'I write because I don't quite know how to live'
Keith Ridgway recently returned to Dublin after a decade in London. He tells SINÉAD GLEESONabout the changes he sees, his new novel, ‘Hawthorn Child’, and the trade-off between writing and life
‘I’M CHAOTIC IN MY approach to work. I can go for months without writing, and regularly do, but I’m always thinking about it,” says Keith Ridgway. “Actually sitting down and writing is something I find very difficult. I have to drag myself to the table, and I’ve never enjoyed it.”
Today Ridgway is sitting at a table by the open window of a Dublin hotel bar. Quietly spoken, he has to raise his voice each time a bus trundles past. We’re here to discuss his latest book, Hawthorn Child, an accomplished novel that takes several literary risks.
The title refers to two Sweeney-type London police officers Ridgway has installed in the centre of the book. It’s difficult to call them protagonists, as they drift in and out of a narrative of motley characters that include a criminal big gun, his pickpocket driver and a Premiership referee.
One of the officers, Hawthorn, a hardworking gay policeman in the Met, stands out as the most intriguing. Thwarted, he suffers inexplicable crying jags, when he’s not participating in well-rehearsed good-cop/bad-cop routines.
“I don’t think Hawthorn’s issues are particularly unique or special,” says Ridgway. “He’s just baffled with living. What’s weighing on him greatly is life. He’s a character who finds living difficult, and that’s his problem, but then that’s a problem we all have, to one extent or another.”
Hawthorn finds fleeting connections and short-lived joy in gay saunas, but contentment eludes the characters in this book. One man, a petty thief, finds love, which sustains him through a nerve-racking career of chauffeuring a crime lord. This section, Goo Book, originally ran as a story in the New Yorker. Although Ridgway says that Hawthorn Child is a novel, he has an interest in experimenting with form and point of view, as is evident from his past books The Parts and Animals.
“I’m told this is a novel,” he says with a laugh. “I usually start off knowing what I’m writing, but one form can drift into the other. The novel just requires you to take a slightly deeper breath than a short story.”
In Goo Book the thief and his girlfriend tie each other up and dictate sexual demands, but they are unable to verbalise their intimate feelings. They resort to a secret notebook, which they fill with tender words that they can’t say out loud. Does Ridgway believe the act of writing things down is a way past the verbally inexpressible?
“I find I get very frustrated, particularly when it comes to lovers, that I can’t express what I want to say,” he says. “Days later I write a long letter, and not only does it say what I want it to say, it’s devoid of anger. Any kind of love affair has those private moments that no one else will ever know about. There’s something terribly sad about that. When a relationship ends you grieve for it as much as for those moments. Even if it’s written down, and documented, it will never mean anything to anyone else.”