Rising Star: Irish rom-com writer Niamh Hargan

When the world went into lockdown in 2020, we all reacted in different ways. Some of us took up baking copious amounts of banana bread, some of us became TikTok addicts and, well, some of us become authors.

Well, at least Derry native, Niamh Hargan did. She wrote her first book, Twelve Days in May, whilst working from home as an entertainment lawyer.

Now her second book, The Break-Up Clause has hit shelves, we here at VIP Magazine caught up with her to see how life has changed. And why she won’t be turning to writing full-time anytime soon.

Hi Niamh. How are you? Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.

I’m from Derry originally and I am a lawyer, an entertainment lawyer by day and that’s still what I do. During the pandemic, I went home to Derry and you know I was lucky. During the pandemic, my work was completely unaffected. Obviously, everything else was gone from my life so I had tons of time or certainly more time than I ever had before.

I always kind of thought I could write a novel, you know it did become a bit of a joke at first because like people are all writing novels in the pandemic but then I got a two-book deal.

What was it like writing your books?

You know the second one was a bit of a different experience because you’re writing it under contract and I was writing it in more of a normal life experience. By that stage COVID, you know was still with us but certainly not as oppressively as it had been. So it was a bit different the second time round for sure.

Did you always dream of being a writer?

I always wanted to write, but I was not actually pursuing writing in any way. So I wasn’t writing and I wasn’t really thinking about writing, I wasn’t trying to get an agent, I wasn’t doing any of that. I have always thought it was something I would want to do in my lifetime and I felt like it was something that I could do.

Not really based on anything, but I think you know it wasn’t like I wanted, I felt I could be like a deep sea diver you know something that would be way outside the realm of things I would be good at. But I always liked to write and I don’t know I just thought I could do that but also another thing I would say is I always thought that that was a very like standard aspiration like you might wanna buy a house, you might wanna have a dog, you might wanna like to see the Rockefeller centre tree at Christmas.

But what I’ve since learned is that some people actually really don’t wanna write a book not even one per cent of them want to write a book but for me that has always been with me all my life.

You got a two-book deal straight away. How did that feel? 

It was so exciting. I didn’t know any other writers at the time, I didn’t know anybody else who had ever tried to get an agent or get a book deal or anything.

So I didn’t realise just how quickly it happened. I think I started to write my first novel in July 2020 I sent it out in January 2021. It seemed to me to be very slow and I was just procrastinating so much like “I can’t believe I’m still writing this thing,“ but that just showed you how much I knew!

So I sent it out and I guess I got an agent within six weeks. I had a couple of different offers and that was really nice. But I didn’t know that it was so remarkable for that to have happened. I had a few publishing offers within maybe another six weeks. I didn’t edit it very heavily with my agent or anything.

So that was all great and I was really excited and it was wonderful. I now know that people graft for years and have a huge amount of rejections and sometimes have to scrap a whole novel and ultimately they achieve massive success. I think for whatever reason I just got lucky but I didn’t fully appreciate that at the time because I didn’t know anything about the broader context of this industry.

You’re still working as a lawyer, would you ever want to become an author full-time?

I think at the moment it’s the best of both worlds really. There are times in the sort of cycle of writing a book that are quite time pressured and certainly at those times it would be lovely to be able to write full-time for those sort of peak periods in the life of your book. What I have done really is just take annual leave when I needed to.

The people that I know that write full time what I have seen is that doesn’t necessarily seem to be an eutopia either. It can be quite isolating. For me, I love my “day job“, I’ve worked pretty hard to get it and I actually feel really lucky with my day job.

In terms of the actual work itself but also I think it can be quite good to have some other focus for your brain and your attention and it can stop you from getting that sort of tunnel vision around your writing.

The Break Up Clause is really fun and of course, romantic. What was the inspiration behind the book?

