Kicking off the first TPOE podcast of 2016 is the renowned Irish writer Kevin Barry. Last year I made a concerted effort, probably as part of my resolutions, to read more books. I think the goal was 100 books (I failed). Along the way I came across Kevin Barry and his two collections of short stories, There Are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies The Island. I loved them. His style is so distinctive, every sentence getting a kicking and a licking and leaving you exhilarated by the time you reach the full stop. He’s one of the most influential writers around – try to find an Irish fiction writer in their 20s or 30s who doesn’t reference him. His first novel is City of Bohane, and his second, Beatlebone, came out in the second half of last year. It’s based around the story of John Lennon, who did genuinely own the island of Dorinish in Clew Bay, Co Mayo. From there, Barry tells a fictional account of Lennon trying to reach the island in 1978, just to get away from it all, to scream, to find calm and to be at peace with himself. It’s a stunning piece of work, which has already won Barry the £10,000 Goldsmiths Prize for innovative fiction. It also found its way onto many writers’ end-of-year lists. Towards the end of 2015. So I was delighted to get a chance to sit down with Kevin Barry for my podcast. We talked about his living in Cork, Limerick growing into itself culturally, acid house, Beatlebone, Lennon, writing City of Bohane to dub reggae, Winter Pages, and a lot more. You can listen to the podcast below, via Soundcloud, or subscribe on iTunes by clicking here. (It’s also available on the likes of Podcast Republic and Podcast Addict.) I’ve also transcribed the whole piece, which you can read below, though why would you pass up the chance to hear Barry spinning yarns in his distinctive drawl?)

Kevin-Barry

You were at St Luke’s last night for Little Green Cars – how was it for you, did it bring back memories of living in Cork?
Oh yeah it was amazing, actually, the church, because I used to live out the Ballyhooley Road about 20 years ago with a house full of reprobates, many of whom are still around the town, in Cork, but I remember passing that church every day walking up the hill. And I couldn’t believe the scale of it actually, last night, inside. It’s a really big space and it’s amazing, like. And the sound is phenomenal in there. It was great, Little Green Cars. It’s cool to have new venues coming in all the time, you know?

It’s a weird one in Cork actually, because in the last couple of weeks, the Savoy has closed down again, the Pav has closed down again, apparently, last night. So it’s weird you call this mad old church a good new venue to have.
Yeah what’s really mad – god, I literally hadn’t walked up St Luke’s Cross since about 1996 or 1997 and it’s very different now. You can smell this kind of bohemian gentrification going on about the place a bit. It’s cool, it’s great, but yeah hard to keep track of the live situation in Cork. Every place is always collapsing and being reborn, Lazurus-like from the ashes a few weeks later. It’s a hard time for music, to be running events and stuff, it’s a really unpredictable business. I’ve kinda a background myself in sort of dodgy nightclub promotions from the 90s, so I know what it’s like. It’s brilliant to see the church going last night – and a full house.

You can’t say you’ve had work in dodgy nightclub promotions and now elaborate on it. Is this in relation to Sir Henry’s or is it something else?
It would’ve been that kind of era. I went to London for a summer in 1988, with a couple of mates from Limerick, and we were kind of, I dunno what we were listening to at this stage – it was a weird time; the Smiths were gone and broken up and all that, so we were kind of old before our time. We were listening to fucking Leonard Cohen and Neil Young and things like this, and you’re searching for something new without realising it. And then suddenly, around Camden Town, seeing all these young fellas in dayglo clothes, eyes popping out of their heads, going to this thing in the Camden Palace called Feet First – we were going, what’s this? And going in and it was acid house. And of course, straight away, the next day we had the orange jeans bought, we were all on acid and we were into nothing else only house music. Came back to Limerick then and of course there was no house music scene in Limerick, so eventually, about 1990, 91, myself and a mate, Aoife Ni Conna, who’s still a very well-known house DJ and hip-hop DJ, we started to put on nights around Limerick, often getting DJs from Cork, cos Cork had more house DJs, and down from Galway, in various nightclubs around Limerick, putting on things with dodgy, ravey names. But it was great. Some brilliant night and some nights… The weird thing with promoting house clubs back in those days is that it would start off that you’re doing it for the love of the music and the buzz, but very quickly it becomes a businessey thing as well. If you make a few quid it could be the end of it because think ‘oh…’ All the purity goes out of it very quickly. You start thinking about numbers and bodies in the door. And I think the great promoters are the ones who stay in touch with the actual buzz of the thing. It’s great training. I remember doing awful things, like, running out of printers without paying bills, dodging drugs squads coming into raves and all this stuff. I’ll have to do a novel at some stage about my rave promoting days. But it was funny.

