Sinéad Gleeson Q&A: “It’s enough to get regular jolts of happiness”

The author on Princess Leia, Frida Kahlo and unfulfilled football dreams.

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Sinéad Gleeson was born in Dublin in 1974. She started her career as a journalist, presenting “The Book Show” on RTÉ Radio 1, and is the author of a book of essays and the editor of two short-story collections.

What’s your earliest memory?

Going to the circus, aged two or three, and being terrified by a clown who was just trying to be friendly.

Who are your heroes?

Princess Leia, and anyone who looks after the sick and vulnerable and in-need. 

What book last changed your thinking?

Harry Dodge’s memoir My Meteorite. It’s the story of a life, but takes in astronomy, wilderness and family. There’s always been a very specific way of writing about the self, but Dodge breaks that down completely. It’s an illuminating and moving book.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I’ve always looked up to those in politics who are in it to represent the marginalised, as opposed to the uber-privileged narcissists who do it for their own gain. 

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

It’s a toss-up between Kate Bush and Nick Cave. Seeing their names side by side has convinced me there’s scope for a TV series about a mysterious crime-solving duo in the 19th-century Australian outback. 

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

The Easter Rising in Dublin, or New York in the late 1970s (more Studio 54, less the rubbish-filled streets during the strikes). 

What TV show could you not live without?

John Oliver is utterly brilliant and compelling on politics. Current binges: Better Call Saul, and the superb Shaun Evans as Morse in Endeavour

Who would paint your portrait?

Frida Kahlo. But I like the idea of other surrealists having a go: Leonora Carrington, Max Ernst or Dorothea Tanning.

What’s your theme tune?

A cross between something Eighties and jaunty from TV – Worzel Gummidge, or Bullseye – and something foreboding and Russian: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-sharp Minor” and/or “Montagues and Capulets” from Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My writer friend Patrick de Witt told me to sit down and write at the same time every day to make writing into a habit. It works. 

What’s currently bugging you?

The things that always bug me: greed, lack of empathy and, right now, people not social distancing and putting others at risk.

What single thing would make your life better?

More writing, more time off with family. A dichotomy, I know. 

When were you happiest?

We get hung up on prolonged happiness, when regular jolts of it is enough. Walking in a forest with my children. Reading in the bath with a glass of wine. That’ll do. 

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’ve had a lifetime of orthopaedic issues and envy the calf muscles of ballerinas and footballers, so: dancing with the Kirov Ballet, or playing for Manchester United – with the occasional call-up for Ireland. 

Are we all doomed?

As long as we have books, art and music, as well as humour and kindness, I hope not. 

“Constellations” is published by Picador. Sinéad Gleeson was nominated for the Rathbones Folio Prize 2020

This article appears in the 25 March 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The crisis chancellor

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