On Writing ‘Detroit’ / Anne Hayden

When I first started writing short stories a few years ago, it didn’t take long for a pattern to emerge: I kept setting them in the dead of night. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, I’m no stranger to the small hours. I’ve spent most of my professional life working the evening shift in newsrooms, and before that in restaurants, so I know what it’s like to feel out of sync with the rest of the world, to be still awake when most people are asleep and to be getting up when most people have already launched into their day.

Working unsociable hours, as Daniel does in this story, can make you feel at odds with the world, it can be lonely and isolating, and can make relationships difficult. But it can also make avoiding responsibilities easy, and if you’re someone who likes your own space and dislikes traffic and queues, it can be freeing. Daniel is missing out on a lot, feels distanced from family life, but he is also in a comfort zone. The distance suits him in some ways, and there’s the possibility that it suits his wife just fine too. So when the opportunity for change arises, it is not as straightforward as it seems. We all know fear of change is a powerful thing.

‘Detroit’ was initially inspired by a Maeve Brennan story called ‘The Twelfth Wedding Anniversary’, which also concerns a married couple where the husband works the late shift and sleeps in the spare room. In Brennan’s story, his occupation is never revealed but, admittedly showing little imagination, I pictured him as a newspaper man, maybe a subeditor or typesetter who works until the paper goes to the printing press late at night. And that’s how I started out with Daniel.

I remember watching a documentary about Detroit once and being fascinated by how quickly the city had turned to disrepair after it went broke and how nature had reclaimed the neglected spaces. I have no recollection of deciding to use Detroit as a motif in this story, however. That happens sometimes, something appears in a story and you can’t remember how it got there but once it’s there you know it’s right and it has to stay. Sometimes it even ends up becoming the title.

I’ve read recently that Detroit is on the way back up, the city is being regenerated after years of neglect, flowers are blooming through the cracks.

Anne Hayden is from Cork and lives in Dublin. Her short fiction has been published in Stinging Fly magazine, Incubator journal and the Irish Times where she was shortlisted for the 2017 Hennessy Literary Awards.

© Anne Hayden, 2018. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2018.