Maddy Goes to Hollywood

 Maureen Martella


“Brightly lit romantic comedy” – The Independent

“Destined to be a blockbuster” – U Magazine

“For anyone who dreams of escape – read and aspire” - Irish News

“Read it and pray for a sequel” – Prima


The Independent

The 50 Best: hot reads; 50 best holiday books

There can be no greater pleasure, surely, than a great book plus the time and a beautiful place to read it in? With that thought in mind, Diona Gregory and her panel of experts have browsed the booklists to bring you the best of holiday reading. These are words to chill with, in sun or shade, on sand or sward, but always at your leisure…

The 50 Best: hot reads; 50 best holiday books


At thirty-three, Maddy O’Toole is stranded on Cold Comfort Farm, deep in rural Ireland, with a monosyllabic husband, two children and her mother. The only bright spot in her day is the American television soap she’s addicted to. Then, she discovers that her long-lost sister Gloria is living in Hollywood.

No sooner has Gloria invited her than Maddy’s on the plane. But what she envisages as a short break ends up changing her life. For when she arrives at Gloria’s hopelessly luxurious Bel Air home she falls helplessly in lust with her sister’s gorgeous and gentle actor boyfriend, Carlos, none other than the star of her favourite soap. It is not going to endear her sister, but Maddy can’t bring herself to contemplate going home…


(Published by Arrow, Random House)

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Maddy Goes to Hollywood


Chapter 1



It’s eight fifteen a.m., Los Angeles time. The sun is already hot. I climb, naked, out of the pool, slip into a bathrobe and retreat to the dim coolness of the ground-floor study. Gloria’s study. This was her favourite room in the big sprawling house. She’s all around me here. In the neat, leather-bound scripts, in the awards that litter the big desk, in the gold-framed photos lining the walls. My sister Gloria, laughing fit to burst. Skiing fearlessly down a steep, snow-covered slope. Gesticulating widely, on a crowded film set.

I sit in her well-worn leather chair and start the tape. Before I go I want to get it all recorded. Let Carlos know exactly how I feel. How I felt when that first letter arrived from Hollywood. How it started the chain of events that changed all our lives. I want him to know that Gloria and I made our own choices here. Most of all, I want him to know that everything we did, Gloria and I, even the most shameful, was almost inevitable given where it all began.



Mother never liked Gloria. She liked me even less. She didn’t actually neglect us, not where the basic necessities of life were concerned. We were probably as well fed and clothed as any other child in the rough, rural landscape where we grew up. And just as severely punished for any minor misdemeanour, real or imagined. I can clearly remember spending a whole night sobbing, because Gloria was huddled outside in the numbing winter cold, locked in the old cow byre, because she had dared to sneak out to a teenage dance against Mother’s explicit orders. Gloria was coming up to her sixteenth birthday that week. I was eleven, and my eyes remained tomato-red and swollen for the best part of the following day. When questioned about this, I said I had sties coming on. Mother rubbed her thick wedding band so hard against my swollen lids that it was all I could do not to cry out in pain.

Father was convinced that Mother’s quick action had saved me from the terrible embarrassment of spending the rest of the Christmas holidays with both eyes disfigured by ugly, pustulating sties.

Gloria laughed so hard at this she almost wet herself. That was the most endearing thing about Gloria, she could find humour in anything. Nothing was ever so serious that she couldn’t wring a laugh out of it.

Mother never laughed. Never. And Father walked around the farm, winter and summer, muttering ‘It never rains but it pours’ at every minor, or threatened, set-back. He never once connected his farming failures with anything but cruel destiny.

But Gloria knew how to laugh.

She even laughed the day father got bacteraemia. Of course, we didn’t know it was bacteraemia then, and neither did he. We didn’t even know it was blood poisoning. After all, he had only gone down to the low pasture to measure what was left of it after the County Council had commandeered several prime acres to facilitate a new road to the West. Father didn’t trust what he called ‘slick County Council surveyors’ when it came to measuring precious farmland. But then Father didn’t trust anyone. He was using his favourite measuring tool, a long piece of bailing wire, when he cut his hand where he already had a bit of an abscess. Nobody knows for sure if he cut it on the bailing wire, or the vicious hawthorn that was in full spring bloom that day, but it turned into blood poisoning, and he died full of abscesses and wheezing from the lungs.

