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Roddy Doyle and Irish ghosts

Booker prize winner's new novel is inspired by his mother's true story, with a touch of magic and imagination

Reuters, Sunday 3 Jun 2012
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Doyle, known for his success with both adult and children's books, won the Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and has seen several of his works turned into films, including The Snapper about a girl who becomes pregnant but won't tell her family who the father is.

In Australia for the recent Sydney Writers Festival, Doyle spoke with Reuters about how he works and his latest book.

Q: You have had success with numerous adult and children's books, how difficult it is to swing between writing for both audiences?

A: "Most working days I can be at my desk for nine hours a day. Even if I was working on a novel, which I am now, I wouldn't be able to concentrate on the novel for nine hours, so I normally try to get about a 1,000 words a day. Once I put a slight gap between what I'm working on for adults and the plots are different or not running parallel, a different type of imagination gets used or a slightly different compartment in my brain and I find it reasonably easy to switch between the two."

Q: Where did the ideas come from for your latest children's book, A Greyhound of a Girl?

A: "It's my mother's story really and it's a terribly sad story. My mother was born in 1925 and her mother died in 1928. There were no photographs of her and she could only remember her hands ...doing things like peeling an apple or turning the handle on an old gramophone...but she couldn't remember her mother's face! In her 50s she discovered a photograph of her mother and some letters and a whole maternal side of her family she didn't know and it was a lovely end to the story.

"I wanted to write something that kept pace with my daughter as she was getting older, so I made the girl a 12-year-old girl. It's about four women, Mary who is 12, her mother, grandmother and the ghost of her great grandmother who died in 1928."

Q: How has this book been received?

A: "I don't know how you measure these things, but I've got the best reviews for it. The one that really made me glow and blush a bit was a review that said the ghost in the story was the best ghost since 'the Ghost of Christmas past' - you don't get a better compliment than that. It was wonderful, really wonderful!"

Q: What has been your favourite book to write so far?

A: "'The Snapper' is my favourite for solid emotional reasons really. It was my second book and I had to think much more about it. Because I didn't know much about pregnancy and I brought in a lot more family members so it wasn't as easy to write. I started the book in late 1986 and the film was shot in 1992 and broadcast in 1993. When I started the book I hadn't met my wife, by the time the film was broadcast we had two kids, so I associate that time with 'The Snapper'. There's little stamps of my own story in it as well."

Q: Was it successful as a movie?

A: "I think The Snapper the movie, has become more popular in Ireland then 'The Commitments,' my earlier book/film. When it's on television whole families sit around in an old fashioned way and watch it. What's really lovely is that there are young people who weren't even born when the film was shot, kind of know it off by heart - it's a family tradition.
My sons, who are 21 and 19, said when it was on television the last time, it was all over Facebook 'we're watching The Snapper.'"

Q: Are you writing at the moment?

A: "I'm working a novel set today in Dublin and I've finished the first draft of a children's book which I'll start editing when I get home. I'm really looking forward to that. I wrote a story for the St. Patrick's day parade last year. There were eight chapters and each chapter became a float in the parade. The invitation was a fantastic idea. You get 600,000 people watching the parade and many more on television but it's very very short so I want to write a book from the point of view of the characters in the story."

Q: Where to now? Will we continue to read works from Roddy Doyle?

A: "Well I hope so, I've no idea what the next one will be as the ideas don't exactly queue up waiting like planes at airports. Very often they begin like bubbles and announce themselves just when I'm finishing one book. Something sparks off an idea that might become a book."

 

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