Limerick in the early 90s was very different from what it is now. It had no confidence in itself culturally. It had this weird thing of being trapped in between Galway and Cork, which both had more evolved scenes, culturally, they had film festivals and arts festivals and stuff, and Limerick had none of this. You had Cork an hour away on one side and Galway an hour on the other side, and it was kind of squeezed a bit. It feels very different there now. I left in 92, I think, moved to Cork in 92, it feels a very different place now, when I go back there. Far more confident in itself culturally, that it used to be. Not everybody automatically leaves when they get to 23, 23, which was the way in my day. I couldn’t believe it when I moved down to Cork and people liked the place, liked where they were living. They all love it, like. Everyone was like, ‘Oh Cork is superb, like, everything you need is near the Grand Parade.’ And Limerick was always like, ‘Fucking hole, like, we have to get out of this place.’ And that’s kinda gone, thank god, but yeah it was fairly depressed, right through the 80s, 90s when I was growing up there. I love going back now, because there’s much more of a youthful energy than what it had, you know? It was down in the doldrums for a long time, but it seems to be coming back a lot. And that kind of cultural capital they had a few years ago really helped it.

I have lots of relations and cousins and nephews coming out of art college and stuff in Limerick and they all stay now, stay there and do stuff. I mean the mad thing now – I’m rambling away mental here – the mad thing for young artists and musicians and writers, increasingly now, is you have to figure out how you’re going to keep your overheads low and live in a place where you have time to do your creative work, because young artists and writers can’t afford London any more or New York any more – or Dublin, even, any more, and it’s a very important thing for any writer or artist or musician, is to keep your overheads low and not have to work three or four jobs just to be paying your rent. In a weird way, smaller cities, I’m convinced, are the future for creative people. I did a year a couple of years ago in Montreal, which by North American standards is quite a small, kind of million-people city, but all the bands stay in Montreal now… They would’ve, previously if they’d started getting big, you would move to New York or Los Angeles, right? But they stay put now because the rent is about a quarter what it would be in those cities. They have a scene set up, it’s smaller in terms of numbers, but it’s like you don’t have to work five jobs, and that kills the artist’s soul when you have to do shit jobs just to pay your rent. And it’s all over the world, this thing where the big traditional creative capitals like San Francisco and New York and London and Paris, artists and musicians and writers are just priced out of them now and can’t live in them. It’s looking good for Limerick and Cork and places like that! For now. But you can even see it in places like Cork and in every city. My tactic of living in a Co Sligo swamp is the ideal tactic probably, if you can deal with the rain and the boredom, a lot of the time.

