Q&A with David Butler – Shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award 2015

image[5]David Butler is the author of three novels: The Last European, The Judas Kiss and his most recent, City of Dis, is shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award 2015. He has also published a short story collection No Greater Love, while a one-act play ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas won the 2013 Scottish Community Drama Award. His debut poetry collection Via Crucis came out in 2011. David’s other awards include the Brendan Kennelly and Féile Filíochta prizes for poetry and the Maria Edgeworth and Fish International awards for the short story. He lives in Bray.

Q. You have written three novels, short stories and poetry. Do you have a preference for any particular form? How do you decide which form to work in for any given project?

A. Difficult to say. As a modus operandi, I’ve found that having something in a different genre to engage with has often got me out of jail in terms of the dreaded writer’s block. I wrote my first published novel, The Last European (2005) while supposedly doing my PhD, and whenever that got jammed, I worked certain passages into poems which eventually led to the Via Crucis collection. Likewise, a large chunk of my current work in progress, Under the Sign of the Goat, has evolved into a one-act play, Blue Love, which took first prize at the Cork Arts Theatre in February.Judas

Q. You have described your novels as ‘first person narratives inhabiting the borderlands of illicit desire and violence.’ Will you continue to explore these themes in the future?

A. The novel in progress, Under the Sign of the Goat, certainly inhabits much the same territory, as does the play Blue Love which grew out of it. Also a novella, Tír na nÓg. On the other hand one of the joys of the short story form and the one-act play is that they allow you to explore different styles, tones and genre such as farce and black comedy without committing a full year to the project.

Q. Do you spend much time researching a novel?

A. A well-known maxim for creative writing which I subscribe to goes “write about what you know”. Dublin is far more than a location or backdrop for my three novels to date.  Having grown up here with grandparents as well as parents in the house, I’d say I have access to the rhythms, local geography and speech patterns at a level of intimacy unavailable through research or reading, if I were to set a novel in Belfast, say, or in small-town Ireland.

Q. Who was your greatest literary influence growing up?

A. Probably Tolkein, though I still read Lewis Carroll every five or six years. In poetry, the astonishing Plath-Hughes dialogue.

Q. Are there any other writers in your family?

A. My niece, Sarah; also my ‘other half’, Tanya.  As regards creativity, my younger brother is an art lecturer who designed the cover of City of Dis.

Q. Did you always want to be a writer?

A. Yes, absolutely. Like many teenagers, I had the hormone that spontaneously produces bad poetry. In my twenties, it morphed into the one that leads to over-written prose.  Only in my late thirties did I manage to tame these sufficiently to produce publishable work.

Q. What drives you to write?

A. Over the years I’ve travelled widely and lectured variously, both of which I love, but neither can do anything to appease the nagging guilt at not writing that sometimes gets called a ‘vocation’.via

Q. Do you have a favourite time or place to write?

A. My desk overlooks the sea. It’s a magnificent arena to face down the silence of the keyboard. Having said that, much of my writing is actually composed while out walking, or while listening to the voices and phrases that haunt my insomnia.

Q. Who is your favourite contemporary author?

A. Difficult word, ‘contemporary’! I love three Nobel laureates who have only recently died: García Márquez; José Saramago and Günter Grass – I had the honour of having dinner with Saramago.  If contemporary means living, perhaps Toni Morrison or David Mamet.

Q.Do you have any plays in production at the moment?

A. Two prize winning one-acts were staged so far this year, ‘Twas the Night Before Xmas in the Mermaid Theatre during the Bray Festival and Blue Love at the Cork Arts Theatre, but I’d consider myself very much an apprentice where drama writing is concerned.

Q. What advice would you give to the upcoming generation of writers?

A. Read. Then read more. Read and reread your own writing with one hand on a scissors or delete button. Learn to become your own best (ie harshest) critic. This may mean leaving months and/or other projects between drafts. At all costs, avoid becoming defensive…

Q. What were your impressions of Listowel Writers’ Week on the previous occasions you’ve visited?

A. I’ve been down twice, in 2011 and 2012, once to attend a David Parks Workshop on the novel and, the following year, a Mark O’Rowe Workshop on playwriting. There’s a great buzz around the town. Individual talks and readings can be a mixed bag, but there are always one or two that astonish. Also, friends made down in Listowel tend to be more than just the Facebook variety.


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