Claudia Carroll is unlucky in love. She’s had a terrible time on dating sites – never, ever, meeting anyone she clicked with, and when, one day, she read a story of someone’s date from hell, it sparked the idea for her latest novel.
“This woman was meeting a guy who ticked all her boxes and was surprised when he suggested they should meet in a restaurant, known to be extortionate. He seemed a nice guy. They chatted and he ordered mountains of food, and the most expensive wine, ate and drank it all, then did a runner, leaving her with the colossal bill.”
That story made the cut for The Love Algorithm, about two women who are so fed up with dating sites that don’t deliver, that they set one up of their own – one that through working things out mathematically, asks searching questions in a real attempt to match people who have a chance of compatibility. Something which, in Claudia’s experience, doesn’t exist.
“I’ve been ghosted a lot,” she says, “and that’s worse than anything.”
During lockdown, for example, she met a man for coffee who sounded nice. They chatted, but he kept bringing up money, saying he couldn’t afford to go to Seattle for his daughter’s confirmation.
“Then he said, ‘I know we’ve only just met, but I don’t suppose you’d lend me a hundred quid?’ Mortified, (I’d never ask anyone, even a good friend for money,) I paid the bill, and left with my head held high. Walking home, I wondered how many women he would meet that week, and if others might be more soft-hearted. He could have made himself a fortune.”
During her research, Claudia paid good money to join a dating agency.
“They matched me with a man in Galway, suggesting we should meet in Athlone. They told me he was a separated dad with five children; that was fine; they asked me my interests, I said, theatre, opera, movies and books. I went in good faith and found a man who wanted a younger, Galway woman. We had nothing in common; we laughed about it; but it was a total waste of both our times.”
Iris and Kim – the unlikely duo who set up Analysed, have true horror stories to tell.
“And I had to leave many of the worst ones out,” says Claudia. “They were true, but my editor said nobody would ever believe them.”
An App, Analysed immediately gains traction. Couples hook up happily, and word of its brilliance spreads. But the serious Actuary, Iris, and her party girl workmate, Kim, don’t have the luck of their clientele. Will they, eventually, find love?
This gloriously funny novel reflects its bubbly creator. Claudia and I are chatting over coffee in a Dublin hotel – delighted to be able to meet face to face. Arriving with a bunch of beautiful lilies and roses for me, she is the very best company.
Very much a people person, lockdown was hard for Claudia. Although she could still write – and had her beloved mother living with her – her father sadly passed away in 2019 – she sorely missed the cultural life that normally sustains her.
“I couldn’t go out at night with theatres not open. My social life revolves around the theatre, opera and cinema,” she says.
The Love Algorithm is Claudia’s eighteenth book is as many years. She’s sold over half a million books in the UK alone. But she’s still as famous for her role as Nicola Prendergast in Fair City, a role she has played, off and on, for over twenty years. And acting was her first abiding passion.
“People ask when did I decide to become an actor, and it was never a decision,” she says. “It was just never something I didn’t do.
“I was a very annoying child actor. I did drama on a Friday night at Betty Anne Norton, and I lived for those Friday nights. I was always going for auditions and 90 per cent of them you didn’t get, but if you learn to hear the word ‘no’ when you’re young, that’s good.
“I’m friends today with people I knew back then, and even now, casting wise, if I’m up for a job there are twenty of us in a room, we’re all friends, and only one of us is going home with a job. You get used to it.”
It wasn’t all rejection.
“At 11 or 12 I was cast in a TV movie about Lady Gregory, and we filmed in Coole Park. I was playing young Lady Gregory and older Lady Gregory was Siobhan McKenna. I cherish the memory now, but at the time, it was messing, learning the lines and I got off school.”
Leaving school in the eighties Claudia studied commerce at University College Dublin.
“It’s very handy for the tax returns,” she says, laughing at the incongruity. “Very handy!” But from college, it was straight into a children’s show on RTE.
There have been numerous parts since then. Back in the early nineties, when she started in Fair City, they used to take breaks in the summer.
“And I did theatre work. I loved that,” she says.
The high of her career was working with the late great Jonathan Miller in the Gate Theatre.
“He’d seen me in another show and cast me without an audition. He was an idol in my house. Me and my two brothers were major fans of beyond the fringe, and when he called me in for a meeting I was in bits.
“I was playing Caroline Bingley at the time in Pride and Prejudice, and we were coming to the end of the run. I’d bought a novel, Pemberley, for the cast, and I went in with this Waterstones bag. He asked to see it, and I was embarrassed to show him. He said, ‘Imagine writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. That’s rather like writing a sequel to Genesis isn’t it?’
“I kind of fell in love with him a bit. Donna Dent was also in the show, and we became his groupies. We were in touch for years.”
She wrote her first book, inspired by the behind the cameras action taking place during filming in Castle Leslie, when she was supposed to be learning her lines for Fair City. And, through her friend, the late Anita Notaro, found her agent, Marianne Gunn O’Connor, and secured a deal.
“I love indulging my imagination,” she says. “I’m happy when I’m writing, and grumpy when I’m not.”
Writing a book a year, Claudia says, is a bit like taking an annual Leaving Certificate.
“The year flies by. I’m not a mother, but when I see the book, its hard to put into words the emotion I feel. I put on shades, go into a bookshop and take a photo. It’s like how a mother must feel when she first sees her child. It’s unbelievable.”
Claudia is currently working on a book about a writer in her eighties who is a National Treasure and has her own writing room. Meanwhile, she’s happy with the Love Algorithm, as well she should be. It’s an uplifting read, with laugh out loud moments and characters you really care about.
“I’ve a soft spot for it because I‘ve had a shit time online dating and it’s personal,” she says.
What’s Claudia’s idea of an ideal date?
“I had one once, though it didn’t work out,” she says. “We met for lunch in Dalkey, and got on so well, that we went for a walk. At 11.00 O’clock that night we were still together, still yakking. That’s my gold standard. I don’t mind the location, but it must involve a lot of talk.”
The Love Algorithm by Claudia Carroll. Zaffre: €16.61.
Published in the Irish Examiner on 31st December.
© Sue J Leonard. 2022.