I’ve had this idea for a book for a long time now and try as I might, I haven’t been able to get anywhere with it. I’ve made attempts at writing it but each has ended up with me giving up and starting again before the first chapter is complete. Every single time I take a run at it, something gets in my way. Fear.
But where does that fear come from? November 23rd 2011. That was the date that my first book, Diary of a Ryde, was released and sadly, things didn’t work out quite as I had hoped. It’s left me with a horrible fear of writing ever since. It cripples a talent that I know I have, it stifles the creativity I’ve always possessed and it holds me back from doing something I used to love so much.
I was always writing when I was a kid. I would spend hours on my own, making up stories and putting them down on paper. Books played a huge part of my childhood and I would read every single night before bed. Roald Dahl was a huge favourite of mine and I’ve read each of his books a dozen times from cover to cover. I loved the humour in his writing that never failed to make me smile. I tried to emulate some of that in what I was writing and as I grew older, I felt it became a great outlet for my ideas.
Diary of a Ryde was not the first book I’d actually finished though. The first is one who’s title totally escapes me now. It involved a TV show surrounding 4 villas in Spain housing 6 people each from all over the world. They were there for a year and they’d have no interaction with anyone outside. I based every single character on someone from my group of friends. Living in a big Dublin suburb, my group of friends was quite expansive at the time and I’m still friends with some of them to this day. This was around 1998 so I would have been 14 at the time. I remember though that just after I’d finished my first draft, I heard about a TV show in The Netherlands called Big Brother which had the same basic ideas. I’m pretty sure though that my inspiration came from Ibiza Uncovered and there wasn’t a competition element. Either way, I didn’t really progress beyond that first draft. I don’t have a copy of it to look back on sadly and I’m pretty sure it’s on a floppy disc somewhere.
The next book I wrote was called Farley’s Angels, based around Tracy & Jazelle and the basketball team they put together. I was working in Dunnes at the time and the characters were very much based on colleagues. Some of them took the time to read chapters as I wrote and give me tips and ideas about how to progress. I sent it to publishers in 2001 but my writing was still quite raw then and at 17, I was still very naive when it came to life in general. I have to say, I loved writing that book and it gave me some great practice.
The next book I wrote was called The Canary Diaries. It began as a journal I had kept on my first trip to Gran Canaria, again with a few friends from Dunnes, and when I came home and expanded it, the story grew into something much bigger. I actually can’t remember if I got to finish it or not but I know I didn’t send it to publishers. I had gone back for another edit of Farley’s Angels which I was much more passionate about and so Canary Diaries was forgotten about.
When I started writing Diary of a Ryde, it was 2004. I was in college in The Liberties at the time studying Media Production and for a documentary assignment I came up with the character of Sharon Dunne. That documentary piece got lots of laughs and so Sharon grew life in The Liberties. We’d lots of fun with her and the idea of creating something bigger came about, possibly one dark Autumn evening as we drank pints of Smirnoff Ice in our local college haunt, Darkey Kelly’s on Fishamble Street. That was a book called The Diary of Sharon Dunne and that very first “diary entry” I wrote when I went home that night made it into the final book that was published in 2011 almost word for word.
This is the original audio recording of A Shift with Sharon Dunne that began the road to Joanna Ryde!
I continued to write away as Sharon Dunne morphed into Joanna Ryde when I was asked to take part in a drag show in GUBU (now PantiBar) in 2005. Over the next few years, I developed the newly named character into an “international superstar”, winning Alternative Miss Ireland in 2007 and spending a few years travelling around the country performing in gay bars and clubs. I was invited to take part in The All Ireland Talent Show in 2009 and by 2010, I had triumphantly returned to become the first drag performer in Ireland on a TV talent show. Soon after, I took a big leap and moved from Dublin to Waterford where I’ve been ever since. My exploits after the All Ireland Talent Show were fun for a while. I was talking to two different TV companies about putting together a show and I was working 6 nights a week doing gigs around the country. By mid 2011 though, the TV discussions had come to nothing and all the travelling was taking a heavy toll on me. I cut back some of my gigs to concentrate on Dignity and their venues in Waterford, Kilkenny and Galway.
Diary of a Ryde was finished a while at this stage and initial interest after the All Ireland Talent Show had lead to nothing. I was then told about a company looking for writers to publish and sent along the manuscript. You can imagine how ecstatic I was just a few weeks later when I got a call saying they wanted to publish the book. I went to Dublin to sign the contract and all seemed wonderful. Everyone was delighted for me. They knew how hard I’d worked for it and over the next few weeks, I went into overdrive preparing for the launch.
