Long lists and short stories

Though he won’t divulge details of his new novel, Kevin Barry does tell Colette Sheridan about some of the other literary irons he has in the fire right now

KEVIN BARRY knows that he has to write every day in order to feel at one with the world. “Writing fiction is a very necessary thing for me. When you’ve been at it for a while, it becomes less the thing you do and more the thing you are,” he says from his home in Sligo, an old RIC barracks that he bought and renovated.

Limerick-born Barry will no doubt look back on this year with immense satisfaction. The success of his debut 2011 novel City Of Bohane continued into 2012, complete with a great review in The New York Times. Soon after, he won €36,000 as the recipient of the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. Barry won the prize for his quirky and heart-warming story, Beer Trip to Llandudno, one of 13 pieces in Dark Lies the Island, published earlier this year. He is also on the long list for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award. The award, worth €100,000 to the winner, is one of the world’s most valuable literary prizes. The shortlist will be announced in April.

Barry is currently working on the screenplay of City of Bohane which is going to be made by Parallel Films, the company that also did Breakfast on Pluto and Intermission. The novel, set in a futuristic, gang-infested town in the west of Ireland is quite cinematic and was an obvious choice for the big screen.

Working on screenplays involves using very different muscles from those used on other writing, says Barry. “It’s always been part of my ambition to work in film as well as books. I made some short films in the last couple of years and I’ve another film in development with Element called The Gee-Gees.”

Barry says that writing screenplays is sociable, compared to writing books. “When you’re working on a film, you have to have meetings. It gets me out of the house, which is a nice thing. It’s nice to have colleagues.”

Having started his career as a journalist (he spent several years at the Irish Examiner), Barry says he misses that world. “It’s a sociable job. You get out and about.” Barry says that journalism is good training for a writer. “I stumbled into freelancing, starting out on a local paper in Limerick in the late 1980s. I got to cover the courts and council meetings. Talking to some students recently, it struck me that City of Bohane is very influenced by my early newspaper days. It looks at how a small city operates; how it’s run and misrun and all the quare hawks and characters you find lying around. I could definitely end up writing a newspaper novel at some point.”

Barry’s second novel is in the process of being written. “It’s top secret. It’s a fairly intense ‘languagey’ type of thing, very different to City of Bohane. That’s as much as I can say.”

Happy to have different pokers in the fire, Barry admits his first love is short stories. “I really like the form. When I have an idea, it’s usually my first ambition to make a short story out of it. Maybe that’s because of a congenital impatience. With a short story, you can be in and out in a week or two and have something finished.”

Barry is dipping into about 20 books on his bedside table, saying it’s imperative to keep reading other authors. His favourite writers include William Trevor, VS Pritchett, Cormac McCarthy and Don de Lillo. He has recently become captivated by Edna O’Brien’s fiction.

“For the last while, I’ve been reading lots of Irish short stories because next year, I’m the editor of Faber & Faber’s Anthology of Irish Short Stories. I asked for stories from about 20 writers. It was really humbling to see the quality of the stuff that came in from young and relatively unknown writers as well as from more established names.”

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