Amanda Brunker: 'I hated modelling. I did it until I got too fat'
Amanda Brunker tells Joanna Kiernan about 'man-bashing', motherhood and chasing her dreams
It is hard not to like Amanda Brunker - she is one very honest, open and hilarious book. She is aware that her personality is not to everyone's taste, but doesn't seem to give it too much thought.
Up until last August when she took redundancy from her job with the Sunday World newspaper, Amanda was used to being called out on the often very blunt opinions, which she gave freely in her weekly column.
However, as she counts down the days until the broadcast of her debut radio play Curiosity, she is a little more concerned about the public's reaction.
"I suppose writing a play has been on the wish list for many years," she tells me. "I just like the idea of being able to call myself a playwright!" she laughs.
"I'm sure many Irish playwrights are disgusted with me wanting to be part of the gang, but I don't think there are enough female voices in Irish theatre and I don't think there are enough parts for Irish actresses. So, in my small way, I want to help change that."
It is not the first time the beautiful Brunker has flung herself outside of her comfort zone. In 2008, when Amanda released the first of her three novels, Champagne Kisses, she was terrified.
"When my first novel came out, there was that huge excitement, but then there is that terror that people are going to hate it and totally destroy you," Amanda grins.
"So I am hoping I get a similar reaction to what I got to Champagne Kisses; I was there with a bullet-proof vest on when it came out, thinking 'OK take your best shot!' because normally people just slate me. Then, when it came along, everybody said 'Oh! It's actually quite good!'
"There was a bit of shock and I'm hoping people will be surprised again. The play is different to any of my previous writing and I would like to think that it is a lot more grown up."
"It deals with two women who are of a similar age to me; it is about women who have been married and are older and are disappointed with life," Amanda explains.
"And while they deal with issues that I haven't necessarily dealt with, I understand being disappointed and I think a lot of people, a lot of women especially, will identify with the characters, even though they might not identify with the scenarios they find themselves in."
Disappointed in what way?
Amanda with Joanna Kiernan
"Oh just with life in general," Amanda chirps. "I am still dreaming and reaching for the stars and I will never stop doing that and I am very lucky.
"This is just the first time I have got the money to actually fund the time for me to sit down and write. It is all totally new and it has been really fun, but it has been a really expensive project. So, hopefully, it will do well and prove popular," Amanda lets out a nervous giggle.
Amanda's play Curiosity, which stars Leigh Arnold and Norma Sheahan, will be broadcast first on radio this Sunday and then take to the stage at Smock Alley Theatre in October for three weeks.
"It's going to be a really big thrill, but I will be cringing. It deals with female seduction and I suppose people might be a little shocked by that," Amanda grins.
"It is in three parts and I have only let my mother listen to the first part and the third part. It gets kind of lusty and still, like a little girl, I am nervous about what my mother thinks!"
"It's weird, I'm not quite sure how much of myself is in there, but I am sure there is plenty. Everyone is going to be asking 'Amanda, are you bi-curious?' and I don't know, maybe!" she gasps. "There is a lot of man-bashing in there, so I have to warn men, don't be too sensitive!"
Amanda admits that this 'man-bashing' streak in her is strong. She is passionate about highlighting how unequal life can still be for women today.
"I can be a little bit of a man-basher and with every right," she tells me. "We live in a very unequal society. It is a man's world and, like many women, I have been paid less than men for doing exactly the same job and been utterly shocked when I found out."
"In 2015, you'd think we are so evolved as a society, but we are actually not. It is quite hard for women out there and I don't think women help each other enough," Amanda adds. "I don't feel that many women have helped me down through the years, but that still isn't going to stop me from, in a small part, hopefully, helping others."
Turning 40 last year inspired Amanda's decision to follow her writing dreams.
"Not that that's old, but it's just one of those kind of things," she explains. "I felt that I really wanted to start doing things that made me happy. I have spent many years doing things for other people and, as a mother, I will continue to do things for other people, but I just feel like you have only got one life and nobody is going to hand you your dream career on a plate. So you just have to go for it."
However, the path to success does not run smoothly.
"I have had to fight my way back in," Amanda admits. "At the moment, I am in the middle of writing a book, which I am really proud of, but I can't get an agent.
"My mother keeps saying 'look at all of those very successful people who couldn't get an agent!' and I think 'Yeah, but I had a number one bestselling trilogy, surely somebody would want to pick me up!' But at the moment, no.
"But I haven't let that stop me. A bird shit on my head the week before last and apparently that is a sign of luck, so any day now!" Amanda laughs. "I was a journalist for 16 years and it meant that my time was stretched, whereas now, it's kind of nice to be able to indulge all of the things that I wanted to be able to do," Amanda explains.
"But I really thought that living my dream would be a lot easier," she laughs. "It's bloody hard and I haven't actually made any money since last year, which is a worry, but I am getting to do all of the things that I didn't have the time to do beforehand and that is just a real buzz."
Amanda lives in Dublin with her husband Philip McLaughlin and their two sons, Edward (9) and Setanta (7).
"They're crazy," she says of her children. "I thought it would get easier and it hasn't," she laughs. "I am very lucky to have two healthy children, but they do get more difficult as they get a bit older. Every day is a learning curve. Parenting is a big journey and hopefully we all survive it!"
Amanda and Philip got married almost six years ago in New York City.
"We had children first and then we got married, we did everything arse over tit; standard issue for me!" she quips. "We are together now over 11 years, which is weird and very nice as well.
"We are in a good place. We don't do the gushing over each other type of thing; that kind of makes me vomit a bit. The reason why we work is that he has his life and I have mine and we run as two very independent ships, but beside one another."
So how does she feel about her 1991 Miss Ireland title these days?
"I was literally only a baby," she smiles. "I never had any aspirations to be Miss Ireland or be a model, I just fell into the whole thing by mistake, but I have to say it was a great launch pad for me.
"I would be interested to know what would have happened to me if I hadn't won Miss Ireland because I didn't finish school, I didn't go to college. Miss Ireland possibly saved me because I hated school, I was miserable and rudderless."
"I hated modelling. I found it mind-numbing, it just wasn't for me, but there was nothing else I could do, so I did that for a while until I got too fat and I was then kind of lost for 10 years," Amanda admits.
"I was working in restaurants and I didn't know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to be creative, but for various reasons that didn't really happen and then the paper came along."
"Sometimes you get lost and people can put you off track," Amanda adds. "It's terrible that I have had to wait until I am 40 to get myself back on track, but it's never too late. When I figured out that I wanted to write, it was one of the happiest days of my life."
Amanda's radio play Curiosity will be broadcast on Dublin's Sunshine 106.8 FM at 7pm on Sunday, May 10