David Butler: ‘Great writers enrich experience, even the mundane’

Brought to Book Q&A: Author of The Judas Kiss and City of Dis on what he reads and how he writes

David Butler is the author of three novels: The Last European (Wynkin de Worde 2005); The Judas Kiss (New Island 2012); City of Dis (New Island 2014); a short story collection No Greater Love (Ward Wood 2013); a poetry collection Via Crucis (Doghouse 2011) and a play 'Twas the Night before Xmas (Spotlight 2013).

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

The Elves and the Shoemaker in the Ladybird series.

What was your favourite book as a child?


Through the Looking Glass.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo; Kafka's Metamorphosis; Hunger by Knut Hamsun; Cormac McCarthy's Child of God.

What is your favourite quotation?

“The mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness.” (P.B.Shelley)

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Dostoevsky’s ‘Underground Man’.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

Joyce Cary.

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

Traditional print by a country mile!

What is the most beautiful book you own?

An Leabhar Mhór (O'Brien Press).

Where and how do you write?

Almost always in my head, while out walking or suffering bouts of insomnia. Afterwards, almost all “actual” writing consists of (compulsive) rewriting.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

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

Very hard to say. The two most recent novels evolved, side by side, over a period of about eight years, drawing in all sorts of experience and research as they grew.

What book influenced you the most?

A Hundred Years of Solitude by García Márquez. Also certain chapters of Joyce's Ulysses.

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

Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds.

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

Raymond Carver's Collected Stories and Rilke's New Poems.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read. Then read more. Then reread your own writing. Don’t be precious! Learn to become your own best (ie worst) critic. This may mean leaving months and/or other projects between drafts. At all costs, avoid becoming defensive...

What weight do you give reviews?

Directly proportional to the weight I give the reviewer; inversely proportional to the weight the reviewer gives him/herself.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

Exponentially more self-publishing and e-publishing but without any commensurate increase in reading. A move towards audio, multimedia and hyperlinks.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

The short story has made a (welcome) comeback, especially here in Ireland. There’s also been an explosion of literary festivals and competitions. Sadly, social-media-style voting is making a mockery of this trend.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

The really great writers, Dostoevsky, say, or Joyce or Rilke, expand and enrich experience, even when describing the mundane.

What has being a writer taught you?

Patience. Also empathy. As with method acting, to write convincingly from inside a character’s skin is to experience and believe in their loves, their rhythms, their language, their prejudices…

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

Shakespeare; Terry Pratchett; Sylvia Plath; García Márquez; Tennessee Williams.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

Most scenes involving the inimitable Anse Bundren in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying are blackly comic masterpieces.

What is your favourite word?


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

The Confederation of Kilkenny.

What sentence or passage or book are you proudest of?

Very hard to say. Here's a short extract from my second novel, The Judas Kiss:

“A cat, a white snowdrift, had been slinking across the tiles. With a lithe ripple it was on his lap. ‘Go on, Cleopatra. Shoo!’ The pard pattered past on silent pads.”

What is the most moving book or passage you have read?

Blindness by José Saramago.

If you have a child, what book did you most enjoy reading to them?

I don't, but if I ever do, Grimms' Fairy Tales (the new translation of the first edition).