The most important thing in the world is family and love.John Wooden
After 10 years in London, working in a stressful City firm, Liv O’Neill returns home to Sandycove, a picturesque seaside village, just outside Dublin to care for her mother after a fall.
Whilst Liv reconnects with friends and family, she is amazed by Sandycove’s thriving community spirit with its artisan shops, delis and cafes – it’s not quite the place she left behind.
As village life begins to creep under her skin, Liv is forced to confront the things that drove her away.
Can Liv balance her past, present and future and find her own happy place?
And will a handsome young doctor help her make a decision about the life she really wants?
Suddenly her old life in London begins to seem extremely unappealing and Liv is forced to use her family’s past in order to forge a brand new future.
Why Should You Read This?
A 4 star read, Life’s What You Make It smells of one’s homeland. It’s picturesque and serene. Sandycove calls to every soul that has worked or studied for years away from home and misses family and friends. It is a gentle reminder that while our mind may crave adventures, one’s heart craves for love and family.
This is the first book I have read by Sian O’Gorman and I loved her writing style. This is an easy and a breezy read with relatable characters. A definite recommendation!
Do read the below excerpt and let me know your thoughts.
I really should buy my ex-boyfriend and his ex-girlfriend a drink or a posh box of chocolates to say thank you for getting back together, even if it was just for one night. And I should say an even bigger thank you to her for telling me about it. Because if Jeremy and Cassandra hadn’t met up at one of his friend’s weddings, there is the very real possibility that he and I might have carried on and then everything that did happen wouldn’t have happened and my life would have remained exactly as it was.
I was an Irish girl transplanted to London for a decade, swapping the seaside and village of Sandycove – with its little shops and the beach, the people, the way the clouds skidded in for a storm, the rainbows that blossomed afterwards – for the bright lights, the traffic and the incessant noise of London. My visits home had become sporadic to the point of paltry. There was never enough time for a long trip and so my visits were only ever two nights long. Even last Christmas I’d flown in on Christmas Eve and was gone the 27th. I’d barely seen Mum or my best friend Bronagh and when Mum drove me to the airport and hugged me goodbye, I had the feeling that we were losing each other, as though we were becoming strangers.
London had become a slog, working twelve-hour days for my toxic boss, Maribelle, who drank vodka from her water bottle and didn’t believe in bank holidays. Or weekends. Or going home for the evening. Or eating. Or, frankly, anything that made life worth living. If it wasn’t for my flatmate, Roberto, my London life would have been utterly miserable. Looking back now, I think the reason why I kept going out with Jeremy for six months, even though we were entirely unsuited, was because at least it was something. And if I’ve learned anything about life over the last year, it’s that you should do something, but never the least of it.
‘Olivia O’Neill,’ Roberto would say on a loop. ‘Liv, you need to raise your game.’ He wasn’t a fan of Jeremy, whom I’d been seeing for six months. ‘Leave Jeremy and dump Maribelle and make your own life.’
But how do you do that when you have forgotten what your own life is? How on earth do you find it again when you are the grand old age of thirty-two? I couldn’t start again. But then the universe works in mysterious ways. If you don’t get off your arse and make changes, then it gets fed up and starts making them for you. But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself… let’s zip back to before it all began… before I discovered what really made me happy, took charge of my life and found my crown.
It was Friday, the last day of May, and I was at Liverpool Street Station. Mum normally called at this time, knowing my route to work and that, by 7.32 a.m., I was always on the escalator, rising up from the underground, before the thirteen-minute trot to my office.
‘Hi, Mum, how are you? Everything okay?’
‘I am…’ She hesitated.
‘I am…’ She stopped again. ‘I am fine… absolutely fine. It’s just we’ve been in A & E all evening… we got home back at midnight…’
‘A & E?’ I was so worried that I didn’t ask who the ‘we’ was.
‘It happened the other night in Pilates,’ she said. ‘I reached down to pick up the ball and I felt my knee go.’