I felt this pressure that I had to come up with another book, I don’t know if you ever read Becoming, Michelle Obama’s biography. I read it because I am a 30-year-old woman what else would I be doing? [Laughs] I know where I need to look for my life advice. Basically, Barack Obama was Michelle’s summer associate as you all know and I thought that’s quite interesting she was essentially his kind of mentor for the summer because he I think had done kind of community organising and stuff after college whereas she had gone straight through so she was kind of on the rise, he was just like a summer intern and I thought well that’s interesting like as a dynamic.

But I do think for most people and for most women who were in that kind of positions of seniority they probably would be looking to start a relationship with a guy right so I thought well that’s an interesting dynamic so that was kind of the starting point and then I thought well like it can’t just be that the intern shows up and she really likes him and all goes really well we kind of have to put some enemy in the enemies to lovers trope so how could this be the worst it could be? Who would be the person you would least want to show up in your office and have to be there for three months so…Your Vegas husband is a good one. [Laughs]

Do you have any milestone books from your life? 

Oh gosh, that is hard!

I can tell you authors probably more than books that I just love, so I have always been, look I am an Irish woman so obviously I worship the altar of Marian Keyes as we all do, I love her books and have done all my life.

Lately, I love Nina Stibbe, I love Catherine Hynes, and I am a big fan of Nora Ephron’s non-fiction. Those are the things I am drawn to. Also like Enid Blyton, The Chalet School, What Kitty Did, and Little Women, I grew up reading everything my mother read in childhood so I had very traditional childhood books for sure.

Who do you look up to or who inspires you the most?

All the people that I have named I think I find inspirational. I also really like women screenwriters, and I love Phoebe Waller-Bridges, so if I watch something on TV I will always sort of find out who wrote it. I think that’s such a skill.

I can’t think of anybody’s career who I really want to emulate, but there are definitely loads of writers that when I read their books I’m like oh I want to do it like you do it. I think you have to sort of lean into what comes naturally to you.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years?

I have no idea that’s what I can tell you, I would definitely love to have written more books. We do have some exciting sort of, well I can’t really confirm anything but we have some exciting things in terms of screen options for my novels so I would love one of them to have made it. I know as a lawyer it’s hard to get these made, but I’d love one of them to have made it to the screen. I would like to have written two more novels in the next five years.

I am also really interested in screenwriting so I would like to have personally written something that’s been on a screen somewhere. That is just in writing but the other thing is I do really want to maintain a balance in my life. I think it’s really important for writing not to become everything. It’s really important to me and I love it and it’s such a pleasure to be read and for people to enjoy it is just a complete joy. But I do think that in creative careers there is this sense of like the next thing constantly and people can attach too much of your personal value to that productivity and to whatever is your output.

So it is really important to me in the course of the next five years that I want to write and that to be successful and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got but I always want to maintain a sort of balance in my life.


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What is your proudest achievement?

I am really proud of this second book actually and I think it’s a good book and a fun read. I hope other people will like it but I am specifically proud of the effort it took to write it because it was not easy.

You know to write a book in a year and it has to be a certain length of words, it has to be a certain kind of thing. I wrote it as a partner in a law firm, in the context of writing this book I was working really hard in a hard job. In that year I moved house, I moved countries, my mam was really unwell, she’s fine now, but I had a lot going on in my life at a time when you know it’s not easy at 9.30pm every night to think, “Now I’m gonna do some romcom writing“. So I am super proud of that effort because I think hopefully it’s been worth it.

Your first two books are rom-coms, of course. But would you ever switch genres? Maybe a thriller.

Never, well I guess never say never but I don’t think I would be very good at that type of writing. First of all, kind of broadly speaking it’s not what I read and I think that’s always a bad start. You know if you were kind of thinking “Well I’m gonna crack on and write a ghost story“ and you’ve never read a ghost story it’s not an auspicious beginning.

But yeah there are a lot of writers actually who do move from women’s fiction romcom and eventually they end up doing crime and thriller so I suppose that could happen to me but I would be very surprised.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a person?

Oh, well a piece of advice that my dad gives a lot is to be a good listener, I think I am a talker but there are times when it is just important to be a good listener. Then my granny used to say when I was quite little, Love many, trust few and always have your own canoe.

The Break Up Clause by Niamh Hargan is out now

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