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By Domhnall O' Donoghue

Actor and journalist Domhnall O’Donoghue explains how his experiences living in between two brothels served as inspiration for his second novel, Colin and the Concubine:

Before 2016, I'd always believed myself to be streetwise. Without tooting my own horn, I was certain that I had a good sense of all the shenanigans that were going on around me. You might imagine my disappointment, therefore, at learning that I’d been living slap bang in the middle of two brothels, and despite all the obvious signs, it took me weeks to realise that these ladies were more than just convivial social butterflies.

The first brothel took the form of a massage parlour and was located next to the entrance of my new apartment complex in Dublin city centre. Just after receiving the keys from the landlord, I was busy unloading my suitcases and boxes from the boot of my boyfriend’s car when I noticed a series of men enter and exit the premises – most of whom were in the older age bracket, over 65, say.

‘Aren’t these gentlemen just marvellous, taking such good care of their ageing bodies,’ I thought to myself, as I lugged another box into my new abode. ‘When it comes to aches and pains, so many men suffer in silence! I must ring my mother and get her to encourage Dad to make an appointment – hasn’t he been complaining of a sore lower back recently?’

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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That evening, inside, as we treated ourselves to a well-earned glass of vino, having unpacked all our wares, I began noticing how frequently the intercom for the apartment directly next to us sounded. I remember looking at the clock at one stage – it was close to midnight, and a school night.

‘Great, it seems like we have friendly neighbours,’ I commented as I made light work of the Sauvignon Blanc. ‘We must invite them over dinner one of these nights.’

While a meal never materialised, it wasn’t long before things became a little fishy…

As the days passed, our initial admiration for our neighbours’ hospitable nature soon made way for exasperation. It seemed that time wasn’t an issue for their guests’ visits and no matter the hour – be it four in the afternoon or four in the morning – the loud intercom blared resulting in our forty winks been reduced to single digits.

Similar to our own, their apartment was on the ground floor. It faced out onto our communal courtyard and I was struck by the fact that their curtains were never drawn; their windows were never open.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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However, I finally had my lightbulb moment about a week later when two incidents occurred simultaneously that allowed me to properly deduce what was at play right on my doorstep.

The first incident took place during the dead of night. My trip to the Land of Nod was suddenly interrupted by the sounds of screaming in the hallway.

‘I want my money back! I didn’t even get to do anything to her!’

Never one to ignore a juicy scuffle, I jumped out of the bed, raced to our door and peeped through the spy hole. A young, inebriated chap was storming the hallway demanding his money be returned to him post haste.

A male figure then appeared at my neighbours’ door and threw a note at this unwanted figure – who I suspected wasn’t the local pizza delivery guy soliciting a tip.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The following morning, I was returning from the reception area having just picked up the post and I spotted a chap waiting outside my neighbours’ apartment. He was handsome and athletic and wore casual clothes while a backpack was draped over one shoulder. I noticed that his face looked somewhat panicked and despite the distance between us, I was certain that I glimpsed beads of sweat on his forehead. Then he did something rather peculiar.

He blessed himself.

Before he became aware of my presence, the door opened and the seemingly devout Christian cautiously entered the apartment. As I passed, for the first time, my neighbour and I locked eyes – she looked Eastern European and was strikingly beautiful if somewhat peaky. My smile wasn’t reciprocated – instead, it received a curt slamming of the door.

While I wasn’t going to be considered for a job at CSI anytime soon, I finally understood what was happening: I was living next door to a brothel. And maybe that massage parlour outside the complex wasn’t exactly what it appeared to be either…

For the duration of my stay at that address, I was doing a large amount of work from home and I became intrigued by all that was happening across the hallway. It emerged that there were two women and one man – all from Romania – living and working there. As a way of entertaining myself, I began having  a little fun with their male callers – purposely bumping into them in the hallway and being nothing short of a nuisance.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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'I don't suppose you could help me find my missing cat?’

'My name is Domhnall and I've just moved in – you must be my new neighbour. What's your name?

‘Oh, are you the plumber I just called – my apartment is this way.'

