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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Yvonne Cassidy, Author Our Coverage Sponsored by The Giving Back Foundation

Yvonne Cassidy

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Yvonne Cassidy is author of two novels published by Hachette Ireland - The Other Boy and What Might Have Been Me, which was highly recommended by Whom You Know
. In October 2011, Yvonne moved to New York where the pace of life couldn’t be more different than the small seaside village on the outskirts of Dublin where she grew up. But then, since Yvonne traded in a high profile marketing job in one of Dublin’s most sought after companies seven years ago to write her first novel, she has become used to change.

As a child, Yvonne was always an avid reader and remembers always wanting to be a writer. This passion continued to grow during Yvonne’s college years when she studied English in University College Dublin. But upon graduation when she moved to London to seek work, she found herself in a busy marketing career that didn’t allow much time for anything else. Despite dabbling with creative writing courses over the years, by the time Yvonne reached her thirtieth birthday, she realised that if she was to truly follow her dream of becoming a writer, she was going to have to make a choice.

They say hindsight gives twenty-twenty vision and looking back, there is no question that this was the decision Yvonne was always destined to make. At the time though, to walk away from a career that was going places in favour of a pipedream was risky, scary, some would even say stupid. As Yvonne started to write what would become her first novel, The Other Boy, she needed an income to pay her mortgage and set herself up as a marketing consultant. Quickly, she began to land new clients which included some of Ireland’s best loved brands, brands like Diageo, Intel and the Irish Times. As work poured in, this presented a new challenge – to maintain focus on her writing goal while developing this new business. The feedback and interest Yvonne was getting from agents on an early draft of The Other Boy helped maintain this focus and led to many late nights and weekends spent revising and rewriting.

A year after leaving her job, things started to happen for Yvonne. She found representation with a London based literary agency – one of only three new authors they took on that year despite getting submissions from thousands more. A marketing consultancy project led to Yvonne being asked to write a television script for a six part documentary series that was aired on a nationwide TV station. This in turn led to more scriptwriting work, some small pieces of journalism, and ultimately, a role on UK magazine The Tablet’s editorial team as a book reviewer for Irish fiction.

In August 2009, a month before Yvonne travelled to New York to work on her second novel, Yvonne’s agent sold her first to Hachette, as part of a multi book deal. The Other Boy was published less than a year later as trade paperback in May 2010 in Ireland and the UK, followed by a mass market paperback edition in February 2011. Reviews of the novel were exceptionally favourable, leading to its sale to two French publishers. In May 2011, it was released as a French translation under the title of L’Autre Frère. In January 2012, Yvonne followed up with the publication of her second novel, What Might Have Been Me.

Yvonne describes the two years since first publication as being ‘a whirlwind.’ In addition to completing both novels, marketing and publicity opportunities are part of her new life as an author – a part which she greatly enjoys. As well as radio and television appearances, Yvonne has taught creative writing as part of the prestigious Irish Times training program and has been a part of numerous literary festivals including the West Cork Writing Festival, the Dublin Book Festival and the Dalkey Writing Festival. In March 2012, she enjoyed her first New York reading and was also pleased to be part of the second annual Irish Arts Center Book Day alongside some of the best known names in Irish writing, including Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle and Colm Toibin.

Yvonne is currently working on her third novel, while continuing to publish journalism both in New York and in Ireland. She also works part time for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, the second largest soup kitchen in the US which feeds a staggering 1,200 hungry and homeless New Yorkers every day. Part of her role involves working with guests through the Writers’ Workshop program where she finds great fulfilment sharing her passion for writing and cultivating this joy in others. We are so pleased to present Yvonne Cassidy as our latest Mover and Shaker. Peachy Deegan interviewed Yvonne for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: 
What is your first writing memory?
Yvonne Cassidy:  
When I was a little kid I used to love drawing. I remember being very small and writing a story to go alongside one of my cartoons.

How would you compare and contrast life in Ireland with life in New York and what do you love most about each?
New York City has over twice the population of Ireland so the biggest difference would be the sheer number and variety of people I encounter here every single day. That's one of the things I love most about the city - the energy and the pulse of it. Life in Dublin is slower and the thing I love most - and miss most -is being by the sea. I grew up next to the sea so it almost feels like part of my DNA. 

What do New York and Ireland have in common? 
Apart from the Irish bars I would say that, although they are very different places, to me both feel like home!

Do you miss your marketing job in Dublin?
Sometimes I miss my clients and the brands I worked on back home. My new job at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in Chelsea is both rewarding and challenging so usually I don't have time to miss much.

What should most Americans know about Ireland that they might not know yet?
One word - Donegal! Donegal is Ireland's best kept secret and home to some of the most breathtaking scenery on the island. Most tourists head south, to Kerry or West Cork which means visitors to Donegal get an even more authentic feel without many tourists around.

We loved What Might Have Been Me; how much of that was autobiographical?
Thanks, I'm glad you liked it! Bits and pieces were autobiographical, but not too much. There are things I have in common with Carla, the main character: I spent a summer in Montauk, Long Island, I'm from Dublin, I love New York and sadly I've experienced Alzheimer's disease in my own family. But most of it is entirely fictional - Carla stays in New York whereas I went home. Some of her biggest struggles are around the loss of her father and her relationship with her sister - I'm an only child and I'm happy to say my Dad is alive and well.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing What Might Have Been Me?
I found writing about Alzheimer's disease the most challenging as it is such a sensitive subject. I wanted to be really sure I represented it correctly and that I didn't cause upset to any readers by not being 100% accurate to the experience of watching someone you love suffer from the ongoing effects of dementia.

