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Image / Living / Culture

Rosemary Mac Cabe on writing, self-reflection, and the making of a ‘menmoir’


By Sarah Gill
26th Jul 2023
Rosemary Mac Cabe on writing, self-reflection, and the making of a ‘menmoir’

Here, we catch up with journalist, author and self-described serial monogamist Rosemary Mac Cabe to talk about her debut book, This Is Not About You...

Rosemary Mac Cabe’s This Is Not About You is a life story in a series of love stories, with each chapter dedicated to a different man. There’s Henry, with the big nose and the lovely mum, with whom sex was like having a verruca frozen off in the doctor’s surgery: ‘uncomfortable, but I had entered into this willingly’. There’s Francis, who was married. There’s Luke, who gave her a split condom…. And then there’s Brandin — Rosemary’s husband and the father to her son.

This is Not About You is the story of one woman – and, in a way, every woman – and her quest to find her happy ever after, no matter how high the price.

Here, we chat to Rosemary about everything from her literary inspiration and writing process to her desert island reads and sources of inspiration…

Rosemary Mac Cabe

Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve always loved writing – stories, lists, rules for the clubs I’d force my friends to set up with me… and it always felt sort of inevitable that I would end up writing. By the time I reached my late teens, I’d decided I wanted to study journalism. I still hoped to write a book some day but working as a journalist seemed like a more sensible option for a day job.

What inspired you to start writing?

I write a newsletter on Substack, so I’m always writing – three essays a week – and I always have something longer I’m working on kind of behind the scenes, whether that’s an idea for a new book or a short story or just… something else. I write to get my feelings and experiences onto a page, or because I’ve just observed something that I think says something about society, or about where I am, or the person I’m with. Inspiration doesn’t really come to me as a kind of lightning-bolt moment, more often it occurs when I have the time and space to let it.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

I was at a point in my life where my then relationship – of five years, with a man I thought I’d marry – had just ended and I was, in a way, really angry and resentful of all of this time I felt I’d wasted on men. I started to think about how formative all of those relationships had ultimately been. In a way, it felt as though I’d been shaped by all of that time and effort I put into them. So I did what I always do, really, and started writing it down.

Tell us about your writing process.

God, you’re asking the wrong person! As I was writing this book, I was also writing my newsletter, co-presenting a podcast and doing freelance work here and there, so the book really happened in the gaps between everything else. Since I had my baby, in October of 2021, that time has narrowed further. Work comes in the hours that he’s asleep, or when my husband is home to be with him; after I’ve dealt with my paid freelance work, the podcast, any on-deadline stuff… then I get to do the other, book-related writing.

What comes first, the plot or the characters?

I mean, I’m not sure this applies to This is Not About You, but obviously I’d say I came first. I’m the central character but also, in a way, the plot revolves so much around me that I had to.

What did you learn when writing this book?

It involved a lot of self-reflection, so I learned a lot about myself and got to revisit past mistakes, which was both a positive and a negative thing. It was interesting and rewarding but it was also challenging and confronting. Since the book’s come out, it’s really been hammered home to me just how universal these experiences, that felt so specific to me and my life and my relationships, are.

Do you have any quirky habits when writing?

Not that I’m aware of, but I work alone so perhaps there would be some uncovered if I was forced to share a workspace with someone else.

Rosemary Mac Cabe

The first book you remember reading is…

The Trouble with Jack by Shirley Hughes, a beautifully illustrated children’s book that thoroughly put me off ever wanting a brother.

Your favourite Irish author is…

I think it depends on my mood. For modern, relatable, whip smart commentary I love Sophie White’s work. Colm Tóibín’s prose never fails to impress me. And Maeve Binchy for when I’m really homesick.

The book you gift everyone is…

David Sedaris’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

Three books everyone should read…

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, Nobody’s Friend by Anthony Lanez.

You overcome writer’s block by…

Writing. You just have to keep writing. Even if – maybe especially if – it’s terrible. Just keep writing.

Do you listen to music when you write?

No, I find it too distracting and I’m really easily influenced. I’ll start writing in a certain tone or mood and realise it’s because of what I’m listening to, or even sometimes what I’ve been reading. I need to be careful not to read any period fiction while I’m writing, otherwise my own prose takes on a very Brontë-style pretentiousness (but not in a good way).

The best money you ever spent as a writer was on…

An ergonomic desk chair. Boring, but… great.

The three books you’d bring with you to a desert island are…

Can I just pick some of the books on my TBR list?! Yellowface by RF Kuang, Crescent City by Sarah J Maas and Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. I’ve heard they’re all good, so they feel like good picks.

Rosemary Mac Cabe

The book you always return to is…

Louise Bagshawe’s Venus Envy. It’s written by a former Tory politician and quite problematic about bodies and female jealousy but I just love it. It’s my guilty pleasure comfort read.

Seeing your book in shops will be…

Bizarre. I haven’t seen any in shops in real life, but I’ve been sent photographs of it and it just feels very unreal. It took me about five years to write, so maybe part of me never thought it would ever end up done and out in the world.

One book you wish you had written is…

My Life: Queen of the Court by Serena Williams because then I would be Serena Williams.

How do you use social media as an author?

Oh, I don’t use social media as an author, I use it as a compulsive oversharer. I used to be worse – I posted a lot, about everything I got up to – but now I just have a lot more real-life things distracting me. As an author, though, I almost feel awkward sharing or promoting my book. Somehow it’s easier to share pics of the new undies I got, or close-ups of my infected stye.

Should books be judged by their covers? How did you pick yours?

I mean, should they? I don’t know. But they are. I’m a sucker for a good cover. Mine was quite a long back and forth between me and the designers at Unbound. I knew I wanted something bright and fun and punchy. The book has moments where it’s quite sombre, and deals with some relationship trauma, but it’s also funny and celebratory and I wanted the cover to reflect that.

Do you find it hard not to procrastinate when writing?

Yes. 10,000 times yes. I have no cure for that.

Rosemary Mac Cabe

The best advice you’ve ever gotten is…

Marian Finucane was a really good friend of my mum’s, and when I spoke to her around the time of my Leaving Cert, to ask her advice about going into journalism, she told me that the most important thing was to do something else first. She told me I’d have nothing to write about if I just did a degree in journalism on its own, and I think she was right.

Your work space is…

Usually chaotic, like my entire house. I have this fantasy where just one day, everything in our house is where it should be… but I’m not sure it’ll ever happen.

Your favourite literary character of all time is…

Violet Beauregarde.

This is Not About You‘ by Rosemary Mac Cabe is on sale now.