Monday 22 January 2018

Waking hours with... writer Christine Dwyer Hickey

Christine Dwyer Hickey (54) is a writer. She has won several awards and her work has been translated into many languages. Born in Dublin, she lives in Palmerstown with her husband, Denis. They have three grown-up children - Jessie, Dessie and Bonnie

Award-winning writer Christine Dwyer Hickey, who lives in Palmerstown. Photo: David Conachy
Award-winning writer Christine Dwyer Hickey, who lives in Palmerstown. Photo: David Conachy

Ciara Dwyer

If I'm working on a book, I could be up at 6am. I finished the final draft of my latest novel, The Lives of Women, in January 2014. Then I switched off. Even though I'm not working on a novel, I still like to write a little bit every day.

When I wake up in the morning, I sit up in bed and do TM [transcendental meditation]. I don't buy into the lifestyle at all - it's a bit weird - and when I did the course, I certainly had doubts about the fella with the flowers around his neck. But it just clicked with me. I signed up for it because my mind gets very busy, and you need to calm down to write. Stress and illness have been factors in my life, but I do 20 minutes of TM twice a day, and then I have ease of mind.

My husband, Denis, is usually getting up at that time. He thinks the meditation is hilarious, because I usually fall back asleep. He has a legal business in town, but he usually brings me up tea and toast before he leaves. We're empty-nesters - our three kids have left home. When the youngest left, I cried. I really felt lonely, but my husband said, 'Are you mad? Look at the peace'. We're used to it now. It's the usual thing. We live in a house in the suburbs and we got it all extended for the kids, and then, five minutes later, they are gone. Now, it's too big for us. It's just the two of us rattling around, ringing each other on the mobile saying, 'Put on the kettle'.

I'm one of the judges for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award and I'm having a lovely time with that. After my tea and toast, I sit up in bed and read for an hour.

Seeing this, Denis is mad jealous, but I tell him that it's work. Reading all the books for the Impac is like an armchair tour of the world. You're going in and out of different cultures, closing one book and opening another. As a result, sometimes reality gets blurred. It's a privilege to do this, and it has really confirmed my belief that there is no better way to find out about another culture and history than to read a well-written book. You learn so much. Those books will always replace 10 newspaper articles by learned people.

I write for two hours in the morning, and then I go for my walk. That's when I do my thinking. I never have earphones in. I think it's good to listen to the rhythm of your feet. There is something about the movement and the sounds around you. When you're least expecting it, you'll get a good idea. Some writers talk about writer's block, but my problem has always been too many words. You can be clogged. All my books are much bigger before I start weeding. After my walk, I go back in and work for another two hours. I used to read about writers who worked for eight hours a day and I'd feel lazy, but then I read a biography of Dickens. He wrote for four hours a day. When I heard that, I felt a bit better.

I work in a room with a long dining table, which seats 12. I'm supposed to close it up, but I leave it open when I'm writing a novel. As I get more immersed in it, I become a complete slob. Everything piles up. When I feel like the authorities would close me down, I give it a clean and invite people for dinner. One time when I was cleaning it up, I found €20, half a hairy sandwich and a snail. How the snail got there, I do not know. Disgraceful! At the moment, I'm gently working on a short story, but I'm dying to get started on my new novel.

The Lives of Women is my ninth book, but my seventh novel. It is set in the suburbs. When I was a child and a teenager, I noticed that everybody lived in the exact same house in the suburbs in Dublin. None of the women worked and very few of them drove. Respectability was a huge issue. A lot of people had moved from less salubrious, working-class places, and they were worried in their new homes. They didn't know which women were the same as them. Very few of them forged friendships. After 30 years living beside each other, they were still calling each other 'missus'. There was a certain isolation in the suburbs. I wanted to look at the different kinds of loneliness in women. I'm very interested in people and why they turn out the way they do.

We have an apartment in Italy in Imperia, and I often write when I'm there. The last part of the novel is very tense, and so I worked on it for six weeks and finished it over there. I still have quite a solitary lifestyle there, except they have better weather. Italians really teach you how to live, because every moment of their life is very precious to them. My Italian isn't great, but at least it is improving. One day when I was ordering a cappuccino, I said, in Italian, 'not too much foam on it, please', but instead of foam, I said, 'not too much sperm on it'. The two fellas behind the counter were so coiled up that they had to go into the back. When I heard them laughing, I realised my mistake.

I cook dinner every night. We're traditional like that. We sit down and have dinner and catch up. Then Denis might go in to the piano. Although he has a legal business, his other passion is music. A few years ago, he left work for four years and did a degree in music composition in Trinity. I love watching TV because it's a great way to switch off. One night, we were watching an episode of Mad Men. It was when the boys were in Manhattan, tomcatting around, and the women were in the suburbs trying to keep perfect, pretending that everything was fine. Denis said, 'My God, the lives of women'. And ping, that was a trigger which became the title of my book.

We might eat a bit of ice cream and then we go to bed at 11.30pm. It's a nice, quiet life. When I go to sleep, I have a lot of dreams. If I'm in the middle of a novel, I'll often dream about it. They can be surreal, and sometimes even in Italian, but since all the Impac reading, they have become pretty chaotic.

'The Lives of Women' by Christine Dwyer Hickey is published by Atlantic Books (UK), €17.25

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