Donal Ryan on the music, books and TV shows that shaped him

Donal Ryan on the music, books and TV shows that shaped him
Donal Ryan will be reading at the Words by Water festival in Kinsale on Friday.

In advance of his visit to Kinsale, author Donal Ryan tells Des O’Driscoll about some of his favourite music, books and TV shows through the decades.

BOOKS

Donal Ryan on the music, books and TV shows that shaped him

“Roald Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World is the first book I remember my dad reading to me. I learned to read before I started school because of that book. William had my dad’s face and voice in my imagination, of course, and I came up with the brilliant pheasant-drugging plan. It’s a proper novel, and Roald Dahl never condescended to children. I loved it then and I love it now and I couldn’t wait to read it to my own children.

I read The Catcher in the Rye when I was nine. I didn’t get a lot of it but I loved it and I became convinced — I have no idea why — that JD Salinger lived in Portroe, a few miles from my home village of Newtown, in a bungalow that overlooked Lough Derg and that he worked as a van-driver like my dad, and that they were good pals. I think maybe it was because of the familiar way Dad spoke about him. I remember him saying ‘Wait until you hear why he called it The Catcher in the Rye’ and I presumed Dad knew because Salinger had told him. I was a very well-read yet very innocent child. I haven’t changed too much.

My friend Gary Savage got me into Stephen King when we were fourteen or so and I was obsessed. I remember rushing home from school to get back to The Stand, surely the greatest post-apocalyptic vision of them all, until Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The last book I finished was Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. I bought it in the lovely new premises of the Nenagh Bookshop, run by John and Catherine Ryan, two of the best booksellers in the business. Apparently she wrote it in a day so I suppose it’s best read quickly. It’s a proper page-turner about an African prince sold into slavery. Oroonoko is one of the earliest English novels and Aphra Behn was apparently the first woman to earn a living as a writer.

I got a sneak preview of Mary O’Malley’s new collection, out next week, Gaudent Angeli, and it is sublime. And Margaret MacCurtain’s Metaphors for Change: Essays on State and Society, is a tremendous and timely collection, showing just how sharp and fearless a commentator she was, so ready and able to subvert all sorts of received wisdoms and to face down the hierarchies.

And I highly recommend Paul Lynch’s stunning Beyond the Sea, another tour de force from the Limerick man.”

Music

Donal Ryan on the music, books and TV shows that shaped him

“The first album I ever bought was AC/DC’s Who Made Who on our sixth class school tour. I was hooked from the opening drumbeat of the title track. Then I bought Highway to Hell on vinyl after saving months of pocket money and my mother was worried that it was satanic. I suppose they do look a bit evil on the cover what with the devil horns on Angus and his pointy tail.

But there was no censorship in our house (except for Robert Graves’s I, Claudius) and I collected everything they ever recorded. I saw them live in the O2 in London in 2009. Anne Marie was pregnant with our daughter Lucy at the time but she braved it with me. We met a group of people in our hotel bar afterwards who, I discovered, were fans of AC/DC ironically. The world darkened for me a little bit in that moment of terrible revelation and the light has never come fully back.

I love Led Zeppelin too, and Black Sabbath and Motorhead, but in my mid-teens got really into the Pixies, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine.

I’ve seen Steo Wall live a few times lately and he is incredible. I have his debut album Where I’m From played to death in the car. His song ‘Sarah Doran’, about his maternal grandmother, gives me goose bumps.

There’s a Limerick band called Powpig who deserve to be huge. I saw them on Other Voices and then in the legendary Dolan’s Warehouse here in Limerick and they rocked out. They have that beautiful early-Pixies oddness and intensity, unexpected riffs and vocalisations and their drummer has this crazy unique style that I love.”

TV viewing

Donal Ryan on the music, books and TV shows that shaped him

“Could there be a more perfect TV show for a little boy than The A Team? Driving around in a cool van with your buddies kicking the shit out of bad guys. I still get a childish thrill when I see a painter/decorator with his black Transit all decked out like BA Baracus’s GMC Vandura, red stripe, bull bars, roof spoiler and all.

I didn’t watch too much TV in my teens. I was too busy trying and failing to be cool down in Frankie Boland’s pool hall and amusement arcade in Nenagh or when I wasn’t doing that, reading Stephen King and Joseph Wambaugh. I do remember watching the Tracy Ullman Show though and saying those yellow lads are gas, they should have their own show.

There’s so much good stuff on TV lately. Shane Meadows’ The Virtues was the best thing I’ve seen in years, up there with his virtuosic This is England. There’s loads of rubbish out there too, of course. I couldn’t believe it when I found out The Newsroom wasn’t satire. Shorn of responsibilities I would spend weeks, months of my life watching Netflix, things like Fastest Car and Rust Valley Restorers and old Top Gears. The Young Offenders and Derry Girls are just hilarious, excellent. I love Catastrophe, it’s brilliantly written and Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney are fantastic in it.”

Film

Donal Ryan on the music, books and TV shows that shaped him

“The first film that really moved me was The Champ. The 1979 remake with Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder. Jesus, my heart actually physically hurt. I think I first saw it shortly after my hero Barry McGuigan lost his belt to Steve Cruz so I was emotionally raw. I loved boxing movies though. I remember screaming so loud at Rocky that I couldn’t speak for days. I really wanted to be a boxer when I was a kid. Then I got knocked out around five seconds into my first sparring session by a lad who was a year younger and half a foot shorter than me, so I let the dream die.

I remember feeling really strange after seeing Full Metal Jacket. Parts of it, though I’d never have admitted it at the time, really upset me. It started me on the path towards being completely anti-war and anti-violence. And I got a bit quiet for a while after seeing Lamb, the 1985 adaptation of Bernard MacLaverty’s novel. That closing scene, it never leaves you.”

- Donal Ryan will be in conversation with Sue Leonard on Friday at 7pm in the Methodist Church in Kinsale as part of the Words by Water Festival. See wordsbywater.ie

- Donal Ryan is the author of four number one-bestselling novels and a short story collection. He was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2013 for his debut novel, The Spinning Heart, and again in 2018, for his most recent novel, From A Low And Quiet Sea.

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