You mentioned Cork being a little bit gentrified. We’re on MacCurtain Street at the moment, which I think is, that’s what’s happening here right now. Crowley’s, the music shop, is a burger joint, next door is another burger joint. Do you think Cork is losing sight of it a little bit, of what it’s made its name on?
Yeah I mean I was just walking along with Olivia, my wife, there half an hour ago, and she was saying, MacCurtain Street didn’t used to be this fancy at all. I mean, I dunno how many barbecue facilities a city the size of Cork needs. I lived pretty much in every part of Cork at some stage, I lived just up the corner, on Wellington Road, in the mid/late 90s and it’s a very different neck of the woods now than it seemed then. Like you can’t complain too much about places being a bit more prosperous and a bit fancier around the edges, but it’s what comes in the undertow of that sometimes that’s troubling, when people start getting priced out of places. Obviously I think the big issue for younger people and people who are trying to make creative work now is rents and things like that, where it’s getting so hard to make the basic nut on your rent every month. I’m all for nice sofa shops and things like that, great, you know what I mean? I think compared to a lot of places though, Cork has a lot of its original character intact. I’m very disappointed to see the Uptown Grill doesn’t seem to be there anymore. It was across the road, alongside the Cash Converters, but that seems to be gone now. That was a great place for liver and chips, you could get them. The Cork Arms will never go, that’s great to see, that the Cork Arms is still there. I presume they still have the pool table in the back. I’m a bit out of touch. It’s weird, even though Ireland is a very small, very little wet rock, like when you live in Co Sligo, Cork seems like a long way down the road, so I don’t get here that much, really. A lot of my writing work is about, a lot of the ideas for stories, start with the place. It’s the geography which is the original inspiration for something. I’m really interested in… Every place has its own feeling, and Cork is a madly distinct atmosphere as a city, I think. My thing always, when I’m here, is you start to forget the rest of the world is out there, y’know? It kind of closes in on ya and it becomes its own little universe and the rest of the world is just a rumour.

What did you move to Cork for in 1992? Was it to go to college?
I was going out with a young one who was in Crawford Art College, so that’s always the reason men move, because of partners or somewhere else. But I was here then for most of the 90s then, until 2001 I think. We moved because another girl was moving to Edinburgh, who’s the missus now. About eight years [in Cork] in all. A very important time for me in terms of my work because it was when I was kind of getting serious about the writing.

In 2001?
Well in the 90s, when I was in my early 20s, and getting serious about it. I was doing journalism when I was in Cork. I was a freelance journalist, doing bits for the Examiner and stuff. I was trying to write fiction in a serious way so that’s my big memory of the place, in a way, getting very obsessive about doing the work and getting more disciplined about it.

I actually work for the Examiner, I’m a night subeditor there, so I was wondering were you a journalist there, you were covering court there, were you?
That was in my first job in Limerick, on the local papers in Limerick, the Limerick Post and stuff. I used to do the courts and council meetings. In Cork I used to write features and I had a column on the back page of the Examiner for about ten years.

Was that just to experiment with finding your voice?
In a kind of unplanned way I think it was like a little sketchbook for me. Because it was pure made up off the top of my head. It was supposed to be funny. That was the only thing it had to be. But yeah it was a great little notebook for me in lots of ways. I’m sure it wasn’t for me every week but there would’ve been weeks it was funny enough. It’s a weird thing when you’re working in that type of journalism, writing features, columns and stuff. You’re using an awful lot of the same muscles as you would use writing fiction, so you are training yourself in some ways that way.

In terms of writing to a word count, writing to a deadline?
Yeah and just in terms of summoning atmosphere and putting dialogue down on the page and things like that. I kinda realised, I’d say it was 99. summer 99, I realised I had to start to take it more seriously writing fiction. I realised at that stage that I had ability and I could do it but it took an awful lot of work, and stories and novels – god, I was a long way away from that but it took an awful lot of drafts and time to get right, and there’s no shortcut. The old cliches kinda true, that talent is about 5% or 10% of it and the rest is just slog. And there’s no way to just shortcut that. I remember I bought, with a friend of mine who I just met half an hour ago, we chipped in and bought a caravan down in Allihies in West Cork. I went down and spent most of the summer in it trying to write a novel – and it was fucking terrible, it was awful, and I knew as I was writing it that it was shit, like.

