Featured Readers

Each month we sit down for a chat with a ‘Featured Reader’, to find out about their favourite books of all time, their literary preferences, recommendations, revered authors, & the likes...

This Month

Christine Dwyer Hickey speaking at the launch of One City One Book

Christine Dwyer Hickey

Dublin born and bred

I managed to smuggle out Edna O’Brien’s books and this made me very popular with the older girls in school ...

Christine Dwyer Hickey, Author

Dublin features almost as a character in your books. Where in Dublin did you grow up?

I grew up in a nondescript, small housing estate in what was then known as Dublin 12 but has since elevated itself to Dublin 6W. It offered a panoramic view of the class system as we were at a crossroads between Terenure, Templeogue, Walkinstown and Crumlin.

My love for Dublin came about as a result of the many hours I spent with my father as a little girl. He was a self-employed contractor who did maintenance work mainly for racecourses and stud farms. The crew of men he had working for him had to be picked up every morning from different locations around Dublin and dropped off to their various places of work. The afternoon usually meant a trip to the races. In between, there were several pubs to ‘drop into’ before we rolled home. There were all sorts of funny people to meet and listen to on these day-long adventures.

Childhood also features greatly in your novels, were you a big reader as a child?

Books were a huge part of my life. My father taught me to read before I went to school and so for the first year, as I already knew all about the cat on the mat, I spent most of the day studying the rest of the girls in my class. After that, it was a diet of Enid Blyton books and also the Pan Children’s series which included Alice in Wonderland, Ivanhoe and the Katy books. When I went to boarding school aged 10, my reading jumped to the next level. We had a reading circle and read and discussed books such as Jane Eyre, Great Expectations and even a few of the Steinbeck novels. It was the only time I was ever a member of a book club and I loved every minute of it.

Did you use your local library as a child? Do you have a favourite one now or in the past?

We had no local library within walking distance, but there was a library in school and I used that a lot. We also had books at home where I managed to smuggle out Edna O’Brien’s books and this made me very popular with the older girls in school.

When I started to write I did all my early writing in libraries. I would drop the kids to school and playschool, then drive to the library in Roselawn or Ballyfermot. I discovered some treasures in Ballyfermot library that actually served me well in my novels. There was a book about the clocks of Dublin that I recall and another one about how to read the peals of church bells as people would have done before newspapers were readily available. I also made great use of the Mobile Library in Chapelizod when my kids were small.

In fact, I used to bring the whole of the National School No. 2 to visit the library once a week. We went in batches and would dawdle on the way back to the school talking about the books they’d read the week before while I doled out a few sneaky sweets. My Alsatian dog Jimmy (RIP) used to come along too and the kids would take turns holding his lead. I love when I run into one of these by now, adult children and they remember those days and tell me it sparked in them a love of reading. I feel here that I should acknowledge Rathmines Library too, which I used quite a bit as a teenager. It seemed like a very grown-up and scholarly sort of place to me then.

Is there one of your books of which you are most proud? Tell us why?

Probably the first novel, The Dancer, simply because it seemed like such a crazy idea to write a novel at all and I couldn’t believe it when I’d actually finished it. It’s the first part of a trilogy and is based on my grandfather who was a dancer in Dublin in the early part of the 20th century. He was also a publican, a poet, a spendthrift, a gambler and a drinker who started with a lot and finished without a bean. I am also proud – or maybe I should say relieved – that I finished my latest novel, The Narrow Land. I was quite ill when I wrote it and there were times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to see it through.

How did you feel when Tatty was selected to be the One City One Book choice for 2020?

It really was the most wonderful surprise. When the email arrived from Alison Lyons I had to read it a couple of times before it sunk in. It was a very personal honour too, because Tatty is such an autobiographical novel.

Is there a book that opened up a new culture to you?

I fell in love with Italian culture many years before I actually set foot in Italy. This was due to various novels: E.M. Forster’s Room with a View; Portrait of a Lady by Henry James; Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, to name but a few. When I started to visit Italy, more than twenty years ago, I was struck by how relevant even the oldest of these novels was. It’s that sort of country, tradition is maintained throughout, while towns and cities retain their original appearance probably because Italians are extremely reluctant to knock buildings down.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading the Diary of Stanislaus Joyce, brother of James. I’m fascinated by Joyce, not just his work but his personal life too. I’ve also just finished re-reading a biography of John Joyce, their father. A charming reprobate and a consummate drunkard, who qualifies as one of the worst fathers ever. And yet, for all his faults, he was greatly loved by his son James.

Which of your books is battered from using again and again?

There’s an anthology of poetry called Slow Time edited by Niall MacMonagle. I keep this on my bedside locker and often reach for it during a sleepless night. When I was in hospital a few years ago having a kidney removed, I learned Summer Evening by W.H. Auden off by heart just to calm my nerves, I came out of the anaesthetic spouting the first few lines of it! There are some real gems in this book and I wouldn’t be without it. Although I may have to be soon enough, as the pages are beginning to come loose with wear.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?

I’ll give you three things: I own an elephant - a real elephant. She doesn’t live with me for obvious reasons. She lives in Kenya. Her name is Sirtes and I keep her photo on the wall by my desk.

I have a gold bar in ballroom dancing.

And finally, I still suck my thumb, although not in public.

shelves

The Books

We have been finding out about the books that matter to you, to grow this virtual bookshelf that represents the lives, families and culture of the people that call Dublin home. Here are a selection of some of the books that you have been telling us …

Share Your Favourites?

We want to hear about the books that matter to you. Tell us about your most cherished books, what you’re reading right now, your favourite book from your childhood, and the books that make up the story of your life. Share your recommended reads and take part here

Take Part

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