Fortune-teller inspires Achill chef to write her first novel

Staying In

Anton McNulty

WHEN Katrina Gallagher and her friend Cathy Lynchehaun went to have their fortunes told by one Gypsy Kathleen, who was visiting Achill in the summer of 2016, little did she realise the positive effect the visit would have on her life.
“As we were getting up to go she [Gypsy Kathleen] grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘Just write the book’,” Katrina recalled to The Mayo News. “I looked at her and thought, ‘My God I never told a single soul before that writing a book was something I always wanted to do’. When I got out Cathy said ‘What?’ I said, ‘Ya, I’m mad to write a book.”
At the time, Katrina worked as a chef in Masterson’s Bar and Restaurant in Achill, and apart from writing menus had no experience of writing. With the words of Gypsy Kathleen ringing in her ears she decided that now was the time to change that.
After realising she was serious her friends and work colleagues offered up various ideas for plots and themes. In the end, it was the folk and ghost stories she heard as a child in Achill that were her inspiration. Now her fantasy thriller, ‘Fifteen Ascending’ is ready to hit the shelves.
“My great-uncle Eddie lived with us when I was growing up, and he was big into telling stories, so I built the novel around the fears we had growing up around The Valley. Nobody tells stories in the way they did then. We used to be delighted when the electricity would go. We’d get to hear the really scary stories in darkness with the hailstones were rattling off the window. We were terrified but we loved it,” the 44-year-old mother of four explained.
The book is aimed at the young adult market and set in 1980s Achill and follows the fortunes and adventures of 15-year-old Brigid, who has special powers but lives an isolated life. The themes explored include bullying, isolation and coming of age. Katrina explained she wanted to write something which gave teenagers a positive outlook on life.
“There are a lot of kids out there who are not doing really well. The book is a positive read. When they read it I want them to be able to say it’s okay not to be okay every day. You don’t have to be what other people want you to be ... you are doing great and to keep going.”
With four young children aged between 14 and eleven, Katrina admitted she lost focus in the beginning but the misfortune of breaking her ankle and receiving redundancy from her job ended up as a positive. She had time on her hands to concentrate on her book and is grateful to her former English teacher, Kevin Egan, for the support he gave her.
“I went out to Kevin Egan and asked him to have a look at it. I thought he might run me but he didn’t. He came back to me and said, ‘Katrina this is every bit as good as what I am teaching’ and ‘Go for it’. That was incredibly kind. He was great and looked over every other chapter and was very helpful. He did not have to do anything like that, but he did and was so supportive. This is why the schools are so important to the community.”
As a self-publishing author, Katrina is grateful to all those who assisted her – and for Gypsy Kathleen’s advice.
“The actual writing of the book was an incredible experience. I think everyone has a book in them. I love writing now. So much so I have already started on the sequel.”

The launch of the book takes place this Friday, September 21, in The Valley House, Achill at at 8pm. Everyone welcome.
‘Fifteen Ascending’ is for sale in bookshops in Achill, Castlebar, Westport and Galway and available to buy in print and kindle through Amazon.