Just by yourself in the caravan?
Mostly yeah, yeah. But it taught me actually that Jesus, inside three months I had about 60,000 words and I thought you could get something that’s at least the size and shape of a novel together quite quickly. But I realised what I needed to do was kinda get a bit poor actually and give up a lot of the freelance work I was doing and give more time to trying to write fiction. But y’know, I learned to ride a bicycle when I was 14, I learned to swim when I was 29 and I’m just after learning to drive two years ago aged 44. My first book of stories came out when I was 37, a slim volume. So there’s a pattern here, y’know. I don’t rush into things, but I’m a flyer then once I get going. I love swimming now, I love driving the car, but it takes me a while. I’m glad, in some ways, that I didn’t publish younger. Often writers can publish in their 20s and when they get early success can burn out very quickly and not be able to deal with attention and stuff at that age. I’d been kind of around the block by the time I started doing the book stuff. So I was kind of ready for it. I wasn’t ready to be published, I think, in my 20s, I was still doing that thing where you’re writing out your influences, where you’re trying to sound like your favourite writers, and you’re not quite getting your own thing on the page yet. It takes a long time and lots of… That formula that someone came up with for creating work, that you have to spend 10,000 hours doing any kind of creative practice before you start to become adept at it – something rings very true about that. I think there’s an awful lot of time where you’re just trying to figure out any sort of approach to it and how you can do it. My strong sense memory of Cork is of getting very one-tracked in my mind and very obsessive about writing fiction and doing it in a serious way and deciding that yeah, I’m gonna fucking dedicate my life to this and I’m really serious about it. It’s weird when you decide you’re going to do anything creatively it’s a kind of pact you’re making with yourself. Because creative work come from the back of the brain, it all comes from the subconscious, from that same place you’re using when you dream. And you’re saying to your own subconscious, this is weird and esoteric, but you’re saying to your own subconscious, ‘Gimme stuff, gimme material’, and you’re part of the deal is that you’re gonna be available to it and you want to do the work. I think everyone, maybe without articulating it in that same way, everybody has to do this if they’re going to make a book, or make a record, or make a film or anything; there comes a moment when you realise, ‘Oh fuck, I have to get serious here and I have to put the work in’.

Is that every thing that you do? Is that at the start?
I think it is the most fundamental time is at the start, but every time you start a book you kinda have to reinvent the whole thing in some ways again. The best description I’ve ever heard of writing a novel, like I’ve never tracked down who said it, but it might’ve been Iris Murdoch or someone said, ‘Each time you’re writing a novel, you’re jumping off a cliff, and you have to reinvent the rope as you go down, as you fall down.’ One novel doesn’t necessarily show you how to write the next one. A lot of the time it can be frustrating work, going into this room on your own, in a swamp in Co Sligo. I wasn’t disciplined enough in my 20s; I’m very disciplined now. I go in there six or seven days a week, sit there for three or four hours. But I’m not writing all that time, but I’m there, so if something comes, I’m available and that seems to be my part of the deal with my subconscious – that I show up. And your subconscious is like, ‘He’s there, he’s at the desk – I might give him something today.’ But like I’d say one or two days a week would be going well, most days it feels fairly fucking dreary and slow and a disaster of a day, fucking nothing again, y’know? I wouldn’t swap it either, I love doing it and it’s a privilege to be able to spend my days going into this little shed and making up mad stories and nutty little worlds. You try to remember that. It’s weird though, what you discover after a while, and I don’t teach – I go around sometimes talking to colleges and creative writing students and stuff like that – you discover that literary talent isn’t rare. There’s loads of it around. Lots of people are able to write really good stories and sentences and characters but what’s very rare is the pragmatic, stubborn attitude to keep doing it when you don’t feel like doing it. Every day going back. And the two combined, then, are what make a writer or an artist, I think, when you both have that ability and when you’re prepared to do the grunt work and the heavy lifting, rock-breaking work that it takes to make anything worthwhile.

