Seán O’Connor on the gentle world of the book industry and a distinctly decent sub-species of the human race

This week, to mark the end of our How to Write a Book series, we have a daily Q&A with a debut author

Author Seán O’Connor. Photograph: John Searle

Author Seán O’Connor. Photograph: John Searle

Fri, Aug 8, 2014, 12:00

Seán O’Connor was born in the Liberties of Dublin and has worked as a consulting engineer and as a barrister. He was one of the founding partners of O’Connor Sutton Cronin and retired in 2002. His first book is a memoir titled Growing up so High: A Liberties Boyhood.

What was the first book to make an impression on you? The Way of a Transgressor, by Negley Farson.

What was your favourite book as a child? The fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. And what is your favourite book or books now? The Rattle Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.

What is your favourite quotation? “Carpe Diem.” I had it iced on to my 70th birthday cake as, like Horace, I put very little trust in tomorrow.

Who is your favourite fictional character? Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.

Who is the most underrated Irish author? Gerard Kelleher. I had the pleasure of launching the publication Crumlin Writes, in Crumlin College of Further Education, as part of their adult literacy service. Gerard wrote an evocative piece of his memories of Leitrim . . . It’s a lovely short story in the making.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version? Printed books.

What is the most beautiful book you own? A signed copy of the biography of Sean Keating (Art, Politics and Building the Irish Nation) written by my daughter, Dr Eimear O’Connor.

Where and how do you write? I write at home in my diningroom, straight on to a laptop with a large display screen backing it up. Before that, I do a preliminary sketch of each chapter by hand, in the Beanhive Coffee Shop on Dawson Street by day, or in Bewleys by evening. I do three hours’ writing per day maximum.

What book changed the way you think about fiction? Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

What is the most research you have done for a book? It took six months to prepare for my childhood autobiography Growing Up So High. I found that stories received by oral tradition seem always to have just a core of truth surrounded by exaggeration, and there is only one way to get the facts accurately and that is by personal research. (And by the way, for the sake of all biographers, please ask your grandparents to write the names of the people in that old black-and-white photograph on the reverse while there is still time.)

What book influenced you most? The fizzing energy of Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday? A signed first edition of the Seamus Heaney anthology Opened Ground, Poems 1966/1996 (from Ulysses Rare Books) or a year’s subscription to Brick literary magazine.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young? The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. What advice would you give to an aspiring author? To remember that everything you write is a self-portrait. What weight do you give reviews? It depends on the critic. Literary criticism in this country is undeveloped, personal and uncertain, and the annual review of the state of the arts never includes a look at how well – or how badly – critics are doing their job. I believe that books find their own level of success in time, regardless of reviews.

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