That sort of nonsense – but those looks of panic etched across their faces as they tried to make up some excuse or other almost made up for the sleepless nights.

Running parallel to this tomfoolery, the marriage equality referendum was being debated passionately on the radio, television and across the media. How often I rolled my eyes skywards when I heard or read the argument that the gay community was “a threat to the institution of marriage” when there were queues of men – many of whom were married – lining up outside my next-door neighbours’ apartment and the massage parlour.

However, it wasn’t just in these two aforementioned properties where happy endings occurred – these experiences gave me the material to write my new novel, Colin and the Concubine, a light-hearted farce about a baker named Colin who – surprise, surprise – lives beside a brothel.

My stint in that particular apartment was short-lived but I believe that soon after I left, the Gardaí caught wind of the high jinks taking place and neither brothel continues to exist today – at least in those locations. Where those ladies are today is anyone’s guess; my only hope is that they aren’t in danger.

Colin and the Concubine is available nationwide and online from mercierpress.ie.

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These dark, gloomy evenings are really draining and we have to admit we never have the energy to go out once we clock off from work.

This winter we’ve been making the most of our book collections and have spent many evenings curled up by the fire with nothing but a good book for company.

The list of benefits associated with reading is never-ending, but our favourite one is simple- the escapism.

Distracting your mind for a few chapters where you can escape to different worlds and meet new people all from the comfort of your sofa is so tranquil.

We decided to support our fellow ladies by putting together a list our favourite books by female authors.

We’re sure you’ll love these books just as much as we do.

1: Ritual for Every Day by Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips (Hutchinson)

We all feel that desire a calmer, more spacious way of living, but we’re often unsure exactly how to step off the crazy treadmill of day-to-day routines and responsibilities. Nadia and Katia have learned through years of practice that simple rituals can help you press the pause button on the pace of modern life. In Rituals for Every Day, they share their easy-to-follow advice, step-by-step. Let the riyals bring you back to yourself.

2: Thanks, Penneys! by Valerie Loftus (Mercier)

Have you ever been in Penneys on a Saturday and felt like you were in a scene from The Hunger Games? Have you ever gone in just to get a pair of tights and come out with fake tan, a pair of glittery platforms and some fluffy pyjamas? Have you ever spent hours there trying to root out a pair of knickers that doesn’t have ‘NETFLIX AND CHILL’ written on the bum? If so, then this is the book for you. From the chaos of changing rooms to the questionable delights of the lingerie section. Thanks, Penneys! is a love letter to an Irish institution that is an integral part of all our lives.

3: The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (Andrew Mcmeel Publishing)

Rupi Kaur’s second book is divided into five sections reflecting the life cycle of a flower, with chapters titled: Wilting, Falling, Rooting, Rising, and Blooming. It focuses on themes of love and loss, trauma and abuse, healing, femininity and the body. Wilting touches on the subject of heartbreak and loss. Falling focuses on depressive feelings following the loss of an important relationship. Rooting explores topics of female infanticide, immigration and borders. Blooming addresses the joy Kaur finally found coming to love and accept her roots, herself, and the world around her. She also comes to realize her mission in this world: equality and love for all genders, races and backgrounds.

4: I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice (Vintage Publishing)

Ruth's tribe are her lively children and her filmmaker husband, Simon, who has Motor Neurone Disease and can only communicate with his eyes. Ruth's other 'tribe' are the friends who gather at the cove in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, and regularly throw themselves into the freezing cold water, just for kicks. 'The Tragic Wives' Swimming Club', as they jokingly call themselves, meet to cope with the extreme challenges life puts in their way, not to mention the monster waves rolling over the horizon. An invocation to all of us to love as hard as we can, and live even harder, I Found My Tribe is an urgent and uplifting letter to a husband, family, friends, the natural world and the brightness of life.   
 

