They say a week is a long time in politics. I’m not convinced that’s true but I do know ten years is a long time in journalism. It’s ten years ago this week that then editor of the Derry Journal Pat McArt challenged me to write a column.
In fairness I had started the debate. I had asked him outright why, in our 230 year history the Journal had never had a female columnist. It seemed absurd to me that in 2002, the Journal had yet to offer our female readers a voice. I didn’t, for one second, expect Mr McArt to throw the ball back in my court. I expected him to get someone who knew what they were talking about to contribute to the paper. (I was only 26, a bit of wain by any standards and the thought of writing 1000 words a week of ‘opinion’ daunted me).
However with the encouragement of our then Deputy Editor, the late Siobhan McEleney, I agreed to the challenge and sat in front of a blank screen not having a notion what on earth I was going to write. Did I want the column to be a serious look at the news? Did I want to focus on women’s issues entirely? Did I want it to be conversational in tone?
In the end it was Siobhan who suggested I use this column to tell it like it is - to speak of what it is like trying to live the life of a modern career woman facing all the battles a modern woman faces.
Of course at that stage I only thought I had battles to face.
Looking back at the 26 year old me, life was pretty uncomplicated. I was still renting a house and not mortgaged up to my oxters. I had no children. I weighed considerably less than I do now but of course thought I was the size of a house. I hadn’t even properly considered trying to write a novel and my biggest fear was whether or not I would ever, ever manage to pass my driving test. (It took four goes, for the record... and seven years). In fact if slightly shameful memory serves well one of the largest topics of conversations in those early columns was the availability, or lack of availability, of chocolate muffin desserts from Marks and Spencer.
Over the last ten years my life has changed immeasurably. Much of it I have shared on these pages. From the day we picked up the keys to our first (and current) home, to the day I announced I was expecting my first child. This column has allowed me the luxury of documenting ten years in my life - from the first labour pains to the first pains of letting a child out of my grasp as they started school and everything in between.
I have tried, at all times, to be brutally honest throughout. There are very few details of my life which have been held back from these pages. I recalled in detail the birth of two children. I’ve outlined my ongoing battle with depression. I have spoke of my joy at welcoming new members to my wider family and of my grief at the passing of friends - not least Siobhan. I have written of my first few attempts to write a novel and followed that up with my story of getting published and hitting the bestseller lists. I have lived my life on the pages of the Derry Journal - and have become used to being asked “Are you the girl that writes the column in the Journal?”
(At 36 I love being called “the girl” for the record).
There have been numerous times when people ask me how my family feel about having their darkest secrets revealedin the Journal.
The boy has asked me not to talk about him any more (well, not the embarrassing stories anyway).
But while some of that has been fairly self serving, what I have hoped to do was always to talk about things that most people (and by people I do generally mean women) could relate to.
They didn’t have to agree with me - and believe me I’ve had some disagreements over the years. (The biggest response always coming on debates about working mothers for some reason). But I think all women have some sense of shared experience or shared sense of being.
It is very self centred to dedicate a column to the fact that this column is now 10 years old - but I didn’t feel I could let the occasion pass without marking it. I’m pretty sure that if I had not had the chance to write the column - to try and find some sort of voice outside of the day to day retelling of the news - I may never have written a novel,
In so many ways it doesn’t feel like it has been ten years since that first column and I almost have to pinch myself at how much things have changed in the last decade. Hearts have been broken. Dreams have come true. Nappies have been changed. Cars bought and tests passed. I no longer enjoy Chocolate Muffin Desserts from Marks and Spencer. I still sometimes write about the proper hard news on this page - and sometimes perhaps I reveal a little more than I should.
But to everyone who has been on this journey with me so far - and I have been told there are people who come straight to this column each week - thank you for reading and for your vicarious friendship so far.