Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Interview: Ciara Geraghty on her novel Lifesaving for Beginners

CiaraGeraghtyPhoto 1011 Interview: Ciara Geraghty on her novel Lifesaving for Beginners


Irish author Ciara Geraghtys latest novel Lifesaving for Beginners involves a reclusive thriller author who refuses all media appearances and gets about in a clandestine manner worthy of MI5.

The contrast between Ciara and her fictional creation couldnt be more striking: Ciaras voice lilts warmly down the telephone line as she tells me about her upcoming book tour.

Shes in a better state than I am despite having flown halfway across the world and having not yet had her first coffee of the day. Meanwhile, Im on my second.

'Its all fiction'that much I can guarantee you,' she says when I point out the difference between her and her character Kat.

'I like getting out and meeting and chatting to people. Writing is such a solitary little existence. Im one of those writers who has to be alone in a room, with no radio and no telly, so it is kind of nice when you get the chance to be wheeled out to talk to people.'

And of course theres nothing more inspiring than the opportunity to eavesdrop, which Ciara says provides far much more fodder than when youre sitting along in a room where 'nothing is going on other than whats inside your head.'

The fact that Kat shuns publicity is notable in a world where authors are increasingly expected to have a public presence'and are very much judged by it. I couldnt help but notice that John Banville, for example, is the subject of a couple of potshots in the book.

'Ive never actually met him, but Ive met people who have met him and apparently hes a lovely man. He just has a reputation for being very curmudgeonly and very serious about his art,' says Ciara. She adds with a laugh: 'but Im sure I havent damaged his reputation in any way.'

But though Banvilles crime-writing Benjamin Black alter-ego immediately comes to mind given Kats career as a thriller author, Ciara says that it was John Connellys work that was the inspiration behind her characters chosen genre.

'For Kats character Declan Darker,' (she gives this a movie voice-over sort of emphasis) 'I kind of took John Connellys character Charlie Parker and played with that a little bit, just for fun.

Thrillers seem to be a good pick for a character harbouring quite a few skeletons in her closet, but Ciara points out that there was a good deal of pragmatism behind the decision to take Kats career in this direction.

'I wanted to make it completely different. Often if theres any sort of connection between you and your characters people automatically assume that youre writing about yourself, so its good to take that distance.'

Not to mention that Ciara is a self-professed scaredy cat who still hasnt recovered from reading Stephen Kings It during her teenage years.

'I stayed up all night reading it and scared the daylights out of myself. Ive never yet recovered from my fear of clowns.'

And yet, I note, here she is with a book featuring balloons on the front cover.

Fortunately, the balloons have nothing to do with Kings famously terrifying clown story. Instead theyre a reference to a particularly moving scene in Lifesaving for Beginners where ten-year-old Milo, who is grieving for his mother, looks on as a balloon pulls free from the grasp of a young boy and floats away.

'Its just one of those scenes in the book thats meant to be a terrible, poignant moment. One of letting go,' says Ciara. The scene is made all the more painful by the fact that the boy with the balloon is on an outing with his mother'whereas Milo is in the care of his sister.

'It sort of closes the end of a section of the book, and so it was one of those scenes I was discussing with my editor for the cover.'

It is an evocative image: I recall that its been used in films such as the old Carol Reed film The Third Man, and also in the more recent Up, which is referenced in the book by Milo.

The sense of letting go, of something escaping, is something that resonates.

'When I was about seven or eight I was out at a fun park, and my mum got me a red balloon and I let it go. I still remember that,' says Ciara. 'If I ever see a balloon on its own without and owner, it pulls on me so strongly. It does seem to speak to people.'

But at the same time, the idea of escape or letting go evoked by the balloons contrasts utterly with the title Lifesaving for Beginners, which is all about holding on to things.

'Milo does these lifesaving classes after school on a Tuesday, and theyre one of the staples of his life, one of the things that havent changed [since the death of his mother]. He loves that and clings on to that because its something familiar.'

