Success story of author and screen-writer... a Bantry girl at heart

Cork author and screenwriter Kate O’Riordan tells CHRIS DUNNE about her road to success, and her love for her home town
Success story of author and screen-writer... a Bantry girl at heart

Kate O’Riordan. Picture: Darragh Kane

WE would have smothered our mothers to find out ‘whodunit’ during the recent RTÉ1 series Smother, written by Bantry author and screen-writer Kate O’Riordan.

The gripping drama, set in Lahinch, had the nation guessing and double guessing from the beginning about who the killer could possibly be.

The big reveal came in the final episode, watched by 475,000 people.

“I was double guessing the end myself as I wrote the screenplay for Smother!” says Kate, who was born and raised in Bantry and is now based in Twickenham, London, and married to Donal, an accountant and fellow Bantry native.

The coastal backdrop of the Clare coast echoed Kate’s own upbringing in West Cork, with its gorgeous panoramic views. “Lahinch, like Bantry, is one of the most beautiful places on earth,” says Kate.

“It’s inscribed in your soul. I loved living there,” adds Kate, who grew up over her father’s butcher shop in the centre of Bantry town.

“Is she famous there?

“I wouldn’t think so!” says Kate, who pens TV series behind the scenes, and who was nominated for the Dillon’s first novel prize for her book, Involved.

The 1995 debut novel won the Sunday Tribune emerging writer prize. Involved was adapted by ITV, which was Kate’s passport into writing for television.

Working in the airline business initially, she kept her feet firmly on the ground and close to her roots.

“Bumping into former school-friends in West Cork when I’m back home is always lovely and we catch up on how we are doing and what we are doing now.”

Kate is back on home ground to visit her mother who lives in Bantry and to engage with and enjoy the West Cork Literary Festival.

“I spoke to author Liz Nugent in Bantry House as part of this year’s Festival,” says Kate. “I admire Liz’s work very much. I’m a big fan. Our interview will be broadcast on Sunday, July 11 as part of this summer’s festival which runs throughout July.

“The West Cork Literary Festival is a fantastic event for writers, for authors and for people interested in writing and in books.”

How did Kate become a successful author and screen-writer after she was a high-flyer in the airline world?

“Hard work and long hours!” says Kate. “It was a long, hard slog.”

She was often in the right place at the right time.

“I remember I was at a Literary and Scientific event in Highgate, North London, where a woman from a reputable literary agency was talking.”

Kate didn’t hang about.

“I nabbed her! I asked her what I needed to do. I never met the lady again. But I got good advice from her. She told me to send something in and that was the beginning.”

Obviously, Kate isn’t shy?

“No. I’m not at all shy.

“When I approached the lady at the literary event, I said to myself; at least she has to be polite to me!”

Like lots of her peers, Kate left home in the 1990s to seek her fortune. She worked for Virgin and Air Florida, living in L.A for a year.

“I didn’t like L.A,” says Kate. “Everything seems plastic there.”

But she was living the good life?

“It sounds glamorous; but it was far from it,” she says.

But she felt fortunate.

“I was one of the lucky few who kept the day job while still being able to write.”

Kate was a big reader growing up in Bantry.

“I began to write short stories and I began sending them into literary magazines. I entered short-story writing competitions.”

She began writing at a very young age.

“I suppose I have been writing since I was born” says Kate. “I wrote short stories, plays for my class to perform at school; that sort of thing,” she says.

“I wrote for short story competitions which were published in literary magazines.”

That got her thinking.

“I thought, maybe I have a talent after all.”

She wrote in her spare time, even when she began her working life with West Cork Travel, before heading to work in the Big Smoke where the big guns like Virgin Air operated from.

“I worked the day job and I had a young son,” says Kate, who has the grit and determination to be a successful novelist and screen-writer.

She burned the midnight oil too.

“I worked whenever I got a chance, mostly at night and at weekends. I wanted more.”

She got more.

“For an author, having an agent really is the pinnacle of the road to success,” says Kate. “It’s like winning the Lotto!”

“The nomination for the Dillon first novel prize and winning the Hennessy emerging writer got me noticed.

“Getting an agent and a publisher can be difficult for writers. That was my way in.”

Things didn’t happen overnight.

“There was a long transition when I earned a living from the day job to becoming a full-time writer.”

In addition to being a successful novelist, she is also a household name in British television, having written and collaborated on various projects including Mr Selfridge.

“I had an awful lot of luck,” says Kate.

What’s needed to make the Big Time?

“It’s always a mix. Always,” says Kate.

“There was definitely hard work because you’re just not going to get published or get TV adaptations done unless you work very, very hard.”

He hard work paid off and she kept her options open; opening doors for literary success and TV notoriety.

“Because you’re working very hard, it means you’re meeting different people and one thing leads to another,” says Kate.

“After a while, those people will call your agent and say, ‘Listen, would Kate be interested in such- and-such a project?’

Her project now is to catch up with her mother and enjoy the place that is inscribed in her soul.

“I’m staying with mum and I’ll keep a low profile,” says Kate.

“We are both vaccinated so that’s a good thing. It’s good to be home” And that’s worth writing down.

West Cork Literary Film Festival takes place, July 9-16.

See:

https://www.westcorkmusic.ie/literary-festival/

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