Christine dwyer hickey

Dubliner’s story told backwards

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

Christine Dwyer Hickey believes she reads more short stories than anybody in Ireland. It’s a quite a claim in a country that believes it has a special relationship with the form. But she is the adjudicator of the short story competition at Listowel Writers Week. She won it herself back in 1992 and again in 1993 and those wins proved to be the perfect start to a career that has garnered critical success internationally and many more prizes.

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Much of her fiction is set in her native city, where she lives with her husband Denis, and her children Jessica, Desmond and Bonnie. Her first novels were the Dublin Trilogy: “The Dancer,” “The Gambler” and “The Gatemaker (1995-2000).

It was James Joyce’s “Dubliners,” she said, “12 little masterpieces and two very good stories, contained in one brilliant collection” that “showed me I could write about my own people in my own city.”

Her latest novel, "The Cold Eye of Heaven," she added, is about the “seven ages of one ordinary man named Farley and it's also about his city; the city of Dublin. It's a story told backwards, staring in 2010 when he's 75 years old and ending in 1935 when he's born.”

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

Italy is where I get ideas. Dublin is where the hard graft takes place. A long table in a silent room - although if it comes to it, I can write anywhere.

I work two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. I rarely work more than four hours a day. But I work every minute of each of those hours. When the long table becomes so messy that I can barely see over it, I know it's time to take a break and so I clear everything off and throw a dinner party. After the party I start working again.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Plenty. But the most useful of all is this: do thirty minutes a day for three months. 30 for 3. No more. No less. Do it every day without fail, until your mind becomes used to it. Then sneak in another 30 minutes. And so on. Try to stick with the same piece of work for a while. Write one day. Rewrite the next.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

"Ragtime" by E.L. Doctorow -- one of the best city novels ever. It pulled me in and danced me round from start to finish; "Clara" by Janice Galloway -- novel based on Clara Schumann, wife of Robert, [and] a beautiful book about music, love and mental illness. "Dubliners" (see above).

What book are you currently reading?

"C'e un Cadavare in Biblioteca" ("The Body in the Library") by Agatha Christie. What better way to brush up on my Italian than with blood, guts and Signora Marple?

Is there a book you wish you had written?

For my pocket? - "Fifty Shades of Grey." For my pride? - "The True History of the Kelly Gang" by Peter Carey. A tour de force any writer would be proud to claim.

Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.

"The Great Fire" by Shirley Hazzard. A friend insisted I read it. I thought it was going to be a swashbuckling yarn about the great fire of London. But it was something else - in every sense. I loved its strangeness. A dark and intriguing read.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

James Joyce, of course. And preferably in Italy where I believe he was at his best.

What book changed your life?

Literally? “The Twins at St. Clare's” by Enid Blyton. After reading it, I went off to boarding school at ten years of age, like a lamb to the slaughter.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

The Phoenix Park in Dublin. It's where I go to walk and do my “mental writing.”

You're Irish if . . .

You have an opinion on everything. Even things about which you know absolutely nothing...