5: And Life Lights Up by Alice Taylor (O'Brien Press Ltd)

Let Alice Taylor encourage you to live in the now, to really live your experiences and to treasure the special moments in your life. With Alice as a guide, explore the steps and ways to live a conscious life and focus on the goodness of the world around us. Alice's beautiful and captivating writing is an act of mindfulness in itself, and she shares her favourite moments in life, encouraging us to ponder our own. Alice also inspires the reader to be attentive to the here and now and embrace moments as they arise. A beautiful and enchanting book by a bestselling and celebrated author. 

6: Ice Cream for Breakfast by Laura Jane Williams (Hodder and Stoughton)

Full of spirit and un-self-conscious enthusiasm, Ice Cream for Breakfast: Child-Like Solutions to Bullsh*t Adult Problems is the permission slip all too-grown-up-for-their-own-good-but-secretly-scared-of-adulting adults need to locate their inner-child nestled deep within so that we might all relax enough to laugh harder, wonder more, and marvel at magic on the daily.

7: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (Edbury Publishing)

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO and one of Fortune magazine's Most Powerful Women in Business – draws on her own experience of working in some of the world's most successful businesses and looks at what women can do to help themselves, and make small changes in their life that can effect change on a more universal scale.

8: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (Harper Collins Publishers)

The author of the bestselling 40 Ways to Look at Winston Churchill has produced a work that is "a cross between the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love." The Happiness Project describes one person's year-long attempt to discover what leads to true contentment. Drawing at once on cutting-edge science, classical philosophy, and real-world applicability, Rubin has written an engaging, eminently relatable chronicle of transformation.   

9: Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber and Faber)

Normal People follows the lives of Connell and Marianne, who come from the same town but are part of very different worlds.

When they start studying at Trinity College they develop such a strong bond that carries on into the future. Normal People looks at the hearty theme of how love can change a person. It opens readers’ eyes to the massive impact love and a relationship can have on a person. Plus, can you ever go wrong with a love story set in Dublin? We are so ready to dive into the pages of Sally Rooney’s second fictional triumph.

10: Help Me! by Marianne Power (Pan Macmillan)

Marianne Power spent one year of her life practising the advice from self-help books to see if they really do what they say on the cover. The books promise to make us better people. They vow to transform us into upbeat, organised souls who go for jogs at 7 am in the morning and always have perfectly ironed clothes, but Marianne realises that maybe the help they’re offering isn’t as beneficial as it may seem.

Image result for help me marianne power

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The homeless crisis in Ireland seems to be worsening as more and more families are struggling to afford rent or in worse cases, can’t even keep a roof over their heads.

We can donate to homeless charities and throw a few euros into the cup of a homeless person sitting on O’Connell bridge, but we will never truly understand how difficult it is unless it happens to us.

A Thousand Roads Home by Carmel Harrington opened my eyes about the sheer heartache homeless people face on a day-to-day basis.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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This book made me realise just how lucky I am to go home to my warm house in Drimnagh. I’m sure we’re all guilty of complaining about our home. The wallpaper is too old-fashioned. The carpet looks grubby. My room is too small.

But we really have no right to do so, especially when people are sleeping on park benches and in run-down ‘boutique’ hotels.

The story of Ruth and DJ will move you and give you a well-needed reality check.

The single mother and her son never truly fit in, but they never cared about that, once they were always together.

When their home comes under threat, their quiet lives will change forever.

This tale will show you the harrowing realities of homelessness in Ireland. Too many people in our country are fighting similar battles to Ruth and DJ and Tom.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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DJ struggles to do his homework in his hotel bedroom, just like many other Irish pupils.

Ruth lives in fear of losing her job because she doesn’t have a stable home, just like many other Irish mothers.

Tom has become one of Dublin’s invisible, just like the many people we fail to notice as we rush down the city streets.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Everyone has felt like an outsider at some point in their lives, this is the book to make you feel like you belong.

Carmel Harrington’s words will stick with you long after you finish the final page of this book. The lesson A Thousand Roads Home teaches you is one that’ll stay in your heart for a very long time.

A Thousand Roads Home by Carmel Harrington is published by Harper Collins. It will be released on October 18, 2018.

