A pink towel and a finished book

MARIANNEAbout eight years ago I was in TK Maxx with my best friend, Grainne, looking at towels. She picked up a giant hot pink one and asked me what I thought.

I liked it.

‘Would it look good in the cottage?’ she asked.

‘Definitely’ I said.

Grainne was hoping to buy an old cottage on the West Coast of Ireland, near where she grew up – and even though no cottage had yet been bought we had decorating it in our heads ten times over.

All our conversations now revolved around the pros and cons of marble versus slate, wood compared to tiles, original fireplace versus wood burner…

We went into a detailed conversation about how the pink towels were absolutely what her bathroom needed to bring it to life.

‘They’re cool and fun without being kitsch…’ I declared. As if I knew about such things.

‘You don’t think they’re too over the top?’ asked G.

‘No, they’re perfect.’

There was just one problem.

‘What happens when I get a boyfriend and he comes to stay? How will he feel about having to use a pink towel?’ asked G.

At this point we were both in our late twenties, single with no sign of any boyfriends. Really, no sign.

But for about ten minutes we had a serious conversation about whether the boyfriend she did not yet have, would have an objection to towels she had not yet bought for a house that she did not own.

We burst out laughing.

She bought the towels.

Fast forward to this summer and I have spent the last two months in the cottage that Grainne went on to buy. In the intervening years G not only found a boyfriend but she married him. They went on to have a baby boy who is eighteen months and so beautiful he makes me want to explode with love every time I see him.

As for me, I did not find a boyfriend to bring back to the cottage but this summer I realised another dream. Actually, for me, a much bigger dream.

I wrote my first book.

In the sun-filled porch at the front of her cottage, overlooking her flower-filled garden and a country lane whose main traffic came in the form of cows, I turned the blog into a book.

Predictably I made a drama out of it at times. I wrote whole chapters, then totally re-wrote them – only to go back to my original version two weeks later… I over-thought and I panicked. I got stage fright at the idea of writing a book.

But I kept going and there were even days when I really enjoyed doing it. Days when I’d come out of my little office feeling happy as Larry with myself. Like a real writer.

I would go for early morning and early evening walks to the lake near her house and look at the massive sky reflected in the water and think ‘God, how on earth did I get to be so lucky. This is my life. This is a dream.’ It was real pinch yourself stuff.

And then, somehow, in between the panics and the euphoria, this Tuesday I finished it. Well, the first draft, anyway.

I pressed send to the Brazilian publisher on Wednesday. I then went to bed and slept all afternoon. I was knackered. And relieved. And proud. And bereft. And worried. What if it’s crap…

I am now back in Dublin on my way to County Kerry to see family. I am spending a couple of nights in the guesthouse I stayed at in December.

The last time I was here I was cracking up. The blog was getting too much for me – all of it was getting too much for me. Rhona, the manageress, and her colleagues looked after me with endless cups of tea, scones and banana bread, as I felt like I was quietly going crazy.

Now they are looking after me again – but this time with bubbles. When I arrived there was a bottle of prosecco in the room, along with a bowl of strawberries and chocolates.

‘We are so proud of you! You wrote a book! We feel part of it!’ said Rhona, who has gone blonde since I last saw her. ‘You have to celebrate! You deserve it.’

Of course the old me wanted to dampen down the excitement, to say: ‘Yes, but it might not be any good, it’s not a book yet…’ but I didn’t. I hugged her back and tried to have the guts to be as excited as she was.

Which brings me back to the pink towels.

When we were buying those towels, I was working 14-hour days in a newspaper office. I was constantly wired, tired and stressed. I dreamt of being a freelance writer with a flowers at her desk and no midnight finishes at the office. I worried I wasn’t a good enough writer to make a living on my own but eventually I took the leap.  I never looked back.

In December, I just wanted to get to a point where I would wake up in the morning without hating myself. To be able to sleep at night without crazy dreams. To get to the end of my self-help adventure feeling better than when I started – not worse.

I got there. I am sleeping like a baby and waking up without fear or dread. And whatever happens with the book I am entirely different to when I started all this. Right now, I am so happy.

If I go way back, as a teenager I read endless books and it would have been a dream to write one one day. I didn’t ever think it would happen – book-writing was for clever, talented ‘writerly’ people – but look, it seems like I did that too.

The thing is our dreams are coming true all the time if we just take time to stop and notice. Not necessarily big things, but little things too. We just need to allow ourselves the time to sit still and go ‘Wow, look what I did. Look where I am.’

We are too quick to pick fault in our achievements, or set our sights to the next thing, the next thing, the next thing…

But thinking about the pink towels makes me stop. The truth is I wrote a book. A real life book. Whatever happens with it, I did that.

And Grainne not only got her cottage but far more besides.

And the pink towels are still going strong.


PS – if you’re in Dublin, I recommend wholeheartedly Butler’s Town House – unless you’re on a diet. Then the constant cake might be an issue. http://butlers-townhouse.ie

PPS – In between being a brilliant mum and friend, Grainne is also a great photographer and took this picture of me. I love it.

PPPS – I really hope you’re well. xxx

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