Kevin Barry Q&A: “I’m often very happy. I’m almost gurgling with the joys”

The novelist talks Ireland’s abortion ban activists, early Eighties electro-synth bands, and Gerald Martin’s biography of Gabriel García Márquez.

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Kevin Barry was born in 1969 in Limerick. He is the author of three novels and two story collections and the winner of the 2007 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and the 2015 Goldsmiths Prize. He lives in a previously abandoned Royal Irish Constabulary barracks in County Sligo.

What’s your earliest memory?

Hospital. Ear, nose and throat ward. Coming up from the anaesthetic. Tonsils in a bucket. The soft whisper of a nurse’s voice. A bit of an erotic awakening, if I’m being honest.

Who are your heroes?

Lester Piggott. The intensity of his eyes, the vicious will to win – what’s not to love? In adulthood, VS Pritchett, because he wrote to live and lived to write and didn’t stop until he was almost 100.

What book last changed your thinking?

Gerald Martin’s biography of Gabriel García Márquez. It shows that the best writers are slippery, unknowable, untrustworthy and liars to their teeth, and that to be such a creature should be a matter of pride.

Which political figure do you look up to?

All of the thousands of activists who helped Ireland repeal the abortion ban last year.

What would be your specialist subject on Mastermind?

You’d be a long time trying to catch me out on arcana concerning early Eighties electro-synth bands from the north of England. (“Outside which Sheffield disco did Phil Oakey of the Human League first meet Susan Ann Sulley and Joanne Catherall?” “That would be the Crazy Daisy, Magnus.”)

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Butte, Montana, early 1870s, when there was a massive immigration of Irish copper miners, many of whom developed laudanum habits in Chinese brothels.

What TV show could you not live without?

Twin Peaks: The Return. It is, to date, our century’s greatest artistic achievement.

Who would paint your portrait?

Goya in his Black period.

What’s your theme tune?

The Fraggle Rock theme.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

On my 30th birthday, I sternly advised myself to start taking my writing more seriously, not to be just scribbling down genius sentences at three in the morning after crawling home from nightclubs on all fours. I have followed it.

What’s currently bugging you?

I’m looking out my window and staring dolefully into the mists of the County Sligo swamp. It’s the middle of June, 11 degrees, and rainy. Big excitement of the morning? The dead animal recovery van went past – there must be a cow gone over to the Pastures Beyond. It’s not exactly Paris in the 1920s.

What single thing would make your life better?

The death of the internet.

When were you happiest?

Last Thursday. Eating a mound of Portuguese chicken in lovely Montréal with my wife. But I’m very happy often. I’m almost gurgling with the joys.

 If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

 Dead in a ditch.

Are we all doomed?

Gloriously so. The Void is a Void and it’s nothing to fear. And listen – we’ll all be as well off out of it for a finish.

Kevin Barry’s new novel “Night Boat to Tangier” is published by Canongate

This article appears in the 28 June 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Restraining order