Writer Kevin Barry on fancy chocolates, Cuchullain’s heroic diet, and naked seething ambition.
Kevin Barry’s novel, City of Bohane, has just been published in the U.S. It was shortlisted for both the Irish Novel of the Year and the Costa First Novel Award in 2011. His debut story collection, There Are Little Kingdoms, was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2007. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, the Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, Best European Fiction 2011, and many other journals and anthologies. He also writes plays and screenplays. He lives in County Sligo.
What is your current state of mind?
Frazzled and delirious, as I’ve just finished a new book of stories. I feel like Moses staggering down the mountainside with the tablets of stone.
Your greatest extravagance?
Very fancy and ludicrously expensive chocolate. If it isn’t lavender-dusted and encrusted with chili bits and sprinkled with shavings of gold, I really don’t want to know.
Who is your hero?
Cuchullain, the mighty Irish warrior of old, who was fearless, ginger-haired and true-hearted, and who, if the annals are to be believed, ate an excellent, balanced diet based on seasonal produce such as berries and wild garlic.
What is on your bedside table?
The Letters of Samuel Beckett, part two, in which he continues to have very serious trouble with his piles. The Beckett letters are a huge consolation because no matter how grim you’re feeling yourself, you can rest assured that Sam is feeling grimmer.
What was your first job?
I was a cub reporter on a local newspaper in Limerick city, and I used to cover the district court meetings. All of life passed through the Limerick courthouse. Misery, malevolence, the dark side of humanity … I tell ya, it made Angela’s Ashes look like The Wonderful World of Disney.
Your earliest memory?
Crawling under a dinner table and attempting to bite a grown-up’s ankles. I was about two, and I was an enormously fat, cheerful and mischievous infant.
Best advice ever received?
Watch the traffic.
Do you strike up conversations on long plane journeys?
Oh, I do not. And I am extremely gifted at putting a very swift stop to any attempts at conversation. Don’t even try me.
Where do you go to think?
The swimming pool is good. The goldfish-like repetition of doing (very slow) lengths creates a kind of vacuum in which the mind can loosen up and go free.
What is your hidden talent?
Difficult to explain in a decent-minded family publication.
Your favorite quality in friends?
Sufficient sobriety to drive me home.
Your typical day?
Get up, groan, write a bit, moan, eat breakfast, write some more, cycle my bike through the Sligo hills, make up country songs as I pedal along, sing them, have lunch, have a nap, groan, moan, write a small bit more, cook dinner, feed wifey, open a bottle, or several, slump, sleep.
Your perfect day?
Favorite country you have visited?
I go to Spain a lot, in winter, for a blast of sunlight to banish the blues brought on by the Irish greys and drizzle. I love the cities of the Spanish interior.
Best opening line in a book or piece of music?
“If I’m out of my mind, it’s alright with me, thought Moses Herzog” – from Saul Bellow’s novel Herzog.
Movie you will watch again and again?
Paris, Texas is probably, at gunpoint, the film I’d name as my favorite, and I’ve watched it at least a couple of dozen times. A strange, haunting, beautiful and tender film, miraculously shot, acted and scored.
What drives you?
Naked seething ambition – which can make for a very unpleasant spectacle first thing in the morning.
Your most embarrassing moment?
Knocking over and smashing a piece of modern sculpture at an art gallery opening. And yes, I had been drinking. Lots.
Your favorite place?
Probably some place on the western seaboard of Ireland, just a beach, or a stretch of clifftop, with nobody else about, and just wind and rain.
Wind and rain.
Prawns, Spanish-style. Or a big dirty lump of hairy bacon.
A good amber ale. Or a glass of rioja.
What is your most distinguishing characteristic?
The naked seething ambition.
What trait do you most deplore in others?
Naked seething ambition.
What is your motto?
If you weren’t doing what you are doing, what would you do?
What question do you wish someone would ask you?
At what age did you first realize you were a genius?
What have you been working on recently?
That new book of short stories. It’s called Dark Lies the Island and will drop in the U.S. in fall of 2013.
What’s next for you?
The second draft of a film script about horse racing called “The Gee Gees.”
What are you like?
Sometimes a monster, sometimes a near-saint.