Get to know… Aoife Sadlier

I am a writer, academic, editor, dancer and musician. Over the last seven years I have trundled down the unworldly path of early career academia. On the surface I have been successful, having completed a PhD and two postdocs, lectured for a while, and emerged with various academic publications on dance and sexuality under my belt: . However, I often feel like Kingsley Amis’s ‘Lucky Jim’, who delivers a drunken inaugural speech, mimics the Dean and faints. Hence, I am disembarking from the ship of fools that is academia for a while!

I always loved writing stories as a child; yet, all the dankness of academic writing seeped deep inside me, and I began to feel like I had lost my creative voice. Yet, by looking through the events listings on Harringay Online one Friday evening, I instantly found a way to begin addressing this issue: a Life writing & Memoir course at Writing Room. Luckily, there were still places available. As I began the course, I felt instantly invigorated, as I rediscovered my love for creative and life writing. The course has helped me realise that what I want to do more than ever right now is to find my creative voice! I received valuable tips about memoir writing techniques and was also delighted to receive feedback from my tutor, Giovanna, and fellow writers. The drop-in groups such as Feedback Friday were also really useful to hone my craft, and I plan to do the Prioritise your Writing course as I get further into the writing

I had begun a life writing project a year before embarking on the course, in early 2021, at the bleakest point of the pandemic, when I lost one of my dearest friends, Pav, to COVID. Pav was a purveyor of joy – a truly unique character who will be deeply missed. My memoir explores this primary loss, as well as the role of everyday joy in overcoming loss (as manifested in a joyful octopus character called Octavio!).

In my writing, I actively seek what Jeanette Winterson describes as ‘empty space and points of light.’ I find this in the intersection between pathos and humour, which one of my favourite writers, Kevin Barry, achieves so well. I also like drawing on melody and rhythm in my writing, in such a way that everyday objects take on a magical form. I hope that my readers can gain hope and begin to transcend any losses they have experienced when they read my writing. If they do, then my work is done.

In terms of my future plans, I am going to be travelling and working on my memoir for the next two years or so. After all, writing also requires you to experience life in all its intensity. And I think the last two years have taught us all that we should not take life for granted. I am particularly looking forward to the landscapes of Latin America, which have such a deep interconnection with the magical realist narratives my memoir seeks to work with.

My message to any budding writers who have a project they really want to work on is this: write as much as you can every day, but if you want to focus on your creativity more full-time, make some sacrifices and save as much as you can; then, if the circumstances are right and you have some freelance or part-time work to keep you afloat (as I do, with freelance editing), really go for it. Follow your passion.

I can hear Pav’s voice clearly now: ‘Keep an eye on the future. But ultimately, you only have one life, so just go and live it.’ And so, in writing of him, I am living his philosophy.

Below is an excerpt from my memoir, in memory of Pav, always loved, and never forgotten:

An extract of a memoir in progress

The drive to Plymouth was perhaps not as romantic as a journey to the “Ocean” city would suggest. Two laddish van drivers imbibing energy drinks and listening to god-awful pop music arrived over an hour late and took me down the long straight A303. It wasn’t quite like a trip on a luxury yacht, or a cruise ship, but I had to admit it got me from A to B. As we chatted, one of them told me about the time they had moved a customer’s box into their van, before hearing an angry shout from inside the house:

“Don’t touch my snake!”

It turned out there was a huge boa constrictor inside!

“Well, I’ve got an octopus in my bag.” I showed him Octavio with his smiley face, stowed safely inside my brown leather satchel.

“At least he looks like a friendly octopus.”

It took a long while for me to adjust. It was not just about moving place but also about moving on in the midst of a global pandemic. A sense of deep loneliness ensued even though I met my work colleagues in the office a couple of times a week. I missed Kurt and Pav and our little rituals. Standing on a Green Lanes street corner drinking our socially distanced takeaway coffee amidst the glitzy Turkish jewellery shops, kebab joints (all that glistens is clearly not gold!), and throngs of traffic. Taking trips to the new wholefood store where Pav would enthuse endlessly about the purple cauliflowers and the fancy manuka honey. Nevertheless, in spite of the encroaching loneliness, I knew Octavio and the animals
were always there. They were my purveyors of joy.

On my birthday, 7 th September, Pav sent me a printed postcard with a picture he had taken of me on a chesterfield couch at Jam in a Jar, our local bar, complete with a personalised message:

“Wishing you
A happy birthday!
Good luck in your new chesterfield!
All the best in your new job!

It was rather coincidental that I had moved from one Chesterfield address in London to another in Plymouth. I had even joked with the van driver:

“I bet you have never taken anyone from one chesterfield to another!”

At the very same moment, a package arrived containing a sloth. A cuddly toy one of course! After consultation with Pav and Kurt, I decided to call it “Sly.” I thought it was a present from Pav. But Pav was confused as he had not remembered sending a sloth in the post! My friend John had though.

I loved Pav’s printed postcard and thought it was a perfect gift in its own right. It was thoughtful and created a meaningful connection between my two lives, one ending and another just beginning. Pav’s postcard even featured a picture of him in his floral waistcoat, white vest, peaked cap and dark sunglasses. Coincidentally, he had been wearing that exact ensemble one night we had gone to a Turkish restaurant in Harringay as part of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme in the weeks before I had left. On his way back from the toilet, one of the waiters had thought Pav was a tramp and told him to leave. With a camp flick of the wrist, Pav told him:

“I’ll just return to my meal outside.”

I chortled as I also thought how my poufy hair in the photo resembled the thick ears of the Lady dog in the Disney film “The Lady and the Tramp.”

Little did I know it, but that postcard would be the last piece of written communication I would ever receive from Pav. A last message in a bottle that had the word ‘kindness’ written all over it.