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My Claire Underwood Hair

With the new series just up on Newtflix, my crush on House of Cards character Claire Underwood continues apace. It began two years ago when my sister in-law, Fiona advised me to get my hair cut short after I complained it was getting thin and menopausal looking.

As a middle-aged woman, I was nervous about losing one of my last remaining feminine virtues. You lose so much as a woman when you hit middle age; hormones, eyesight, fashion-sense, fecundity — I won’t go on. Conceding to short hair seemed to signal a particular loss.

‘Going short in your Fifties looks like you’ve given up,’ I said. ‘Obviously, you’ve never seen Robin Wright Penn,’ she replied. The actress plays a character called Claire Underwood in House Of Cards on Netflix. ‘She’s a horrible person,’ Fiona said, ‘but she’s your age and she has great hair.’

And so, my relationship with Claire Underwood began. Despite, or perhaps because I spend my life writing fiction, if a well-written character comes on TV, they become completely real to me. I am friends with the writer Claudia Carroll, who is also an actress and used to play a rather nasty character on Fair City called Nicola. We were once in a cafe having lunch together, and after I had given her one of my bossy-boots, big sister speeches about her love life, Claudia looked me flatly and said: ‘You do realise you just spent that entire conversation calling me “Nicola”?’.

Anyway, the character of Claire Underwood, the fictional president of America’s wife, is just about the most brilliantly awful person you could possibly imagine.

She is filled with a terrifying passive aggressive rage which makes her a sexless, cold, conniving cow.

That aside, she is extremely slim and breathtakingly elegant with a wardrobe of understated dresses in muted shades of beige, navy and black — although being stick thin she can also wear cream.

She has a powerfully reserved manner that makes her sexy, but also means that any man would be utterly terrified to make the slightest suggestive hint he might actually be able to go to bed with her (including her husband).

What woman in her Fifties wouldn’t covet that dynamic? It was instant infatuation. Who cares if she’s a psychopath? I still want to be her!

After two years of persistent trying, I an proud to say that I finally have achieved Claire Underwood hair.

Not too thin, not too thick, tucked behind the ear with some subtle blonde streaks.

From the forehead up I am feminine, demure, age-appropriate and wonderfully elegant. Having achieved my glamorous heroine’s hair, however, now I want more.

In the fourth series, my evil heroine is coming into her own, marching determinedly about the White House in her kitten heels and pared back, tailored day-dresses.

She is manipulating, making demands and getting them met and I am determined to get a grip on myself, and the world around me.

In one kitchen scene, Claire says to a guest: ‘I haven’t eaten at all today.

‘I am making a salad. Won’t you join me?’ ‘A salad?’ I wanted to say. ‘After not eating all day? Really?’

Yes really. So, the next day, as I stood at the counter of Gala in Ardnaree I asked myself, ‘Would Claire Underwood consider a packet of beef flavoured Hula-Hoops and a Twix to be a reasonable mid-afternoon snack?’ The answer was a resounding ‘no’, so I put them back and got an apple.

Later, at teatime I asked, ‘Would Claire Underwood stuff her child’s leftover pasta into her gob instead of throwing it in the bin.’ Again — that would be a ‘no’. (Although, Claire doesn’t have any children. Thank goodness.) The next day, I wore tailored shift dress to the office. I can’t wear heels so had to wear my ‘good’ chunky sandals.

My legs were cold so I wore black tights with them. In the office lift I caught sight of myself and winced.

As the day progressed I became less convinced by my ambitions for elegance. By late afternoon I was in Gala buying the day’s last sausage at the hot counter. It looked lonely. It was calling to me.

That night, in a last-ditch attempt at being taken seriously, I stayed aloof all through dinner and worked on her scary, slit-eyed, glare. The boys were delighted I was so quiet, and my husband asked if I had something in my eye.

The reality is, Claire Underwood doesn’t exist. And when I try to be somebody else, neither do I. I have to find my own weight and my own style. Even if it’s chatty and plump and resolutely, unapologetically, inelegantly middle-aged. That being said, from the forehead up? I am sticking with my Underwood.

