There was something about her face in the programme that made me want to listen to her talk. Her name seemed vaguely familiar, but I may well have been thinking of someone else. Anyway, I knew nothing of her books.
Cousin’s Friend had chosen the two events at the John Hewitt International Summer School for which I had had the task of buying tickets in advance. She has more elevated tastes than I have, so on the Monday we went to the Seamus Heaney/ Dennis O’Driscoll Memorial Lecture, delivered at some speed by a third poet, Bernard O’Donaghue. My guess was he had prepared an hour, and only realised at the last minute that he needed to allow fifteen minutes for questions.
I may be being generous. Cousin’s Friend, who doesn’t hear so well these days, went to sleep.
We had hoped to arrive in time to get tix for Ian Sansom, but we left home too late, and then couldn’t find a parking space. Everyone we spoke to later told us how wonderful he had been. I bared my teeth in an attempt at a smile.
However we did have time to investigate the bookstall, and I picked up and read the first page of every book they had by Christine Dwyer Hickey. They confirmed my desire to hear her on the Wednesday.
We made it by the skin of our teeth. I bought the tix and hovered anxiously in the foyer while Cousin’s Friend found a parking space. We rushed in and found two seats together about two minutes before the event began.
Now some people are good at reading aloud and some are not. Christine Dwyer Hickey falls into the first group. We were enthralled (though Cousin’s Friend again nodded off). Afterwards we rushed to the bookstall and bought books. I bought her latest, The Lives of Women, which I really really want to read.
When I reached the front of the queue, nobly giving way to those holding tickets for the next event which was about to start, CDH, pen poised, asked me my name. I told her, but explained I had bought the gift for Cousin, and gave her name and spelling.
Cousin’s Friend bought Last Train from Liguria. CDH signed her copy and said it was the favourite of her novels. She was also very pleased that the shop was selling the American version as she prefers the cover.
Sitting outside the venue while Cousin’s Friend enjoyed a cigarette, and I flapped my hands at the smoke, we met CDH and her husband again. She was every bit as nice as she’d been on the stage; funny, grounded, witty. She even remembered our names (and Cousin’s). If she had a fan club, we’d have probably joined.
Home in London, I looked to see if my local library had The Lives of Women. It doesn’t. Neither does it have any other of her books. To borrow any of her novels, I need to go to the sparking new library at Canada Water. The return bus fare would come to £3.
For less than tha amout, I acquired Last Train from Liguria via Abe Books. Not the American version, but it’s the story rather than the cover I wanted.
And I am hooked. The first few pages, I wasn’t sure. But suddenly I was in the story, and today I have hardly looked at the newspaper.
So if you are bookless and wretched at the moment, do let me recommend her to you. Or should that be you to her? I don’t know how the story will end, but at page 221 of 392, it seems pretty fine to me.