"You don't have to be horrible to be a writer," author Anne Enright told The Irish Times Summer Nights Festival on Wednesday evening. Take Séamus Heaney for example, she said. "He raised his children, loved his wife and was polite to everybody he met."
The festival – supported by Peugeot – is a series of online talks taking place from Monday July 13th to Thursday 16th. Enright was puncturing the myth of the tortured writer, in response to an observation from interviewer Kathy Sheridan that her own writing did not seem to be rooted in a traumatic personal life.
In the first of three events on Wednesday, Sheridan chatted with Enright about the novelist’s 30-year-career and the legacy of the late Nuala O’Faolain’s memoir, Are You Somebody?
Speaking of the feminism of O'Faolain and her female contemporaries Marian Finucane and Nell McCafferty, Enright said "their courage came from their foolishness and their anger was justified but it sometimes spilled over elsewhere. They got their anger into the right shape for the time… but when the world changed around them perhaps the anger became misdirected one way or another, sometimes."
She sometimes felt, she said, like her own contributions to feminism were comparatively underwhelming. “Nuala made high requirements and feminists quite rightly make high moral requirements usually of women…. But it’s been extremely difficult and it’s a job of work. No-one is paying you to be a feminist and I have to write my books. It’s unpaid labour…. It’s additional labour that my male colleagues do not undertake.”
Enright wondered about “the silence of the men…. I’m really interested in the silence… How many men have ever said something worthwhile about it all?”
The discussion also covered the political conscience of Enright’s children, how wedding planners and not solitary writers should be asked about their experience of lockdown and how Enright would love to see her novel Actress “on the big screen”.
There were some overlaps between Enright and O’Faolain’s books, she observed. Enright felt she’d been hard on the mother figure in her novel the Gathering until she re-read how O’Faolain wrote about her actual mother in Are You Somebody? And she talked about how, in her own latest novel Actress, she borrowed from O’Faolain’s depiction of bohemian Dublin.
There were questions from viewers of the event online. What was her first inspiration to write? was one. “I was told to write a poem and I did and everyone was pleased.”
Sheridan says she got the impression that as the youngest in her family Enright was a little spoiled. She was only half-teasing; Enright pretended to be affronted. “Would you ask that of a man?”
Later Enright explained how she protects the psychological space that allows her to write by prioritising tasks in her life, occasionally to the detriment of doing thing like cleaning her car: “I looked at how men manage their confidence and their time. I took a few leads out of their book.”
The Irish Times Summer Nights Festival continues until Thursday 16th. Also appearing on Wednesday night, at 9pm, is former rugby player Paul O'Connell in conversation with Malachy Clerkin.
Thursday, the final night of the festival, will include: former US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power; lawyer and former White House insider Melody Barnes (both interviewed by Fintan O'Toole); and musician Imelda May (in conversation with Róisín Ingle).
Tickets for the rest of the festival are on sale at a reduced price of €20, which gives access to all remaining events. Simply click here and apply the discount code "summer20" before purchase to avail of the €20 price. For digital subscribers the discount will be automatically applied – just make sure you are signed in to The Irish Times before you click here.
Ticket buyers receive a link by email on each day of the festival, allowing them to attend the events via their phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.