Writing tips: how to be a writer

Kate at a recent signing for her latest novel, It Was Only Ever You.

Part of this article was adapted from an interview with Kate on www.writing.ie

​Getting Published
I am a compulsive, obsessive writer and a zealot about what can be achieved, personally as well as professionally, through the process of writing.
Writing is not a ‘job’ it is a way of life.
You earn money – you don’t earn money – you still write.
As someone who earned my living as a journalist for many years I believe that no word written, be it published or unpublished, is wasted. Each thing we write should contribute, in some way, to the Can-Do-Better-Masterpiece that every writer still believes lies ahead of them. There are good novels and bad novels: in amongst volumes of inane social media are beautifully crafted Tweets. Whatever you write – make it the best it can be.
I have learned as much from my ‘failures’ as by my ‘achievements’ – although I believe that such labels can damage a writer.
I always write from a place of passion. I wrote two unpublished novels while working as a journalist, entered countless short-story competitions and more recently took a time out to write a memoir which has yet to be published.
For me, writing continues to prove it has no boundaries.
I recently self-published a collection book of my journalism and its success is measured entirely by the reaction of a small local audience of family and friends. While it is available online, Motherhood & Manolos mostly sells through Eason in Ballina and gives me a sense of being grounded very much as a ‘local writer’ both in my family and my local community – a position which I value greatly.
Thanks to its success I made a ‘dream come true’ for my aunt, Sheila Smyth, by editing and publishing a collection of work she has written over the years for Sunday Miscellany and Ireland’s Own. Between us we made a great book that has delighted us as a family and resulted in Sheila connecting with a local audience in her hometown of Fermoy.
The self-publishing experience made me remember that what is still important to me as a writer is sharing the work and bringing pleasure to an audience – however small or large that audience may be.

​Setbacks & Disappointments
The career path of a writer is not an easy one. I have received rejections as well as plaudits and understand, on a deeply personal level, what both of those things mean to both one’s confidence and ability to continue writing. Lionel Shriver once said that writing novel is rather like acquiring a criminal record in that the more books you publish, the more likely you are to ‘fail’.  Getting a good agent, being identified as a ‘literary genius’ and getting signed to a huge deal with a major publisher is not a career path that happens to many although it seems that way because those rare stories hit the headlines.  I have been around enough to know what happens to many of those bright-stars when their initial Opus fails to sell or when they find they cannot repeat the success of Number One. Writing careers can be born and die with one book so I am a great proponent of taking it easy, biding your time – the old dog for the long road.  Success and failure are dangerous words in the world of writing. The author Grace Paley was asked what was the single most important thing you needed to become a great writer and she said; “Low overheads.” That’s my mantra – because I have been at both ends of the spectrum. If the money does come – it can go away just as fast.  One healthy advance might have to last you a whole career. There is no pension.
Having said that, I do believe that there had never been a more exciting time to write, which leads me to…..

​Changes in Contemporary Publishing

Self-publishing and Amazon are transforming the world of publishing and giving writers the potential for complete control over their work. People in the world of books are divided: some think it is empowering for young writers – others believe self-publishing is devaluing the written word by selling books for 99c.  Whatever the case – it is generally agreed that self-publishing is now an important part of the overall writing scene and cannot be ignored. My own view is that technology had opened up a world of possibilities for writers. Lets look at how we can take control of our careers and maintain integrity and quality in our writing and utilize the ‘gatekeeper-ship’ of great publishers and agents.
There is room for everyone – I have a huge interest in this area not least because I think is important for every writer who wants to move forward creatively and professionally.
The days of a writer being lauded in a gilded cage are well and truly gone. Even (especially) the exceptional young poets and literary writers have to learn how to package and promote themselves and their work – whether that is directly to the wider world, or to the increasingly fickle world of conventional publishing.
While the publishing world is in flux I do believe that writing and literature will come out of this period stronger than ever. Commercial pressures are causing a new dynamism and energetic atmosphere in both young writers ‘giving it a go’ and publishers are under pressure to find interesting new material to engage their audiences. Everyone has an e-reader: more people are reading than ever before.  Change is scary – but if we embrace it I believe the new generation can use new media to bring literature and poetry back into the forefront of mainstream culture again.