My speed walk through the station stopped mid-concourse, making a man in pinstripes swerve and swear at me under his breath. It didn’t make sense. My mother was fitter than me, this walk from tube to desk was the only exercise I did. She was fifty-seven and power walked her way up and down the seafront every evening, as well as the twice-weekly Pilates classes. ‘But you are brilliant at Pilates,’ I said. ‘Didn’t your teacher say you have the body of a twenty-five-year-old?’ I’d moved myself to the side of the newsagents’ kiosk, where I would buy my Irish Times to keep when I was feeling homesick – which was increasingly more frequent these days.
Mum gave a laugh. ‘She said my hips were the hips of a younger woman,’ she explained. ‘I don’t think she said twenty-five-year-old. My hip flexors have stopped flexing and I’m on crutches. It’s not the worst in the world and within a few weeks, with enough rest, I should be back on my feet. The only thing is the shop…’
Mum ran her own boutique in Sandycove, the eponymously named Nell’s. She’d opened it when I was just a toddler and had weathered two recessions and a handful of downturns, but was just as successful as ever. And even when a rival boutique, Nouveau You, opened ten years ago, Nell’s was definitely the more popular.
‘Jessica can’t manage the shop on her own,’ Mum continued. ‘I’ll have to try and find someone for the four weeks. I’ll call the agency later.’
‘Oh, Mum.’ I couldn’t imagine Mum on crutches – this was the woman who had only ever been a blur when I was growing up, coming home from the shop to make dinner for her second shift and all the business admin she had to do. I used to imagine she slept standing up, like a horse. I tried to think how I could help, stuck here hundreds of miles away in London. ‘What about your Saturday girl?’
‘Cara? She’s got her Leaving Cert in a week’s time. I can’t ask her. So… it’s just a bit of a hassle, that’s all.’
I really wished I was there to look after her. Maybe I could fly in this weekend? Just for Saturday night.
‘Please don’t worry,’ said Mum. ‘It’s only four weeks on crutches, and I’ve been ordered to rest, leg up… read a few books. Watch daytime television, said the doctor.’ Mum gave another laugh. ‘He said I could take up crochet or knitting. Told me it was very popular these days. So I told him that I was only fifty-seven and the day I start knitting is the day I stop dyeing my hair.’
‘But you’ll go mad,’ I said. ‘Four weeks of daytime television. Who will look after you?’
‘I can hobble around,’ she said. ‘Enough to make cups of tea, and I can get things delivered and, anyway, I have Henry.’ She paused for emphasis. ‘He was with me in the hospital and has volunteered to help.’
Mum had never had a boyfriend that I’d known of. She’d always said she was too busy with me and the shop. ‘And Henry is…?’
‘Henry is my very good friend,’ she said. ‘We’ve become very close. He’s really looking forward to meeting you.’ She paused again for dramatic effect. ‘We’ve been seeing each other since Christmas and… well, it’s going very well indeed.’
‘That’s lovely,’ I said. ‘Tell him I’m looking forward to meeting him. Very much. Who is he, what does he do?’ I really would have to fly over to vet him… maybe Maribelle might be in a good mood today and I could leave early next Friday?
‘Henry took over the hardware shop from Mr Abrahamson. Henry’s retired from engineering and needed something to do. He’s like that, always busy. He’s been a bit of an inspiration, actually,’ she went on, ‘taking on a business when he’s never run one before. And he’s trying to grow Ireland’s largest onion.’ She laughed. ‘Not that he’s ever even grown a normal-sized one before, but he’s read a book from the library on what you need, gallons of horse manure apparently, and he wants to win a prize at the Dún Laoghaire show in September.’
If anyone deserved a bit of love Mum did and considering I would not win any awards for daughter of the year with my generally neglectful behaviour, I was happy she had someone. And surely anyone who grew outsized vegetables could only be a good person.
But I felt that longing for home, that wish to be there. Even if she had Henry and his onions, I wanted to be there too. I restarted my speed walk to the office. Being late for Maribelle was never a good start to the day.
