Small Talk: Diana Hendry

Diana Hendry, born in the Wirral in northwest England in 1941, has published more than 40 books for children and teenagers and four poetry collections. In 1991 she won a Whitbread Award for her novel Harvey Angell and her latest book for teenagers, The Seeing, was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Children’s Book Award. Hendry lives in Edinburgh.

Who is your perfect reader?

My daughter Kate. She’s both a good and a kind critic, and a great reader.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Roger McGough’s “Thud”, from his new collection, which is about being unable to write a poem.

What book changed your life?

The Voyage (1940) by the little-known novelist Charles Morgan. I wouldn’t read it now but it told me the difference between goodness and vitality – and made me settle for vitality.

What is your daily writing routine?

If it’s going well, I write for an hour before breakfast, from 7am. Then I have breakfast and a bath and go back to writing until 12pm. If it’s still going well I write for an hour in the afternoon; if it’s not I mooch about.

What do you snack on while writing?

I’m an ex-smoker and I can’t tell you how much I miss it. Now I have Mint Imperials and coffee. That’s very grannyish, isn’t it?

How do you relax?

I play the piano, ranging from Mozart to Scott Joplin. I do a bit of yoga.

When were you happiest?

I met my partner about 12 years ago, which was totally unexpected, so it was a very happy time.

Who are your literary influences?

Camus, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney. I love them but I’m not sure how much they influenced me.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

Seamus Heaney. I’ve loved his poetry for years. He’s a warm-hearted man. And he’s got a wonderful voice.

Where do you feel most free?

By the sea – I grew up there. I love the East Neuk villages of Fife, and we’ve recently discovered Northumberland.

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?

The Wizard of Oz.

What are you scared of?

A long slow illness, a nasty one.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

A Joan Eardley. She’s done some lovely ones of the sea. There’s also one of a Glasgow street urchin but that would be hard to live with.

Which literary character most resembles you?

The child, Mary Lennox, in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, who arrives from India with a sallow face. She’s unhappy, she’s lonely, she’s kept indoors a lot, which I was.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

If I could pick anything, I’d like to be a musician or an architect. But in real life I’d be a cleaner.

What does it mean to be a writer?

Deep passion, and pain.

‘The Seeing’, by Diana Hendry, is published by The Bodley Head

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