Glenn Patterson Q&A: ‘I will not live long enough to read the half of what I want to’

'What was the first book to make an impression on me? The Bible. I had nightmares for weeks'

Here’s Me Here: Further Reflections of a Lapsed Protestant (New Island) by Glenn Patterson is launched on Saturday, June 13th, at 8.30pm, at the Crescent Arts Centre as part of Belfast Book Festival.

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

The Bible. I had nightmares for weeks.

What was your favourite book as a child?


1974 Topical Times Football Annual.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

They are legion (though I still have the Topical Times annual somewhere).

What is your favourite quotation?

A toss-up between the opening lines of The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock, and the third line of the second verse of Alone Again Or by Love.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Barney, the Three Cripples barman in Oliver Twist.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

They all are, even the globally famous.

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

I keep thinking, if I was stranded somewhere, which would burn better, be easier digested, not to say ingested, substitute in extremis for scratchy leaves… ? Print wins every time.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

A four-volume American box set of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, from 1961, the year I was born. It looks almost too good to read, so I never have.

Where and how do you write?

I have a study containing three guitars, which I play ineptly (ineptlier and ineptliest), two chairs, books, and a desk, which is also a springboard for my cats who, with a choice of ground-floor doors, prefer to leave the house by a first-floor window.

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

I have been in deep cover as a middle-aged Northern Irish male for the last 10 years in preparation for Here’s Me Here.

What book changed the way you think about fiction? What book influenced you the most?

USA, John Dos Passos. No question.

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

Anna Karenina, in case they weren’t as precocious as I was.

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

Oh, all right, then… Anna Karenina.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Don’t take advice from me.

What weight do you give reviews?

The good ones something in the 12% by volume (and sparkling) range, the bad ones, 40% plus.

Where do you see the publishing industry going?

On, quirkily, fuelled by gripes.

What writing trends have struck you lately?

They’re getting younger, the writers, or I am getting older.

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

That I will not live long enough to read the half of what I want to.

What has being a writer taught you?

All that money you get? It’s taxable.

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

Dead writers at a dinner party? Are you sick?

What is the funniest scene you’ve read?

Robert McLiam Wilson's giant-dildo-refund passage in Eureka Street takes some beating.

What is your favourite word?

Two: ‘Would you?’ (Wait, a third: ‘Yes.’)

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

I did write one, set in 1831, named for a Belfast inn, The Mill For Grinding Old People Young. If it had arrived with a bow on top it could not have been more of a gift of a title.

What sentence or passage or book are you proudest of?

It being one of the sins in that book that gave me nightmares as a child I try to give pride a wide berth. Unless that in itself is a form of pride, in which case I’m fucked.

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

I was ambushed more than once by The Dharma Bums. Who knew? (Everyone in the reading world, apparently, apart from me.)

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

Goodnight Moon and, a bit later, Ernst Gombrich’s A Little History of the World.

Glenn Patterson is the author of the novels Burning Your Own; Fat Lad; Black Night at Big Thunder Mountain, The International; Number 5; That Which Was; The Third Party; The Mill for Grinding Old People Young; and The Rest Just Follows; and non-fiction titles Lapsed Protestant; and Once Upon a Hill: Love in Troubled Times. He has won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the Betty Trask Award. His co-written screenplay for Good Vibrations was nominated for the 2014 Outstanding Debut Bafta.