What is your latest book about?
It’s a deeply layered social, political and cultural history of Ireland in the last century and attempts to look beneath the surface. It’s Ireland warts and all — the triumphs and the tragedies, the winners and the victims, and there were more victims than winners.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I tend to write in blocks, rather than getting to do it everyday. The ideal conditions are when I’m free of teaching — I’ll lock myself away for a few days, write intensely from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then drink far too much red wine.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Be original and be independent — write about things you feel passionate about and be willing to accept advice and rejection. Develop a bloody hard skin.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure?
“Amongst Women” by John McGahern, “The Master” by Colm Toibin and “Ireland 1912-85” by Joe Lee.
What book are you currently reading?
“Memoir” by John McGahern. It’s his only non-fiction book and was published in October. [It will be published in the U.S. in February 2006 under the title, “All Will Be Well.”] As well as being beautifully written, it gives a marvelous insight into what went on behind the scenes in Irish families and the relationships between parents and their children. I think you have to read John McGahern’s work to understand 20th century Ireland.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
“Dubliners” by James Joyce.
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Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“Peig,” the autobiography of Blasket Islander Peig Sayers. I had been warned it would be dismal and make Irish language classes an endurance test. But I enjoyed it. Must be the Kerry blood in me!
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
I’d like to have lunch with Roald Dahl.
What book changed your life?
“The Triumph of Failure,” a biography of Patrick Pearse by Ruth Dudley Edwards. It was the first history book I bought and made me think more and more about Irish history, how it is written about, and indeed, how controversial it
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
The Blasket Islands in Dunquinn, Co. Kerry, the district where my grandfather was born. It’s stark, beautiful and majestic…and the next parish is America!
You’re Irish if . . .
Your weekend begins on Wednesday.