THE PURSUIT OF AWESOME: I WROTE A BOOK!
In 2016, I published my first book The Pursuit of Awesome. Here's the introduction.
I remember it like it was yesterday. That moment of sheer panic; heart beat quickening, head spinning, brain about to explode trying to process what had just happened. It’s rare I accost people at industry events but when I spotted Paul Costelloe at a London Fashion Week do, well I just had to go over and say hello and I had to have him in my book.
As far as first encounters go, it went beautifully. In a smooth uninterrupted monologue, I introduced myself, told him about me and The Pursuit of Awesome, bigged up our Irish connection and invited him out for a coffee if he so pleased.
Paul listened intently, nodding along appropriately, expressing delight and showing interest. When I finally stopped speaking, he broke out into a huge grin, accepting my offer.
‘I’d love to join you for a coffee but why you’d want me in your book is another question,’ he mused.
‘Well because you’re Paul Costelloe, you’re a phenomenal fashion designer, you’ve just showcased at fashion week, you’re an excellent ambassador for Ireland and it would be an honour,’ I quipped. Paul gave a hearty laugh, eyes twinkling.
‘Darling, my name might be Paul but I’m certainly not a fashion designer, I’m a Swiss banker, I’m here for a few days on business. I wish I was the man you’re looking for but I’m afraid it’s a case of mistaken identity, although I am hugely flattered.’
I was stumped. What are the chances I’d meet Paul Costelloe’s dopplegänger, also called Paul, at a fashion event in London where the real Paul resides and had just showcased?! I apologised profusely, backing away slowly and steadily, doing everything in my power to keep cool and stop myself from bolting away in panic and pure embarrassment.
Luckily, this was a one-off and the rest of my contributors in The Pursuit of Awesome were a little more straightforward to meet.
It’s a funny process, writing a book. I’ve interviewed plenty of authors throughout my career and I knew the writing process wasn’t half as glamorous as one would imagine but let me tell you, it takes a lot of sleepless nights and endless hours of staring at your computer screen.
Pester power levels go on all time high trying to secure interviews, juggling diaries, chasing up photographs and that’s before any words have been put to paper. Transcribing, researching, editing, re-editing, chasing up facts - I’ve done it all single handedly and the feeling of satisfaction when everything is ready and you can finally type those magical words ‘The End’ is hard to describe. It’s almost euphoric.
My love for books and reading goes way back. As a child, the library was my favourite place in the world and bookstores my haven. I devoured Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers and the Famous Five, I went on nightly adventures with Nancy Drew, adopted the Babysitters Club crew as my sisters and dreamed to live the sparky lives of Jessica and Elizabeth in the Sweet Valley series. And then there was Goosebumps, instilling a fear of anything and everything in my tween brain. In books I found a safe place, I felt included, understood; I could escape from the real world and let my mind wander to all sorts of strange and beautiful places. Sometimes I’d have up to three or four books on the go the same week, such was my enthusiasm to gobble up the stories at my fingertips.
I loved to write too. I had a special diary I called ‘Kitty’ and would jot down daily the trials and tribulations of my inner-city Dublin life. While my classmates groaned at the prospect of writing essays, I found myself oddly pleased. I couldn’t imagine anything better than going home to my empty copybook and bringing to life all sorts of beautiful characters. I’m not ashamed I was that nerd who couldn’t wait to get her corrected homework back, excited to see if my teacher enjoyed my story as much as I did conjuring it up.
I always knew I wanted to work in media and television always fasci- nated me. Although more of an observer than an extrovert, I loved people and listening to them speak. I loved asking questions and learning new things. Like most teenagers I daydreamed of what could be but I never really knew how to get ‘in’. I didn’t have any connections and on more than one occasion, ignorant adults tried to discouraged me telling me I’d never work in television because I wasn’t fully Irish. It made me sad, not because I thought they were right, but because I knew they were wrong.
I knocked on every door I could. The Internet and Google became my best friends. I emailed newspapers, radio stations, magazines and production companies keen to get my foot in. I wanted experience and I was prepared to work my butt off for free, to prove my worth and to show them I was an invaluable asset. At first nobody replied but I remained undeterred. I stayed positive and slowly but surely the opportunities appeared. Perseverance is key in this business and I learnt that a long time ago. If you’re passionate you must never give up. Instead, work harder to become better, stronger and irreplaceable.
At fifteen I spent a week in FM104, answering phones in reception mainly and shadowing various presenters and people as they went about their daily dealings. A week in the Star newspaper followed where I must have photocopied half a forest of trees, did enough post office runs to rival Postman Pat and met Westlife, my teen idols at a press conference where Brian announced his departure. That summer a stint in Kiss magazine followed where I did various bits and bobs and stalked editor Susan Vasquez, completely in awe of what to me seemed like the most glamorous job in the world.
