Saturday 20 January 2018

Waking hours with Stella Feehily

Stella Feehily (45), playwright and actor, was born in London to Irish parents, and brought up in Bundoran, Co Donegal. She lives in north London with her husband, theatre director Max Stafford-Clark (74)

Playwright and actor Stella Feehily (45).
Playwright and actor Stella Feehily (45).

Emily Hourican

I wake up between 7.30 and 8am, and the first thing I do is put on my glasses, which I need to wear now, and look at the Guardian headlines and figure out, still half asleep, what I'm going to read over coffee. We live in North London, just off the Holloway Road, and close to the Out Of Joint offices, where my husband Max has his rehearsal studio, and runs his touring company.

Max had quite a major stroke in 2006. He's back to work, and his brain is still just as amazing as it always was - possibly even better, after all the things he had to do to get himself back to work - but it has left him with an amount of disability. He has blindness of the peripheral vision on the left side, his left arm doesn't work, and he walks with difficulty, although he does walk. He needs a bit of assistance in the morning getting out to work, so that's the next thing I do.

First we have some green tea, then I make the first of a couple of cups of coffee. A couple of years ago, I found I had a racing heart and I went to the doctor, and she said, 'Before I refer you on, how many coffees are you having a day?' It was about seven. I cut out some of those - end of racing heart.

Max has some fruit for breakfast; at the moment, it's greengages, because they are in season, then a slice of toast. I don't really like to eat in the morning, I find it makes me really tired, so I try to leave it to 12 or 1 o'clock before eating. But I take this disgusting stuff, bee pollen. It's meant to have all these amazing properties. I'm vegetarian, and apparently it has lots of amino acids and protein. I take it with a couple of spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt, so I suppose I am eating, but it's not a traditional breakfast.

Then I get Max into work. It's a 15-minute walk for him, so we either walk, or I drive him in, or he's got a scooter - which is quite cute - and he goes in on that. After I drop Max, I come home and, if I can bear it, I go straight to my desk. But I'm my mother's daughter, and everything has to be tidy first. I was a really messy child and my mother is incredibly tidy, which I found so annoying, but now I'm like her.

I do most of my writing work at night, when Max has gone to bed, between 10.30pm and 2.30am. That's concentrated time. It's quiet; I'm not responsible for anything or anybody, and it's close to dreamtime. So mostly I research during the day, along with the other things I have to do - such as script meetings at the Royal Court, rehearsals, or workshops for schools or drama students. I'm also teaching a course at the Royal Court for young writers, so I'm reading extracts from their work.

The day can be made up of anything like that. What I do also depends on what stage I am at with the writing process. With Coppelia, for example, before the writing, I would have been researching the stories, the angles. At the moment, I have a commission from the Royal Court to write a play about counter-terrorism and command structures.

There's a huge amount of research, reading and interviews involved in that. I'm also watching documentaries about the police force; about spies. It's a huge subject. Its like panning for gold - you're looking at everything, rooting around, wondering.

At some point I have to figure out what I'm going to cook for the day, because Max is a meat eater and I'm not, so I have to think, 'What can we do so that I'm not just eating sweet potatoes while Max is eating sweet potatoes and meat?' I try to find ways to be inventive with my cooking so I can get him to eat a vegetarian diet. As the years have gone on, I've made much more of an effort to eat healthily. The desire is always for tea and white toast - that's my idea of heaven - but I now have salads, boiled eggs, avocado; I've never been allergy tested, but I have had to rule out a number of foods that make me tired.

I try and eat foods that give me energy, light things, with a heavier meal in the evening. I used to exercise a lot - I used to do BodyPump, which is basically lifting weights to music, which I loved; what it does to your body is extraordinary, but I got too many injuries. So I moved to yoga and then started getting pains in my hips - apparently I'm hyper-flexible - so now I'm a walker. Hampstead Heath isn't far from where we live, and I love that feeling of being out. I don't care if it's raining, I just want to be out. London is such a fascinating city. You're constantly learning something new about it. The other big side of my life, that I try not to spend all my money on but invariably do, is fashion, particularly vintage - I have lots of 1930s and 1940s elegant dresses.

I collect Max at around 6pm, and we tend to stay at home during the week. We try to have a quiet home life, so we leave going out for dinner to the weekend, although it can get really busy, with various plays to see, which friends have written or directed. Once we've eaten, we don't really watch TV. I might do more reading, or do up notes. Max is a model-rail enthusiast, and one of the rooms in our flat has his train set; a very beautiful American train set, with steam trains from the 1940s and 1950s, so I might help him with that. Max goes to bed around 10pm, and after that, it's my time, to put down ideas and write scenes.

I drink a very mild blend of green tea for hours and hours. Years ago, I used to love to have a glass of wine with dinner, but now it just makes me tired, so I avoid that. I try not to fall asleep, I try and fit as much in as I can. When I do go to bed, around 2.30am, I find it really easy to fall asleep. I read to the point where my eyes can no longer stay open, and I have no problem sleeping at all. Actually, I could sleep on the floor.

Ballet Ireland's national tour of 'Coppelia', with choreography by Morgann Runacre-Temple and libretto by Stella Feehily, runs from October 29 to December 20, see

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