award-winning author of The Spinning Heart
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in a village in Tipperary called Newtown, near the town of Nenagh. We moved to town when I was nine. I went to school in Youghalarra National School and St. Joseph’s Christian Brothers School, Nenagh.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I’ve only ever wanted to be a writer. It goes back so far that I’m not even sure why. When I started reading, I just knew. Other things tried to muscle it out sporadically: rock star, pilot, racing driver, none of them stuck.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I firmly believed at eighteen that I knew everything and had all the answers. If everyone just listened to me the world would be perfect. That belief started to waver shortly afterwards; by nineteen it was gone completely.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl got me hooked on reading; The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer convinced me that I wanted to be a writer; Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck showed me what perfection was.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
There really weren’t innumerable artistic avenues open to me – I’m only any good at writing novels! And maybe short stories. My wife liked them anyway.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel.
The Spinning Heart is constructed as 21 linked monologues, set over the summer of 2010 in an Irish village. Each character tells their own story while adding a little information about a murder and kidnap that take place.
(FROM THE PUBLISHER: In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. As violence flares, the characters face a battle between public persona and inner desires. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.
The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel. Wry, vulnerable, all-too human, it captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland and with uncanny perception articulates the words and thoughts of a generation. Technically daring and evocative of Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge, this novel of small-town life is witty, dark and sweetly poignant. Donal Ryan’s brilliantly realized debut announces a stunning new voice in literary fiction.)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they enjoy reading it. I think there’s light behind the bleakness, and a warmth in the characters that transcends the cold place they find themselves in. It might make some readers look a little harder for the truth in people’s words.
I hate to list people I admire; there are so many for a start, and I think the word ‘most’ can be simultaneously positive and pejorative. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is probably the book that had the biggest effect on me in the last few years. But there are some unbelievable writers at work today – just in Ireland we have Kevin Barry, Mary Costello and Mike McCormack who produced three of the best collections of short stories last year that I’ve ever read; novelists like John Boyne, Sebastian Barry, Belinda McKeon whose books once started I could not leave out of my hand – I could fill pages with names of incredible writers. Growing up my literary heroes were almost all American: Salinger, Hemingway, Mailer and Steinbeck, maybe only because my parents had their complete works!
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
My goal is reset each time I start writing something: to finish what I’m writing and to make it as good as I can.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t have too much or too little self-belief. Buy a book on grammar. Get it down on the page as it comes to you but always, always go back and fix it. And lastly, finish what you started. I spent twenty years not taking that advice.
Donal, thank you for playing.