Eoin McNamee Q&A: ‘I can’t think of a good piece of funny writing which didn’t turn around and kick you in the teeth’

‘When I was young I had a knack for reading things I didn’t really understand and being caught up in their slipstream. I read Brighton Rock when I was 12 or 13’

Eoin McNamee’s favourite book: “A 1950 edition of The Bishop and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov. The book bears the bookplate of the Curran family. Two years after the publication of the book 19-year-old Patricia Curran was murdered and her mother was committed to an asylum. The bookplate is signed by one of the family but the first name is not legible. The illustration on the plate takes the form of a demon embracing the text”

Eoin McNamee’s favourite book: “A 1950 edition of The Bishop and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov. The book bears the bookplate of the Curran family. Two years after the publication of the book 19-year-old Patricia Curran was murdered and her mother was committed to an asylum. The bookplate is signed by one of the family but the first name is not legible. The illustration on the plate takes the form of a demon embracing the text”

 

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

The first book I remember is The Elves and the Shoemaker. Reading the same story to my children, it retained a strange otherworldly quality.

What was your favourite book as a child?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

A 1950 edition of The Bishop and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov. The book bears the bookplate of the Curran family. Two years after the publication of the book 19-year-old Patricia Curran was murdered and her mother was committed to an asylum. The bookplate is signed by one of the family but the first name is not legible. The illustration on the plate takes the form of a demon embracing the text.

What is your favourite quotation?

The first paragraph of Hemingway’s short story, In Another Country, which is too long to reproduce here but acts as a meditation on the word fall.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Francey Brady [from The Butcher Boy, by Patrick McCabe]

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

I’m suspicious of the idea of rating writers. I either read them or I don’t. I’d like to read more Dermot Healy novels but I’ll have to stick with re-reading the work he left behind.

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

I don’t really mind although I like reading poetry and short stories as ebooks. You can see a book as a near-perfect synthesis of form and function. Or you can see it as cardboard and glue.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

A 1955 Faber edition of The Children of Green Knowe by L M Boston.

Where and how do you write?

At home with discipline.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

Guy Davenport. Eclogues.

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

All of my novels require research. They are researched lightly before writing and the in-depth fact-checking takes place afterwards.

What book influenced you the most?

Thomas McGuane. Ninety-Two In The Shade.

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

A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens.

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

There isn’t one in particular. When I was young I had a knack for reading things I didn’t really understand and being caught up in their slipstream. I read Brighton Rock when I was 12 or 13. I went from the Small Dark Man to In Cold Blood in the same week .

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read. Learn to see.

What weight do you give reviews?

I bear grudges. Writing is the way I feed my children.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

Fragmenting where it is useful, making profits where it isn’t.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

Short sentences. Use of the present continuous.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

Nothing that I haven’t learned better from life.

What has being a writer taught you?

Proper apprehension of beauty.

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

Tove Janssen. Jim Thompson.

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

I can’t think of a good piece of funny writing which didn’t turn around and kick you in the teeth afterwards.

What is your favourite word?

End.

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

The Nuremburg tribunals, or Yalta perhaps.

Blue is the Night by Eoin McNamee is the current Irish Times Book Club choice.

Next week: The Judge, by Eoin McNamee, his essay on the Curran family from Down These Green Streets, edited by Declan Burke (Liberties Press, €19.99)

 

 

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