My short official bio is here. This page is for readers and others who'd like to know more about my background and inspirations.
I'm an Irish historical novelist, poet, and founder-director of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), a global non-profit for self-publishing writers. In 2011, I made the best move of my writing life when I took my publishing rights back from my publishers, Penguin, to self-publish my books, my way. It's made me a passionate advocate for self-publishing and author empowerment.
My work as a novelist and poet has also given me an abiding interest in the creative process, in life as well as at work.
A long-married, white, feminist, CIS woman, I love all things non-binary and non-hierarchical, transgressive and transformative. I did a women's studies MA in the 1990s and look forward to gender wars ending in a just and equitable peace.
We're all born of woman and seeded by man and we all carry “male” and “female” characteristics and energies. How these play out, in an individual life and in different societies, is endlessly fascinating to me and a huge inspiration in my work. My pronouns are proudly she/her… while also quite liking the idea that we might all become “they” one day.
Home and Family
I was born in Waterford and raised in Wexford, both in the south-east corner of Ireland. After a lifetime of moving back and forth across the Irish Sea, I've settled into a forever home in the south-east corner of England, in St Leonard's-on-Sea.
Name: Áine McCarthy. Yes, Orna Ross is a pseudonym, though one that's taken over a bit. Back when I signed my first novel, my publishers said Áine was “too Irish” and advised me to change it to something phonetic in English. That evening, as I was calling my children to dinner–“Ornagh! Ross!”– and had the thought that the two together would make a good writer's name (ice and short for book signings) and could be phonetic in English if I knocked off the “gh” from The Daughter's name. The kids thought it a great plan and Orna Ross was born.
Homeplace: I lived in Waterford until I was three but I have no memories of that. My formative years, from the age of four to seventeen, were lived in Murrintown, Co. Wexford. A then-tiny village five miles from Wexford town.
Birth Family: Eldest of five in a nuclear Irish family, of three brothers and one sister, a rubella child with severe disability. That shaped us all.
Relationship: Married 30+ years to The Hub. So far, so fair.
Children: A son and daughter, now all grown up and living close by. Being from a country riven by emigration, I know this for the blessing it is.
Hometown: This is a hard for me to answer. I've moved a lot in my life since I first left Wexford for Dublin in 1977 and I've since called many places “home”. The first was, and still is, Wexford and its surrounds. A trip from Murrintown into “town”, with its long quay, crooked Viking streets, and international opera festival always felt like a magical excursion to me. It still does. Between Wexford town and Murrintown was Johnstown Castle, a Victorian neo-Gothic pile, with lakes and gardens, and nearby evocative ruins at Rathlannan, and cemetery at Kildavin. (Don't you love even the names of these places?). I spent many a formative day roaming Johnstown's grounds and deer park, reading a book and communing with swans and gravestones. Another polar point in Wexford is Rosslare, where my parents moved in 1978 and where my mother still lives.
There's Dublin, especially the seaside suburb of Clontarf, where I lived for almost 20 years altogether (1977 to 1991; 1993 to 1998; 2000 to 2009). My brother and most of my lovely in-law sisters and countless good friends are still there and it's where we (mostly) reared our own family.
Then there's London, incomparable, uncontainable London, for me the greatest city in the world, where our sons and another brother live, and corners of which I'll never be able to leave.
And now St Leonards-on-Sea, a bohemian spot near historical Hastings, which we (The Hub and I) visited for the first time in 2016, took a rental in for six months in 2017, and finally bought into in 2021. This is the first place where I have felt truly at home. (Come visit!)
Education & Work
Primary: Murrintown National School.
Secondary: Loreto Convent Wexford.
University: University College Dublin: BA English Lit (1980), MA Women’s Studies (1997) and Lecturer in Cultural Studies & Creative and Imaginative Practice (2000 – 2006).
Day jobs Past: Schoolteacher, waitress, aerobics instructor, journalist, editor, university lecturer, writing school director and literary agent.
Day job now: Founder-director of the non-profit Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) which The Hub and I run together.
Opinions and Views
Religion: I'm not religious (the convent education put paid to that!) but I have a deep faith in the creative spirit and process that animates our universe. Observing and aiming to emulate that holds me as the concept of god holds others.
Politics: Feminist progressive. For me, gender rights are still the most fundamental political struggle, the one that plays out internally for everyone, across class, color and creed.
Diet: Vegetarian since 1993, when I visited an abattoir for a story I was writing about “mad cow disease”. Mostly vegan since breast cancer brought Jane Plant’s work on the links between hormone-saturated dairy and cancer to my attention. Cannot believe this has become trendy. Just love millennials and Gen Zs.
Interests: History, herstory, and historical fiction. Conscious creation for creatives and creativists. Philosophy, poetry and human potential.
Hobbies and Activities: Walking & jogging. Yoga & wall tennis. Cinema and theatre. Travel. Meditation. Web surfing. Wild swimming (or, as we used to call it in Wexford: swimming).
Not so keen on: Spectator sport (exception: Wimbledon), “reality” TV, consumerist culture.
I agree with Mr Hartley that the past is another country and it’s my favorite place to travel. I’m especially drawn to bohemian times and places that throw off shackles, allowing creativity to flourish — 1890s London and Paris; 1910s Ireland; 1960s and 1980s San Francisco.
Everything I needed to know, I could have learned easier by watching the waves. I've always searched out the sea, wherever I lived, and feel blessed to live beside it again.
I'm a better human being for being an avid reader of fiction and poetry. A deep bow to everyone who believes in the magic of two human imaginations connecting, in silent communion, across space and time, in search of spirit and soul.