CONTACT Denyse at: walrusgumboot@eircom.net

Denyse is represented by the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency, Dublin  Tel: +353 01 2803482 email: janettamellet@gmail.com

Me on Me:

So, it was something of a moving-around-type situation when I was growing up. My parents were in Boston when I arrived in 1958, but I remember nothing about my four years there, apart some dreamlike memory of a summer in Cohasset, involving a sun chair. The Boston years were very happy ones for my parents – and why wouldn’t they have been, with me joining the crew? From there we decamped back to our home in Dublin, where  I went off to school every day in my little pink smock. Here, aged four, I made my first friend, Bernice, now my oldest, much cherished, pal. The house was cold, money was tight, treats were few, but I was a happy child in a happy place. We moved to Belgium when I was eight, where school was initially terrifying. They spoke French, which was awkward of them, and on my first day in my new school, I was asked by the teacher if I knew how to use a fountain pen. Back in Dublin, we’d been learning to write between pink and blue lines with pencils , but Madame was standing over me, proffering a pen, surrounded by a whole bunch of girls, giggling at this new oddity in their midst. I looked at the pen, considered my options, and said yes. When it was handed to me, I proceeded to use the pen upside down. Hoots of laughter. Depths of shame. We soon moved to another school, where my 5th class teacher found my fledgling French deeply irritating, but not as irritating as my knitting. At nine years of age, little Belgian girls could knit newborn baby jackets with a complex pattern; I could just about do plain & purl. That baby jacket tormented me, and my mother, for months, but that school, the FCJs in the city, was wonderful. I made good friends there, and a great friend at home. Fabienne and I had watched one another through the fence at the end of our gardens for quite a time before one of us actually dared speak. From then on, happiness meant running down to her place after school to have bread and chocolate with Fabienne and her mother. For almost six years, Brussels was home. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t forever.

Leaving Belgium for Australia in 1971 fairly broke my heart. Leaving Fabienne was the worst of it. I therefore hated Canberra and its brilliant blue skies on arrival and vowed I would return to Brussels to continue my education as soon as my parents allowed it. I was thirteen. My new school was huge. Strict. We had to wear bowler hats and gloves in public, and tights even in the high heat of summer, but one gifted American nun smoothed the way for me, as did meeting my soul mate, Cath. Then, at fifteen, I fell in love (conveniently for my parents, who did not want me to go to school on the other side of the world) and it was as great and as huge and as magnificent as first love should be. He was exceptional. Two years later, I left him, and Cath, and Edda, and Alanah, having understood at last the meaning of the diplomatic childhood. The Airport Life. Australia still runs through my blood.

Shortly after we arrived in Rome, our next posting, my mother died following a long illness. She would have loved Italy. Three weeks later, I found myself in a cold, Irish boarding school – the easiest way to finish off my education. Strange times. The other girls spoke so fast compared to my slow Aussie drawl, but St Mary’s was nonetheless a sanctuary. All I had to do was study, and grieve, surrounded by kindness.

Dublin became home. Secretarial college led to jobs, and a job in UCD led me back to college, where I studied English Lit and my new-found love, Arabic. Writing now came to the fore. I had written all my life – long, chatty letters from wherever I found myself to whomever I had left behind, diaries, poems, notes to self, but at college I made a decision: I would write novels and I would base them in the Arab world, which I had yet to see. With my degree in my fist, I went to work in Baghdad in 1982, where I became gravely ill and found myself shipped back to Dublin. Too weakened to return to Iraq, I went instead to work in London and there met William, my other half these last 33 years. After a lovely spell working in Oxford, we came to Cork, and shortly after our first child was born, my first short story won an Irish Times competition. And so I was off: childbearing, childminding and writing: a novel I’d been planning for years, a memoir about those Canberra days, short stories. At some point I decided it was time to stop writing and start looking for an agent. Instead, I wrote another novel – about grief, a subject I knew too well, having lost my father five years after my mother’s death, and my second love in between. With this novel I secured an agent, but it was my earlier novel that first secured a publisher. In 2002, Overnight to Innsbruck was published by the Lilliput Press and The Catalpa Tree was published in 2004 by Penguin Ireland. Suddenly I was two writers – Denyse Woods and Denyse Devlin. Head and heart, some say.

And so I go on, in this writer’s life, here in Ireland, which is where I keep my soul. It’s a peculiar kind of a way to make a living, but the itch won’t go away even when you scratch it. I also love to organise and administrate, so I hugely enjoyed my role as Director of the West Cork Literary Festival (books AND organizing!), but my fingertips tingled and characters clamoured to be let out of the filing cabinet inside my head, so I returned to full-time writing after four years with the festival. My sixth novel, Of Sea and Sand, was published in 2018.

Onwards.