Claire Kilroy: ‘I found my two favourite novels before I was 20’

Brought to Book Q&A: Dublin novelist on learning empathy through reading, and the writers she’d bring to dinner

Claire Kilroy is the author of four novels, All Summer, Tenderwire, All Names Have Been Changed, and The Devil I Know, published by Faber & Faber. She lives in Dublin.

What was the first book to make an impression on you?

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. I was about five. It taught me empathy.

What was your favourite book as a child?


Marvin K Mooney will you please go now! by Dr Seuss, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and Athena by John Banville

What is your favourite quotation?

“All’s well that ends,” which somebody told me Beckett said, but I can’t find where.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

I like really horrible characters who are horribly funny, like Humbert Humbert in Lolita, and Freddie Montgomery in Banville’s Frames trilogy, and John Self in Martin Amis’s Money.

Which do you prefer - ebooks or the traditional print version?

I couldn’t read an ebook.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is beautiful because it comes with a glued in picture of The Goldfinch painting that you keep looking back at until it begins to look like a human face trapped in a bird’s, chained to its little perch.

Where and how do you write?

I wrote the first four novels in a quiet room of my own (or a room of my parents’ in the case of the second one). It all changed with motherhood. I can’t answer that question yet.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

Lolita. I first read it when I was 16 and I reread it every few years. It becomes more shocking as I grow older.

What is the most research you have done for a book?

I had a steep learning curve with Tenderwire as it’s set in the world of classical music, a world I knew nothing about.

What book influenced you the most?

Lolita and Athena.

What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?

Depends wholly on the 18-year-old.

What book do you wish you had read when you were young?

I had found my two favourite novels before I was 20 so I was lucky.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read a lot, don’t spend any money.

What weight do you give reviews?

I understand that they are important. Without them, your novel won’t find readers. Do they influence how I write? No. It’s very hard to influence your imagination. It’s like a cat.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

I shy away from considering its future. They keep telling us we’re all screwed. I know my advances are going south.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

Writing set in Irish rural environments has suddenly become fun after years of it being about men who couldn’t love and lonely women. I think Kevin Barry has had a major influence and it’s the best thing that’s happened.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

As I say, empathy. Also, a sense of the length of life, as novels are often about a life lived.

What has being a writer taught you?

To have very low expectations and very high expectations.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Well Jesus, who wouldn’t like to have a good look at Shakespeare? Shakespeare, and loads of really quiet authors so we could all marvel at Shakespeare.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

Pick almost any scene from Headlong by Michael Frayn.

What is your favourite word?


If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?

Does 70s New York count as historical?