He mightn’t have, if he’d called a doctor. But Father didn’t trust doctors either. And the strangest thing of all was that his cross-border collie, Runt, who had never really liked Father all that much when he was alive, wouldn’t let the undertakers into the house to remove his body when he finally died.

They had to shoot Runt to gain access. I was twelve then.

I was nearly thirteen when Gloria ran away. She was seventeen.

I hung around the post-box for weeks afterwards, convinced that she’d contact me, somehow. She didn’t.

And it was a long, long time before she contacted Mother. Twenty years, to be exact. I was a married woman by then – Mrs Turlough O’Toole, the unproud mother of identical twin sons. And our farm was viable for the first time in three generations. Turlough had made a better fist of Hawthorn Farm than my father or grandfather ever had. Mother adored him beyond measure. Or sanity. Turlough, not Father. He was the son she’d never had, the son she’d always dreamed of having. When I gave birth to twin boys, ecstatic doesn’t even begin to describe how Mother felt. At the Christening, I actually caught her smiling. That could have traumatized me for life. That, and the terrible post-natal depression I was suffering from at the time.

Mother took charge of the babies. She revelled in it. She was a better mother to the twins than she’d ever been to me. Or Gloria. I tried not to be jealous.

The doctor said I should hold off on having any more children. That suited everyone including me, because times were hard and I clearly wasn’t cut out to be a mother. Hadn’t my own mother taken her time in discovering her maternal instincts? And when she did, it was a little late in the day for some. I suppose she could be best described as a born-again mother.

Turlough didn’t mind who looked after the babies, once the burden didn’t fall to him. He probably felt he had enough on his plate, what with the tillage and the sheep, and introducing the new Friesians and all that, twice a day, milking and sterilizing. Whatever his faults, he never neglected the farm. He was a doggedly hard worker. Amazingly self-disciplined. And he didn’t go around moaning all day, the way Father used to. Or drink like Grandfather.

Turlough only got drunk at Christmas and he only ever moaned about money. He was totally dedicated to making the farm pay. He seemed to find endless satisfaction in the strenuous physical work this entailed. And in the milking parlour, as I was to discover later.


One promising spring evening when the twins were coming up to seven months old and I was feeling somewhat recovered from my post-natal depression, I dressed the three of us in our Sunday best and pushed their heavy pram across the yard, and down into the milking parlour to surprise Turlough.

I surprised him all right. But not half as much as he surprised me.

There he was, hard at work in the darkest corner, his trousers around his ankles, his luminous white arse bouncing up and down, and up and down, above fat Marion McCauley, who only came in to give him a hand with the milking.

I had a bit of a relapse after that. I took to my bed for a fortnight and gave up walking the twins. And I never again set foot in that milking parlour.

If Mother know what Turlough was up to with fat Marion, she never let on. But then Turlough could do no wrong in her eyes. He was king of the cows, was Turlough.


I was still taking the anti-depressants when the letter came from Gloria.

The postman drove right up to the front door and knocked loud enough to waken the dead. He said later that this was because he half suspected the airmail letter might have been wrongly addressed.

It was postmarked Hollywood, USA. And clearly addressed to Ms M. Mullin, which Mother took to be her, because her proper name is Margaret even though everyone calls her Hanna because her mother’s name was also Margaret and people used to get them mixed up.

Mother snatched the letter from the postman’s hand and slammed the door in his face before he could ask any embarrassing questions. ‘Nosy old bugger,’ she said, scanning the page. Then she sat down and poured herself a large whiskey, even though she despises people who drink. ‘Here.’ She practically threw the letter at me.

It was brief and to the point. Gloria was sorry for not getting in touch sooner. She had been busy. She was now working in Hollywood. A script-writer. She hoped we were well and would dearly love to hear from us. At the top of the slim page was her Los Angeles address, printed out in solid black letters, beside her personal phone number. Below this there was a business address, complete with another, extended, phone number. A fax number followed. And below this again was yet another line of letters, a complex code for an e-mail address.

All in all, this took up more space than the actual letter did.

‘I thought she was working as a barmaid in London?’ Mother appeared dazed. ‘Mary Kilmartin’s brother saw her there. He said she served him two large Jamesons in a snug in Fulham.’

