True characters: Kevin Barry, author


The first book I remember reading. . . was a kind of Ladybird-style guide to the great battles of the second World War, which I memorised by heart and recited, in a strident manner, to the captive audience of my family. There was hardly any need for a television with me in the house.

The best day of my life so far was/is . . .difficult to specify, but probably when I was something shy of two years old, crawling around under a table, mashing Liga into the carpet and biting people’s ankles. I was an enormously fat and cheerful infant.

I get inspired by . . .perfectly-turned comic sentences, as might be found in the work of Flannery O’Connor, or Flann O’Brien, or George Saunders. (A perfectly-turned comic sentence always has a freight of sadness or darkness beneath.)

The best thing about being a writer is . . .the freedom to opt out from the humdrum dreariness of the actual world and sit in a little room and conjure up worlds that are less humdrum and dreary. Reality is massively over-rated.

The worst thing is . . .the long lonesome hours spent head-butting the wall beside my desk. I work six or seven days a week, and I’m lucky if there’s one day out of that when there’s a sense of flow or progress. What you discover, however, is that it’s on the days when you’re headbutting the wall and drooling a lot that the work is actually burbling away in the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is where fiction happens.

My guilty pleasure is . . .weeping, over gin, late at night, while on YouTube, summoning great fat synthesiser anthems of the early 1980s.

Literary festivals . . .tend to provide pretty much the only social life that writers have, and so are very necessary and huge fun. Also, I’m a frustrated actor, so I love the chance to read my work aloud.

If I lost everything in the morning . . . I’dcrawl into a foetal ball and give up hope entirely.

The funniest/worst/strangest thing that someone has ever asked me during a Q&A is . . .have I noticed the recurring appearance of large-bottomed ladies in my short stories?

My favourite way to relax is . . .to go for long vague cycles around the countryside, during which I allow my mind to unspool after a morning at the desk. I talk and sing aloud as I pedal along – the drivel that comes out is unnatural.

The book I’ve bought most for others as a gift is . . .probably Don Delillo’s White Noise, a wonderful comedy about the fear of dying, which proves that fiction can be funny as hell and deathly serious at the same time.

The person who had the biggest influence on me . . .is without a doubt myself. Writers are monstrous creatures who are composed 99 per cent of sheer, unadulterated ego. If you aren’t a raving egomaniac, you won’t write well.

If I wasn’t a writer . . .I’d be a massively controversial French auteur, issuing strange manifestos on the occasion of each of my new films whilst wearing dark glasses and an impenetrable scowl.

My artistic heroes are . . .Saul Bellow, VS Pritchett, Lee Scratch Perry, Francis Ford Coppola, Kevin Rowland, Marlene Dietrich, Los Bros Hernandez, Lucien Freud, Scott Walker.

Kevin Barry’s City of Bohaneis out now. He is in conversation with Dermot Healy at the the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire tomorrow at 3pm.

In conversation with SINÉAD GLEESON