The best piece of advice I ever received was from my mother. When I was eight, a tramp came to the door and asked for a drink of water. Being a slightly fastidious child, I got an old cracked cup and filled it with spring water for him.
My mother sent me back inside, telling me to give him one of the mugs we normally used ourselves. It was a great lesson in treating others the same as oneself. I try to honour that.
I grew up on a small farm in Leitrim, the youngest of seven. Both my parents left school at 13. They were very intelligent and, given the opportunity, could have been anything they wanted to be. Three of my brothers are carpenters and my sisters are nurses.
My family had a great love of reading and of radio and I was given the freedom to pursue whatever I wanted to. From the moment I discovered words and books, I knew they would be part of my life.
I was a very bookish child but I also spent much of my time running wild by Lough Allen, traipsing up and down the drumlins. That love of the land is still deep within me. At school I was a mixture of the good boy and the bad boy, and I relished the bad boy.
As the youngest of so many, I’d longed to go to school. When I finally arrived there, the teacher presented me with some plasticine and I thought, how preposterous, I must be here for better things.
I went to UCD to study English and history and philosophy but I hated it. I was lonely and isolated and left after a year, switching to journalism in Rathmines. I became a news broadcast journalist in RTE Radio. I was pretty much thrown in at the deep end. That got me over any fear of the red light and taught me how to write the kernel of a story in a few sentences.
Whilst working in news, I was occasionally writing poetry and prose. I knew deep down that writing still had a great pull for me and when I was 29 I realised I had to make a choice between staying in the system, and accepting I would never write full-time, or making a break.
Driving back from my brother’s wedding in Cork, I decided I’d hand in my notice. It was utterly instinctive. I cashed in my pension and went off to travel around New Zealand and Australia.
A whole new world opened up for me and that’s when I wrote my first play. I learnt a big lesson: if there is something you really want to do, take the risk.
For the next 15 years, I immersed myself in the world of theatre and literature and developed my interest in visual art, until slowly, I began to get invitations to contribute to radio arts shows.
The most important skill for interviewing is listening, and never over anticipating anything. It’s about drawing someone out in a quiet way, always thinking of what the listener might like to hear. It is never as easy as it might appear.
I have learnt that life inevitably brings deep suffering. One of my biggest challenges was the death of my sister, four years ago. She was only 63.
She was a wonderful woman who had a troubled life and a major addiction to alcohol. I loved her dearly and had to learn the hard way that one cannot save anyone else.
I’m seldom happier than when I’m walking in the countryside. Put me in a pair of boots and I could walk forever. My partner [theatre designer] Monica Frawley and I frequently walk in Leitrim and Wicklow and Dun Laoghaire. I love being near water. Despite that, I have never learnt to swim.
I don’t belong to any established faith group. I try to live a good life and to live with hope. I have no idea whether or not there is an afterlife but I do believe there is a force that connects us into something much bigger than ourselves.
When I was 30, a Sikh man approached me in Hong Kong and told me about the past, and the future.
He was too uncannily accurate for me not to believe in some kind of power, some coexistence between destiny and free will.
So far life has taught me the importance of love and kindness.