How I Got My Job: We Meet Dubliner Sarah Maria Griffin, Author Of ‘Not Lost’
One book published, a second one just finished and a third one en route - Sarah Maria Griffin is one busy woman.
Where I’m from: Dublin. Raised in Kilbarrack and living in Ringsend.
What I do: Author
Upon moving to San Francisco in 2012, Sarah Maria Griffin found herself floundering, facing unemployment and missing her hometown of Dublin. As a recent immigrant, she channelled her energy into soaking up the culture of her new city, all the while reading and writing all she could about her experience. That writing eventually became the basis of her first book, the quarter-life memoir Not Lost: A Story About Leaving Home, published in 2013 by New Island Books.
Back at home in Dublin these days, Sarah has just recently handed in the final draft of her second book – a dystopian novel for Greenwillow Books, Spare And Found Parts – and is working on her third. Not one to rest on her laurels, then. We caught up with Sarah to find out what it’s like hearing about your first – and second – book deal over the phone, what she’s reading at the moment and what a day in her shoes looks like.
Did you always have an interest in writing?
Absolutely. I’ve always written, ever since I was a kid. I read voraciously too – if I didn’t have my head stuck in a book or was playing video games, I was writing stories. It went from little pieces of writing to entertain myself to strangely long essays. Once I hit my teens I started submitting articles and poems to various publications and doing readings at things like Brownbread Mixtape in Dublin.
Was there one particular moment that made you want to pursue writing as a career?
I studied English, Media and Cultural Studies at Dún Laoghaire IADT, but I knew from early on that I wasn’t going to be a teacher or an academic. I remember a lecturer asking me in my third year what I wanted to pursue after college. When I told her I wanted to be a writer, she just laughed. From then on I was determined to prove myself. It was a bit of a push in the right direction for me. After my degree I did a one-year Masters in Writing in Galway to help hone my skills.
You relocated to San Francisco in 2012. What motivated that decision?
It was during the belly of the Irish recession. Myself and my boyfriend were attending – no exaggeration – two or three going-away parties every week. At the time I was working as a creative writing teacher with at risk youths in Clondalkin. There was talk that the funding might be getting pulled, and around the same time my boyfriend got offered a transfer to California as part of his role in Facebook. The offer came in on Budget Day, coincidentally!
What was life like as an immigrant in the US?
I was in a stressful position because I travelled over first on a post-grad visa which meant I could only officially work on an internship basis. But my boyfriend – now my husband! – had an L1 visa, so we eloped. That meant I could live in San Francisco with him on an L2 visa and take paid work. Our whole lives there were governed by paperwork, really, which made it very hard to settle.
In Not Lost you talk about feeling alienated when you first moved over – did that change during your time there?
I definitely always knew that I wanted to move home. Granted, we weren’t put in the extremely tough position that so many immigrants are as a result of their race or culture. But even so, I always felt a little bit “other.” When you open your mouth to speak and someone immediately tells you your accent is “so cute,” it’s hard to feel like you’ll manage to fit in.
Was it tough to keep up your writing while trying to find work?
From early on in San Francisco, I read everything I could find to learn about the cultural nuances over there. Things like Rookie and anything by Roxane Gay. That reading fed my own writing too. My first submission as an emigrant was a poem for Generation Emigration in the Irish Times. From there my poems got fatter and bigger and became essays. By the time I found an agent in Ireland, Vanessa O’Loughlin, I had around five or six long-form essays about my experience of leaving home.
Tell us about the moment you heard you had a book deal with New Island…
It was totally surreal. All of a sudden I had a three-month deadline. I didn’t know who to tell, to be honest. I was so used to sharing all aspects of my life online, but when the news came in I was in shock really. I think the truly shocking moment came though when I heard I had my second book deal in November 2014 with Greenwillow. I was working as a nanny at the time and was folding shirts. The call came in with this life-changing news, but when I got off the phone I just kept folding the shirts… I didn’t know what else to do!
Your first book was autobiographical, so how has it been working on a fictional novel?
To be honest Spare And Found Parts is something I’ve been working on in various capacities since 2011. After getting the book deal I spent most of 2014 drafting and re-drafting it and doing a huge rewrite with the help of my editor, the amazing Martha Mihalick. Being able to stand over my own work is important to me. I know the book won’t be for everyone, but I hope people will enjoy it when the time comes.
I handed the last draft over in January 2016. There was definitely a period of mourning when I left those characters and that world behind. Now my days are totally different. Instead of looking at tiny details like the placement of commas, I’m facing a blank page every single day.
What’s a day in your life like?
I wake up early with my husband in our place in Ringsend. If I don’t spend a couple of hours reading I don’t feel like I’ve fully entered the world, so I’ll usually get breakfast and do some reading between 8 and 10am. Then I walk to my studio – it’s a gorgeous 40 minute walk from my house to the South Circular Road. I spend the main part of my day there, it’s a lovely cosy lock-in space.
Around 6pm I’ll head out and meet my husband on his way out of work, and we’ll potter home – or potter to the Bernard Shaw for a pint! Most nights we’ll make dinner, and then watch some TV or play video games – we’ve been gaming together since we first met so it’s always been part of our routine. We’ve just finished Star Fox Zero, and I love playing retro games from my childhood too.
And the most important question – what’s on your reading list?
Loads! I’ve just started Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read Eat Pray Love last year and adored it, and I’ve heard Big Magic is great if you’re trying to get to grips with the creative challenges of a new project. I recently read Vertigo by Joanna Walsh, and I always have some poetry on the go too. At the moment it’s Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems.
Pssst! Catch Sarah Maria’s Style CV (and find out how her Granny style-spired her) in the June issue of STELLAR, on stands now!