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Autumn time is here which means we can finally curl up with a book and a cup of tea without feeling guilty. Gone are the days when we felt bad for not making the most of every ounce of sunshine. The chilly weather has finally arrived and we must admit we are feeling pretty happy about it.

September brings cooler weather, darker evenings, but fear not bookworms, it also brings a ton of new releases that you must add to your to-be-read lists.

These three books are going to be keeping me company on early morning commutes and during cozy evenings at home.

If you’re struggling to find a September read then look no further than these perfect tales.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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My love for Hazel Gaynor’s work knows no bounds so it’s safe to say I was overjoyed to hear about this book. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is a must-read for those of you who love a little mystery. In 1838, the lighthouse keepers daughter Grace Darling realises the people on board a small ship may not survive a brutal storm. The young woman takes matters into her own hands and rescues the passengers with the help of her father. Her heroic act is celebrated throughout the country.

In 1938, Soon-to-be teenage mum Matilda Emmerson is sent away in disgrace from her home to New England. She has no choice but to stay with her reclusive relative Harriet Flaherty, who is a lighthouse keeper. Matilda discovers a discarded portrait that opens a window to a secret that will change her life forever.  

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is published by Harper Collins and available to buy here.

Normal People by Sally Rooney:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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This book has been one of the most highly-anticipated books of the year so far. Book lovers are bound to adore the work of the Conversations With Friends author. Her debut novel was a mass success so there’s no doubt this tale will fly off the shelves. Normal People follows the lives of Connell and Marianne, who come from the same town but are part of very different worlds.

When they start studying at Trinity College they develop such a strong bond that carries on into the future. Normal People looks at the hearty theme of how love can change a person. It opens readers’ eyes to the massive impact love and a relationship can have on a person. Plus, can you ever go wrong with a love story set in Dublin? We are so ready to dive into the pages of Sally Rooney’s second fictional triumph.

Normal People is published by Faber and Faber and is available to buy here.

Help Me! by Marianne Power:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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I’m sure most young women in her twenties have at least one self-help book on their bookshelf. We can’t help but read them with the hope that a book can magically solve all of our problems, but do they really work? One woman put that question to the test and tested the plethora of self-help books that don the shelves of bookshops.

Marianne Power spent one year of her life practising the advice from self-help books to see if they really do what they say on the cover. The books promise to make us better people. They vow to transform us into upbeat, organised souls who go for jogs at 7 am in the morning and always have perfectly ironed clothes, but Marianne realises that maybe the help they’re offering isn’t as beneficial as it may seem.

Help Me! by Marianne Power is published by Pan MacMillan and is available to buy here.

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You’ll be surprised by the number of movies that have actually been inspired by books, from Me Before You to Trainspotting. Some of the greatest big screen hits have been adapted from novels, and manage to do the book justice more often than not.

However, there’s something special about reading the story before seeing it unfold on the big screen. 

What I love about book to film adaptations is putting a face to the characters you’ve loved for so long. Yes, you may know how the film is going to end, but seeing those characters come to life in the cinema is such a special feeling. It also helps you connect with them more, because they’re no longer just descriptions on a page.

The familiarity of the story, the plot and the characters can also be a huge source of comfort for bookworms when watching their beloved tales on the big screen.

Today, I wanted to recommend a book that left me in floods of tears, but one I hold very close to my heart. It’s due to be made into a film in 2019, starring Elle Fanning, and you must read it before it’s cinematic release.

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven:

What can I say about this book other than WOW. The young adult novel by the incredible Jennifer Niven is without a doubt one of the greatest books I’ve read. The way Jennifer writes about bipolar disorder, the importance of friendship and the fear of being judged is so striking.

 

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All The Bright Places follows the lives of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey. Theodore aka Finch is completely fascinated with death. Suicide is always on his mind, but little things always stop him from killing himself.

Violet Markey is struggling with the untimely death of her sister. She spends her days daydreaming about the future and aches to escape her hometown so she can start her life all over again.

 

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Violet and Finch meet on top of the ledge of the school’s bell tower. They quickly develop a friendship that finally lets them breathe for the first time and be who they’ve always wanted to be.

