A Day in the Life: Claire Hennessy

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews

By Vanessa O'Loughlin

Claire Hennessy is young, bright and gifted! Claire is the author of nine young adult novels. She was born in Dublin in 1986 and attended Trinity College Dublin. She is now a Director at The Big Smoke Writing Factorywhere she teaches creative writing – she also faciliates for the Inkwell4Kids summer camp programme and The Centre for Talented Youth Ireland. Her first book, Dear Diary…, was written when she was twelve and published byPoolbeg shortly before her fourteenth birthday. Her books include Dear Diary… (2000), Being Her Sister (2001), Memories (2002), Stereotype(2003), Good Girls Don’t (2004), Afterwards (2005), Girls on the Verge: the Claire Hennessy collection (2005), That Girl (2007), Big Picture (2008), Every Summer (2009).

So what does an ordinary day hold for this talented writer and business woman? And how does she fit it all in? Writing.ie found out….

One of the nice things (we won’t get into the negative stuff!) about a writerly day is that it’s never quite the same as the one before. But let’s go with a Monday for this – start of the week, bright and optimistic. Alarm number one goes off – that’s there to be switched off and grumbled at. Alarm number two is the real one, the no-nonsense out-of-bed-you-get beeping. So out of bed I get, and on goes the computer. As it powers up, tea is made: large mug, no sugar, plenty of milk. Utterly crucial in the mornings: I don’t turn into a human being until there’s a bucket or two of tea running through my veins.

Now, theoretically here’s what happens: I write 1,000 words of a project – usually of whatever novel I’m working on, though occasionally a short story sneaks in there (it all depends on how close to a deadline this is, mind you!) – and am not allowed on the internet until I’m finished that. “It’s all about sticking to it,” I tell the classes that I teach and groups I visit in schools and libraries. “You just have to keep going with it.” I believe this, I honestly do, I wouldn’t say it otherwise. But then it’s early in the morning and the internet is calling, or there is other urgent work to be done, and I minimize the Word window for a moment, just a moment, just to see who’s saying what on Twitter or whether there are any new exciting emails in the inbox. (I’m never quite sure what kind of exciting emails I expect. Maybe one of those “Congratulations, you’ve just won 1 million euro!!!!” spam mails turned genuine. So far, nothing.) And then suddenly time starts slipping away and you’re on your third mug of tea, hitting the ‘recount’ button on the Word Count toolbar in the hopes of a miracle.

Mondays, however, have started to come with an inbuilt deadline – there’s a yoga class to get to, so the goal is to get the writing done before that. I’d love to say that after each class I leave feeling refreshed, and zen, and super-creative, ready to re-approach the writing with a revitalized brain and greater sense of oneness with the universe, but in truth it’s mostly just a world of wondering whether my tree pose will ever improve. After that it’s back to the computer for a while – ideally for writing, more often for email-checking. And more tea.

Lunch is with a book or a person, or a bookish person if I’m lucky, and then back to work. As well as teaching workshops at the Big Smoke Writing Factory, based on Hatch Street, I’m one of the directors of the organisation, which means that somewhere there are legal documents declaring me to be a ‘businesswoman’. Terrifying thought, but it’s less scary than it sounds – there are three of us running Big Smoke, with the help of some magnificent superhero interns, and despite all coming from writerly and creative backgrounds, we somehow manage to get things done. (It’s like writing – less of the flaky artistic procrastination stuff, please; you just need to jump right into it.) We run classes, both our own and ones with guest facilitators, organise student readings and workshops for other organisations, and basically try to make sure that our students are getting what they need in order to develop as writers. It all sounds reasonably straightforward ‘til you add up the admin hours, but it’s best not to think of such things. Oh well – better to be doing something you love than not, right?

Then there’s the actual teaching preparation – one of the great things about teaching creative writing is that you never teach the same class twice. Even if it’s a beginners’ class, it’ll never go quite the same way as it did with the last group you had. As delightful I imagine it must be to appear in a classroom at the designated hour and recite off, zombie-like, all the things one needs to know about writing, it’s far more enjoyable to continue to develop and grow as a teacher, the same way that you’re growing as a writer. So after dinner – we’ll gloss over that, because my culinary skills are truly remedial – it’s off to class in Hatch Street.

A good friend of mine asked me recently if I still get nervous, teaching, and the answer, which surprised me, was no, not really. I’m a bundle of nerves about a lot of things, but the thing about teaching is that it’s about the students, not you. It’s different from doing an author visit to a school, where the students want to know about your experience, your books, and how you came up with this character or why this character didn’t end up with another character . . . that’s its own kind of fun, and it’s still exciting when someone picks a character and goes “that’s just like me!” or “I completely get that!”, but with a more general class, you want to move beyond talking about what works for you. Everyone has their own way of writing, and their own strengths and weaknesses – in a workshop you’re there to make sure they discover those things.

Night time then: possibly some time to read, or watch some TV. And depending on the day and exhaustion levels, this might be what happened in the morning, and then the writing gets done at night time. I’m going to be honest though: some days I don’t write. I kick myself for it, but some days are too busy with urgent things that make immediate demands of you the way an ongoing writing project often doesn’t. The great thing about working in an environment that’s so much about this writing biz, though, is that it’s difficult to let ‘real life’ take over entirely. So even as I’m typing this, the work-in-progress is open in the next window, reminding me that for all the other things in my life, there’s something important that needs my time and attention. And when I leap back into the world of the story, that’s when I remember – the days when I get/make my writing time are better than the ones when I don’t. Sometimes it’s painful (revisions, middles, when you realise you’ve completely contradicted the entire point of the story and need to toss half a novel in the bin…) but more often than not, it’s like that Noel Coward line – “Work is more fun than fun”. And that’s why we do it, I think – what better reason?

About the author

Claire Hennessy is a writer and creative writing teacher based in Dublin.

She writes mostly for young adults and has had nine novels for teenagers published by Poolbeg Press since 2000. Her website lives at http://www.clairehennessy.com/ and her occasionally-updated blog can be found at http://clairehennessy.wordpress.com/.

Claire has given various talks, workshops and readings around the country over the last decade, including speaking on writing for young people, teenagers’ reading habits, and creative writing and gifted education. She is one of the founders and directors of the Big Smoke Writing Factory, established in 2009 by writers and creative writing teachers to provide workshops for aspiring and developing writers in Dublin city centre. She facilitates workshops in novel writing and young adult fiction for Big Smoke. Claire was formerly a tutor at the Irish Writers’ Centre and also teaches regularly at the Irish Centre for Talented Youth at DCU. With music teacher Dara Black she provides Song and Writing workshops for young people, which blend creative writing, song writing, music, drama and performance.

She probably should not spend as much time on Twitter as she does… nevertheless, she can be found there at http://www.twitter.com/clairehennessy/  Have a look at her website http://www.clairehennessy.com/

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