I can't remember a time before I wrote. There was a computer at my Dad's work (just one computer, this being the early 80s: it took up a whole room) and it spewed out reams of paper. The paper was covered in narrow green stripes and computer-print on one side, but was wonderfully blank on the other. Dad brought heaps of it home for us kids. I made little books out of it, and wrote and wrote and wrote.
When I was eighteen, I went off to Oxford to study English Literature. We read all 'the greats', in chronological order. I now know that it's a wonderful resource for a writer, to have this kind of wide reading under your belt, but at the time it knocked the creativity out of me entirely. Literature started to seem like a graveyard full of monuments to dead great men. After Oxford, writing no longer seemed like something I could do. Not being great, or dead. Or a man.
In 1995 I moved to Belfast; I went there initially to do an MA in Irish Writing, thinking I might become an academic. But it was living there that enabled me to write creatively again.
The ceasefire had just come into being, and with that came a massive release of pressure: the city was buzzing with life and energy. And it also seemed to be teeming with writers. You saw novelists in the street, poets at the cinema. You bumped into playwrights in the pub.
Getting to meet writers, getting to know writers, I saw - duh - that writing was something done by real live men and women. And I was a real live woman, so it was at least possible that it could be done by me. I also started going out with one of the writers I'd kept on bumping into, the playwright Daragh Carville. He said to me one day, 'The way you speak, the way you use words, it's clear you're a writer. Why aren't you writing?'
Good question, and incredibly enabling. I began, tentatively, to write again. A short story, and then another. I started writing a novel. Daragh and I married in 2000, and I published my first book, Offcomer, in 2002. I wrote on through a PhD, alongside full-time and part-time jobs, through pregnancy and on into motherhood, and even though my hands are now a bit dodgy from all the typing, I still find I need to write. It clears my head, it shuffles my thoughts into order, tamps them down for me. It's how I make sense of myself, of living in the world.
From time to time, I meet someone who tells me that they love one or other of my books. It makes me very sheepish; I'm not good at taking compliments. But it's extraordinary, and very moving, hear that something I've made, quietly and alone, has had that kind of impact on someone else. It's a privilege.