The pair decide to team up for a school project to discover the natural wonders’ of Indiana, but their wanderings teach them more about one another than their hometown.

Violet learns how to live in the moment through her friendship with Finch, but can her friendship keep him alive?

 

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This novel will take hold of your heart from the very first page. The friendship between Finch and Violet is both mesmerising and heartbreaking. The constant discussion of mental health and suicide throughout this young adult novel is heavy, but necessary.

Author Jennifer Niven is in the pre-production stages of the movie, and is thankfully looking after the script.

 

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Elle Fanning has been cast as Violet, and the producers have found their Finch. Harry Styles, Charlie Heaton and Cole Sprouse have all been rumoured to be playing Finch, so keep your eyes peeled, but in the meantime read this glorious novel, and make sure you have plenty of tissues beside you.

All The Bright Places is published by Penguin Books Ltd and is available to buy here.

Feature image: Jennifer Nivan Instagram

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This coming Sunday celebrates International Women's Day – a day to embrace the achievements of women around the world while still acknowledging that greater equality is still needed. 

Yesterday we took a look at our favourite female empowerment films, and today we've made a list of books, both fictional and academic, that will inspire and move you. 

These books and their amazing authors show us what it means to be a woman. Forget just 8th March – make this your lifetime reading list! 

1. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
This short novel is set in a dystopian world where a class of women are kept as concubines, only used to reproduce. In this world, women who cannot produce children and are unmarried are not seen or treated as real people. 

2. The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien
Released in 1960, this novel by Irish author Edna O'Brien was banned as it explored the sexual lives of not just women, but Irish, Catholic women in the restrictive post-war country. 

3. The Beauty Myth: How Images Of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolfe
In a western world where women are largely (but not totally) equal to a men, Wolfe looks at the one thing that has been put in place to keep us in our place – the heavy, restrictive and impossible ideal of beauty. 

4. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Largely accepted to a be a response to Charlotte Brontë's classic Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of Antoinette, the 'mad woman in the attic' and traces her life from Jamaica, where she meets and marries an English gentleman, to her life with him back in England where she is renamed Bertha and hidden away from daily life. 

5. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Written in 1949, The Second Sex explores the oppression of women throughout history as well as many other aspects as to why the woman is the other, the 'second sex'. This book is considered to be the catalyst for Second Wave Feminism which came to a head in the 1960's. 

6. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison's first novel tells the sad tale of Pecola, a young black girl whose desire to be white and have blue eyes eventually leads her to escape to insanity, where her wish comes true. An important novel about what beauty means, and what it should mean. 

7. Sisters by June Levine
This book, written by June Levine who passed away in 2008, explores the Irish feminist movement as well as her own search for personal fulfilment in 1960's Ireland. 

8. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou's autobiographical fiction explores her early life as a black American woman looking at topics such as independence, family, rape and womanhood. 

9. Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks
In a world where 'feminism' is often seen as a derogatory word, bell hooks gets back to basics with what feminism and feminist really are – a great starter book if you're just beginning to explore the often complex world of feminist academic texts. 

10. Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin
Written in 2007, Martin explores today's generation of women who rather than being told we can 'be anything' are told we need to 'be everything'. Martin looks at the quest for perfection through the modern surge in disordered eating. 

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They may be branded as ‘nerds’, but apparently people who read fiction books have better social ability and better abilities of empathy and theory of mind.

Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto carried out studies in 2006 and 2009.

The idea is that since readers of fiction spend so much time dipping into other peoples’ lives, they’re better able to see the world from someone else’s point of view.

However, don’t just waltz into your local library and grab the first guy you see – you have to make sure it is fiction they’re reading. If he’s hanging out by the non-fiction isle, then it’s not a good sign.

Apparently exposure to non-fiction is “associated with loneliness, and negatively related to social support.” That means they’re socially awkward, which isn’t actually something you should hold against someone, but if you’re looking for someone who will gaze into your eyes and tell you a romantic tale or two, then it’s the fiction fans you’re after.

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