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The way the media speaks about author Catriona Lally's day job is telling of how it views the service industry

She recently won the Rooney Prize for Literature from Trinity College.

OVER THE LAST few weeks, Catriona Lally been making headlines. Unsurprising, given she was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for her debut novel, Eggshells.


The story follows Vivian, a woman who lives alone in North Dublin in a house left to her by her great-aunt. With no friends, no job and few social skills, she attempts to navigate the world through a changeling’s eye.

The prize committee praised the book – which Catriona wrote over three and a half years while raising her now 1 and a half year old daughter – for being “a work of impressive imaginative reach, witty, subtle and occasionally endearingly unpredictable.”

Something that also regularly crops up in interviews? Catriona’s day job as a cleaner. An interesting caveat, certainly, given she works as a cleaner in the college at which she studied English and went on to win the prize from. However, many headlines seem to be making a novelty out of this fact, as pointed out by former journalist Catherine Healy.

catrionalally Source: Washington Post

Source: The Irish Times

Working in the service industry (at one time or another) is a reality for most creatives, whether those with idealistic, whimsical views of the world care to recognise that or not. Cleaning didn’t prove a hindrance to Catriona. In fact, in an interview with The Washington Post, she specifically describes how she finds it less stressful than previous jobs she had copywriting.

“It works well with my writing life. I’ve had paid copywriting jobs before, but it was hard to motivate myself to sit down at the computer and write my novel once my paid work was done,” she said.

It’s very hard to write if you’re emotionally drained after work, or have a job that you dread. I know that cleaning is some people’s vision of hell, but it works for me. The bills must be paid and until that six-figure sum comes a-knocking, everyone needs a day job.”

In numerous interviews, Catriona’s given a nuanced, interesting insight into her life – most notably, what she plans on spending the €10,000 prize money on (creche fees and a water tank for her attic top the list.) There’s good conversations to be had there. Why the reductive headlines, then? (Another publication went with “Caitriona Lally cleans up at this year’s Rooney Prize ceremony” – groan.)

Does it make sense from a journalistic point of view? Absolutely – no doubt, it’s a headline that will draw people in. Why is that the case, though? It’s not entirely dissimilar to the situation with The Cosby Show’s Geoffrey Owens a few weeks ago, when he was filmed working in a grocery store.

Rather, it’s the other side of the coin. While many were engrossed by the story of this (still working actor) being forced to “slum it” as a cashier, others love the idea of the “little guy” – in this case, Catriona – succeeded in a field which they view above cleaning. 

These kind of ‘perseverance porn’ headlines, as fair.org call it, take away her humanity and are typically used as a thinly-veiled method of poor-shaming, typically under the guise of  appearing inspirational. Well, if she did it, why can’t you? Why do you feel so restrained in your job when she could do it WHILE BEING A CLEANER? Try harder, slave.

Catriona’s day job should only be viewed positively, as she does. As much as it doesn’t take away from her achievements, it also doesn’t necessarily add to them. It’s certainly not a tidbit for the general public to gloat over.

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