‘That was nineteen years ago, Mother.’

Turlough came in from the yard. He scraped his dung-splattered boots on the wire mat by the back door, before dropping a can of buttermilk on the scrubbed table.

‘There’s a letter from Gloria.’ Mother’s voice was doom-laden.

Turlough had never met Gloria. He had only come to work in our parish some years after she had run off. He spared a quick glance at the single page, but didn’t appear to be at all impressed. ‘What would your sister be doing in Hollywood?’ He stared accusingly at me.

‘She’s a script-writer,’ I said proudly. ‘Didn’t you read it?’ I picked up the letter reverentially.

‘A script-writer?’ He swallowed a mouthful of buttermilk. ‘Is that what they’re calling it now, script-writing?’ Little ribbons of creamy yellow buttermilk trailed down his unshaven chin. He made no attempt to wipe them away. I knew that when he came in for lunch, in three hours’ time, they would still be there, hardened now into thick white blobs on the rough red stubble that was practically his trademark.


Despite Turlough’s protests and Mother’s unease, I wrote back to Gloria. I told her Mother was thrilled with her meteoric rise in the world. I lied about Turlough as well. But not about the twins. I told her how remarkably plain they were, ugly even, and how well the farm was doing. I gave Turlough full credit for everything. I signed the letter ‘with fondest love, your dearest sister, Maddy’.

Romantic nonsense, Mother would have called it, had she known.


Within a fortnight a second letter had arrived, this one by express post, which didn’t mean a lot in Ballyshannon, as the express post travelled in the same little green van as the regular post. But this one was addressed to Ms Maddy O’Toole, Hawthorn Farm, Ballyshannon. I thought I’d burst with pride.

After that, hardly a week passed without a neat little blue and red edged envelope dropping into the post-box. And all for me – Ms Maddy O’Toole, Hawthorn Farm.

I wasn’t sure if it was my undisguised glee in being the recipient of all this exciting American mail or simply the fact of its arrival, but Turlough became even more sullen and moody as the weeks passed. He finally exploded. ‘Planning on coming back, is she? Back to claim her share, now that the farm is doing well?’

We were in our cramped bedroom under the sloping eaves, where every sound carried clearly into the rest of the house, especially into Mother’s bedroom just below. But for once I didn’t care. I sprang to Gloria’s defence. ‘You don’t know my sister. She’d give you the coat off her back if you were in need of it.’

He didn’t reply, just leaned across me to switch on the radio. Then he deliberately turned up the sound.

Nothing unusual in that: the late-night weather forecast and the weekly beef prices were the only things guaranteed to hold his attention in our bedroom these days.

I turned over and went to sleep.


When the bundle of glossy photographs arrived everyone was intrigued. Even the postman. ‘Sign here please.’ He looked at me as if he was hoping I’d open the big manila envelope then and there on the rain-drenched doorstep.

‘Close that door,’ Mother yelled from the kitchen.

The twins actually looked up from their plates when they saw me tearing open the envelope. Then the photographs tumbled out and their eyes immediately glazed over.

Turlough also pretended to be completely uninterested. But this didn’t prevent him from closely scrutinizing every single photograph, before blithely dismissing them. ‘What interest would I have in photographs of a fancy American house?’ He went back to his breakfast.

He was still convinced that Gloria had some sly ulterior motive in suddenly contacting us. ‘Why now, after all those years of silence?’ he insisted.

The photos were mostly of Gloria’s house, if you could call it that. It was more like a palatial mansion, in glamorous Beverley Hills. A turreted mansion tucked among acres of lush green gardens, with a while-balustraded terrace running the full length of its imposing front. At the back it had a whole line of french doors, opening out on to a wide, pink-tiled patio, the steps of which curved grandly downwards until they came to a halt just feet away from a glittering swimming pool shaped like a large kidney.

All this could be seen clearly in the coloured aerial photos.

‘Who in the name of Jaysus would send you an aerial picture of their house? I ask you!’ Turlough sneered.

‘She’s obviously . . .’ I began.

‘Nuts!’ he said. ‘Anyway, how do you know that’s her house? You only have her word for it. She could be the scullery maid there, for all you know.’

Mother sat tight-lipped, turning the heel of a Fair Isle sock.

