A long time ago a lady walked into my shop and asked me, ‘Are you the blogger?’ It was probably the most thrilling thing to happen in my week.
Years later I re-encountered her on Twitter and found out that she was the writer, Felicity Hayes-McCoy.
Her book, ‘The House on an Irish Hillside’ has just been published by Hodder & Stoughton. It tells her story of leaving the hectic pace of the city to return to Ireland and make a new life in the stunning Dingle peninsula. For me, it offered a wonderful escape during a weekend when I was craving a break from London. I can still taste the crab claws cooked in butter and hear the sound of fiddles drifting out into the star-lit night.
You said you weren’t a book person and yet you appear to have written a book. Is it secretly something you’ve always wanted to do?
I started my professional career in the theatre and my writing’s largely been for broadcast media so as a writer I haven’t thought of myself as a book person. But I studied English and Irish literature at university and I’ve always been a reader. I think my work’s been a marriage of two strands in my cultural inheritance, the oral, Irish-language, tradition and the literary, English language, one. Up to now I’ve mainly been interested in the possibilities of the spoken word. Maybe now I’m moving towards a deeper exploration of the written one.
What would you say is the message of this book?
I didn’t write it with a sense of having a message. But I love one of the reader reviews on Amazon, which says ‘This book is not about escaping to a 'better' place but about living as richly as possible where ever that may be...’ Dividing my life between Bermondsey and the Dingle peninsula gives me a deeper awareness of both.
Did you keep a diary of the events that happen in the book or do you just have an incredible memory?
I don’t keep a diary and I do tend to shape and hold whole paragraphs, and even pages, in my head before writing them down. I think that’s a result of experiencing a lot of storytelling before learning to read. The book’s partly about the belief that shared memory binds communities together in a web of individual awareness. The ancient Celts, who actively disapproved of writing things down, used memory as a tool for preserving and debating their world view. And communal memory’s still highly prized in the native Irish tradition.
How do you write? (In short burst, long stints, every day...?)
Whatever it takes to hit a deadline.
You mention in the book that once your husband (an opera director) drove you nuts playing the same piece of music over and over again and you had to build another room... is there any music you can listen to when you’re writing?
Where (and what time) do you write best?
As long as I have silence and my desk faces a blank wall I’m happy. I can’t write in the evenings, though. If I do I’m still wide awake at 4.00 am, lying in the dark, shaping sentences in my head.
There is Irish in the book (and I didn’t dare pronounce any of it!) I kept wondering, how does your husband cope when you're in Dingle? Does he understand it? Do you think he will ever speak it?!
Right now he understands a lot more than he’ll speak. He’s eager to learn because he hates the idea that people will switch to English when he’s present. Musicians do more playing than talking though, so sessions tend to be fine.
Is there going to be a sequel?
There are plenty more stories to tell!
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
There’s a wonderful 1950s book of career advice, edited by Noel Streatfeild, with chapter titles like ‘You Might Be A Secretary’ and ‘Let’s Take A Look At Nursing’. A highly successful writer herself, and clearly a woman who took no prisoners, she lists the qualities needed to become a writer, including‘...a faultless ear for dialogue... a vivid imagination’... and ‘...ruthless individualism.’ Then she really gets into her stride. ‘Let me advise you, unless your parents are rich enough (and likely to stay rich enough) to support you whenever you are not employed or selling your work, to have something you can do on the side. You may think now that you won’t mind being poor if only you can give your talent full scope. Maybe, but all the same, before developing your talent, find a nice humdrum job that will support you in hard times.’
Anything else you’d like to add....
Personally, I never took Noel Streatfeild’s advice but I might have been better advised to!
Below you can watch the Trailer of 'The House on an Irish Hillside'...