Celebrity News

Noelle McCarthy's love and anguish

The broadcaster has worked through her tumultuous past and put it in a book

By Wendyl Nissen
Noelle McCarthy is a writer and broadcaster who will be well known to RNZ listeners for her successful podcasts and her Summer Noelle shows. Her new book Grand: Becoming My Mother's Daughter is a memoir of her life from Catholic Ireland in the '70s, '80s and '90s, and then moving to Auckland, and that of her mother Caroline who struggled with alcohol and the pain of her losses in life.
Your new book is a memoir of your life but also your mother's life, is this something you've been working on for years or is it more recent than that?
Most of the book was written over about 18 months. I started it properly in March 2020 and finished at the end of last year, but it's probably been buzzing around in my head in one way or another since I was a teenager.
One reviewer has described it as a "howl of anguish and love" – do you think that's accurate?
I love that review! Anguish and love are definitely two of the tones of voice that are in there. It wasn't until I was finished writing that I felt them properly.
Alcohol is a main character in your story, as it is for many families. When did you realise that there were things about alcohol that weren't good for you or your family?
I think I've probably always been aware of that. Upheavals caused by drinking, or the aftermath of drinking, are part of my memories from a young age.
Now that this book is out, is there another one on its way?
There's something on the way alright, but whether it's going to end up being a book or just words in another ruinously overpriced hardback notebook, it's still too early to say...
What is the best thing about your life at the moment?
Can I say all of it? I love my family, I love my work, I love my friends. Without wanting to invite disaster or minimise the usual daily travails, I feel very lucky in my life.
'Upheavals caused by drinking, or the aftermath of drinking, are part of my memories'
Who is the person who most influenced you?
Probably my mother Caroline. It took writing a book to find that out.
What do you owe your parents?
My taste in music (country and western) and an interest in nature from my dad, and a certain chippiness and tendency towards hyperbole from my mother.
Who is your favourite country and western artist?
It's a hard one because there are so many greats to choose from – Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and of course Johnny Cash would all be up there in the pantheon, but I think for sheer songwriting prowess, plus amazing intelligence, charm and grace, not to mention her philanthropic goodness, you just can't go past Dolly Parton, can you? Queen of style, queen of country, forever telling women's stories and telling them true, never taking herself too seriously, but such dignity too. She's a force for good in this world. I feel better just looking at her some days.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
A pet.
The place I feel happiest is…
It's a toss up probably between my friend Bridget's house, a little cottage in the middle of the countryside, looking out on the Atlantic in West Cork, and falling about in the surf with my family at Ocean Beach in Hawke's Bay.
What is the nicest thing you've ever bought or done for yourself?
I bought a really nice pair of men's pyjamas with the money from a writing prize a couple of years ago. I then had to spend a bit more money getting the flap in the pants sewn up. But it was worth it, they're great.
What advice would you give 15-year-old you?
Keep going.
What books are on your bedside table?
That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry; Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft; and Marian Keyes' Again, Rachel – I'm loudly sobbing as I come to the end.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
So many! But I think I'd probably rest very happy if I had produced something of the calibre and scope of The Stand. Stephen King was barely 30 when it came out too! What an absolute prodigy. Equally, I read Meg Mason's Sorrow and Bliss, aching to be able to do what she did, write a character so alive and so precisely her own self, as Martha is, but I knew I never could, so I guess that's not quite the same thing, is it?
Have you got any Netflix recommendations?
Kingdom is a Korean zombie series set in the 16th century that is shot like the most sumptuous feature film. It's completely addictive – the violence is graphic and the production values are insanely good. They deserve all the Oscars for the hats alone.
You're cooking for friends, what is your signature dish?
Banana cake, or blueberry and lemon cake, is about the limit of my reliability in terms of feeding people. With a pile of Ottolenghi-derived couscous to start with if they insist.
Grand: Becoming My Mother's Daughter by Noelle McCarthy (Penguin NZ), $35.
Noelle McCarthy will be at the Auckland Writers Festival in August. For all information and tickets visit www.writersfestival.co.nz
  • undefined: Wendyl Nissen

read more from