I do always enjoy hearing about the creative process, but it seems everybody has a different idea of what it is. Even in the Guardian yesterday, they were talking about it’s not how much you write, it’s about just dedicating, like, half an hour every day to doing it, and as long as you do that, you’ll get into the routine.
I absolutely believe that. I think as well, what you do, is the same half an hour, if you can, the same time. Because you’re literally training the subconscious part of your brain. He or she are there with a notebook open, now, and it can start to come to you that way. And it’s mad, 20 minutes can be a good writing day. If you do the same 20 minutes – I find the very best time is first thing in the morning, when you’re still half asleep and not afraid to embarass yourself on the page, and you just blurt stuff down. That’s when you can get the good stuff. It’s really interesting, when I look back at myself as a writer in my 20s in Cork and I’m reading back over stories I’ve written or half-stories I’ve written, you come to the bits that are really embarrassing on the page and you immediately cut them out and you try to make it sound impressive. Now, when I look over stories, I’m really interested in the parts that embarrass me, where I recoil in horror at the page, because often that’s the good stuff.

Now you recoil in horror? Like, ‘Why did I write that?’
Yeah but when I see those bits that are really embarrassing now, you find that’s the good stuff. Cut everything else, that’s the part where you getting really true things and really kinda more heartfelt, genuine work. Definitely as a younger writer your tendency is to cut those messy bits straight away, where it gets emotional or anything, you’re trying to sound cool and impressive on the page or funny or something. But I’m really really really interested in embarrassment now. I think writers should pay very close attention to the bits that embarrass themselves in their own work. There’s a good reason for it, it’s because it’s true, this stuff, and I should really concentrate on it. You have to build up your resources all the time though, because when you write anything, a story or a song or anything, whatever it is, you’re always giving yourself away a bit, and you have to sell yourself out a bit every time and give something if it’s going to resonate with people. You have to give something away every time. And you have to build up your reserves and your defences over the years to do this and to get a bit more fearless in doing it. It’s true, I think every writer, every artist, every musician has a different approach. I get very worried about technique becoming too smooth, and definitely you can see it happening for me in my 30s. I could see I was developing pretty good technique in terms of writing prose. It’s a very dangerous moment because you can start to rely on your technique and you can start to confuse it for inspiration. The very facility, the ability to write good sentences can make it feel like it’s inspired… It’s difficult to articulate but I’m trying to keep it fresh for myself all the time and I’m very wary in my work of repeating myself and doing the same story again and again or doing the same book again and again. It’s really interesting to try and change your methods sometimes and look at your work in different ways. I’d have a lot of friends who are visual artists and I noticed they are far more into investigating the way they work than writers are. Writers can fall into pattens: ‘This worked for the last book so I’ll go at it the same way again’. I noticed the visual artists are more inclined to look at their methods and their practice and go, ‘Oh well y’know let’s change this’. I try to borrow some of that attitude, I think.

beatlebone

In your latest novel, Beatlebone, there’s the essay three-quarters of the way through where it changes from the perspective of John trying to get to the island and it changes to you trying to maybe find John. You say you’re very aware of yourself [how you write]. I have the quote here: “I would return to report my findings in a mature, honed prose as clear as glass. This from a man who has never knowingly underfed an adjective.”
Yeah I mean it’s weird. That essay that comes about two-thirds of the way through the book, it came about very accidentally really. Because I had notes for Beatlebone all over the place, on the backs of envelopes, and on the backs of beer mats and tapped into the phone. And one day I said I’m going to buy a lovely fancy new Moleskine notebook and gather all my notes in the one place. I started transcribing them all down and I found, very naturally, these paragraphs were forming quite effortlessly, and telling the story straight, about John Lennon having had an island off the coast of Co Mayo and me trying to write a story about trying to get there. I thought, ‘This is coming down effortlessly’. The book up until then had been anything but fucking effortless, a real slog to try and get a voice right for it. And then I found very personal material about my own life coming into this essay bit and I thought, ‘This is the emotional heart of the book, really,’ and it’s a book about how do you make something. How do you make a novel, how do you make a record, how do you make anything, and having to go into your own dark material and using what you find there to create something. So yeah I was very determined to keep that essay bang centre of the book and not put it as an afterword or something because that would be placing it outside the novel, whereas it felt to me like this is the heart of the novel. And I wanted to show the workings, this is how I’ve made this book. One of the things I was thinking about actually were those features on your DVD boxsets, where you’re watching Mad Men or the Wire or something and they give the episode with crew commentary, how we made this. I always really like that, seeing the workings, seeing the strings on the puppets. I felt readers would go with it. Readers would go anywhere with you in a novel if they’re having a good enough time, page by page. I definitely felt while I was writing that essay it was coming down so effortlessly onto the page, I thought, ‘Pay attention here, this is the heart of it, this is the serious part of the book’. But generally it was a very, very difficult novel. It took me way longer that I thought it was going to take.