‘So you’re sure you’re all right?’ I said, knowing that going over probably wouldn’t happen this weekend, not with the presentation I had to help Maribelle prepare for on Monday. I passed the only tree I saw on my morning commute, a large and beautiful cherry tree, it was in the middle of the square outside the station and blossomed luxuriantly in the spring and now, in late May, all the beautiful leaves which I’d seen grow from unfurled bud to acid green were in full, fresh leaf. Apart from my morning coffee, it was the only organic thing I saw all day. If that tree was still going in all that smog and fumes and indifference from the other commuters, I used to tell myself, then so could I.
‘I’m fine,’ Mum said. ‘Don’t worry… Brushing my teeth this morning took a little longer than normal, but it’s only a few weeks… I’m getting the hang of the crutches. I’ve been practising all morning. Anyway, how is Jeremy?’ She and Jeremy were yet to meet.
‘Jeremy is…’ How was Jeremy? Just the night before, Roberto had described him as a ‘wounded boy, shrouded in a Barbour jacket of privilege’. But I felt a little sorry for him, especially after meeting his family last New Year’s Eve and seeing how he was treated. I hadn’t actually seen him for a week as he’d been at a wedding the previous weekend and we’d both been busy with work. ‘Jeremy is fine,’ I said. ‘I think. Sends his love.’
Jeremy wasn’t the type to send his love, but Mum didn’t know that. ‘Well, isn’t that lovely,’ she said. ‘Say we’re all really looking forward to welcoming him to Ireland.’
I really couldn’t imagine Jeremy in his camel chinos striding around Sandycove’s main street and speaking in his rather loud, bossy, posh voice. He’d stand out like a sore thumb.
‘And you’ll have to bring that dote Roberto as well,’ said Mum. ‘He probably needs a bit of time off as well, the little pet.’
‘I don’t think we’ll get him over,’ I replied. ‘You know how he says he can’t breathe in Ireland and starts to feel light-headed as though he’s having a panic attack. He says he’s done with Ireland.’
Mum laughed, as she always did when I told her something Roberto had said. The two of them were as thick as thieves every time she came to London, walking arm in arm around Covent Garden together, Roberto showing her all his favourite shops and deciding what West End show we would go to. ‘He’s a ticket, that one. Anyway, there’s the doorbell. It’ll be Henry with some supplies. I’ll call you later.’
‘Okay…’ I had reached my building. If you dislocated your neck and looked skywards, straight up the gleaming glass, my office was up there somewhere on the seventeenth floor. I had to go in, any later and it would put Maribelle in a bad mood and that wasn’t good for anyone.
In the lift, among the jostle of the other PAs, behind some of the other equity managers who, like Maribelle, were overpaid and overindulged, we ascended to our offices where we would spend the next twelve hours.
I thought of Mum at home in Sandycove. The end of May, the most beautiful month in Ireland, and I remembered the way the sun sprinkled itself on the sea, the harbour full of walkers and swimmers all day long, people in the sea as the sun retreated for the day, or the village itself with its small, bright, colourful shops and the hanging baskets and cherry trees, and Mum’s boutique right in the middle. I wished I was there, even just for a few hours, to hug Mum, and go for a walk with Bronagh. To just be home.
The doors opened on the seventeenth floor. It was 7.45 a.m. exactly and dreams of Sandycove would have to be put on hold as I had to get on with surviving Maribelle. I hung up my coat and sat down at my desk and switched on my computer. My screen saver was a selfie of me and Bronagh, taken last summer sitting on the harbour wall at the little beach in Sandycove. Every time I looked at that picture of the sun shining, the two of us laughing, arms around each other, seagulls flying above us, the pang for home got worse. I should change it, I thought. Replace it with something that doesn’t make me homesick, something that doesn’t make me think of all the things I am missing and missing out on. I clicked on my screen and up came the standard image of a scorched red-earth mountain, as far from Sandycove as you could get.