It started with a Facebook group about a certain type of Irish girl – you know the one – has the flats in her handbag on a night out, is always up for the match, and knows exactly how important it is not to shame the parish. She’s someone you’ve worked with, she’s your mate, admit it, she’s you from time to time.
Now Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen have brought the character of Aisling to life in their new book ‘Oh My God What a Complete Aisling’ that is currently hopping off the shelves and has all of its readers, this one included, pausing for laughs as these two authors manage to pinpoint the very specific aspects of Irish life that are both ridiculous and endearing, yet so familiar to all.
We caught up with the two authors recently to have a chat about how the idea of Aisling came about, why so many have taken her into their hearts, and of course, will we be hearing more from this Ballygobbard lady down the line?
– It began with a Facebook group but where did the initial inspiration for Aisling come from?
Sarah: Emer and I met in college and clicked instantly. She’s from Kildare and I’m from Carlow so our backgrounds are similar and our sense of humour is near identical. We shared a flat in Stoneybatter and used to sit around talking a lot of nonsense, usually hungover. One day we started chatting about a very specific type of girl we’d seen around Dublin. And we decided to call her Aisling.
Emer: We were coming up with a dozen ‘Aislingisms’ a day; Aisling would never not text ‘home safe’ after a night out, Aisling still knows the Hail Mary as Gaeilge, Aisling can believe it’s not butter.
– How would you describe Aisling for those that haven’t read the book?
Sarah: Aisling is the friend who minds the handbags on a night out. She’s great craic, but she’s also very wary of being roofied. She loves nothing more than some good drying, going Down Home for a funeral and would rather die than miss a hotel breakfast. There’s a little bit of Aisling in all of us.
Emer: She’s kind of an Irish everywoman. She might sound a bit square but she’s actually a wonderful friend and there’s nothing wrong with being sensible. She also loves a good night ‘Out Out’. Coors Light, West Coast Cooler and a few vodka and diet cokes are her drinks of choice. And she can jazz up a GAA jersey with a pair of dangly earrings like nobody’s business.
– Which one of you is more like Aisling than the other?
Sarah: My vote is for Emer. You should see her at a festival – luxurious tent, massive airbed, electric pump, ear plugs – she packs the lot.
Emer: There is nothing wrong with being comfortable at a festival! Sets you up for the next day!
– What made you decide to make this a novel, rather than, perhaps, a collection of stories from the Facebook page?
Sarah: It was definitely a joint decision. We have a 50/50 partnership in this project and we wanted to do something that would bring Aisling to as wide an audience as possible. Plus, you can’t just steal other people’s content for your own gain!
Emer: We wanted it to be something with longevity, rather than a novelty. We both love writing and that’s what our background is in, so why not just go for it? There are so many years of wonderful stories on the FB page. Some of them are ours, but most of them are not. So we wanted to go back to basics.
– How did you find writing as a pair? Did you divide chapters, sit and write together or…?
Sarah: It was actually very easy, probably because we have such a similar voice. We had a rough plot already done so we divided it down into chapters and then did one each, only knowing what would happen at the beginning and at the end. So reading each other’s work was always a bit of a surprise!
Emer: It was actually great because we would spur each other on when we were feeling unmotivated or procrastinating. I always thought Sarah’s chapters were hilarious and mine were rubbish, but sure she felt the same way. Everyone says the book is pretty seamless, so whatever we did worked!
– What do you think it is that has drawn so many people to the Facebook group and now the book?
Sarah: It’s become apparent that everyone, regardless of where they’re from, can identify with Aisling to some degree. We used to think it was a country thing but we’re realising Aisling is more a state of mind.
Emer: It’s kind of mad that this kind of Irish character hasn’t really been explored before. So many people just get it and that means they feel comfortable contributing and sharing their own ideas of Aisling or their own stories.
– Marian Keyes herself has endorsed the book, that must have felt good?!
Sarah: It was surreal – we’re both massive fans of her work. She has created some of our favourite female characters and to be mentioned in the same breath as her is very exciting.
Emer: she has been so kind and supportive, it’s a dream come true. When we were writing the book we used to joke and say “imagine Marian Keyes somehow read our book”, and now here she is singing its praises.
– Is there anyone from Irish media – be it real or fictional – that you would say is a complete Aisling?
Emer: I think if you took a smidge of Pippa (but not too glam of a smidge), a smattering of Maeve Higgins, a pinch of the Rose of Tralee and a whisper of half the girls you went to school with, you might be getting there.
– Will there be a follow-up to Aisling’s story?
Sarah: We haven’t signed anything just yet but there are a couple of offers on the table. We’d certainly love to do another book.
Emer: we’d love to tell more of Aisling’s story going forward, but also maybe some of her earlier years: moving up to Dublin for the first time, maybe going to college, meeting her boyfriend John. There’s so much scope there.