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Arts Q&A: Irish novelist Felicity Hayes-McCoy on Maeve Binchy, Peter Ackroyd and Pavarotti

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, novelist Felicity Hayes-McCoy

Felicity Hayes-McCoy. Author..

1. When did you think about a career in writing and what were your first steps into it?

I started thinking about writing when I began to read as a child. I trained and worked as an actress, and my first pay cheques as a writer came from selling TV scripts. Novels came later.

2. Best gigs you've been to?

I am lucky because my brother-in-law James Judd conducts classical orchestras around the world, which makes a great excuse for weekend breaks when he is in Europe. We've had brilliant nights in the US and UK too - Pavarotti on the beach in Miami was a standout, and the Proms at the Albert Hall - but, lately, what I've thought about most is a terrific performance of Mahler's fourth symphony in Bratislava. That was the last time I heard live music before lockdown. I can't wait to get back to a concert hall, and to my local pubs in west Kerry which have the best trad sessions in the world.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

Bob Dylan and The Band backing Imelda May, with Leo Green on sax.

4. The record you would take to a desert island?

Iarla Ó Lionáird singing Casadh an tSúgáin. It's the song he sang in the film Brooklyn when all the Irish emigrants are feeling homesick in New York. I can see myself alone on my island, getting nostalgic for home and weeping into my coconut milk.

5. And the book you would take to a desert island?

When I'm not in west Kerry I am in London, so I'd take Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography, a gorgeously detailed book that swoops through both the history and geography of the city. I've read it repeatedly but, like London itself, it is so rich that I always find something new. Obviously, I'd be sniffling again among the palm trees.

6. Top three films?

I'm bowled over by the contrast between the comedy in Hail Caesar and the drama and poetry in No Country for Old Men, both of which are Coen brothers films. And Wonder Woman is the best feminist movie I've seen to date - so good that I haven't yet had the nerve to see Wonder Woman 1984.

7. Worst film you've seen?

I don't like to diss other artists' work, so I'd rather not name one. Though I'll happily admit that horror doesn't do much for me, and that I'm easily bored by mindless violence.

8. Favourite authors?

Lately, like many people, I've returned to familiar, comfortable reading. Favourites are Maeve Binchy, whose books are far shrewder than she gets credit for, and Jane Austen, whose novels have the same warmth, briskness, humour and cleverness.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team(s)?

I've never been particularly sporty, though my mother was a mad rugby fan.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

I fantasise about taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing.

11. Pet hates?

Unkindness, celery and dresses without pockets.

12. What is your favourite:

Dinner? Anything made by my husband with vegetables from our garden.

Dessert? Nigel Slater's chocolate espresso cake.

Drink? Industrial quantities of tea - I am an author...

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

The journalist Maev Kennedy. We met at college, then I moved to London while she worked at the Irish Times in Dublin, and we shared flats when she came to London too. We're still as close as ever, and text and meet all the time.

14. Is there a God?

If there is, she is losing patience with the way we're destroying her planet.

The Year of Lost and Found by Felicity Hayes-McCoy is published by Hachette Ireland and is out now. The novel, written by the author during lockdown in west Kerry, although not about the pandemic, celebrates family, memories, friendship, love and courage in a sleepy town in Ireland's Finfarran peninsula.

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