My break in TV came in my final year of college when an email from Ireland AM appeared one gloomy September afternoon. They had kept a letter I sent four months preciously on file and finally a work experience position was free. I jumped at the chance to work as a guest greeter, waking up at 4:30am twice a week to help out on the live breakfast programme. I’d help print the presenters scripts, make tea and coffee, assist guests to studio and other small jobs in between. Whenever possible I stayed back to learn the skills of research, helping to put together briefs for the presenters, write suggested interview questions and brainstorm for ideas. I loved every second. Ireland AM gave me real life experience of a buzzing working environ- ment and I knew from my first day that I needed to work in television, that there was absolutely no other option.
Despite my ‘in’, I was determined to work harder. I pestered producers in other stations and production companies left right and centre, I scoured Google for audition and job openings and I did every evening course possible to help me pick up any bit of extra experience. My parents were my rock. They encouraged and supported me endlessly. They reassured me that no dream was too big, that whatever I wanted was right there at my fingertips, that I just had to reach out and grab it. I firmly embraced this positive mental attitude, letting nothing stand in my way; especially not my Moldovan background. I
’ll never forget the excitement of securing my job of presenter in RTÉ. I was in my final weeks of college completing my thesis on children’s TV news programmes, when an advertisement on the Den website caught my eye. I applied immediately and kept my fingers crossed. By the time a phone call came, inviting me to audition, I had almost forgotten I had applied in the first place!
My first audition was daunting. I was quite a shy twenty-one- year-old. I was confident in my abilities but I was aware that in a group situation I was always the quietest in the room. I had this idea in my head that all kids TV presenters were loud and zany and I knew that I was dif- ferent. I managed to get through and left feeling happy with my performance. The next day my family went on holidays to Monaco. It was just three days in when RTÉ called me back, requesting to see me again in the next round. I remember I was in the back of a rental car, munching on a baguette when the call came. It was a stressful day of driving a few hundred kilometres to stay in a villa we had rented online only to find it was a case of false advertisement and that call lifted everyones’s spirits.
A few days later I was on a plane back to Dublin. Audition two came and went although this time I was uncertain of my performance. I left for the airport a little disheartened, hoping I had done myself justice. I was back in Monaco a few days when RTÉ called again so I packed my suitcase one final time and returned home to a day of workshops; I was down to the final six.
It’s not much of an anecdote as we all know I got the job eventually and my life changed in ways I could never have imagined. I worked on elev8 for five seasons and it was the most rewarding, challenging, satisfy-ing and defining few years of my life to date. I can’t imagine a better crash course in presenting live telly than being thrown in the deep end and I enjoyed every single moment. After the first six months I began to find both my voice and my feet and I revelled in the live studio environment, never fully knowing what was going to happen. Every day was different, new guests, new people, new content, new games and each one with it’s own challenges to navigate.
I will never take for granted the massive opportunity RTÉ gave me in kickstarting my career. Sure, I had worked hard on my studies and building up connections but no doubt it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time also. I pinch myself to this day when I look at my back catalogue of work. Seven hundred episodes, two hundred and eighty hours of live TV, two documentaries, collaborating with so many wonderful charities, meeting all sorts of inspiring people and well known personalities, hosting events around the country, MC’ing a garden party for the President of Ireland, being nominated for various awards. Even writing this book, had I not had this incredible opportunity, perhaps The Pursuit of Awesome would never have been born.
I wrote this book as much for myself as for anyone reading in search of some guidance, motivation and inspiration. One thing I’ve discovered is that nobody out there has the answer to everything; we are all simple beings try to work it all out. Whatever that ‘it’ may be, doesn’t matter. We’re all united in our yearning and desire and our journey of discovery. Each of my contributors has an important lesson to share. They were all once young boys and girls with high hopes and big ambitions, dreaming of a future that could be; from Hozier to Rob Kearney to Cecelia Ahearn and Rory McIlroy.
Amongst the stories to follow you’ll meet some new heroes too, shining a light into industries that often seem so far away and distant and exclusive. They’ll share with your their high and lows, their successes and failures and lessons learned. From Al Pacino’s producer Barry Navidi to author Derek Landy, Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch, Mark Feehily from Westlife, CBBC’s Martin Dougan and Kodaline’s Steve Garrigan; each of the contributors in this book have kindly and generously spoken honestly about their rise to fame and success.
You’ll learn that it’s not always going to be easy. You’ll learn about the importance of taking risks and embracing failure. Testing times build character. An easy life is a boring life. All the best people I know have suffered and endured hardship. Adversity is not to be feared but embraced. It’s in the most testing times that you really discover who you are, what you want, where you want to go and who you want to bring along with you on that crazy journey.
Remember, you are the director of your own life movie, the author of your own autobiography, the artist in control of the paintbrush and indeed, the blank canvas. Splash those colours proudly. Life’s too short to stick to a palette of black and grey.
Be true to yourself and your passions and the life you dream of. Be not afraid to take a risk. Be not afraid to fail. The fear of failing is a wicked thing. It can stop you dead in your tracks; root you to the spot and make you feel like you’re drowning in quicksand. But when you face up to it? And better yet, conquer it? There is no feeling more liberating and satisfying.
Remember, go forth confidently in the direction of your dreams.
P.S. Oh, and I did manage to finally meet the real Paul Costelloe!