Monday 19 February 2018

Waking hours with Terry Prone: 'I live on good coffee... I try not to eat anything during the day'

Terry Prone (66) is the chairman of The Communications Clinic and author of several works of fiction and non-fiction. She lives in a Martello tower in Portrane, Co Dublin with her husband, Tom Savage. They have one son, broadcaster Anton Savage

Early riser: Terry Prone. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Early riser: Terry Prone. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ciara Dwyer

The alarm goes off at 3.50am, and I kill the phone straight away. I'm used to getting up at this time. I've been doing it for over 30 years. My husband, Tom, did the RTE radio slot It Says In The Papers for 15 years. For that, he had to get up at 4am, and, out of solidarity, I started to get up at the same time. Then I discovered, 'Wow, nobody bothers you at 4am'. You have the run on the day. I go to bed at 8pm every night, so when I wake up, I'm ready for the day. I read that Malcolm Muggeridge wrote all of his books by doing 5,000 words a day before 8am. I decided that if you want to write books, that's what you do. And that's what I did with my latest book, Baa Baa Pink Sheep.

I live in a Martello tower. When I get up, I go into my little wet room. It has the most magnificent view out over the bay with the cliffs and the sea. At dawn, it's spectacularly beautiful, but you can't shower in a room without the blind down. So I look at the view, pull down the blind and get going. We don't have neighbours, so I suppose I could leave the blind up, but I prefer to have it down - relics of auld decency.

The problem about plumbing and Martello towers is that in order to get the water warm in this wet room, you have to run at least 20 litres of water first. I have three buckets that capture all this water and then later - I know this sounds sad - I bring them downstairs and empty them into a barrel out the back. That's where I soak newspapers, and then, at the weekend, I turn them into papier-mache briquettes for my fire. So, showering is complicated.

I get dressed, and then I get into the car. My clothes are picked purely on the basis of whatever I'm doing that day. I'm always dressed for business. It's a basic courtesy. The journey into work takes about half an hour, during which time I listen to the playback programmes on Newstalk. I get to hear George Hook and Pat Kenny. I'm usually here in The Communications Clinic by 5.15am. I'm monitoring the media all the time, getting ideas and sometimes listening to clients on the radio, thinking, 'Yes, yes'. If I thought they were good, I might text them when I get into the office. Or if I thought they needed to stop doing a particular thing, I'd tell them that too.

When I get into work, the first thing is coffee. My life runs on coffee, really good coffee, all day long. I know that this is no advertisement for health, but I don't have breakfast, full stop. I try not to eat during the day because, if I start anything, I will eat forever. I might eat some nuts. Many years ago, after a car accident, I had a lot of plastic surgery done, including liposuction. I lost just over five stone and I kept it off. How? I just don't eat chocolate biscuits all day, interspersed with chips, which is what I would like to do.

The papers will have arrived before 6am, so I would go through them, cut out stuff and send a summary to a whole rake of clients. A machine could do the cutting-out stuff, but what people want from me is advice. From their point of view, should they be worried about an issue, is it on the up of a bell curve or coming down the other side? Should they make an intervention? People don't just want the facts in the morning. They want something a little more personal and for someone to say, 'You're safe'.

We do PR, but that's just a tiny aspect of our business. It could be about career planning, media training, or somebody preparing for an important job interview. An awful lot of people come to us when they are in a crisis. They might have been blackmailed, lost a job or a good reputation. The first thing that I do is listen - nobody listens anymore - and sometimes that can be enough. By just talking, the person sometimes figures it out. I write at least 25 speeches a week. When you hear a speech that is more impressive than the speaker, then you know you've got a bad speech-writer. I want to be able to capture the person and their beliefs. I make it authentic, because I have dug it out of that person and shaped it into a speech which is in that person's words. If one of my speeches for somebody doesn't figure in the Sunday Independent 'Quotes of the Week', I am bereft. Ghost-writing is the most fun in the world.

My latest book, Baa Baa Pink Sheep, is an Irish version of Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary. His book took words which had one meaning and gave them another. I had great fun writing it, because it's about language and cliches and words like 'holistic' and 'crystals' which make me want to bang my head off a wall.

I try to get out of the office around 4.30pm, before the Dublin Port Tunnel goes up to a tenner. But sometimes I have to stay until 7pm to prepare someone for Prime Time. When I get home, I cook chicken or fish, and then I sit down by the Aga stove. I might knit or read a book. My son Anton mentioned that I had knitted him a hat and scarf at some stage, and that he would love another one. He rarely asks for anything, so I went back to knitting. I have eight books on the go each week, and I read 100 pages out of each every day.

One of the great things about getting up at 3.50am is that I have no social life. I'm painfully shy, and I don't like going into crowded situations. I used to feel so resentful going to receptions, and then, about 30 years ago, I decided not to go anymore. It's wonderful. I prefer being at home with interesting people and books. I read as long as I possibly can, and then, at around 8pm, I turn off the phone, lie down and conk out. Tom is usually downstairs watching sport on the television. When I'm heading off for sleep, I imagine that I'm on the roof of the Martello tower and I fly straight up for about 1,000 feet. Then I can see below me. I'm a really good flyer.

'Baa Baa Pink Sheep - A Devil's Dictionary for Modern Ireland' by Terry Prone is published by Londubh, €14.99

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