TV producer and novelist characterised by her generosity to colleagues

Anita Notaro: September 14th, 1955 - November 26th, 2014

The award-winning Irish novelist Anita Notaro, who has died aged 59, wrote stories which often had at their core a theme of sudden emotional and situational change.

Five of her six novels, all of them published between 2003 and 2013, dealt in one way or another with women who either reinvented themselves or who experienced life-changing trauma.

Notaro had been signed to a three-book deal with the publisher Transworld after the instant success of her first novel, Back after the Break, which entered the Irish bestseller lists within a fortnight of its publication in 2003.

This was quickly followed by Behind the Scenes a year later, and then, in 2006, her comedy about a weight loss group, The WWW Club.

Her most successful work, Take a Look at Me Now (2007), dealing with the consequences for a woman whose twin sister dies suddenly, leaving a young son and the legacy of a hidden life, won the Galaxy Popular Fiction Book of the Year Award at the 2008 Irish National Book Awards.

This theme of life's variety reflected Notaro's personal journey, which witnessed a meteoric rise from the relative obscurity of a career in company administration when she was successful in an open competition run by RTÉ for programming assistants in 1983.

Mid-life change

There she rose to become one of the broadcaster’s most accomplished producers and directors, a career followed by a dramatic and courageous mid-life change when she quit her job to become a full-time writer in 2000.

A late and very happy marriage to senior RTÉ business executive Gerry McGuinness in 2005, a brush with breast cancer in the same year, successfully overcome, and the completion of her last two novels, No Ordinary Love (2010) and A Moment Like This (2013) in the shadow of the dementia which would eventually cost Notaro her life, completed this wide spectrum of experience.

Her decision to become a writer followed a suggestion from a friend, the already very successful novelist Patricia Scanlon, who suggested that her knowledge of various life situations must have resulted in her having come across many interesting stories.

Working with Fanning

Indeed, she had excellent source material. Her early RTÉ experience included working with

Dave Fanning

on his programme

The Fanning Profiles

in the late 1980s, when, the RTÉ presenter said last week “we became friends very quickly” .

One of the reasons for this quick growth of friendship was a characteristic of Notaro’s which has been widely commented on in recent days by several colleagues – including Fanning – and this was her generosity, combined with a kind of fearlessness of authority insiders say is unusual in the context of the national broadcaster’s in-house politics.

“Genuinely, RTÉ didn’t care about you. You needed someone to champion you, and [for me] Anita became that person. I wanted to do a film programme … and Anita was there between [me] and the coalface of RTE.”

That programme became The Movie Show, on which Notaro worked, Fanning estimates, on hundreds of programmes.

He recalls that he wasn’t the only person she helped: “she had the balls and the tenacity … there are at least 10 people in RTE who owe their progress to Anita” .

One of these was the current director-general, Noel Curran, who, in a message issued to staff on hearing the news of Notaro's death, wrote that his early success as a producer was "directly attributable" to her support.

This was underscored by her writing agent, Marianne Gunn-O’Connor, who described her client this week as “incredibly big-hearted … she would just sit with [younger, less experienced writers], read their manuscripts and just try to help people.”

Television producer Dearbhla Walsh, winner of an Emmy Award for her Little Dorrit in 2009, said Anita Notaro was "the finger in my back all the time, saying 'you can do it, you can do it'."

Perhaps Notaro's greatest achievement at RTÉ was her production of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993, when it was won by the Irish contestant Niamh Kavanagh. Notaro became the first woman in the history of that competition to produce a finals show.

Other work at RTE included stints as producer and/or director of The Late, Late Show, Fair City, and general election coverage for RTÉ News.

Irish-Italian

Born in Dublin, the eldest of four girls, to an Irish-Italian father, Marcuccio Notaro, always known as Mark, and an Irish mother, Teresa (née Lynch), Notaro grew up in Inchicore and was educated locally, but not at third level.

Famously discreet about her educational background – and age – she would, says Dearbhla Walsh, answer queries as to her schooling with a description of her (non-existent) career as “a picker of the blue sweets out of the Smarties tray” at the local Rowntree-Mackintosh factory.

Anita Notaro is survived by her husband, and by sisters Lorraine, Madeleine and Jean.

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