The Accidental Writer who may be the next Big Thing . . .

By Eoin Meegan

We are experiencing something of a renaissance of Irish female writers at the moment. New talent such as Catherine Prasifka, Emilie Pine, Evie Gaughan, and Louise Nealon (reviewed in last issue), are exploding on the scene. And now a new name – Ruth O’Leary – can be added to that star-studded list.  Ruth’s debut novel The Weekend Break (see review pg. 14) was launched to great aplomb last March. Further Ruth has signed a three-book deal with Poolbeg, a great achievement, and if that wasn’t enough, her second novel is also finished and in the can. Now that’s what I call a mover and shaker!  O’Leary is a writer with heart, and speaks of issues that not only concern women but embrace the whole of humanity.  

The Weekend Break explores the dynamic between four women, all from different backgrounds, who are off to Galway for a weekend getaway, each harbouring secrets which don’t remain secret for long. While Ruth stresses the book is not autobiographical, the inspiration behind it did come about from many similar weekend breaks she herself took with her own friends. The ease with which she writes about the topography of Galway, together with the familiar intimacy with bars, restaurants and local places shows firsthand experience underpinned with a keen observation. Over coffee in the beautiful Sandymount Hotel Ruth explained to me when you go out for a night with a large group there’s always one or two you won’t get around to talking to, the quiet ones who stay in the corner, however a weekend together opens up more space, and allows for those conversations that might not ordinarily happen to occur.   

While currently residing in Clontarf, Ruth is actually a local girl. Her dad, Michael Green, hails from Derrynane Gardens, Bath Avenue, whose father Billy worked in Boland’s Mill all his life. Billy got shot in the leg during the 1916 Rising but luckily survived. Ruth’s mum, Miriam Driver, is part of the family who owned ‘Cecil’s’, the famous barber shop in Thorncastle Street. “Many will still remember it,” Ruth laughs, “they probably still have the scars.”  The couple met at a fair in Marian college when they were just 14. The attraction was instant, she tells me, and they’ve been together ever since. They were married in Ringsend Church, and after a brief period in Drumcondra settled in Farney Park in Sandymount in the late 70s where Ruth grew up and had many happy days. Just recently they celebrated a joint 80th birthday bash. When Ruth herself married she moved across the Bay but still has unbroken connections with her roots in Dublin 4. She finds she draws inspiration from walking, and one of her favourite haunts is to wander over the Wooden Bridge at Dollymount and down to Realt na Mara statue. A reminder of how blessed we are to have the sea in our front gardens.

Ruth started writing short stories in 2013 and soon she found she was getting published in places like Ireland’s Own and Woman’s Way (later in  NewsFour as well). But it was in 2020 that she began to take her writing seriously. “It was around about this time that I decided to do more of what brings you joy, and I loved writing and getting lost in the words,” she says. Sterling advice if you want to follow your dreams and not just do something for the money. Ruth joined, a company based in Ireland that covers every aspect of writing, from getting over writer’s block to finding the right publishing deal or agent for you. They have a private Facebook mentoring group Writers’ Ink (which carries a subscription of €59 a month) that Ruth found very helpful. “It made me write something every day and really I consider it like doing an apprenticeship.”  

Then of course lockdown struck. And while it was a hard time for Ruth as for many others, it was a great time to write. She joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which encourages participants to write 50,000 words in 30 days, basically the first draft of a novel. The idea began in 1999 and since then has seen thousands around the world take on the challenge (although fewer than 20% actually achieve the target). Not so our Ruth, who not only took on the challenge but clocked up her word count. She says while it wasn’t easy, it made her realise what she could do in say six months, and then the daunting task of writing a novel (we’ve all been there!) didn’t seem so bad, it seemed doable. Suddenly it all seemed possible. Ruth’s advice is to write about what you know, and so her weekend forays with the girls was ready material. Ruth also writes a blog called Rambling Ruth, which combines her two great passions in life, writing and travelling, the latter having taken her to as far away places as Japan and Morocco, with Vietnam next on the cards. But you still can’t beat Galway for the craic!

Before becoming a published author Ruth had a few diverse jobs, including working as a census enumerator, and as a freelance movie extra. She has appeared on such shows as Fair City, Red Rock, and Kin. Also The Dry, which this writer loved. In Season 2 of The Dry she stands in as a Flower Shop owner and even has a small speaking part, sharing a bit of banter with Ciaran Hinds when he drops in to buy some flowers. Nice one! The biggest downside, she said, to being a movie extra is sitting around for hours waiting to be called, so you do need to bring a book. We’d suggest The Weekend Break!

NewsFour wishes Ruth every success with her new novel and can’t wait to read the next two.