First encounter: Donal and Anne Marie Ryan
Author Donal Ryan and his wife Ann Marie Ryan pictured at their home in Castletroy, Limerick. Photograh: Brian Gavin/Press 22
Donal Ryan set his novel ‘The Spinning Heart’ in a small town after the crash. It was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. ‘The Thing About December’, the book he wrote first, has just been published and has been shortlisted for novel of the year in this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards. Donal is a labour inspector for the Department of Enterprise. He lives in Limerick
Anne Marie and I met first when we were both trade union activists with the Civil Public and Services Union (CPSU). We met a few weeks later in Clohessy’s pub in Limerick. She remembered my name, kind of – she called me Tony – but we hit it off straight away. You know when you meet somebody and have a conversation and it’s just so easy, there’s no hesitation. She had lovely eyes, a lovely smile.
We met up again the next day, had a conversation that went on for ages and I remember thinking, I never want this conversation to end. I’m going to have to marry her so we can have this conversation every day. I didn’t say that of course, I played it cool, a little bit anyway. But that was it. We got married in September 2007, and now live in Castletroy with Thomas, five – a honeymoon baby – and Lucy, three.
I just love the way Anne Marie understands and gets books; the way she reacts to books is lovely. I didn’t know her that long when I thought, I’d love to write a book that made her react that way. So I pretty much wrote The Thing About December to try and impress her. I think it did: she kinda fell in love with Johnsey, the main character. A lot of people do.
I studied civil engineering in UL and joined the civil service in 1998, then went back and did a law degree at night. For years I was thinking, I know I can be a writer but I’m not trying hard enough. I’d have troughs of despair and peaks of over-confidence. Anne Marie really helped me because she really believed in me. I wouldn’t have stayed going but Anne Marie never wavered. She’d read my stuff every day to see how I was getting on. At one stage I’d gone off at a tangent, written 20,000 words; she’d been busy, hadn’t checked for a few days and when she did read it said, this is terrible stuff, it isn’t working at all. I knew straight away she was right, but I didn’t accept it graciously. I held out for a few days, then deleted the whole lot.
The relationship between me and my father is the complete inverse of Bobby’s [the central character in The Spinning Heart]: me and Dad are great buddies. But the love of Bobby and his wife Triona is definitely me and Anne Marie.
I’m still working, there’s no life-changing amount of money. I don’t know if I’d like to write full time; I love my job, love meeting people.
I wouldn’t have written either of these books without Anne Marie and if I’d started, I wouldn’t have finished.
The Thing About December is co-published by Doubleday Ireland and Lilliput Press
Anne Marie Ryan is a clerical officer with Revenue. She worked in a solicitor’s office after school, then for the Department of Agriculture, and moved to Revenue this year. She lives in Castletroy, Limerick, with her husband Donal Ryan and children Thomas and Lucy
We were both trade union officials and were introduced in 2005; about six weeks later we were out in a nightclub and got chatting. There was a definite spark and he asked me out on a date. He was great craic, made me roar laughing. He was very complimentary, very nice, great fun and I just knew he was a good person. I was mad about him from the very start; I thought he was gorgeous as well of course. There was no second-guessing, I kind of felt secure from the very start; it was very comfortable very early on.
We got engaged at Christmas 2006, married nine months later, had our first baby, Thomas, in July 2008 and Lucy in November 2009. It was a bit of a whirlwind, a lot happened every year, and now with the book there’s still a lot going on.
The first book that Donal wrote, he was always calling me up to the room saying, read this bit, what d’you think of that – he involves me all the time. Sometimes I’ll say Donie, I don’t know if it’s good or bad, I just know what I like. Sometimes I think, God, what if it’s brilliant and I’m saying, get rid of this? But all his work is strong; he doesn’t need me really.
I knew he wanted to write, knew he had a great way with words. It got to the point where he kept saying I’d love to, and I said, just do it, like. He didn’t have the confidence at all; as The Thing About December was taking shape, I kept telling him, this is amazing stuff. I was absolutely blown away by it. I still read that book and still cry, it’s so sad.
I did push him I suppose. He says if we hadn’t met he wouldn’t have written, but I don’t believe that. At some stage it would have burst out of him. I was very moved when I read the stuff about Bobby and Triona. It’s lovely to have that description of marriage there. I’m very lucky to have found Donie, he’s the perfect match for me. He’s not romantic in an old-fashioned way but he always puts me and the children first. He’s a great dad too, very hands on. We’re pretty 50/50, he does as much as I do with them.
I had stage one cervical cancer in 2012 and had to have a hysterectomy, just before The Spinning Heart was published. I know it sounds like a cliché but he was a tower of strength. I’m sure he was really upset, devastated, and he didn’t let me see it once.
The thing about Donie is he’s very good-natured, easy-going, unbelievably generous to people, he’s really kind. I knew that when I met him first; he has a really good heart. I have to remind myself to tell him that every now and then.
I’m so happy this is happening for him, he deserves it.