‘How do you even know that’s your sister?’ Encouraged by Mother’s silence, Turlough got well into his argument, paying more attention to me than he had for the previous six months. ‘How long is it since you’ve seen Gloria? That woman could be anyone. Anyone at all!’

And the thing was I knew he could be right. The woman in the photos didn’t look at all like the Gloria who had run away into the night all those years ago. This one could be twenty-five, Gloria would now be thirty-seven now, going on thirty-eight.

In one eye-catching shot she was lying on a pink sun lounger, her blonde hair casually tied back, her long sun-tanned legs stretching out for ever, towards the camera. She was wearing a mocking smile and not much else.

Gloria had been going on for plump when she ran away. And getting plumper.

There wasn’t an inch of spare flesh on this woman’s trim body. Then again, we Mullins didn’t run to fat with increasing age. Mother was still slim as a racing whippet. And there was something about the woman in the photo, something uncannily familiar that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I peered closer.

‘She’s the spitting image of you.’ Mother sounded angry.


I don’t know who was the most shocked by this daft notion, Turlough or me. We banged our heads together in our rush to re-examine the photo. It was the most intimate contact we’d had in a full year.

Mother turned out to be right. If you discounted the sleek blonde mane and the smoothly tanned skin, and the movie star figure, the woman in the photo did look a bit like me, or rather I looked a bit like her. Without the glamour, etc., etc.

‘She looks like a tart,’ Turlough growled.

I picked up the bundle of photographs and hared it up the stairs.

‘Where are you running to now? Off to spend the rest of the day gawking at glamorous Gloria, are you?’ he called after me.

Which just goes to show how little he knew me. I was far more interested in gawking at the man who was in one of the photos with her. He was leaning against a wrought-iron table by the sunlit swimming pool, wearing dazzling white swimming trunks and holding a tall iced glass in his bronzed hand. Gloria was leaning against him, clinging on to his tanned body like a blood-starved leech.

Even with the bright Californian sun forcing him to squint at the camera there was no mistaking the handsome face of Carlos Garcia. Or the rest of him. I should know. For the past three years I had probably spent more time looking at Carlos Garcia than I had at any other living creature. I had sat, wide-eyed, no more than four feet away from him every Friday night, as I watched him play the divine Rick Hein in People in Jeopardy, my favourite television drama.

Friday night was sacrosanct in our house. It was the one night of the week every member of the family got to do exactly what he or she pleased, without any interference from the others. Turlough attended the Ballyshannon IFA meeting, where he had gone from being an ordinary member to being its elected treasurer, a highly coveted post, I don’t think. The twins went kick-boxing in the church hall – their one chance to do severe physical damage to other teenagers without fear of reprimand. Or any legal consequences. And Mother retired at nine thirty, with a steaming cup of Horlicks and the latest hot-off-the-presses edition of the Sacred Heart Messenger. And me? I spent my Friday nights watching Carlos Garcia take off his clothes.

That’s what he mostly did in People in Jeopardy. Not in the actual court-room scenes where he played the charismatic, compassionate lawyer so superbly. He kept his clothes on in those scenes, usually dark-grey or sometimes elegantly tailored navy suits, with just the merest hint of a pin-stripe. In those scenes he moved like a sleek-muscled panther, having first stood stock still, in order to draw the court’s full attention, before suddenly swivelling to turn his big brown eyes on the jury and plead for mercy for his always innocent clients.

Sometimes he made long impassioned speeches about inequality, and how the poor and the dispossessed found it wellnigh impossible to obtain true justice, due to the increasingly complex and ever spiralling costs of the cumbersome law machine that the American judicial system had become.

But like millions of women world-wide, who kept People in Jeopardy at the top of the television ratings, I sat waiting impatiently for him to take his clothes off.

I can’t remember a single episode where I was disappointed. I had watched him remove his garments so often I was more familiar with every line of his beautifully proportioned body than I was with Turlough’s. And I had been married to him for fifteen years.

Standing by Gloria’s kidney-shaped swimming pool, Carlos Garcia was, if anything, even more attractive than he appeared on television. He smiled up at me now, squinting into the sun, his nether regions encased in the tightest pair of swimming trunks this side of decency. I took a deep breath.

Mother’s head appeared around the door. ‘Are you sick?’

‘I . . .’

‘You look sick.’ And she was gone.


©  Maureen Martella


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