Conor Brady: ‘readers need never be lonely; writers need never be idle’
‘Kate O’Brien was one of the great successes of the Censorship Board in that they succeeded in driving her out of the country into penury’
Conor Brady on writing The Guarding of Ireland – the Garda Síochána and the Irish State 1960 – 2014: “A big task to research everything that happened over half a century with very few papers available”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. A disturbingly subversive book for an adolescent schoolboy raised to 1960s, middle-class values of industry, education and self-improvement.
What was your favourite book as a child?
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma (Baroness) Orczy. A great adventure story, set against a vivid and (for its time) insightful depiction of the French Revolution.
What is your favourite book now?
I’ll be out early to buy anything by Anthony Beevor. He builds an invariably compelling narrative on a framework of meticulously-researched facts.
What is your favourite quotation?
“Better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in” – attributed to Lyndon B Johnson.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Brother Cadfael in Ellis Peters’ crime series set in the medieval Abbey of Shrewsbury. Having been educated by the Cistercian monks at Roscrea, I could identify the real-life model of every character in the stories.
Who is the most under-rated Irish author?
Kate O’Brien, who died 40 years ago this summer, remains a shadowy figure for too many Irish readers. She was so far ahead of her time. She was one of the great successes of the Censorship Board in that they succeeded in driving her out of the country into penury.
Which do you prefer– ebooks or traditional print?
There’s nothing like the comfort and satisfaction of paper pages between the fingers. But I can enjoy reading on a screen too.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
A 1920s, illustrated edition of FitzGerald’s The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, that belonged to my father.
Where and when do you write?
Anywhere, anytime. That’s the beauty of the laptop and the iPad. And when one has worked as a newsroom journalist one simply filters out surrounding noises and distractions.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
I’ve just finished writing The Guarding of Ireland – the Garda Siochana and the Irish State 1960 – 2014. A big task to research everything that happened over half a century with very few papers available.
What book influenced you most?
In my late teen years I remember being thoroughly horrified and challenged by John Hersey’s Hiroshima. It was one of the first accounts from the viewpoint of the victims of the aftermath of the first nuclear bombing in wartime.
What book would you give a friend’s child for their 18th birthday?
Probably The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. It’s a terrifying tale of what happens when laws break down and there are no restraints on the strong and ruthless. On the other hand, 18 may be too late.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Start writing. Keep writing.
What weight do you give to reviews?
Any review is better than no review.
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
I think printed books are more likely to survive than printed newspapers. But publishers who do not develop their electronic capacities are probably doomed.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
So many writers are like starlings. They all swoop off together in a great flock when one succeeds in finding a successful formula or direction.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
One need never be lonely with a book to read.
What has being a writer taught you?
One need never be idle.
What writers, living or dead, would you like invite to your dream dinner party?
Conor Brady’s The Guarding of Ireland – the Garda Siochana and the Irish State 1960 – 2014 (Gill and Macmillan) is being launched tonight by Maurice Manning at 6.30pm in Hodges Figgis, 56-58 Dawson St, Dublin 2. It will be reviewed in The Irish Times this Saturday, October 4th, by Dr Vicky Conway, author of Poling Twentieth Century Ireland: A History of an Garda Siochana