The title is also an oblique reference to Kat.

'She hasnt really let life in,' explains Ciara. 'She lives her life as if shes entirely different from who she really is. She kind of needs to learn a few life-saving skills of her own.'

This battle between private and public selves is something that I found interesting about Kat. Though shes not necessarily dishonest, she certainly seems to shun openness.

And yet the other characters in the book seem to be working at odds with this: not only are they attempting to 'out' Kats various hidden identities, but they themselves are brutally honest, often to the point of over-sharing.

The juxtaposition between the loquacious way in which Kats best friend discusses the gory details of her pregnancy and Kats silence about certain past demons, for example, is quite striking.

Kats extreme introversion does bring to mind another interesting battle in the life of todays fiction writer: that of spoilers.

Earlier this morning I read with interest a comment'by another author writing in the same genre'asking why Ciara had written a blog post giving away a key plot point in the book.

'I know, I know,' says Ciara, a touch ruefully, when I ask about that now infamous blog post.

'Certainly my books are much more narratively driven'theyre not a whodunnit. Theyre more about the journey, not a destination. My publisher sent out a press release where they gave it all away, so that I thought I could get away with describing it openly. But I possibly should have put a spoiler warning on it.'

But as I point out, this particular reveal occurs only a couple of chapters into the book. Is it frustrating to have to be so circumspect about an event that occurs so early on in a novel?

In fact, the concept of spoilers seems to be a non-issue for Ciara, who admits to having a habit of flicking forward in a book to see what happens.

'If I think that something really awful or harrowing is going to happen I have to pre-empt that. I have to know almost so that I can prepare myself if Im really invested in the character.'

Theres comfort in knowing ahead of time what happens, she says.

But although Lifesaving for Beginners is in no way a whodunnit, the many truths about its characters unravel slowly over time, and very often through the perspectives or actions of other characters.

Milos mother, for example, is knitted into the narrative through the different perspectives of Kat and Milo. And Kats prickly personality is given balance by her relationship with her brother Ed, who has Downs Syndrome.

'I worried about Kat and the readers not liking her, which is why I created the relationship between her and her brother. I wanted a relationship she absolutely shone in, where I could make the reader empathise with her and see that shes decent and good and kind, but that it doesnt necessarily translate into her daily life.'

Indeed, its often in others that we see the truth about a particular character. Kats mother, for example, is an intimidating intellectual presence, and yet her father is quite devoted to her, clearly seeing the good along with the bad. Their relationship is paralleled by his beloved garden, where he raises both difficult orchids and sunny daffodils.

'He loves her'love is strange at the end of the day,' says Ciara. 'He sees a lovely daffodil somewhere in that prickly orchid of his wife.'

The orchid-daffodil comparison is also apt when looking at the inciting event at the beginning of the book: a car accident. Although the accident has a tragic outcome for Milos mother, Kat, who is also involved in the accident, lives. This sets into motion a series of events that each have a mix of the positive and the negative.

Its also, as readers will find out, a collision of past and present'and one thats wonderfully evocative.

'I loved the opening. I had so many different variations,' says Ciara, whose first intention was to work with a structure similar to the film Sea of Love, starring Al Pacino.

'In the film Al Pacino dies at the beginning, but then the story goes back to a month before. The film is playing out, and [Pacino's] this character who finds love and everything works out, and you almost forget that dramatic event at the beginning. And its only at the end, you realise that hes going to get killed.'

Instead, in Ciaras novel the car accident is both chronologically and narratively first. Because its a scene that involves a high degree of coincidence'the intersection of the lives of Milos mum and Kat'I muse that it is the type of scene that could only work at the beginning of a story, rather than at the end.

That said, there are sections of the book where Ciara plays about with readers suspension of disbelief. Although the book deals with a number of difficult themes, there are moments of laugh-out-loud levity.

Curiously, many of these scenes revolve around Kats life as an ultra-bestselling author'with a memorable scene involving Kats furtive drop-off of a manuscript in a bookshop, a set-up involving matching briefcases and code words.

