Dawn O'Porter“The more we all share about what this year did to us all, the easier it’s gonna be.”

As heard on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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Writer Dawn O’Porter needed some persuading to publish her latest book Life in Pieces: Thoughts from a Year that Changed Us, she told Ray D’Arcy. It started as a deeply personal blog, written in lockdown and never intended for wider publication. Dawn says it was her go-to stress relief along with a glass of wine at the end of a busy day indoors with her two small children:

“It became this kind of addiction to vent about my day.”  

Her publisher saw it differently and eventually Dawn says she came around to the idea of bringing out an edited version of the blog. Dawn says plenty of the more straight-shooting elements of the original remain:

“When I read the book back, I didn’t hold back!”  

As well as having a therapeutic effect, Dawn says she discovered that she still wanted and even needed to write, even if it wasn’t for a work project like a script or a novel:

“When lockdown happened, and I didn’t have that focus to sit down and write a novel, which is what I was supposed to be doing. I still found myself having to write: It was a really interesting thing to learn about myself, that this is a part of who I am, and without it I get frustrated.” 

Dawn says the pandemic has changed her attitude to putting more of herself and her real life into her writing. As a fiction writer, she says she had never considered a memoir until now:

“This is the weird thing about 2020: I would never have done this before. I keep calling it my accidental memoir.” 

The tragic loss of her friend Caroline Flack has left a huge gap in Dawn’s life, she says:

“She was my funniest friend. I just loved her so much.”

Dawn says Caroline’s sudden death in February was disorienting enough, without the added confusion of grieving in such strange circumstances:

“I just spent that first three months, as I say in the book, just having no idea if this solitude was a blessing or a curse dealing with grief in that way. I wanted to hike up a mountain and scream. And I couldn’t. I had to stay inside with two small children. I hid all my sadness from them.” 

The collective experience of grief that spread throughout the world with the coronavirus has had a huge impact on Dawn’s attitude to opening up about her own personal grief, she says:

“That’s another reason why I felt comfortable writing a book like this, is that we were all going through something so seismic, what was the point of being private? The more we all share about what this year did to us all, the easier it’s gonna be.” 

Dawn says grief for Caroline has been “awful”, but it has helped focus her priorities:

“It just changes you forever. And also, to try and spin something positive out of something so awful; it really gives you a lesson in the value of life.” 

Food has been a great anchor point for Dawn and her family in difficult times as she tells Ray:

“Food was such a huge part of this year for us. I was cooking and writing were my two forms of personal therapy and when I was doing over one or the other, I was in control of my day.”  

Ultimately, Dawn O’Porter says she and husband Chris O’Dowd and the kids just did their best and got on with things, realizing at the same time how lucky they were to be together:

“Weirdly, you know, Chris and I look back on it and say, ‘We did good’. We’re very lucky in many ways in our lives. But also, we look back on it fondly as time with the kids. We managed to have more good days than bad days.” 

Dawn talks about lockdown food, debates the merits of sugar sandwiches and strawberry and cheese sandwiches with Ray, her plans to move to Canada with Chris and the kids for 5 months and more in the full interview here.

Dawn O’Porter’s book Life in Pieces: Thoughts from a Year that Changed Us All is out now, published by Harper Collins.

Ruth Kennedy 

© The Listener 2020

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