PROBABLY the most defining event in 30-year old writer Louise O’Sullivan’s life was the sudden death of her father on Christmas Eve when she was aged 12. Louise, who lives in Ballincollig and has just published her first collection of poetry, says that for a long time, she felt numb.
“I was in my early twenties before I started to really process my father’s death,” recalls Louise.
“Naturally enough, it had an awful effect. You don’t really recover from something like that. You just adapt. It’s where a lot of my writing comes from.
“Some of what I write is about the experience of losing my dad, not just the night itself, more about the weddings and the babies. I’m the youngest with three brothers. I have two nephews and a niece. There’s always a bitter sweetness about family events. My dad’s death took a massive toll on us.”
Entitled Growing Pains, Louise’s poetry collection is divided under the headings of the seasons. In autumn, she has a poem called Wilting. It seems to be about grief. She writes: The weight of loss has dragged me down again / My arms hang limp and my head droops. / My mind is weary from negotiating. / I want to be tired. I want to be weak. / Let me rest.
Louise, whose book is self published, has always wanted to write. Originally from Blarney, she returns to the family home most weekends and writes there in the box room which she has transformed into a study. Writing is something she does in her spare time.
Louise works for O’Flynn Construction on residential house sales, liaising between solicitors and purchasers, co-ordinating the closing of sales. She also contribute to The Echo, often writing travel articles.
“Writing has always been what I wanted to do. I did a degree in media and English at UL. Then I did a diploma in public relations at CIT. I’ve always been drawn to media but it’s difficult to get into.
“When I left college, I didn’t really feel like I had the discipline at 21 or 22 to get my head down to writing so I taught English abroad for a while. I did it in Thailand and the Czech Republic. I had done my Erasmus in Prague and always felt I’d go back there because I loved it. I had two very different and interesting experiences in the two countries. It was valuable. I definitely learned a lot along the way.
“In Thailand, I was in a small suburb outside Bangkok. Everyone thinks of blues skies and beaches when you mention Thailand. But when you’re working and living there, it’s different. There’s a lot of poverty there next to wealth. Working for a Thai employer is different to working for an Irish one. The Thais are not always by the books in terms of your salary. Expect the unexpected. We got paid at varying levels and at various times. You had to budget.”
Travelling solo was daunting at first, she says. “When my mom was dropping me at the airport, I was saying ‘what am I doing?’ I met other English teachers there. You really needed to keep your wits about you. But it was a great learning curve. When you go out, you look back and think you were in a hairy situation, potentially, left on your own. You don’t know people very well. But I don’t have any really scary memories.”
When Louise returned from her travels, she worked for 18 months in a Cork PR firm.
“I think I learned everything I could from it. There wasn’t a lot of room to progress.”
She got the job with O’Flynn Construction. It started out as a temporary job and became permanent. All the time, Louise was writing.
“I love journaling so I did that and I had a blog at the time. I’ve always been drawn to non-fiction. Poetry kind of came out of nowhere. I hadn’t done it since my Leaving Cert. I did a memoir course online in 2017. It gave me confidence. I gravitated towards poetry.
“I like to write as a form of therapy. Poetry gave me the freedom to write whatever came out. I had toyed with the idea of doing a memoir but that’s for later down the line. I decided to stick with poetry.”
Louise says that each of the poems in her book mean something to her.
“But I want people to relate to it. Each of the seasons in the book reflects different growth periods for me personally. There’s grief in there, loss, self-esteem, family, relationships and friends. It’s kind of about growing up, that transitional period between the twenties and the early thirties.”
In recent years, Louise has become a more disciplined writer, having found it difficult to sit down and write in the past. She likes to read contemporary poets such as Lang Leav and Rupi Kaur. At school, she loved the work of Robert Frost and Seamus Heaney.
Before publishing her book, she showed it to her former English teacher, Dan O’Donovan, at Colaiste Gan Smal in Blarney.
“He was saying it was great but I told him I needed it to be critiqued.”
Louise thought about approaching publishing companies to bring out her book.
“But I thought, there is so much competition to get an agent and a publisher. I would have loved to have been published traditionally but when I weighed up the options, self-publishing seemed like a more accessible route, especially for a first book. To build up my confidence, I decided to self publish. I had done a self-publishing course at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. So that really guided me. Between editing and printing, it cost me a few hundred euro.”
Because her poetry is so personal, Louise is a little apprehensive about putting her collection out there. “People can be very judgemental. That’s scary to me. If they like it, great. If not, that’s fine as well.”
Ideally, Louise would love to make a living out of writing.
“Not necessarily poetry. Maybe writing something else down the line. But at the moment, it’s not feasible for me. I wouldn’t be opposed to writing a novel but I think I’m better at short terms projects.”
Growing Pains by Louise O’Sullivan is available on Amazon.