The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is to keep going. To persist. To keep remembering that the joy of it is in the making of it, not in the fame. And you’d better have an absurd level of self belief as writing can be incredibly challenging.
The sense of pride that you feel the moment you finish something can be followed by horror that it is a pile of malodorous rubbish.
My first ambition, around 16 or 17, was to ‘be’ Bob Dylan.
My father was a poet — in his spare time — and my mother was an actor and several other relatives were involved in the arts.
I started to write just after I left Trinity College in 1977. I was 22. I began writing short stories, poetry and plays.
I never expected to make much money from writing. My play ‘The Steward of Christendom’ was my first big success. But that didn’t happen until 1995 - by then I’d been writing for 18 years.
Even when I’m not writing, I’m conspiring. I’m plotting to make an assault on something.
It is probably 24 hours a day, even when I’m asleep.
I can’t say that my professional life and personal life have always melded together beautifully. When our children were small it was difficult to find a balance. To write effectively you need to remove yourself from the everyday.
I’m very proud to have been appointed as the Laureate for Irish Fiction, which happened last year [which he took over from inaugural laureate Anne Enright].
My idea of misery is to be on a permanent book tour. I hear of people who get a lot of money from selling their book at The Frankfurt Book Fair, for example, but then they have to tour for a year.
When it comes to doing publicity and promotional work, you have to learn the Ulster art of saying ‘no’. I try to do things when my books have been published, of course, but a two week book tour is my limit.
My idea of bliss is being in a tiny town on the Greek island of Paros, wandering around in the heat.
The trait I most admire in others is persistence, the way people endure.
My biggest fault, at the age of 63, is realising that I have not worked hard enough at cultivating friendships. My wife Ali, on the other hand, goes out of her way to keep in touch with people and to invite them to dinner and so on. I don’t know where I’d be without her.
I’m open to the possibility of there being an afterlife.
When I’m not writing, I’m Ali’s slave in the garden. Apart from that, I run a few times a week.
We live in Wicklow with Slieveroe behind us and as long as I can run up and down it I feel as if I’m doing alright.
When it comes to fate, I do like the Arabian concept that ‘it’s already written in the book’, that everything is pre-determined because it has been written in the book of life already.
Talent is a curious facet. I feel a sense of awe when I’m surrounded by it. I don’t see that ambition has any role to play.
So far life has taught me that there is nothing to know, ultimately. There is the human sphere where we concern ourselves with the type of things I’ve been talking about here, but that robin in the bush outside couldn’t give a hoot about human matters. Since we are here, it behoves us to look around and marvel at our degree of unimportance. Nothing is true and nothing is untrue. It’s entirely mysterious.