In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
is a writer, TV producer and journalist and the author of seven best-selling non-fiction books. Summers – whose father was Irish – has lived here since the 1970s, and has worked for more than 20 years with Robbyn Swan, his co-author and wife. Their account of 9/11, 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist The Eleventh Day, has just been published in paperback
‘I’VE MARRIED four times, the first time when I worked for the BBC. It didn’t last long – my job meant I was home for about three months a year. The second time I married, I brought my wife to Ireland and she said ‘ no no, that’s not for me’ and went off with an Iranian oil sheikh. The third time, I married a woman who was too young.
“And then I met Robbyn, around 1988.
“The beginning of things for me was, I wanted to get away from the BBC because I’d been typecast as a war reporter; I had been covering wars from Vietnam on. A friend of mine, Nick Tomalin, died on the Golan, and I thought, ‘why am I doing this?’ – the same story against different backdrops.
“Publishers had approached me to write a book arising out of a documentary I’d done on the Romanovs. The night Nick died, I sent them a message from Cairo saying I would do it. I came to a friend’s cottage near Youghal on the Blackwater and spent a year there writing it.
“By 1977 I’d bought a cottage further up the Blackwater – I’ve lived in Ireland now for more than half my life. Then I did a documentary on the Kennedy assassination, and wrote my book about it.
“For a long time after Robbyn and I met, there was nothing romantic between us at all. I hired her as a researcher for my book on J Edgar Hoover and thought she did the work terrifically well.
“One day Robbyn had come to see me in Brooklyn, where I was staying with friends, to deliver some research. We went off and had a long lunch: there was a glass of wine or two and when she left me on the front doorstep, in broad daylight, she administered a kiss which I remember to this day. I was genuinely surprised, I thought, the girl’s got a little drunk. And still nothing started, but things had changed somehow.
“I called her from Ireland to say, we’ve got to finish the book, we can’t be involved in a big thing. Then there was a moment when I clapped my hand to my brow and realised my God, this is a lovely woman.
“Things happened in reverse: in most relationships the lovely things come first and then you learn about the A, B, Cs of ordinary life. We worked together for a couple of years first – and it was a much better way of establishing a relationship. Now we have two boys and a girl – Colm, who’s 18 and just starting in Trinity, Fionn (14 and a half) and Lara (13 going on 30). My eldest son, Ronan, born in 1983, is an actor in London.
“There are so many bests about Robbyn: I came away from the war stuff quite beat up in ways I didn’t really understand myself. I didn’t express this to anybody until we were together and Robbyn, without going on about it, made it all go away. And she’s brought me family and constancy.”