Heinous Rogues & Villains – An Interview with Kevin Barry
by Elizabeth Rose Murray (originally posted on Listowel Writers’ Week 2011 blog)
Tell us about your first novel, ‘City Of Bohane’.
Bohane is a vicious and evil and murderous little city somewhere on the western seaboard of Ireland, and it’s full of the most heinous rogues and villains and ne’er-do-wells, and I adore them all. It’s the story of how things are out in Bohane in the middle of the 21st century and essentially, it’s all about the language – it’s a projection of what the street-talk might sound like in such a city forty years from now. I had deranged and criminal levels of fun writing it.
Your short stories gained much critical acclaim including the 2007 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature; what made you switch to novel writing? Were there any major challenges when making the transition?
Stories are probably harder – you can lose a short story with a single sentence, like taking a wrong step on a high-wire walk; novels are looser, and you can get away with more. I’ll always write short stories, because I’m drawn to the form, and I think most stories can be told quickly. I have a passionate interest in the novel, too, but I see it purely as an arena for experimentation – it’s a hoary old form, and I’m interested in pulling it into new and strange contortions, and seeing what I can get away with it.
You’ve also written an award-winning short film, The Ballad of Kid Kanturk, and your puppet show, Burn The Bad Lamp, toured Ireland in 2010. What do you gain from taking such a varied approach and do you think this is possible for all writers?
My work is very influenced by film and TV, and it seems natural to me to write screenplays. A feature-length screenplay titled Memorabilia is in pre-production, and I’m also writing the screenplay for City Of Bohane, which has been optioned for a film. I like to hop and skip from form to form, and from genre to genre – it keeps the work fresh, I think, and you learn new things from each form. Also, pragmatically, it’s easier to make a living if you work in more than one area. I’ve also been working on graphic short stories and essays and I have fairly advanced plans for a non-fiction book. It’s going to be busy…
People always comment on your performance style; what’s the secret to engaging an audience when you’re reading at a festival? Is this an innate quality or did you need to work on it?
I treat readings like an actor treats a performance – I rehearse them, a lot, and I plan them very carefully. Also, all Limerick men are naturally quite hammy, so this is an innate advantage. In truth, I’m kind of a frustrated actor.
In an interview many moons ago (2007 to be precise) you said; “I have lately lost all interest in reality.” What did you mean by this and are you still in the same place today?
In terms of my writing, I don’t really operate in a realist mode – I think that’s probably what I meant there. The small worlds I manufacture in my writing might have greater or lesser connections to the actual world, but they are exaggerations, projections. I write about kind of hyper-real places. I do think that reality and realism are somewhat over-rated.
What is your ultimate ambition as a writer (other than to be considered a better writer than Saul Bellow)?
I think the only reasonable definition of success as a writer is if you can keep going – if you can move onto the next thing and get by without working outside of writing. And I’ve managed this so far. I’ve just finished another book for next year, a collection of stories titled “Dark Lies The Island“, which will appear in the spring. So the wheels are still turning…
(To view this interview on the Writers Week blog, click here)