Was that disappointing for you because you had thought you’d reached a level?
Oh tell me about it. I was convinced six months – it was going to take me six months, I’d be in and out. I’d do this glorious burst of mad, trippy, psychadelic prose and I’d be finished. I was about four years in all coming and going from it. But it was on the desk for four years. It was just that it had a unique problem in terms of it was a very iconic figure and so every reader is going to come into a book like that with an idea of what he should sound like. You’re going to go into that novel with a preconception. So to get it right on the page took all sorts of fucking… To get anything I was happy with took a long time. A lot of it was watching YouTube and watching interviews with him from 70s talk shows, when he was mainly whingeing about his visa difficulties in the US, and literally transcribing him line by line and just trying to get the beat of the sentences, because he’s especially tricky because he’s very changeable in his tone all the time. He can be very funny and very charming and light, and then inside a sentence he’s paranoid and a bit thorny and narky. And trying to replicate that on the page turned out to be very hard. I began the book in this gleeful atmosphere, ‘This is a fucking great idea, how come no one thought of doing this before?’ And literally three weeks in I was going, ‘Oh fuck is is really hard.’ It was when I gave him a sidekick, actually, in the book, when I gave him this driver, Cornelius, who becomes his minder and spiritual guide around the west of Ireland.

He’s almost the star of the book.
Oh completely. He takes over. The joke in the book is that Cornelius is the legend in this world. When I gave him a sidekick and he had someone to play off, it kind of sat up on the desk with me and started to come to life. That was critical. I discovered it as a very old-fashioned book in a lot of ways, it’s like Don Quixote, it’s a quest novel, getting to the island and what that means in someone’s life or when you’re searching for the meaning of life, essentially, and what happens with John is that he keeps getting dragged into his past. I think this is a human truth. When we try to find ourselves and try to discover ourselves and try to change and all this, what inevitably happens is you start getting drawn back into your own past and your own family history, and you can never step out of the shadow of that. That’s the pattern of the book. And that’s what makes it similar to the last novel, City of Bohane, which is also about characters that was obsessed with their pasts and they’re imagining the glamour of their youths in this vaguely Limerick-like or Cork-like city full of murderous, homicidal teenage hipsters. So yeah I really enjoyed about the last year on Beatlebone, where I was kind of happy enough with the voices. And once you have those and the tune of it, if you like, the book, you can kind of invent at will, and make the world fall into place fairly effortlessly, but it took three years of rock-breaking to get there. Definitely the most important thing that happened was this driver character who stepped forward as a character of equal weight in the book, and that helped me put the Lennon character into a kind of relief. But you never have a fucking clue how you managed a story or a book after you’ve finished it. You know if it’s kind of working or if it kind of isn’t, it’s very hard to just look back on a long process like that and rakes of drafts and mounds of stuff at home, hundreds of thousands of words of it for what’s, in the end, a very short novel, 50,000 words. I was definitely getting on top of it after only about a couple of years of hair-pulling and going, ‘Oh Jesus, this is tough’. It took a while but it was really nice to get it out of the house. It was really nice to get it off the desk. Like, ‘Oh I’m after clearing up an awful lot of space in my life and brain now that this thing is out the door.’ I was living and breathing it for a long time.

