Joe Joyce: a homage to Ernest Hemingway
Reading is very pleasurable but no substitute for doing; writing has taught me to treat words that come easily with suspicion
Joe Joyce: “I recently came across an editorial in The Irish Times in 1902 worrying, in part, that there were more would-be writers than book readers”
Joe Joyce is the author of four thrillers, two of them spy novels, Echoland and Echobeat, set in Dublin during the second World War. He has written one play, The Tower; a history of the Guinness family and brewery; and, with Peter Murtagh, The Boss, the seminal account of Charles Haughey in government. He was formerly a reporter with The Irish Times and the Dublin correspondent of the Guardian.
What was the first book to make an impression on you?
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and then his short stories.
What was your favourite book as a child?
The Enid Blyton “Adventure” series.
And what is your favourite book or books now?
It changes by the week. Right now it’s probably The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer.
What is your favourite quotation?
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” EL Doctorow
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Paul Christopher in Charles McCarry’s spy novels.
Who is the most underrated Irish author?
No one is underrated as long as some people enjoy their work. How they are rated generally can be a function of luck and promotional skills as much as writing ability.
Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version?
Either. It’s the words that matter, not the delivery system.
What is the most beautiful book you own?
A signed first edition of The Battle of Aughrim by Richard Murphy, but for sentimental rather than aesthetic reasons.
Where and how do you write?
In a home office that’s been moving around the same house for years. It’s now in its fourth location.
What book changed the way you think about fiction?
A Farewell to Arms, discovered in a school library in the midst of, to me at the time, turgid 19th-century tomes.
What is the most research you have done for a book?
I’ve been interested in the second World War period in Ireland for years so it never felt like research when I dug down into it some more for the Echoland series.
What book influenced you the most?
Hemingway again, by demonstrating that someone could write with such immediacy.
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday?
I wouldn’t dare suggest what an 18-year-old should read but might ask his or her advice on how to avoid social death on Facebook.
What book do you wish you had read when you were young?
All sorts of classics so I needn’t feel guilty at still not having read them.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
As in the EL Doctorow quote above, keep going even though you don’t always know where you’re going.
What weight do you give reviews?
I’m sometimes intrigued by what other people think of what I was doing. It isn’t always what I thought I was doing.
Where do you see the publishing industry going?
It’ll be around in one form or another for a long time. I recently came across an editorial in The Irish Times in 1902 worrying, in part, that there were more would-be writers than book readers.
What writing trends have struck you lately?
The re-emergence of the long-story format on ebooks. Ebooks have broken the convention that books have to be at least 80,000 words or whatever: they don’t have to be any preconceived length.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading?
Reading is very pleasurable but no substitute for doing.
What has being a writer taught you?
To treat words that come easily with suspicion.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Oliver St John Gogarty and James Joyce, to watch the sparks fly and to see if Gogarty was as witty as his contemporaries thought.
What is the funniest scene you’ve read?
Several passages in Jammy Dodger by Kevin Smith about a couple of layabouts scamming the arts scene in Belfast during the Troubles.
What is your favourite word?
If you were to write a historical novel, which event or figure would be your subject?
I’m ahead of you there...