That came on November 23rd 2011. At the time I actually felt really good about the date. It was coming out on the same day as the new Muppets movie which I took to be a sign seeing as I had been such a massive fan of them from the time I was a child. The big night took place in Dublin with Amanda Brunker surprising me by coming along to launch it for me. The PR tour had taken me to Spin, 98fm, FM104, KCLR, WLR and Beat and without thinking it at the time, that little tour, and the Beat interview with Mary O’Neill, lead on to something else that I’ll get to in a minute.
From the elation of seeing the book I’d poured all my heart into being launched though, things quickly turned sour. A small first run sold out straight away with the independent sellers and the larger suppliers, notably Eason and Tesco, couldn’t get orders from the publisher. Within a week of publishing my book, they had gone out of business and my dream of walking into Easons in O’Connell Street and seeing my book on the shelf wasn’t to be.
I took it hard but continued to fight. By Christmas, I had the rights reverted to me and began to send to new publishers. I met the lovely Vanessa Fox-O’Loughlin who gave me some wonderful advice and helped me get a meeting with O’Brien Press. In the meantime, that interest in radio that had been re-ignited during the PR tour led me back to Beat and the WIT Broadcast Course. By October 2012, I had started doing some radio work with Beat and was actively reworking Diary of a Ryde with O’Brien Press with the hope of being published the following year. However, where things progressed with the radio and I began an internship in The Broadcast Centre, things foundered with the book and Vanessa and I moved on to Liberties Press who had also shown interest. I spent 7 months working with them on the book, making changes they had requested and it had changed completely into something new – The Edge of Glory.
2014 rolled around and although I was still in Beat, I didn’t seem to have a place on air and I was struggling to see where I fit in. I had been approached to take part in Britain’s Got Talent a few months earlier and on January 18th 2014, my 30th birthday, I performed in Belfast and absolutely knocked it out of the park, scoring 4 yeses from the judges to reach the final 120 in the entire UK & Ireland. I knew an appearance on Britain’s Got Talent was the thing I needed to get the book over the line to be a success. It seemed that the wrong I felt the world had done me in 2011 was making itself right but I was about to fall hard. While I was planning to go to London for the next part of Britain’s Got Talent, the producers called me to tell me that I wouldn’t be continuing in the competition. They cited the scenes I had with Louis Walsh’s boyband Hometown and the fact they had decided not to take part as one of the reasons, which to me, sounded utterly unfair. Soon afterwards, the book publisher decided not to proceed.
I’ll be honest and say I’d reached the lowest point in my life. I had worked so hard for so many years, I had put everything into Joanna. I had so many promises and false starts and they’d all lead to nothing. I was totally miserable. I felt like a complete failure. Joanna didn’t seem to be working out for me anymore, the radio didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Everything I had hoped for was gone. I must have been a right misery at the time and one very abrupt conversation with Niall Power, my manager at the time, sticks in my head. I went into his office next door to my own and told him I didn’t think Beat was going anywhere for me. His response was “then go”. I was taken aback. Niall had always been my biggest supporter and now here he was telling me to walk away. I was an intern at the time so I could leave whenever I wanted. I went home that evening and cried for the night. But I got up the next morning and I went back. Why? Because by telling me to walk away, Niall had made me realise I didn’t have nothing. I could CHOOSE to have nothing or I could CHOOSE to stick around and find a way to put my talents to use, and I did. As he says to this day “I knew he had something special, I just didn’t know what it was.” I very much believe that without that conversation, I would not be the happy, well rounded individual I have become today!
While I have flourished in my career with Beat, writing books has not featured in my thoughts much. Since the post-Britian’s Got Talent meltdown, I have toyed with retooling Diary of a Ryde into something new, I have spent a little time working on The Irish Guide to Going on Holidays which I’ve decided may be best suited to blogging (I suppose a version of which you’re reading now) and then there’s the book that prompted this article. As I mentioned at the start, I made a few attempts at it but never seemed to be able to get it right. I had never finished a single chapter. Until last night! I’ve just been married, had a wonderful honeymoon and have a job I absolutely love. I feel that I’m in a happy place and that made me a little curious about battling that fear I’ve held on to since 23rd November 2011, and battle I have. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve worked away, writing on my phone of all things, to get somewhere. I found something that I hadn’t felt for a long time. The ability to get lost in a world I had created, to enjoy what I was writing and believe that there may actually be something in it. I’m not even that afraid of failing anymore. Why? Because I failed already. I failed monumentally and where has that lead me? Right here. Sitting writing this with a smile on my face. That failure helped make me what I am today. If I send it to a publisher and it doesn’t get published then it’s not the end of the world, because I can choose to keep going, to keep writing. That’s what I’m going to do now I’ve started again and maybe one day, I will walk into Easons and see my book on the shelf!