I became a child again while writing Tatty. A child from the age of four to fourteen. At least that’s what I tried to do, physically and mentally. I started by going around on my knees, all the better to view the world from the height of a four-year-old. Then, chapter by chapter as Tatty grew taller, I gradually progressed from a Groucho Marx stoop to the height I am now. I eavesdropped on the conversation of children – an exercise I highly recommend by the way, just for the sheer enlightenment of it. I watched them when they were playing and when they were squabbling. I paid avid attention to their worries and woes. Mostly though, I rolled up my sleeves and dunked my hands down into the deep and murky waters of my memory. This was often a painful exercise but there was an element of pleasure in it too and I often found myself wondering why we abandon our ability to look at the world – I mean, really look at it, as soon as we leave childhood behind. I revisited locations: pubs I had been to with my father when was I was a little girl; racecourses I had wandered around; bookies’ shops where I had scribbled on dockets with the little pencils provided while a faraway race was run. I even gave up drinking alcohol for about a year, just to recall what it was like to be the only sober person in the company.
Tatty first came out in 2004. It seems to have a longer reach than any of the other novels I have written. It has been translated into several languages, including Arabic and I have had letters from all over the world from readers who have been touched by it. In fact, people still come up to me after literary events wanting to talk about Tatty. I often cried while writing it but I often found myself laughing out loud too. Sixteen years later and now we have a new edition from New Island in honour of One City One Book, let’s hope it has the same effect on a whole new generation of readers.
Christine Dwyer Hickey is a novelist, playwright and short story writer. She has published eight novels, one collection of short stories and a full-length play. She is a member of the Irish Arts Academy, Aosdana and is both a director and a literary advisor to Listowel Writers’ Week.