything less than utterly confident in our books.
We are supposed to be able to stand up now and shout about our successes. Boast our sales figures. Talk confidently about our craft.
I fail on all counts. I feel if I talk sales figures - people will think me a bore. I figure if I talk about my writing people will laugh and think "who is she kidding on with that nonsense?".
But I'm trying to change - because 20 years regretting a socially painful year at journalism college is/ was a big burden to carry.
I am trying to be proud of who I am. To speak loudly about who I am and what I do. I'm trying not to say "just women's fiction really' when people ask me what I write because that's insulting to me - and more so to my readers. I'm trying to own my story - including sharing the truth of my painful year at college (which actually normally just makes me cry when I think about it) so that I can move on and become that confident person.
The acquaintance I spoke with told me I should be living my best life now.
So I suppose I should give that a try for a change - and go forward bravely knowing that even if it has hurt along the way I've not given up.
I'm still trying.
I'm still doing.
And perhaps one day soon when I walk into a crowded room with confident people I will be able to stand up bravely and make sure they know me too. The real me. Not the token quiet girl from Derry.
Why Skirting the Issue?
For 14 years I wrote my Skirting the Issue column for the Derry Journal each Friday - I may have moved on, but I still have opinions!