Irish people love a good tale growing up, and Eleanor O’Reilly spent her younger years surrounded by great storytellers. Her grandmother and great-aunt loved nothing more than whisking her back in time to when they were young, and so, Eleanor’s fascination with storytelling began.

This year saw the release of the school teacher’s debut book, M for Mammy, but her feet remain firmly on the ground with the help of her daughter and her students at Gorey Community School, Co Wexford.

“I have a six-year-old daughter who would rather go to her Brigini meeting than my launch, I had to rearrange it for her, so I have a very ordinary everyday life,” laughs Eleanor.

Creative writing

While on maternity leave, Eleanor really began to write and produced a few short stories that went on to win big.

“I won a couple of notable competitions. I was very lucky that I did extremely well very quickly; that kind of spoiled me.

“I decided to do a MA in creative writing when my daughter was two. I wanted to move beyond short stories, so I enrolled in an online MA with Manchester Metropolitan University. I had to submit a portfolio of my written work and the guy who was interviewing me said, ‘You’re an excellent writer why do you need to do the MA?’ And I said, ‘Because I want to be a better writer’. That’s what always drove me on. I always wanted to be better, not better than anyone else, but because I wanted to improve. I think it’s because I’m a teacher; to me life is about learning, you’re never at the point where you know everything.”

For her dissertation Eleanor had to write a novel, which is how M for Mammy began in 2014. A year later, she won the RTÉ Radio One Short Story Competition in honour of Francis McManus, which changed everything.

“I won the Francis MacManus Short Story Competition in 2015. An agent in London heard it and she contacted me. She sold M for Mammy at the London Book Fair a year before I finished my MA.”

M for Mammy

The beauty of books is being able to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, to see through a different pair of eyes.

M for Mammy allows us to step into the life of a very important character.

M for Mammy is a story about language and love, it’s a story about the ordinary person. There is a little boy called Jacob who is autistic and non-verbal.

“I give him chapters in the book so that we see the world through his eyes.” explains Eleanor.

“Holding the first proof in my hands was a wondrous moment, it was nearly like holding your first child. I don’t want to belittle the experience of childbirth, but I had put so much into it, and to see it manifest itself physically was such a charming experience.”


Working as a teacher and with a young daughter, Eleanor has to really make time for her writing.

“I’m very lucky if I get to sit down at my desk at half eight at night because I might have to give the little one a bath or read a story or walk the dogs, and I have a husband too,” laughs Eleanor.

“Writing is highly addictive. Sometimes I could be up writing until two in the morning if time runs away from me, or if I get very engrossed in it. I’m a late-night writer and that is not by choice, that is by necessity.

“People ask me, ‘How do you write a book?’ You write a book by showing up at your desk whenever you can. You have to be passionate about writing. I’m also a very determined person; if I set out to do something, it’s going to be done.”

Eleanor has been working on a second book at her own pace and while she loves escaping to a different world through her writing, she adores teaching just as much.

“I was offered a two-book deal, but I didn’t take it. I love the stability of my job and wage, and therefore I’m not under pressure to perform in terms of writing for a particular market. It gives me more freedom,” says Eleanor.

M for Mammy (€12.74) is out now, published by Two Roads.