I’ve always been very private and shy, even though I have four brothers and four sisters. I need a lot of space and time to myself, so I live alone. Thinking is important. During the night I’ll go through the day before and the one to come, so it can be restless. But dreams can be comforting, particularly when I dream about my grandparents. They’re dead, but they were always there when I was young, advising what was best. If I’ve been dreaming about my grandparents, I’ll have a good, positive day.

A lot of people say ‘Oh my God, the weather!’ when they wake up. Bad weather doesn’t bother me. In Donegal, where I grew up, it was often grey and cold from one end of the day to the other.

If I’m working in the studio, I’ll be out of bed by 9.30 or 10. I enjoy being at the right place at the right time. I enjoy the event. Even if it’s breakfast by myself, I’ll set the table. I’ll have a good breakfast – eggs, any way except fried because I have a little trouble with my stomach; tea, in a proper pot with an infuser. I drink it without milk and sugar, because as a child I gave up sugar for Lent one year, then milk the next, and I just carried on.

Although I don’t go to church any more, being Catholic is something I’ll always have; the spiritual side is comforting. In a difficult moment I’ll say a prayer, and when there’s a lot of stress and tension around me I’ll sit in a church and think things out in the silence.

I enjoy clothes. My favourite designers are Jasper Conran and John Galliano. I like the drama of clothes. If I had the time I’d change my clothes three times a day, and arrange each outfit down to the last detail.

Until I was 18 I had my hair long, down to my waist. One day I decided to cut it off. My hair is very fine and it suits me to have it layered in a soft fashion. Last year I grew it for a while. I didn’t realise it at the time but it was making me unhappy. My hairdresser kept saying ‘Bear with it’, but in the end I couldn’t, so she cut it short again. I remember being so happy that day; suddenly all my clothes made sense again.

I try to take care of my skin. I take one morning off a month to have a Cathiodermie, a French facial. The way I sit in the studio gives me terrible, terrible pains across my neck and shoulders, so after my facial I have a back massage as well.

I walk for 20 minutes to the studio, or take a taxi if I’m late. The three of us work all day with endless cups of tea. We do have a break at lunchtime but I don’t eat anything too heavy – a sandwich perhaps – as it slows you down too much.

When I’m composing I’m very open, voicing some emotion deep within me – anger, happiness. So composing is a way of releasing my emotions. But in the studio I’m very different. I’m a typical Taurus – stubborn and demanding. If things aren’t going well it destroys me, and that’s difficult for Nicky and Roma.

Nicky and I have tremendous arguments. They’re quite awful – shouting, everything. And sometimes there’s no work for days afterwards. But when we come back to the studio we’ve regained our confidence.

Until I began to travel I wasn’t aware of how important being Irish was for my composing and my everyday life. I dream in Gaelic; I think in Gaelic; I count in Gaelic. In an intense moment in the studio I’ll forget myself and blurt out something in Gaelic. Speaking Gaelic, and particularly singing Gaelic, all the words, the emotions, come very naturally. Sometimes when I’m trying to translate from Gaelic I can’t find the English word – it just doesn’t go so deep.

Speaking Gaelic has a lot to do with Irish Culture. Growing up in Gweedore in Donegal in the Gaeltacht (Gaelic speaking) area, I took it for granted as a child, but now I’m more interested than ever in Gaelic and Gaelic literature. Twenty years ago people were afraid to be heard speaking Gaelic, because it meant that you came from the countryside, and not speaking English was felt to be shaming. But that’s changed now.

Some people think I’m very melancholy. I’m not, but my melodies are. I sense this melancholy in traditional Irish songs – their great passion – because they deal with emigration or the loss of a loved one; so many Donegal fishermen died at sea. Once I’ve finished an album I just cut the ribbon and don’t listen to it, but recently when an album was played during a live radio interview I was moved to tears.

I don’t take anything for granted. Every day your level of success goes down. You have to earn success – sweat for it. But if you give your best you’ll be happy at least. When I finish an album depression sets in and I go home. Donegal is so important to me. It’s wild and very beautiful, but it’s also home, where my parents live. They’re very understanding; they know I don’t want to talk about my work. They won’t know about my music until they’re handed the latest CD or album. After Shepherd Moons I took myself off for hours climbing a mountain I hadn’t climbed since childhood. Gweedore isn’t a village but a parish, so the houses are scattered and you get a great sense of space.

After a bad day in the studio I’m dark and difficult to be with; I’ll want to be on my own. On a good day I’ll phone everyone up. I don’t have a record collection. The music I like best is silence. I grew up in a large and noisy family – continual hustle and bustle and crying and chaos – but the day that everybody went off and left me on my own was such a treat.

If I can I’ll walk in Killiney; it’s another way of unwinding, especially after the studio when my head is full of melodies. Walking stops the music dictating how I feel. I used to sacrifice a lot of my social life to music. It would be too devastating to break off from working with Nicky at six o’clock. I’ve always avoided relationships, but the moment I’m in one – a long-distance relationship which is well suited to me. I think he understands how much I need my space.

I have dinner at around seven. I love food , but I don’t eat red meat; it’s too rich for me. Sometimes I like to get dressed up and go to a restaurant, to talk and listen to someone else; that takes you out of yourself. I love children’s company. Last January I became an aunt twice in one week. That made me think about having children of my own. I think I’d enjoy it.

I enjoy night-time because it’s my time – it’s so peaceful. Even when I’m travelling, no matter how late I’m working, I must have some hours to myself. I love having baths. First I lie on my Japanese massage bed; it has rollers which heat up and come rolling under your body. I do that for about 10 minutes before stepping into the Jacuzzi.

I’ll spend about an hour or so on my book of days – a diary – which I’ve kept since boarding school. On occasions I’ll pick up a particular date and I’ll read back to what I was doing this time last year, and two years back, and relive those moments and think, ‘My God! Wow! It feels like yesterday.’ During a difficult time I think, ‘This isn’t as bad as that time.’

While travelling in the East I bought a lot of silk dressing gowns, pyjamas and nightdresses, so I enjoy dressing for bed.

At about 1.30 or 2am I finally decide I must go to sleep if I’m going to make sense of tomorrow. If I’m calm I can lie there quite peacefully, but if something’s bothering me, it goes round and round in my head. There’s a church next to my house and I’ll listen to the bells tolling the hours and the half-hours. I’ll get up two or three times to check things. Eventually I’ll get back into bed because tomorrow is another day and I know I’ll have to work.

The Sunday Times: 1992
Ana McFerrin