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Chicken stew, a gold blouse and a book launch

‘The boys won’t eat stew.’

  It was 6 o’clock and Niall had just come into the kitchen from his office out the back. He was babysitting tonight while I launched It Was Only Ever You.  Book launches are always kind-of a big deal. Like a small wedding, or a christening.  Except that, for jobbing authors me, they can happen every year. For the first few years my husband came to all my launches, wore a suit, smiled and seemed to be, genuinely, terribly proud of me indeed. Fourteen books later the novelty has kind of worn off.  There is only so much standing around listening to how marvellous your wife is that any man can take. There is only so much of it I can take, too. Last year’s launch of The Dress was a big palaver. There was an overnight in Dublin, Niall Tyrrell made me a dress for the occasion and I had my hair and nails done. That was followed by two theatre readings in Mayo. I enjoyed the experience - but was not ready to do it all again. Besides, I thought, everyone will be sick of seeing me. Which is why this year, I decided to go very low-key. A glass of wine and posh crisps in my local Eason. Sign a few books for a few mates, home in bed by nine. No big deal.  Except that, all day, people had been texting and Facebooking me saying they were 'looking forward’ to my ‘big night'.  I even into Penney’s at lunchtime and bought a gold blouse. I was beginning to panic.

 When I get panicky I also get defensive. I know that nobody in the house likes chicken stew except me and Mam, but nonetheless I made a big pronouncements earlier that I had ‘prepared dinner’ for Niall and the boys because I was going out.

‘Why did you say you had cooked dinner when you knew we wouldn’t eat it?’

Because I am out of my mind with nervous terror about tonight, I wanted to say. But I didn’t. Instead I passive-aggressively stomped up to the garage, spent a weeks wages on branded pizzas - then rushed back and threw them at him shouting, ‘Are you HAPPY now?’

I ran upstairs and into the shower. As I was trying to blow dry my hair Mam appeared in the mirror behind me. ‘Why did you buy all those pizzas when there is a perfectly good stew in the slow cooker,’ she asked. ‘Can you all just leave me alone for five minutes to blow dry my hair!’ I snapped. She sloped off, hurt and I felt a wave of guilt followed by another of self-pity. This was my big night.  I should be in a fancy hair or beauty salon, not trying to snatch 10 minutes to myself without someone shouting ‘Mam!’ or hassling me about chicken stew. 

I ran up to Eason’s early.  I had promised to help the girls set up the shop for tonight but when I got there everything was laid out beautifully; crisps and wine, chairs and a lectern. It looked like a proper book launch. I sat down at a table, with flowers and a pen on it, that had been laid out for me to sign books at. As I was changing into my heels, a lady came up with a book to sign. She was early, but I was delighted  and we chatted for a few minutes before I noticed that behind her a queue was already forming. Within half an hour, Easons was packed. I could not believe the number of people who had showed up. My busiest book-launch yet, and me in a cheap Penney’s blouse, stick-on nails, a home-blow dry and nothing prepared to read. As friends and family flooded up to my table, I was found myself desperately trying to keep up with them. Mums and teachers from Tom’s school, cousins from Aughamore and Kiltimach, four of my darling students from NUIG - still they kept coming. Finally, Ballina Easons manager Alison, cleared the queue and got me up to read. Looking at the sea of  people in front of me I felt overwhelmed, but, as I opened my book and beg

an to read, I remembered. This evening was about the words in front of me - the story,  Not the blouse or the flat fringe. The night took off after that. Singer Tommy Fleming and my friend Elaine Tighe joined me in an impromptu singing of the song of the book It was Only Ever You. There were more signings. Drinks. Then, finally home to three sleepy boys full-of-pizza and a great big bowl of chicken stew. 

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