Dr Emily DeDakis
Read Emily's full Writers' Rooms interview here...
Where are we?
Dropping anchor goes against everything in me, y’all. So my coffee mug is from Washington, DC, my t-shirt is from St Davids, Wales, and my mind is wandering to Barcelona, Edinburgh, Denver & New Orleans. I’m thinking of friends in Stockholm, Dallas, Antwerp & Mexico City. I’m having dinner on Zoom with my family in Baltimore & Los Angeles...
Really though, I’m at home in North Belfast with my guy, Tom. We live in an old mill building between two peace walls. The windows are tall and I can see the whole city. It’s on the cusp of a handful of neighbourhoods; most days I hike around Ligoniel, Woodvale, Ballysillan, Ardoyne, Oldpark, the Waterworks, Cavehill, Little Americas. At the quietest place with the biggest trees, I stop for a smoke & think about sequoias.
Even inside, I’m on the move. I don’t have a set writing space, because I almost never write at home. Right now I’m in the window seat. Half an hour ago I was at the kitchen table. Late at night I work on the couch wrapped in a blanket, watching the streetlight shadows on the wall.
How does isolation help or hinder you?
THIS seems to have either liberated or hogtied people. The biggest enemies of my productivity are 1) working from home/anywhere solitary and 2) working in isolation/without collaboration. I dig the back-and-forth of working with sound artists & theatre-makers, or writing for radio & TV. Even for the solo writing bits, I like being out & about. I’m one of those strange souls notebooking or laptopping in cafés: All we want is a little not-peace & not-quiet. In college I wrote in noisy New Orleans bars; in high school I did my homework outside the band room during drumline practice. I could have told you twenty years ago that writing in quarantine would be UGH for me.
What are you working on?
WELL, since you asked, writing has been UGH for me ... but wee sprouts are starting. I’m nudging newborn ideas with an animator and a sound artist. For a residency (now from afar) with Household Belfast, I’m writing a version of Noah’s Ark set in Sailortown. There are a couple of TV ideas on the go. One is called The City That Can’t Stay Awake (title nicked from Glenn Patterson’s The International), about a café in Belfast open 5 p.m. till 9 a.m. (If anyone’s up for investing in that café, I’d rather run it than write about it.)
Also I work with Fighting Words and Accidental Theatre – two tiny, mighty arts organisations working on navigating the new NOW.
What’s that over there?
Most likely: a print by Leo Boyd or a picture of a lighthouse. Could also be: a huge plant that we adopted when it outgrew Paul Maddern’s place. Or the four-step instructions for “Anticipation Orchestra”, an interactive piece I made with HIVE Choir: 1. Emily is blindfolded. (Please don’t touch her)...
What’s that sound?
Tom putting the kettle on (or swearing at a spreadsheet) in the next room. Traffic on the road outside sounds just enough like ocean waves. Overnight writes are best – I go to sleep when the birds are just starting to muck around.
Time for a break...?
Stopping is a curse. When I’m really in the flow, I forget lunch every time. (This is a terrible way to work. Don’t listen to me. Take plenty of breaks. Hydrate. Nourish your body, for gods’ sake.) Now & then, I cut up magazines to make collage postcards, sending them to friends & family in a valiant solo attempt to save the U.S. Postal Service. Cutting things up is pretty good therapy.
What are you [reading/watching/listening to] these days?
Book: I read Milkman. It’s set in the same North Belfast neighbourhoods I’m walking around every day. I was smitten. You can hear me talking about it on the first edition of Accidental Theatre's BOOK BLEND – a virtual book-club experiment we’re trying, since we won’t be able to hang out and have beers in the Book Bar at the theatre for a long, long while.
Tune: “Paris 1919” by John Cale is this household’s quarantine theme – a brilliant gut-punch oddity of a song. We pour beers & dance around the kitchen to it. Dark, joyful & weird, like Fiona Apple’s new album Fetch the Bolt Cutters.
TV: The Last Dance: I don’t care about basketball either, but I dare you not to become obsessed with Dennis Rodman. It’s extra fab because I legit don’t know what happens at the end. Kind of like when I saw Slumdog Millionare & missed the FEEL GOOD FILM OF THE YEAR! posters on the way into the cinema; I was so genuinely surprised at the end I think I levitated. Also Patriot, about a U.S. dark-ops agent who moonlights as a stoner folk musician: glorious, high-stakes absurdity.
Theatre: The only National Theatre at Home show I’ve missed is Antony & Cleopatra. Jane Eyre and The Barber Shop Chronicles were unreal (Inua Ellams is a fucking genius). This is a mini golden era of theatre access: Watch everything you can, & donate to every theatre you love. It’s a terrifying time for live art & these places need support while they’re finding their next steps.
Podcast: Gaslit Nation looks at the political shitshow of rising autocracy during a global pandemic with total realism, yet never loses hope. They have a great action guide too.
What might you revisit in times of crisis or uncertainty?
José Saramago (1922-2010): the patron saint of speculation. His fiction imagines things like ‘what if people stopped dying?’ and ‘what if the Iberian peninsula broke away from Europe and started floating into the Atlantic?’ He wrote about how humans behave when their worlds are randomly upended. Read Blindness and its sequel, Seeing. So crucial.
Best advice for writers?
Don’t get hung up on being relevant or writing about THIS or NOW: Whatever’s nipping at your heels, listen to it. History and invention are just as valuable as ever.
Keep one eye on the shitshow & the other on hope.
Take breaks. Eat well. Get sleep. Hug your Tom. x