Have you gone back and listened to the Beatles or John Lennon’s solo stuff yet?
The weird thing is I was never a Beatles fanatic by any means. I love the White Album, the White Album is one of my favourite records, OK. And I like some of his early solo stuff very much. My Beatles ‘period’ would’ve been in Cork, very early 90s when it was still acid housey, we were all on acid. About 7 in the morning at parties, the house music would stop and people would sneak on Sgt Pepper or the White Album and it would all make perfect sense at that time. So that was my getting into. The White Album is the record I go back to again and again, and I listened to it quite a lot when I was working on the book. I think his personality really comes through on some songs, like ‘I’m So Tired’. But it’s a weird one, listening to music when you write, I do and I don’t. Very often what I can listen to is stuff that has no lyrics, because lyrics, words will distract ya. City of Bohane is my dub reggae album – and I’m going to be doing another Bohane book and I just listen to dub reggae records essentially when I’m writing it. Trojan records and Lee Scratch Perry and King Tubby, all this type of stuff. There’s loads of buried reggae iconography buried all around City of Bohane. I often listen to electronica stuff like Mouse on Mars, Matmos, things like that, Boards of Canada, just for atmosphere in the room without the distraction of lyrics coming at you. If I’m writing very concentrated verse-rap stuff I generally turn it off and have nothing… But it’s nice if you’re editing and going back, to have some feeling or atmosphere somehow in the room. There’s a Boards of Canada record, I can’t remember which one, that got me through a lot of Beatlebone, just putting it on. And it’s funny, if you keep playing the same stuff over again it kind of gives you the atmosphere of the book in some ways. The reggae records will be coming out again very soon when I do the second Bohane book.

Is it actually records you have or is it Spotify?
Yeah, I have records. I have an iPod. I don’t have Spotify, I’m not very techno-astute at all, but I’ve started buying records a lot again. I always did but I got a decent record player about two years ago. I had a dodgy one and I got a good one, and it’s made me go, ‘Yeah I just love em’. They’re an awful price is the shocking thing. But I do the charity shop hunting and all the rest of it. Usually I’m playing an iPod on a thing because getting up and down to change the sides gets a bit annoying when you’re trying to get work done. It’s very important to do with my work, music. I think that every story, every novel, in a way has its own tune or melody, and as a writer what you’re doing is trying to get it and trying to tune into it yourself, trying to hear it. Once you get that then the rest of it can come around. It’ll be back to King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry very shortly.

Have you splashed out on any rare albums at all?
Oh man you see stuff and you look at websites and go wow. But no I try to keep it reasonable. There’s nothing like the feeling of it, new vinyl, and the smell of it and moving the arm across on the record player. The amazing thing to me is my records from early 80s are perfect, they’re playing absolutely fine, and CDs I bought five years ago are fucked. It’s such good technology. It stores so well. They last for a fucking long time and you can throw them around the place and move, as I did, to about 50 different flats, and they’re still playing away grand.

It’s moving them which is the problem.
Moving them is a pain in the whole. I remember one flat I had in Washington Street and there was 92 steps up to it. It was over Bazzers barber shop, 92 steps going up and down with boxes of records, boxes of books, oh man I tell ya…