'It was so ridiculous that I thought Id stick it in and see if readers enjoy it. Shes like the JK Rowling of crime. Shes huge, so [her publishers] are very kind to her.'

When I point out that Ciara has the same publisher as Kat, she laughs.

'I know. It was a bit of a hat-tip, just because I could. My editor laughed. Everyone likes to be in a book, even publishers.'

Reflecting, she adds, 'theres always humour, and I think that Ireland is a place where we find humour in the most inappropriate of places, and I think thats how we get by, because were a terribly melancholic lot.'

If Kats response to walking away relatively unscathed from a car accident is anything to go by, Ciara has a point. Although those around her see Kats survival as a miracle, Kat sinks into a deep sense of despair afterwards.

'I dont happen to believe in miracles,' says Ciara. 'Theres good luck, fortune, and coincidence. Kat walks away from the accident, but thats sheer good luck: it can happen. The airbag went off, she had her seatbelt on, and whichever way the truck had her against the barrier, she just walked away. Its unusual, but it can happen.'

This makes me think about Kats response to her brother Eds suddenly taking ill, and I wonder whether were talking less about miracles than we are turning points. Kats impending fortieth birthday, for example, is a turning point that Kat seems terrified to acknowledge.

'Kats just such a depressive. She never wants anything to change. Shes devastated about [her best friend] Minnie and her new relationship. She mourns the loss of Minnie in a way that you shouldnt at that age. Whenever anyone tries to move on she begs for them to stay behind, and her fortieth birthday is a part of that.'

And yet, I add, Kat presents an air of being worldly and in control. For example, it seems like shes in control of her relationship with her partner Thomas, but in fact its the opposite.

'Shes afraid of her relationship with Thomas, and shes always on the back foot. I actually think that whats happened to Kat is that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress from the time that she was a teenager until the time that she had her accident and everything started tumbling out of control.'

Another instance where Kat seems to be losing control is over her writing. Its excruciating to watch her stare at a blank screen, or to begin her next novel over and over, never finding the right words. These scenes seem to ring very true, and I cant help but wonder whether clowns arent all that Ciara is afraid of.

'Gosh, I love writing those scenes, I tell you,' jokes Ciara. 'I write every day, and every time I write Im thinking, oh, this isnt right, this isnt good, this character wouldnt do that. I just say, no, Im filling in that blank page, Im running away from that blank page.'

If you have something on the page, she says, then the next day it never seems as bad as it did when you were writing it.

'The internal critic is always grumbling, and youve just got to ignore that and keep on writing and run away from the blank page. I love editing, though. I love having written and having stuff to edit. Its that sitting there with the cursor blinking on the blank page that I hate, and Im always running away from that.'

Lifesaving for Beginners by Ciara Geraghty Interview: Ciara Geraghty on her novel Lifesaving for Beginners

Lifesaving for Beginners is published by Hodder and Stoughton (Hachette Book Group) and is available now.

Ciara Geraghty is the author of three previous novels, SAVING GRACE, BECOMING SCARLETT and FINDING MR FLOOD. She lives in Dublin with her husband, three children and a dog.

You can find out more at, visit her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter.

You can support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing'Lifesaving for Beginners'using one of the affiliate links below:

Amazon'|'Book Depository UK'|'Book Depository USA'|'Booktopia

or support your'local independent.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Such an interesting interview. The comment of spoiling something that happens a couple of chapters into the book intrigues me. As some one who skims ahead to figure out if I really should invest in a character, getting told something that happens in the first few chapters is not a spoiler in my book.
    Jami Zehr recently posted..Nodds Nends: HIMYM Mash-up, Dinner in the Sky, and Adam Levine

    • Thanks, Jami! I dont tend to read ahead, but Im never bothered by spoilers, not even in a whodunnit! I wonder if thats my analytic writers brain kicking in?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge

Add us to your Google reader: Add to Google

Follow us on Blog Lovin' Follow on Bloglovin