Nadine Dorries is in a spin. The controversial MP whose just flown in from England for a round of interviews, has been texting her three daughters all morning, making arrangements for tomorrow morning.
“We’re converging on Liverpool for my youngest daughter’s graduation,” says Nadine. “Including the dog. I’ve texted them twenty or thirty times already.”
Life is a constant frenzy for the fifty-seven year old. She divides her time between Westminster; her constituency in Bedfordshire; and the house in Surrey she shares with her partner, Chris, a vet for the racing community.
“I’m super-organised,” she says. “I have to be. My Land Rover has a shoe rack and a clothes rail.”
She’s here to talk about Hide Her Name, the second book of a trilogy set in sixties Liverpool. She’s already completed the third, and is busy writing her fourth, but how does she find the time?
“Writing is my hobby,” she says. “I fit it in whenever I can.”
Most is done at weekends. Waking at six, she types in bed. Chris brings her tea, then coffee, then breakfast.
“I’ll get up at around eight, take the dog for a walk, then get back and do another three or four hours, and that’s it. I can’t do any more. It flows fast, but afterwards I’m so exhausted I fall asleep!”
She does that every Saturday and Sunday, but she writes during the week as well.
“At Westminster I’ll get two or three hours done in the mornings if I’m lucky,” she says. “I never write in my parliamentary office, but if there’s a succession of votes, I take my laptop, sit outside the lobby and write. Each vote takes ten minutes. You’re trapped. You can’t do anything else and I might get an hour’s writing in.”
It’s clear that Nadine is driven. Passionate about social justice and women’s issues, she tried, unsuccessfully, to reduce the time for legal abortion in England.
“I’m not pro-life or pro-choice. I’m pro women. But I regard abortion after six months as murder,” she says. “I know so many women who have had a late abortion and been traumatised by it. They get bullied by the feminist movement and told to shut up because they’re spoiling things for other women.”
Hide Her Name tells the story of Kitty, a teenager who is targeted by a member of a paedophile ring. Desperate to hide the pregnancy, her mother secretes her to Ireland, where she ends up working in a Magdalene Laundry as she awaits the birth of her child.
There’s a gruesome murder in Liverpool, and the police, investigating, are frustrated as the community closes ranks. Grim in parts, it’s a heart-warming portrait of a poor community whose support for each other is absolute. And it’s inspired by the author’s childhood, growing up on a council estate.
“Abuse was prevalent,” she says. “I was very aware of it, growing up. Paedophiles worked in hospitals; they took positions in the church; they were teachers and they drove school buses. Anything that gave them easy access to children, but they only targeted the poor kids; never the rich ones. As one of my characters, a hospital porter advised another one, ‘The poor kids’ parents are so delighted that anyone is taking an interest in their children.’”
She also knew about the Magdalene laundries.
“When I was a child, a girl came to stay with us from one of those homes. She came with her six week old baby. She really wanted to keep that baby. I can remember saying to her, ‘Can I feed him?’ and she said, ‘No. Because every bottle I give him could be the last.’
“One day she disappeared, and my mother never told me what happened. But I think I know. I think the baby was adopted. I’m sure of it, because the nuns used to come every day and see her.” She sighs. “It was never the wealthy women who ended up in those convents. It was the poor women who were abused and were the result of incest. They didn’t have a voice. They were bullied and dominated.”
The product of an Irish Catholic father, and an English protestant mother, Nadine was brought up Anglican, but says the influence of her paternal grandmother was, by far, the strongest in her life.
“Nellie Deane was a legend! I spent a lot of time with her, and I was always being carted off to Mass. One of 12, she was brought up in a tiny stone cottage in County Mayo. She moved to Liverpool at 16 and stayed there, but her heart was back in Ireland.
“People would come to her, straight from the boat, with a suitcase and a piece of paper with her name on it. They’d arrive looking for work, or to join a convent, and they’d be sitting there at breakfast around the table.
“When she won at bingo, she’d come into my bedroom, singing from the Guinness and say, ‘We’re off to Ireland in the morning.’ My bag would be packed. My excitement would be intense, and it was straight onto the ferry.
“I’d stay with her in the West for weeks at a time, and my parents would get irate. Messages were sent saying, ‘Bring Nadine back! She needs to go to school.’ Nana would send a message back saying, ‘She is in school,’ and she’d hastily take me down to the school in the village. She, literally, kidnapped me.
“When I got home I’d say to friends, ‘I went to school on a donkey. There were children there with no shoes,’ they said, ‘liar!’ But I did.”
After leaving school, Nadine became a nurse; first in Warrington, then London.
“I loved nursing. I then went to Zambia to be a nurse, but I ended up as a teacher in charge of a school. I coped because I had to. I got married to my ex-husband there, and became pregnant with my first daughter. But there were people dying all around us, and we didn’t know why. I said, ‘I’m going home. I don’t trust it here.’ The mysterious illness turned out to be Aids.”
Next, Nadine turned her hand to childcare; running a business to help companies to make it easier for mothers to return to work. She sold it, well, to BUPA in 1999, they eventually sold it on, and it’s been allowed to run down, but one of Nadine’s daughters, a lawyer, has just bought it back to inject life into it once more.
Elected an MP in 2005, Nadine isn’t often out of the news. Two years ago she was suspended from the parliamentary conservative party for appearing on, I’m a Celebratory, Get Me Out of Here, and she can hardly have endeared herself to the leadership when her comment about David Cameron and George Osborne were made public.
“When I called them two arrogant posh boys I wasn’t aware that the quote would be used, but I know that journalist well, and he was only doing his job.”
Does she regret it?
“It’s not the way to endear myself to Cameron and Osborne, but do I want to? No. I was highlighting that those politicians are detached from the everyday lives of ordinary people, and they’re treating the Conservative party as their plaything. They need to take a good look at themselves.”
With no ambition to become the second Margaret Thatcher, Nadine hopes that Boris Johnson will become Prime Minister, because then she’d have a look in.
“I’d love to be in a department of culture media and sport. I’d love to do something with books, libraries, children and reading, because my progression in life owes everything to reading and books. My education was not good – books were the route of my eventual success.”
What does she hope for her own books?
“I would love them to become as big as Gone with the Wind.” She laughs. “Wouldn’t any author?”
Hide her Name by Nadine Dorries is published by Head Zeus: €11.99. Kindle: €1.49.
Interviewed by Sue Leonard
Published in The Irish Examiner on December 27th 2014.
© Sue Leonard 2014