The writer Kate O’Riordan says West Cork has always been a major influence on her work and adores nothing more than being back in Bantry, she tells Niamh Hayes
‘I WOULD never have said I want to be a writer,’ says Kate O’Riordan, as she reminisces on growing up in West Cork.
Six novels, four plays, numerous internationally acclaimed television series and short stories later, I wonder does Kate consider herself to be a writer now.
Hailing from Bantry, Kate is most recently known for writing Smother, the Irish crime thriller that aired on RTÉ earlier this year.
Kate is back in Bantry for the West Cork Literary Festival and it’s the first time she has been home from London since July 2020, which is a long time for someone who usually travels back to visit her mother every two months.
She grew up in the centre of town, living above her father’s butcher shop. She laughs when she thinks of the link between butchers having daughters who are acclaimed writers in West Cork, with Louise O’Neill being another one.
As we look out at the Bantry Bay landscape, I ask Kate if she ever pictured West Cork when writing Smother and if she would have liked it to be filmed here.
‘I did. I would have happily done it out in Sheep’s Head or somewhere like that.’
For logistical reasons, it had to be the east or west coast of Ireland, so Kate opted for the west coast, and we can see why. That opening scene on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is dramatic and unforgettable, and sets the scene perfectly for the rest of the series.
West Cork has always influenced Kate’s work. Right from the very beginning of her writing days in London, the landscape was hugely important. Her award-winning first novel, Involved, was set in West Cork and Northern Ireland, while her second, The Boy in the Moon, was set in the Sheep’s Head area.
‘It’s kind of like getting the landscape out of your head because you’re not living here any longer. It’s just a way of being here. But gradually you can see the umbilical cord being cut in the books,’ says Kate, talking about how she moved away from West Cork as a location in her following novels.
Kate’s introduction to writing took place at home in Bantry, at a time when she was recovering from jaundice. She had read every single page of every single book she had, so she turned her hand to writing instead. Her first stories were about fairies. But rather than following the path of writing, she went to work in the travel industry after finishing her time boarding in secondary school in Rosscarbery.
She remembers her dad at home, huddled in a corner with local man George Plant. Once the two emerged from their deep conversation (ie ‘plotting’), Kate had a job with George’s West Cork Travel!
She spent time working between the Skibbereen and Clonakilty offices before jetting off to Los Angeles with Donal, her now husband, who is also from Bantry, to work with an Irish travel agency.
After some time, they headed for Canada but unable to get work permits, they decided to move home, stopping off in London. When they couldn’t afford the fare to Ireland, they ended up staying put, and have lived there ever since.
Although London is firmly home for Kate, it doesn’t stop her missing West Cork.
‘On a sunny day in London, it makes me wish I was in Glengarriff woods.’ she said.
Kate has finished writing series two of Smother, and filming of it is just about wrapped up. This is due to air next March, while she is also working on series three.
‘It’s almost like the fashion business, you work one year ahead.’
She couldn’t spend much time on the Smother film set due to Covid-19, which she finds hard as it’s something she would love to experience, but she does hope that both her and her mother will get to experience it on series three.
‘I would have loved for her to come up to Clare and just be in the background,’ she says.
Kate has many other projects in the pipeline. She has developed her 2016 novel Penance into a series. She also has a period detective piece in development, along with other screenwriting projects. She will get back to writing novels too, but she says she is searching for that elusive ‘idea’ first.
Enjoying a seafood platter in downtown Bantry is one of the simple pleasures Kate enjoys when back at home.
• An interview with authors Kate O’Riordan and Liz Nugent will be broadcast on Sunday July 11th, as part of the West Cork Literary Festival. See westcorkmusic.ie/LFprogramme for further details.
The road to writing
Kate lived in the centre of Bantry town. Her father owned a butcher shop. Her family lived upstairs. She is the eldest, with one sister and two brothers.
She attended Our Lady of Mercy Primary School in Bantry before being sent off to boarding school at Mount Saint Michael Secondary School in Rosscarbery, ‘for smoking and kissing’!
After school she got a job with West Cork Travel, working between the Skibbereen and Clonakilty offices. She then went to work with an Irish travel agency in Los Angeles whose niche market was organising holidays for members of the clergy and their followers, to exotic places like Mexico. After moving to London, she worked as an airline sales manager and started to write short stories.
Novels – Involved, The Boy in the Moon, The Angel in the House, The Memory Stones, Loving Him, Penance
Theatre – The Jaws of Darkness, A Drawing Down of Blinds, She’ll be Wearing Silk Pyjamas, God is Thin
Screenwriting – Smother, Mr Selfridge, Casualty, The Chase, Penance, The Spanish Princess, The Bay, The Calling, Agatha Raisin, Anner House, Sisters in Law, After the Fall, The Bad Mother’s Handbook, Strictly Confidential, Gold-Plated, The Kindness of Strangers, The Return, The Boy in the Moon, In the Beginning, Involved, Homecoming, The Jaws of Darkness.