Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Sheila O’Flanagan: I’d like to be cremated, with my ashes sent into outer space

Bestselling author Sheila O’Flanagan’s new book, Someone Special, is the story of an extended family and how they get on (or don’t). A former financial trader, Dublin-born Sheila wrote her first book in her thirties. She also plays badminton for Ireland’s veteran’s team. Sheila reveals all to Gail Walker

Each time Sheila sees her latest book on the shop shelves she feels proud and relieved as, she says, she invests so much of her emotions in her work.

WHAT ARE YOU LIKE IN A RELATIONSHIP? ARE YOU A GIVER OR A TAKER?

I’m Friday’s child so I’m supposed to be loving and giving which in a general sense I am. I don’t think about it too much, though, and overall I guess it’s a bit of both, which is probably about right for a relationship. There are times when you need to be comforted and given extra special treatment but you also have to know that there are times when your partner needs some TLC. I do think that generally women put more of an effort into keeping a relationship on an even keel, they are more likely to try to make the peace for example — but I think that men are short-changed emotionally in that many women don’t give them credit for having deep feelings too.

ONLY CHILD OR ONE OF A CROWD?

I have two sisters. I'm the eldest and although sometimes the eldest is meant to be a trailblazer I think I always felt a sense of responsibility about it. We’re reasonably close but not in each other’s pockets all the time but there for each other whenever needed.

ARE YOU CLOSER TO |YOUR MUM OR DAD?

My dad died when I was 19 but I

was very close to him. We thought the same way about a lot of things and shared the same sense of humour. He was interested in IT and astronomy and so am I. We had a shop when he was alive and I often worked with him in it and so we used to have long chats about a wide variety of subjects.

He never spoke down to me or made me feel that just because I was young my opinions weren’t valid. He was also very encouraging about doing well in school and in life generally and made me believe that there was nothing I couldn’t do if I put my mind down to it.

Over the last few years in particular I've become much closer to my mum and I realise more what a difficult thing it was for her to have lost her husband at a young age and have to rear a family on her own. There was very little social welfare assistance and she had to go back to work to keep things together. She actually went on a back to work course and learned a whole new range of skills so that she could apply to different companies for jobs.

At the time I think I felt that she didn’t have much fun and that she took life too seriously. But of course that was the situation she was in and now we have much more of a laugh together. She’s got new skills now too, she’s a Silver Surfer and is totally internet savvy so we keep in touch by email and text which is great because even though I don’t see her every day I know that she’s only a few clicks away.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

I'm both proud and relieved each time I finish a book and when I see it on the shelves in a bookshop. Sometimes I have to pick it up to be sure that it’s the book I’ve written because it seems so different when it’s got the cover on! You invest so much of yourself and your emotions in writing that sometimes it’s hard to let it go.

Also, being picked to represent Ireland on the international veteran's badminton team and winning my matches was a great moment for me. I’ve played badminton since my twenties and it’s such a great sport that it was a real honour to be asked to represent my country. The great thing about veterans badminton, though, is that it’s also very social and good fun. People do want to win but afterwards we all go for a drink together.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST ASHAMED OF?

I can't think of anything major. I can be quite intolerant at times and perhaps there have been occasions on which I could have been kinder to someone, but quite honestly I can’t remember anything specific.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A LAPDANCING CLUB?

No, although colleagues I have worked with in the past have gone. I know that it’s supposed to be fun and strictly monitored, and I wouldn’t dream of telling a girl that she can’t make money out of a great body, but the truth is that I think they are demeaning both for the women who work there and the men who visit them. They definitely objectify women and while you can laugh at the stupidity of anyone who would pay to see someone do a pole dance or a private dance for them, I can’t help thinking that the entire thing is seedy and sad. I also always found it quite difficult to accept that men I worked with during the day who saw me as a professional person might go to a club at night and see a woman in a completely different light; while it never affected my working relationships I was uncomfortable with it.

I’m totally horrified at the fact that you can now see young children in T-shirts saying things like ‘trainee porn star’ and carrying around Playboy branded stationery. I’m equally horrified that many women watch programmes like Girls of the Playboy Mansion and think that three gorgeous women being ‘girlfriends’ of a 80-plus-year-old man is a career.

Many women worked really hard for us all to become more than a pair of boobs waiting for a man but this industry puts us back in the dark ages while trying to pretend that it’s all a bit of a laugh.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO A FORTUNE-TELLER?

No. What’s the point? Most people who go say that the fortune-teller knew amazing things about them which is fair enough but that’s not telling you anything about the future. When I hear of one who can predict the lottery numbers correctly then I’ll reconsider.

HAVE YOU ANY PHOBIAS?

No, but millions of dislikes. Nevertheless I’m terrified at the idea of a general anaesthetic. I’ve had a few minor procedures done either with no anaesthetic or a local one even when the option of being knocked out has been given to me. I think it stems from having one when I was about 11 and had my tonsils out. I remember them putting a mask on my face and feeling really claustrophobic and stressed about it.

DO YOU TIP IN RESTAURANTS?

Yes although not when they include a ‘discretionary' service charge and leave a space on the credit card slip for a tip as well.

I’ve never had the nerve to ask them to remove the discretionary charge if I’ve had a problem with the meal or service though. When tipping, I prefer to leave cash separately when at all possible as I’m not convinced that the service charge always goes to the employees.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?

Not in the biblical sense but I do think there is a force for goodness as well as evil in the world. I was brought up a Catholic so I do have a large dose of Catholic guilt etched into my psyche which I don’t think will ever leave me. Unfortunately it seems that religious beliefs are the cause of more conflicts than anything else in the world and so I don’t have time for organised religion of any denomination.

I especially think that the rules (thought up by the men who run most religions!) that have built up around different beliefs are beyond ridiculous, especially ones concerning dress. I’m at a loss to know why so many religious groups feel that covering the head (by a turban or a veil or anything else) is an important part of a belief system. And I think that any loving God would be appalled at the way in which ostensibly religious people are so quick to take offence at anyone who dosen’t ‘respect’ their beliefs and why they think that it is acceptable to wage wars in the name of their God.

QUICK DEATH OR TIME TO PREPARE?

A little bit of time but not too much. I’d like to be cremated afterwards and have my ashes sent into outer space. This is apparently possible — you ultimately fall back to earth and the capsule containing your ashes burns up in the atmosphere which I think sounds great. I’ve always had an interest in space travel and better late than never.

REGRETS HAVE YOU HAD A FEW?

That I didn't have a gap year and travel the world. But when I left education you were lucky to get a job at all, and so when I was offered a good job I didn’t think I’d any choice but to take it.

I regret that I wasn’t more confident in my initial career in financial services. Although I had a successful career I think I would have been infinitely more successful if I’d had half of the self-belief of some of my male colleagues. I’m interested in the fact that women always try to be the best they can be at a particular job whereas men are continually looking to move into someone else’s job. I realise that’s a total generalisation but it has certainly been my experience in the workplace.

And I do regret that my Dad died before I had my first book published. I think he would have got a great kick out of it.

Someone Special by Sheila O’Flanagan, Headline Review, |£12.99

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