Winter Pages – I haven’t got it yet but I hope I’ve dropped enough hints that I’ll get it as a Christmas present – was that what the goal was?
The idea was that it was a Christmas present, essentially. We wanted to make a really beautiful object of a book, so it’s an arts anthology and has essays, short stories, and interviews with filmmakers – Lenny Abrahamson is in it – and comedians – the Rubberbandits – and all that, as well as loads of fiction. We wanted two things: to have a really beautiful object, a really nice book – so it’s got a cloth cover, hardback, really beautiful paper – but often you find these really beautiful coffee table books, there’s fuck all to read once you open them, so we wanted to give it really good content as well. There’s loads of Cork stuff in it, Sara Baume and Danielle McLaughlin, and it’s designed in Cork by Bite Design, John Foley, who I know since way back in the 90s, brilliant designer, and it’s printed out in Waterman’s in Cork, so it’s a great excuse for us to get down here. People seem to be really enjoying it. It’s a lot of work but really enjoyable. It’s kind of sociable work because you’re dealing with people on email and phone and chatting. Writing fiction is just you in a room and the four walls. And coming from a background in journalism, which is a sociable trade if you can say nothing else for it you get out and about with it, so it’s nice to have that. We’re very happy with the first one. A Christmas present for your arty adults, like your Beano or your Dandy for arty adults. I was completely thinking of that week in between Christmas and the new year when you’re lying around and you’re half-pissed half the time and you’ve eaten too much and the telly is shit. You go, ‘What’ll I read?’ That’s what it’s for, Winter Pages. It’s winterpages.ie if anyone wants to have a look at it online.

Picture: Conor Horgan

Picture: Conor Horgan

Do you keep up with all of the new Irish writers that are coming through?
Yeah I get sent all the books, you tend to get sent proof copies of them in early. It’s horrifying when you see all these young fucking geniuses appearing left, right and centre. It’s been a crazy year, actually, for debuts. Brilliant books. Like, Cork alone, great book from Madaleine D’Arcy [Waiting for the Bullet], great book of stories, and Danielle McLaughlin {Dinosaurs on Other Planets], and Sara Baume [Spill Simmer Falter Wither]. Just dozens of them coming, it seems to be very buzzy at the moment, lots of stuff appearing. So that was great for the Winter Pages thing as well, just cause there’s a sense of energy out there. Stuff going on, lots of first books, lots of second books appearing. Kind of soul-destroying as well, for a writer in mature middle age to see all these young geniuses showing up. No, it’s a cool time. What’s great is loads of journals have set up, like the Penny Dreadful in Cork and Gorse in Dublin and Stinging Fly and the Dublin Review, and things that are there a while. But Winter Pages, the plan was to have it very broad based so it would do all the arts. So you have Tommy Tiernan in it and the Danish guy who wrote Borgen is in it. Lots of stuff across the board, and photography and visual arts and that. Very happy with the first one now anyway, and we hope to do it as an annual, keep it coming: The start of November every year it’ll appear. The great thing is it’s a genuine cottage industry that we can do from the house in Sligo. Having come from an analogue era it’s still an amazement to me how liberating technology is for artists and writers and publishers, in that you can do it from anywhere, you can do your work from anywhere in the world as long as you have a connection. We shouldn’t forget that this is a great revolutionary thing and that it really opens up the planet to us. You can waffle all over the place. So I choose to be in a swamp in Sligo, which is bizarre.

Since we’re in December and it’s end-of-year lists time, would you have some favourite books yourself?
Weirdly one of the best things I read all year, they’d’ve been publishing in different volumes, the collected letters of Samuel Beckett. He’s brilliant. The latest ones are really interesting cos they’re from the fifties when he’s getting famous. So Waiting for Godot has been an international hit. They’re really heartening to turn to. It’s a big book, about 700 pages, I think it’s volume 3 of the Beckett letters, because no matter how bad or depressed you’re feeling yourself, you can guarantee Sam is feeling worse. The more successful he gets the worse he’s feeling. But he comes across as an incredible breath of learning. He knows every piece of music, every film – he’s big into film – he knows every painting that’s ever been painted, but he comes across as a very kind person as well. Very decent, a really good friend to people. That’s the book I keep going back to more often than not. There’s another great one that people might not have heard of very much, Douglas Coupland, whose known from his Generation X books and all that. But he’s got a book called Kitten Clone and it’s about the internet and how it’s rewiring our brains and changing us as readers and as writers and everything. Really interesting and a really funny book, actually, but really important I think.

What are you working on now?
I have two short little plays actually on the desk at the moment that I’m trying to get something done with over the next while. And then sometime in the new year I’ll be heading back to the City of Bohane again, I think. We’ll see how we get on there.