Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Hour With Roddy Doyle (Auckland Writers' Festival 2012)

Everyone knows who Roddy Doyle is: he has been in my life ever since The Commitments, and I have read several of his books as well as seen the movies. This didn't stop me frantically acquiring copies of several books after seeing him (Paula Spencer and Bull-Fighting are both new to me and it can't hurt to get reacquainted with the Barrytown Trilogy and The Woman Who Walked into Doors.
He opened his session with an answer to Brian Edward's question about his 10 rules for writing - this picked up on a piece in the Guardian where this question was asked of several authors (I see Geoff Dyer, who is in the Auckland Festival this year, was also asked). A couple of his rules relate to temptation: you don't want a photo of another author in sight, because (a) you don't want to romanticise writing which is a tough game and (b) they might be an inspiration to drunkeness or madness (in the Guardian, he specifically mentions suicidal authors) but you do need to allow limited temptations: a few websites, going out to hang out the washing (also important because these sorts of daily tasks will also be the daily life of any character). In a very quotable comment about a potential biography, he said he divides his time "between Dublin and confusion". I liked what he said about a thesaurus: while it is an obvious writerly tool, it ought not be too accessible, for two reasons. First, you need to back yourself and find your own words and second, often you don't need the variety offered by a thesaurus. There was quite a lot of discussion of the technical aspects of writing and of editing - possibly reflecting Edwards' own interests.Unlike Sebastian Barry, he has no problem with critics, they're part of the job, but he does draw the line at writing endorsements of books which have yet to be written.

But there was also plenty of book talk, going back to The Commitments, which he had wanted to call The Partitions but that would have had local resonances and meant nothing elsewhere.There had been an earlier novel, Your Granny is a Hunger Striker (a title he borrowed from a heckler) which is still in a drawer, never to be published, because it was "shite". On the other hand, he captured the voice of women in The Woman Who Walked into Doors so well that a woman from a domestic violence survivors group accused him of getting inside her fecking head. There was a question about Paddy Clark's violence: it is because he is a boy, so things like torturing animals and setting brothers on fire comes naturally: they're not boys if they're not kicking cats, sticking fireworks up the rear end of dogs, bullying or being bullied. He was not your normal boy, however, and survived boyhood by being the jester (something he shares with Rhys Darby, it seems).

The reading was one of the short stories in Bullfighting, all of which feature men of a certain age, going through mid-life angst. One stands out as being something of a departure for Doyle, "Blood", which led him to say he'd love to write a mad, big vampire book - inspired by the fact he walks past Bram Stoker's house every day.  

The story he read, "Animals", is a dark wee tale involving the family pets which ended with a bit of a snap, which all good short stories ought.On the way through, there was plenty to laugh at, particularly the various substitutions made for certain short-lived fish and birds.


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