1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book was probably the longest in the making – I had won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award, the longest running prize in Irish letters. My first book – The Drowning of the Saints – helped validate that win, and all of sudden I was out there – a writer – publishing – no longer in the wild, so to speak. I dropped out of PhD programme in the US, came back to Ireland, started as Writer in Residence in the countryside, and began to live my life not as an aspiring writer, but as a writer. I’ve aspired to a developmental approach to my work. C.D. Wright was a wonderful example. Since starting a poet, I have co authored 4 successfully Penguin published thrillers, as Karen Perry, and a screenplay, but the poems reel me back in. It feels different in that it feels like more is at stake, and that the work-practice has been amplified and opened up to other genres.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
In school John Donne’s work pretty much blew my head off, then Eliot, Hughes, Plath, Kavanagh, Heaney, Boland, Sara Berkeley. In transition year, which falls between exam cycles in the Irish education system, my English teacher Linda Golden, took time to read my poems and encourage me – poetry made sense to me before any other form or genre – like learning another language which somehow was more real and alive to me than anything spoken – heard, or learned. As if too, it spoke, said, sang to something within me, and offered a code to unlock the mysteries of what life might be or become.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It varies. Right now, I can’t stem the flow. There’s not enough hours in the day for what I want to get down. I try to by pass the self-censor and write. I try always to be alert to the possibility of a poem.
4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Hard to say. Things develop, emerge, announce themselves – themes reach out, motifs, and images look for company. What needs to be said is said, if it is given the time, and silence to articulate itself. Pressure can be applied, but nothing can be forced.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy reading. It helps bring the work on. It’s important to vocalise the work, to share it with an audience, to give weight to those words, and allow your voice to embody them with every intonation, and inflection of who you are.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I’m interested in many things – questions of identity, of growth and transformation. Of the environment. Politically, you’ll see from my poems, nationhood, and personal identity are tied up. Post Troubles Ireland has meant a reconfiguration of poetic utterance. In the republic, my work has absorbed and represented the effects of the troubles psychically with poems which create intersectionality between the private and public. I’m interested in cross-border lines and border-crossings in contemporary Irish poetry, and questions such as how has poetic form has reflected a so-called peace? Can it or does it? Does the departure of Britain from the EU impact on the Irishness of Irish poetry? What of the dual tradition of Gaelic and English poetries in the time which happens after a war? What are the effects of a 30 year war on the non-combatants, and how is this recorded, if at all? Transitional justice and social reconciliation have been discussed in terms of sociology and political affairs, but how does contemporary Irish poetry address crucial, but often sublimated narratives of legacy and the aftermath of political conflict?
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
There’s a great deal of change and political activity in Ireland. A lot of the writing published addresses political themes. I’m very interested in how the personal and the political intersect – a deal of my poems do that in terms of an Irish context. That being said the role of the writer I don’t think should be proscribed. Contemplative writers are as important and as the outspoken, activist kind. A writer’s role should honour the work, and enable voices which are counter-mainstream a space to be heard.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It’s varied greatly from editor to editor, and genre to genre. Mostly, I have been very lucky, and editors have been keen eyed, supportive, and enabling. A good fiction editor can have an eagle eye, both in terms of the line edit, but also the over-all structure. It seems to be much more collaborative. Poetry editorship is more one to one – aesthetic differences can be much more to the fore. Whether an editor is a writer or not can also influence the process, positively, or otherwise.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In terms of writing: never rush, never rest. (Goethe, I believe.)
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to translation)? What do you see as the appeal?
It makes a lot of sense to me – or not even sense, but that has been the way for me: the different genres like different languages allow you (me) to express situations, experiences, emotions, stories, and utterances in the most necessary fashion - that might be play, poem, story or novel, or some ingenious mix of each. I wouldn’t say it’s been easy or not easy, but inevitable, necessary, and natural. In this I consider myself lucky. And yet feel like I have’t done half of what I want to do, yet.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I used to be a night owl, and would write late into the night. Recently, or the older I get, I write better first thing in the morning. A good writing day is getting up early and writing until the world reels me in - closer to lunch time when other more day-to-day obligations announce themselves.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Other writers – if it is something I need to get back to urgently. But otherwise, I try to take the stall, the break, pause, whathaveyou as it comes. There’s nothing worse than belaboured writing. That being said, I don’t believe in waiting for the mood or anything. I think we can write ourselves to where we need to be …
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Can’t say. But almond reminds me of a friend’s house I spent time in growing up. It felt / smelled very foreign and alluring to me.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I am married to a violinist, and have always loved music – there’s something about the ineffable, the non-verbal which appeals, both as an antidote to le mot juste, and a balm to its relinquishment.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
W.S. Merwin. Robert Bly. Life – yes, my wife, 3 kids, the park I live close. Life gets simpler – or has done – routines, I mean, etc., and that has been a good thing for this writer.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I like the hybrid texts emerging which engage with a personal narrative, and the artistic vocation. I’d like to write my story and how poetry interweaves with it. I’d also like to get to more of the Greek islands.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
The library appeals. I worked in a library once and loved it. Sometimes, I wish I had not been bitten by the desire to become a writer – it happened quite young – it leaves one restless, ever questioning and exploring. What would it be like to not have that ‘sehnsucht.’
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
A childhood-need to find my voice – to articulate that was going to on, to find meaning. Doing something else – often appeals. I don’t expect it to stop. I’d also have liked to have artistic ability – painting, etc.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m reading This Hostel Life, by Melatu Uche Okorie, about life in Direct Provision in Ireland. I am also reading Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker, finally, and Ben Lerner’s poems and prose, as well as the essays of Kevin Breathnach and Sinead Gleeson. In terms of greatness, I thought Stoner by John Williams is a great book, and John McGahern’s ALL WILL BE WELL – A Memoir – is an absolute masterpiece.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m proof reading my first children’s book The Cyclops with Two Eyes which comes out this summer, 2019. Never leave the Laurels. That is what Goblin the Crow tells the three orphaned kittens, Mocha, Tiny Panda and Jinx, who live in The Big House far from anywhere. When Goblin is killed by the Goodoo, the three kittens are faced with a decision which will change their lives forever: do they stay and fight or do they flee?
When their friend, the owl Francesca, asks for the help of the blue skinned half-boy, half-horse Jacob, it is then the adventure of the three spy kitties really begins, especially when Jacob introduces the kittens to Kaplan, the Cyclops with Two Eyes.
Can you help them to defeat the Goodoo? And if Kaplan does help, what does he want in return?
And what of Ghost the mouse, the magic-carpet, and his altar of bullets, and what of the Boom which rings through the night. Already the memory of the old couple, the Parsons, who lived in the Big House when the kittens first arrived is beginning to fade. And then there is the echo of Ma and Pa calling to the kittens, and luring them away to what has been their home and sanctuary for so long.
It's novel for young readers aged between 7 and 10. I’m also working on a second children’s book, a novel for adults, which is based on my time working on an orchid farm in Florida, and finally a full-length collection of poetry which some of the poems from the above/ground press publication, The Ghosts of Barnacullia, will also appear in.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;