Darragh McKeon on standing in the margins, beyond influence or affiliation

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

Darragh McKeon has worked as a director with theatre companies such as Rough Magic in Dublin, the Royal Court and Young Vic in London, and Steppenwolf in Chicago. His debut novel is All That is Solid Melts Into Air. He lives in New York.

What was the first book to make an impression on you? The Mrs Pepperpot series by Alf Proysen. It's the first book I managed to read front to back.

What was your favourite book as a child? The BFG by Roald Dahl.

And what is your favourite book or books now? There are many books I reread for different reasons, some for their level of craft, some for their spirit or intimacy or breadth. It would be reductive to squeeze them into a single category.


What is your favourite quotation? "Some men rise by sin and some by virtue fall." (Shakespeare's Measure for Measure)

Who is your favourite fictional character? My background is in the theatre and Frank Pig Says Hello was the first play I directed, it's the stage adaptation of Patrick McCabe's novel The Butcher Boy. I still feel a kind of parental responsibility towards the main character, Francie Brady.

Who is the most underrated Irish author? Pat McCabe is an author I keep telling people about.

Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version? I think every writer wants their book to sit on someone's shelf when they're long gone. Ebooks are instantly disposable.

What is the most beautiful book you own? A book of Stanley Kubrick's early photographs; he had an incredible eye and an unquenchable curiousity.

Where and how do you write? In silence in an office near my apartment.

What book changed the way you think about fiction? Underworld by Don DeLillo.

What is the most research you have done for a book? I've only written one book, but it did involve a lot of research.

What book influenced you the most? Underworld by Don DeLillo .

What book would you give to a friend's child on their 18th birthday? The Rough Guide to India.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author? Read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet and do everything he says.

What weight do you give reviews? A reviewer is responding to a book that has already been written, so whether good or bad they've no effect on the work.

Where do you see the publishing industry going? That's a question for someone in the publishing industry.

What writing trends have struck you lately? Since Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle, there'll be an interest in long-form observational or confessional narrative. It's interesting that theatre makers have been creating that type of work for a while now.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading? That it's much richer if you pay attention to everything around you.

What has being a writer taught you? That a writer by necessity stands in the margins, beyond influence or affiliation.

Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party? None. I'd fill the table with singers, dancers, musicians, acrobats, fire jugglers and maybe a lion tamer.

What is your favourite word? I like when I say "savage" – it brings me back to being a teenager in Tullamore.