You may remember a while ago that I reviewed Kevin Barry’s collection of short stories, Dark Lies The Island. I asked Kevin if he would like to do an interview for the blog and he was kind enough to say yes. It’s great to get an insight into another writer’s working life and I hope you enjoy reading it.
After your novel, City of Bohane, you went back to short stories with Dark Lies The Island. Which form do you feel more comfortable in?
I enjoy both but they’re really very different from each other. A novel is in some ways easier – you can breathe a bit, and you can go off on tangents. A short story needs to be very controlled – it’s almost like you’re holding your breath as you write one. I’ll keep doing both, I think. I’m interested in the novel as a place to experiment and try new things. The short story is a place to get the story told quickly, to get in and out quickly, and most of our stories, in fact, can be told quickly.
I understand that you’re currently drafting the screenplay for City of Bohane. How are you finding the screenwriting process? Any particular challenges?
Well, I think I can do it – I can make people talk, and I very often write in small, enclosed scenes, so my style naturally lends itself to the screenplay as a form. It can be a bit frustrating. Compared to writing prose fiction, it can feel like you’re operating at about 70 per cent of capacity. There is lots of vaguely boring structural stuff to do – moving characters around from scene to scene. But the great advantage of writing a screenplay is it’s a much quicker job than a book. I aim to do a draft, usually, in about three weeks or so.
In the titular story in Dark Lies the Island you write about a teenage girl who has issues with cutting. I always find it admirable when a writer can get inside the head of the opposite sex and it was my favourite story in the collection. How do you go about writing authentically from an entirely different perspective? Do you research?
I tend to skimp almost entirely on the research end of things. For me, doing research feels like just another form of procrastination – it’s just finding an excuse not to write. I will tend to invent, at will, at the desk, and then maybe go and do a little fact-checking afterwards, just to make sure everything I’ve invented seems in some way possible, or right. The Dark Lies story was a difficult one and it went through a number of drafts. I felt I had the girl quite well as a character, I believed in her, but I found it very tough to finish the story. For a long while, the ending was very bleak, very desolate, but I found that I couldn’t go with that. I had to leave a little chink of light at the end.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
There are rakes and rakes and rakes of them. Let’s look at some of the B’s … I like Emily Bronte, because Wuthering Heights was the book that really grabbed me as a child and showed me how a novel could utterly transport you from your immediate surroundings. I like Saul Bellow, for his great comic sentences, and I like Anthony Burgess, for his unpredictability and for the musicality of his prose. I like Beckett for his half-funny bleakness. I like Jorge Luis Borges for his inventions and for the labyrinthine routes of his thinking.
Lastly, because I am an enormous fan of the Paris Review interview series where they ask authors to describe their writing practices and routines, what is yours? Early morning writer or in the dead of night? By hand on or computer?
First thing in the morning, I crawl from the bed, weeping, and attach myself to the desk. Mug of strong tea to hand. I scrawl down some first-draft stuff in long hand. I do this for a half hour or so. Then I go eat, and have coffee, and wake up a bit. Then I look over what I’ve scrawled down in long hand and I cut most of it. But there’s usually something I can work on for an hour or two. I tend to type it up on the laptop at this point. I’m usually done by noon or so. I can’t work in the afternoons but early in the evenings I might look over things again for an hour. I try to work most days. I think it helps to stay as fit and as happy as you can manage – the discipline required for writing is a little easier if you’re in a relatively reasonable physical and psychic condition.