Woman of many roles celebrates debut novel

Marie O’Connor works as legal secretary in Galway City and wrote her first novel in her spare time. She then went on to find a publisher, despite having no experience of the industry.  Marie grew up in rural Mayo and that’s where she located her story, which is set in 1961 when the travelling shop was a lifeline for country people. There’s murder, there’s humour and there’s a new Ban Gharda who has to find her feet fast. Its author has worked at various careers but writing has always been a constant, as JUDY MURPHY hears.

Marie O’Connor has reinvented herself regularly throughout her working life.

In her early years, she worked as a digital television editor with TV3, before going on to become a window dresser for well-known retailers in Dublin and Galway.

Since moving to Galway a decade ago, she’s retrained as a legal secretary and is thoroughly enjoying that job now.

But even as she’s explored different careers, Mayo-born Marie has always had a constant in her life – a love of storytelling and of writing.

“I always thought I’d like to write a book but never thought I would,” she says, sipping a sparkling water in the city’s Hardiman Hotel.

It’s a Friday evening after a busy week, but Marie has to cycle home along the busy Headford Road later, so water is the safest option as she settles in to discuss how she’s fulfilled her youthful dream.

Marie, who’s a legal secretary at MG Ryan Kieran Murphy Solicitors on the Crescent, will celebrate the Galway launch of her debut novel, Whispers on Main Street, this Friday, February 9, in Dubray Bookshop on Shop Street.

Published by Irish company, Poolbeg, the book is billed as “a thrilling tale of murder, gossip and a town divided”. It is, Marie stresses, at the lighter end of the crime fiction genre, with lots of humour and recognisable rural characters.

What makes her achievement so special is that she wrote the book and found a publisher in her own time, while holding down a fulltime job.

And while the events and characters are fictional, the novel has its roots in her rural upbringing. Marie is the youngest of three children reared on a farm near Turlough, a village outside Castlebar, which has since become home to Ireland’s national Museum of Country Life.

The area has a rich history and her father Michael, who died three years ago, was a great raconteur, she explains.

After secondary school in Castlebar’s Davitt College, where her English teacher, Brendan Munnelly, was a huge influence, she went to college in Tralee, studying digital editing. At the time, this was a new skill and the State training agency, FÁS, was spearheading training for the film and TV industry.

Marie got a job with FÁS in Dublin and when TV3 was set up in 1998, she had the necessary skills. This commercial operation, a far leaner machine than the State broadcaster, RTÉ, was an exciting place to work.

“It came along at the right time,” she says. “And it was great to be part of something that was being anticipated by the entire country.”

Marie oversaw a team of editors who edited film footage shot by video journalists. These editors covered all areas, from Ireland AM to sports programmes and European news.

“There were 10 deadlines a day, but everyone knew their job,” she says.

Nine years later, there were cuts and the editing team was reduced. While Marie’s job wasn’t in danger, she felt it was time to move on.

“I was curious and wanted to try something else. I’d always been interested in window-dressing, which might sound very different but it’s still very visual,” she explains.

Pictured: Marie O’Connor previously worked as a digital editor for TV3 and then as a window dresser for Marks and Spencer and Hickey Fabrics before retraining as a legal secretary.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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