Roddy Doyle‘s novels include The Commitments (1987), Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, for which he won the Booker Prize in 1993, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (1996), A Star Called Henry (1999), and The Dead Republic (2010). His most recent book is Bullfighting (2011), a collection of stories. His adaptation of Gogol’s The Government Inspector will be performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in November 2011. He also writes for children. He lives and works in Dublin. (Photo by Mark Nixon.)
Q (Meg Pokrass): Have you had mentors? Any thoughts about the role of mentor to a writer at different points.
No, I never had a mentor. A friend of mine, the playwright, Paul Mercier, was a great, living example. We’d met in college, then taught in the same school in Dublin through the 1980s. And while he was teaching, he wrote plays – great plays – and directed them. I saw them, and I saw him writing them, and working at a ‘normal’ job. One occupation didn’t get in the way of the other. In fact, the teaching seemed to feed his writing, somehow. I remember thinking, ‘If Paul can do it, I can.’
I think a mentor, a more experienced writer, could be a help to a younger, less experienced one. There’s advice that’s always useful, and practical. But it can be tricky. Advice can become interference. Encouragement can be mistaken for praise. All writers have to learn to live with their own work, become their own best editors.
Do you have suggestions for working writers when the brain feels tired and sluggish? Where does “inspiration” come from during the tired times?
I work full office hours, five or six days a week. Even with the best coffee, I can’t be inspired all, or most – or even some – of the time. Often, inspiration comes while examining, and editing, words that have already been written. I write through the sluggish times, and judge its quality later. If quality doesn’t seem to be there, quantity is some compensation. Writing, say, a thousand words a day is a reasonable way to measure progress. Later, throwing seven hundred of those thousand words into the bin, is a different, more exciting, way to measure progress. But you need to have the words first.
What is exciting about this time as a writer with the internet and what it offers. What is (conversely) not so good about it..?
Research is quicker, sometimes. Distraction is easier, sometimes. Breaks – a quick gawk at Facebook or the BBC football page, or the Irish Times, or Pitchfork – are nice. Editing by e-mail is convenient, but a bit dull. Mobile phones are fiction hell. Not because they go off as I work – that’s fine; the distraction is often welcome. It’s the fact of them, that virtually everyone has one, that no one has to go searching for a working pay phone, that meetings don’t have to happen anymore – it’s taking the mobility out of contemporary stories. It’s a challenge. I’m glad I don’t write crime fiction – too much technology.
Do you have favorite literary websites? What sites do you find yourself going to read? Or just, your favorite web sites?
I used to have a look at George Murray’s Bookninja every day, but it seems to have gone. I read, or glide over, the book pages of the Irish Times, the Guardian, the New York Times. I read some of the papers – opinion pieces. I like the BBC football – soccer – page. I look at Pitchfork most mornings – it seems to be automatic, like needing to hold a cup of coffee before I can walk into my office. Then I start work. I limit myself to a few sites. The New Yorker and New York Review of Books come through the letter box.
Any favorite writing exercise would be hugely appreciated.
I don’t have any. I just write. I don’t even keep a diary. I don’t want to write after a day’s writing. ‘Today I wrote.’
What writers, artists, musicians (dead or alive) do you turn to again and again for inspiration?
I have music on as I work, unless I’m editing. Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Hauschka, Brian McBride, Tim Hecker, Arvo Part – I owe all these people a pint – each – because their work has got into my fingers. At the moment I’m listening to Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ ‘Searching For the Young Soul Rebels.’ It seems to be doing the trick. Literature: Dickens – I read or re-read him, a book or two a year, to remind myself about why I write, and love writing. Any good book excites me, makes me want to write. I’m reading all of Kate Atkinson’s books at the moment. She’s brilliant – now there’s a writer who knows how to make mobile phones entertaining and useful. I work with teenagers, and I find watching them work very exhilarating. I told them last week how much I enjoyed seeing anxiety on their faces. They got it.
What is happening now for you? What is new, just now in-the-works…
I’m working on a novel, set in Dublin today, a return to some old characters. I’m also writing a book for children, a longer version of a story called ‘Brilliant’, which I wrote for this year’s Dublin Saint Patrick’s Parade. I’ve been working on a script for a musical based on my first novel, The Commitments.
Tell us a bit about your writing center, “Fighting Words”, if you will. It sounds wonderful.
Fighting Words is writing centre for children and young people – and not so young – that I co-founded, here in Dublin. It’s very close to Croke Park, the Gaelic sports stadium, in the north inner-city. We opened in January 2009, and have provided workshops for about twenty thousand kids, so far. All our services are free. We have a small staff – four – but about four hundred volunteers – writers, aspiring writers, people who love reading, retired teachers, student teachers, artists, and people who just want to be involved, who want to assert their citizenship in what is, at the moment, a miserable country. I’m very proud of Fighting Words. (www.fightingwords.ie)
We invite people to write.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.