Plot and Character

Some authors sit down and let the story flow out of their minds as quickly as it enters and some prefer to plan and know where their characters are going and what adventures they will encounter. I am a planner: a slave to structure. In order for the story to flow I need to create a structure. Though I do not necessarily put plot over character (or vice versa) I generally choose a broad theme and allow/encourage characters and plot to intertwine as they emerge from this theme.  Within a structure the writing flows for me – down a stream – into a river with banks and direction. Without structure and plans I am in a whirlpool of creative madness.
What makes a character believable is not their name but their emotional authenticity and setting. At the end of the day I try to take my characters on an outer journey as well as an inner journey to keep the story readable and exciting.
Research is essential in my writing and it is this work that gives life to my characters and infuses their world with sights and smells. The internet, interviewing, reading and watching old movies are all great sources of research. It’s nerve wracking setting something in a period you can’t smell, or see, or touch and have to largely imagine – but it is so rewarding when you get it right and there is little the imagination can’t drum up if you find something you can hold on to from the past.

The Secret of Success

There is no hidden solution to turning your imagination into a published masterpiece. Ultimately you have to just keeping doing it. Hard work and passionate dedication will help you on your way and remember – you don’t need to be published to be a writer; you just need to write every day.  The best piece of advice I have is to take positive advice and criticism from editors and agents and not allow rejection to dishearten you.
Thinking you are rubbish, and will never finish the book, feeling unappreciated and misunderstood are all par for the course, as is believing that you are better – and worse than you actually are as a writer – these are all emotions that are just a part of the writing process and life gets easier as a writer if you embrace rather than fight them.

TOP TIPS

Write every day. Even if it just to ‘visit’ your work for ten minutes first thing in the morning, don’t let it slide or its harder to get back to.

Never read back more than a page – fiddling with yesterdays work is a curse.

Keep moving forward. Edits are what second drafts are for.

Set yourself targets: Try writing 1,000 words in 60 minutes – no boundaries – no expectations. It opens the mind to the possibility of the Alan Sillitoe’s quote “quantity produces quality”. When the piece is finished – spend another hour editing it into shape. You’ll be amazed!

The Starter Novel: Just do it. The first novel is always a torture. Try simply outlining and précis a full novel under a time restriction of a couple of hours. Might not be the great work of literature you imagine you can write but then again – it might turn out to be just that!

Editing workshops: Ouch! Listen and learn because this is a collaborative process the better. Any writer who says they don’t need an editor is lying or deluded. Find one – or two. The tougher the better.

Writing from the heart: the courage to tell it. You can edit words, but you can’t inject heart into something if it’s just-not-there. What makes a piece of writing affecting or ‘important’ is identification with the human experience – whether it’s a newspaper column, novel, or poem. Writing takes emotional intelligence and the courage to speak out:  identify what your message is and go with it.

Writing vs Life: develop a routine. I used to think finishing a book was the biggest commitment I would ever make and the hardest thing I would ever have to do. Then I got married. In order to write – you have to live. However a true writer cannot live fully unless they are writing. While writing rarely gets in the way of living – life often gets in the way of writing. It’s hard but you have to make writing work as part of your life.

Start or join a writing group – keep it small and supportive and help motivate each other – don’t be afraid to trust other people’s opinions

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New Year – New Website

At last, I am delighted to have my new website up and running, courtesy of my long-suffering and talented husband, Niall. One of the main reasons for the change was that I am FINALLY finding a home for all the writing I have never quite found a place for. Now, by signing up to  my mailing list Kate Kerrigan readers can now get my blog posts direct to their in-box . I am looking forward to sharing my life and my writing with you. Thanks for dropping by.
Kate. x