What inspired you to write "What Might Have Been Me?"
The Irish are a nation of travellers - the Irish Diaspora massively outnumbers Irish people who live in Ireland- and I've always been interested in the idea of cultural identity in that context. I wanted to write about someone Irish living here and their experience of leaving Ireland behind. Somewhere along the way this developed into the idea of someone living here illegally over a long period of time and the impact this has on the day to day things we take for granted.

How do you relate to the main character Carla? 
In my first novel, 'The Other Boy', the central character was male, so I knew I wanted to write about a girl this time. The funny thing is that when you write about someone of your own gender, people assume that the character is a disguised version of who you are!  
While my own circumstances have been very different to Carla's, I related to the sense of her being stuck and floundering while she figures out what it is she wants to do. I know I felt that as I approached 30 and a lot of people I knew seemed to take different choices and paths at that stage. Like most of us, she's not perfect - she can be selfish and at the start of the book, she's pretty immature. Over the course of the book though I've had some readers tell me that the changes in her are as pronounced as those in her mother, Collette.

When you write about a contemporary time and place, is it harder to reference certain facts knowing that in the future, your points may not be recognized by the reader?
I tend not to think about it as I'm writing because it would impact my ability to tell the story if I focused on that too much. In this book, there are very contemporary references - such as Skype, for example - but in the future if it's something the reader doesn't know, I figure it could be an interesting thing for them to look up.

How to decide for a happy ending? When all the loose ends are wrapped up, do you feel the need to write a sequel? The Matthews family certainly has more stories to tell.
They certainly do, but I don't think I'll be telling them - at least not for now! For me, each story is a slice of someone's life, there is no 'ending' per se, just the point we (me as a writer and the reader) decide to leave them. Where we leave the Matthews family in 'What Might Have Been Me' felt like a natural end to this stage of their journey.

Between the lines, you develop the character of Carla with a nod to her surround, and her past. Are there places you wanted your character to go, but held back, so as to tighten the storyline?
Yes! There were lots of scenes which I had to edit out where I had taken Carla to other places and had her interacting with other people. As an author, once I have a character developed as strongly as I felt Carla was developed, I love to explore new settings and places. In the end though, you have to come back to the narrative and only include those which are helping you tell your story. Some of the other scenes which were cut out could end up as part of the story of another character, in another book.

Can you tell us about your upcoming novel?
It's in its very early stages still, but what I can tell you is that it's a coming of age story about a young Irish girl in New York City on a quest to find out more about her dead mother.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
That's a tough question. Probably my family - I was always taught to do my best and it's something I bring to everything I do. I also like to write in libraries - something about being surrounded by all those literary greats inspires me to be the best writer I can be.

What are you proudest of and why?
Since 'What Might Have Been Me' was published I’ve received a lot of e-mails from readers who have enjoyed the novel. While it’s really nice to get any and all positive feedback, what makes me especially happy is the number of readers who are in the same situation as Carla, caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s. Many have told me that reading the book has helped them to feel less isolated on their journey, and, in some cases helped them to cope. To think that words I’ve written could have that kind of impact on another person makes me very proud.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Oversee my novels being made into movies!

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
When people ask about my profession, I still feel like I have two: my marketing life and my writing life. As a marketer I’m happy to say that a number of my campaigns have been recognized over the years through the Irish Advertising Awards and Irish Direct Marketing awards where I later served as a judge on the awards panel. I feel like I’m only really at the start of my career as a writer and already I’ve been so happy to be invited to take part in a number of high profile literary festivals alongside some of my heroes!

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
So many to choose from... it's probably the New York Public Library on 42nd street with a stop off in Bryant Park along the way.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Can I name more than one? Macys, Brooklyn Industries, the gift shop in NYPL and Lee's Art Shop on 57th Street.

What is your favorite drink?
That’s easy - Soy Chai Lattes in Starbucks - I'm addicted!

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
I can't think of anything funny - I must need to go to more cocktail parties!

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
One if by Land, Two if by Sea in Greenwich Village.Or if my budget won't stretch to there, the Renaissance Diner on 9th Avenue.

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
My favorite novel set in New York is ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ which is up there as one of my all time favorite books. My favorite non-fiction work about Manhattan is ‘Here is New York’ by E.B. White. Although it was written in the 1940s, it captures the energy and life of the city in a very real way that is still recognizable today.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
The President so I could legalize gay marriage (although it may take more than a day!)

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
Some part of New York Public Library on 42nd Street. Or, failing that, a bench in Central Park overlooking the pond.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
Running in Central Park - I do it at least twice a week. I also love the summer yoga in Bryant Park.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Just to simply walk around and breathe in the atmosphere of the city – you can’t do that anywhere else.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
It would be a toss-up between Nelson Mandela and my Grandfather. Nelson Mandela for obvious reasons and my Grandfather because he died when I was nine and I’ve a lot to fill him in on!

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
Seeing Bon Iver perform at the United Palace Theater last August. The concert was so amazing it made me cry. I just got tickets to see them in Radio City in September and I’m really excited.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I work in Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen in Chelsea – the largest soup kitchen in New York and the second largest in the country. We feed 1,200 people every single weekday and spending time there is both humbling and uplifting. For me, working in that kind of environment is using the skills I have for their best use and giving back to the world.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
As someone who is new to Manhattan I love Manhattan Tips and particularly Peachy's Picks for where to eat.

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
Not yet, but it’s on my list!

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I think you know most things worth knowing at this point!

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Either through my website, my blog or It sometimes takes me a while to get back to people but I always respond…

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