Belfast writer Sharon Dempsey (51) lives with husband Liam and daughter Sarah. The journalist has published fiction and non-fiction and facilitates writing classes for those affected by health challenges
Q. Tell us about your childhood.
A. I'm Belfast born and bred. I grew up on the Lower Ormeau Road until we moved to Ailesbury Crescent when I was 12. It was the best street to grow up on with my parents Jeannie and Teddy, my brother Teddy and sisters Lyndsey and Kim. We always had pets growing up, a cat and a dog, but the cats were always mine. It's a very close family with a huge circle of aunts, uncles and cousins.
I was in London for a couple of years and then Cardiff for nearly 10 years, so I think being back you just sort of appreciate that big family. Some of our family gatherings are some of my best memories.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. It's probably the cliche but it's my children. I have three; my son Owen died when he was six from a brain tumour diagnosis [when he was two]. Really, I'm just so proud of him and the way he gathered people to him and he was such a lovely person. Not a day goes by where we don't talk about him and miss him. I'm proud of the way we as a family cared for him and looked after each other in the aftermath of everything. I also have a daughter (Kate) who is 27 and works in TV production and another daughter (Sarah) who is 14 and doing all the home schooling at the minute.
Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?
A. I try not to regret things, if I want to do something I make sure I do it. As regards family, we all know what we mean to each other.
My father had a massive heart attack in 2017 that led to a pretty catastrophic brain injury. I can remember thinking that if he came through it, we'd be really lucky to have the chance to care for him the way he'd cared for us our whole lives. He did survive it but I almost regret what he has to live with now and these awful limitations.
From a professional point of view, I regret not writing fiction earlier. I never treated it like the job - I was always writing as a journalist and a health writer - or gave it the respect it deserved. Once I focused on that, my writing career really took off but I suppose that hesitancy was fear of failure maybe.
Q. What about phobias. Do you have any?
A I'm terrified of heights. I can't even watch something on TV if it's got a camera angle looking down. My palms sweat, I feel physically ill, even thinking about it affects me. I don't like snakes, or lizards but heights are my real phobia.
Q. The temptation you cannot resist?
A. Handbags! I'm a sucker for a new Mulberry or Coach handbag. It's a very bad expensive habit [laughs] but other than that it would be books and chocolate.
Q. Your number one prized possession?
A. Photographs. I've always taken a lot of photographs and come from a family on both sides who are massive photograph takers so we literally have thousands of us all growing up which is just lovely.
As for an object. I've got an antique typewriter that my husband bought me. We found it in a little shop in Portstewart and it sits in my office, pride of place. I just love typewriters; I had one when I was eight from Santa for Christmas - I just had this affinity with typewriters.
Q. The book that's most impacted your life?
A. Growing up I read everything I could get my hands on. I lived near Ormeau Road library and we'd go there a lot and then there was a little second-hand bookshop on Rugby Avenue and all my money went there. I devoured every single Enid Blyton book, Jo Lingard and then moved onto All Creatures Great and Small, Gerald Durrell's Corfu books then onto horror with Stephen King and James Herbert.
An influential book is Michael McLaverty's Call My Brother Back. I love the book; it was the first book I encountered that spoke to me on a level about finding your place in the world. More recently, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It absolutely destroyed me but it's the book I buy multiple copies of and give to people every chance I get.
Q. If you had the power or authority, what would you do?
A. On a small-scale domestic way I would look at giving the health service the funding it needs to do what we came to expect it to do.
I would return to EU membership straight away, fund mental health services for young people because I think we're at crisis point with that… there's an endless list of what I'd love to do given half the chance.
Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?
A. I'm a pretty chilled individual but any discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation just angers me.
I can't fathom why anyone would consider their race or gender as making them superior to anyone.
It imposes limits on all of us as a society if you think like that.
Q. Who has most influenced you in life?
A. Probably my dad. He cares so much about everyone he comes in contact with and like Owen, my son, people just love him and respond so warmly to him.
He always has time for everyone and he was always such a hard worker, striving to give us everything we needed.
He was one who funded my early book habit, got me a supply of notebooks and pencils.
Also my mum too - she always told us all to do what makes us happy in life.
She's just absolutely brilliant as well.
Q. Your top dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?
A. Probably Robert Plant because I'm a huge Led Zeppelin fan but they before my time. When Jimmy Page was in No Alibis Bookshop - he was accompanying his girlfriend, poet Scarlett Sabet - I was so excited to be in the same room though I kept my cool.
I'd also have Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley because she was so radical. Her life story fascinates me; even her father described her as 'singularly bold and somewhat imperious and active of mind' and I thought, you're my type of woman.
I'd also like Marie Curie there as I think to have done what she'd done and almost what it cost her then. Joan Didion, novelist and essayist, and Shirley Jackson, I think they're all hugely successful in their own fields and I imagine they'd be so entertaining and irreverent and I'd have the best dinner party ever.
Q. The best piece of advice you've ever received?
A. Don't underestimate yourself. It was a granny in the school playground at pickup time and those words really stuck with me. I think about them often, I think our biggest critics are ourselves. Women in particular, we do underestimate ourselves.
Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?
A. Anything surrounding books and reading and podcasts about books and reading! But I also love Pinterest and looking at nicely curated reading rooms.
Q. The poem that touches your heart?
A. One poem that struck me at the time reading it, I was probably in my undergrad at Queens, Home Burial by Robert Frost. I don't think anyone could read it and not be moved.
It's got special relevance to me now, having lost my son so it really stands out to me. You can turn to poetry for all different times in your life, especially hard times.
Q. The happiest moment of your life?
A. The birth of each of my babies - that euphoria of holding them for the first time, when you smell their little heads.
Their skin is the best feeling in the world.
Q. And the saddest?
A. The day Owen was diagnosed was probably the most traumatic in many ways and then the day he died, 17 years ago, was the saddest day. It just floors you... You learn to live with that impact on your life.
Q. The one event that made a difference in your life?
A. There are hinge moments in life, the 'before' and 'after' and going through something like we did with Owen does break you but if you're lucky you can come out of it fearless. I have done, I feel he carries me now. I seize every challenge that comes my way.
This year, I start doing a PhD in critical research looking at Northern Irish crime fiction, gender and class. Again, everything begins and ends with books!
To be able to commit myself to three years of research is brilliant, it's a gift.
Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you forward?
A. It's the sheer pleasure of being alive and knowing you can make a difference no matter how small. But also, I feel I owe it to Owen to make the best of my life and that drives me.
Q. What's the philosophy that you live by?
A. Make each day count and if something comes your way, jump at it.
I think I spent too long being frightened.
I really had no confidence when I was younger and that has totally changed but I think you only change that by saying yes to things and doing them.
Accepting challenges and growing from that, that's important.]
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A As a good person, simple as that. And as someone who hosted the best parties given half the chance!
Sharon's latest novel Who Took Eden Mulligan? is the first in a new Belfast-based crime series. It is published by Avon and available now in ebook and audiobook. Follow her on twitter @svjdempz