‘A book in your hand is like holding magic’

For The Irish Times, September 1 2014

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

I think it must have been Under Milk Wood when I was 11 years old. I remember a teacher reading the opening passage about the ‘sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea’ and then encouraging us to make up our own words to describe a particular scene. One boy come up with ‘lumsy’ to describe cows in a field. Cows have been lumsy to me ever since.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I’m not sure I had one: ‘favourite’ implies some kind of ability to discriminate. I read everything, all the time, indiscriminately.

And what is your favourite book or books now?

Usually the last book I have read. I have just finished Linda Sparling’s The Purchase.

What is your favourite quotation?

I have many and one of my favourites (from The Aenid) plays a part in Love, Love Me Do. Sunt lacrimae rerum: there are tears at the heart of things.

Who is your favourite fictional character?

Currently, Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell. I find it difficult to read fiction while I’m writing and I’m only now catching up with Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. Her Cromwell is a wonderfully rich, idiosyncratic creation – although not strictly fictional, of course.

Who is the most under-rated Irish author?

John McGahern. His work can never be rated highly enough.

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

I am a traditionalist – ebooks are about efficiency and functionality (which is why they are so good, for example, to take on holiday) but a book in your hand is like holding magic.

What is the most beautiful book you own?

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – although it is not really mine. I bought it for my wife from an antiquarian bookshop in Kensington because it was her favourite book when she was a child. She would stare for hours at the extraordinary Dulac illustrations.

Where and how do you write?

I have a study in the basement and I take myself down there at eight o’clock every weekday morning. For the first hour or so, I edit and re-work what I wrote the day before. After that, I try to write a thousand new words. Most times I manage it, sometimes I don’t. However difficult it is (and some days the words just refuse to flow) I persevere. I think stamina, discipline and a healthy work ethic are hugely important.

What book changed the way you think about fiction?

I am constantly fascinated with the shapeshifting way that the novel has evolved and continues to evolve. No one book has changed the way I think about fiction – in a sense, every new work of fiction I read changes the way I think about it.

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

For Love, Love Me Do, I lived through the fifties and sixties. I think that’s a pretty impressive amount of research.

What book influenced you the most?

One book? I don’t think I can answer that; so many books have had such an influence. I went to see 1984 recently at The Playhouse Theatre in London and was reminded just how profound the impact was when I first read it. But now, as I look along the bookshelves in my study, I am not sure it influenced me any more than a hundred or more others.

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

I wouldn’t: I would take him or her to the amazing new Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road and let them choose. Choosing a book is a big part of the pleasure and personal choice is so important – particularly to an 18 year old.

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

For Christmas when I was 10 years old, my parents bought me a complete and very expensive set of children’s encyclopaedias. My older sister got a bike. To my shame, I only ever flicked through a few of the pages of the encyclopaedias – while wishing I had a bike.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Grow a thick skin and never give up. Unless you are extraordinarily fortunate, there are going to be a great many setbacks along the way. But, if you believe enough (and if you have ability), you will get there in the end.

What weight do you give reviews?

That would depend on who the reviewer was – and what they have to say!

What lessons have you learned about life from reading?

That you are not alone: the human condition is that we share the same hopes, fears and dreams.

What has being a writer taught you?

That dreams can come true. Finally becoming a published author is the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition.

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

Dickens would be the only one I would invite or need: he would bring his whole cast of characters with him.

What is your favourite word?

You will need to read the sequel to Love, Love Me Do to get the answer to that!

See original: http://bit.ly/1lFy9Do


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