Eoin McNamee’s novels include Resurrection Man, later made into a film, The Blue Tango, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and Orchid Blue, described by John Burnside in the Guardian as ‘not only a political novel of the highest order but also that rare phenomenon, a genuinely tragic work of art.’ Born in Kilkeel, Co. Down, he was educated at various schools in Northern Ireland and at Trinity College Dublin. Eoin’s most recent novel Blue Is The Night is shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award 2015. He lives in Sligo.
Q. Blue is the Night, like your previous novels, is very much a work of ‘faction.’ How do you manage this blending of fact versus fiction?
A. The material dictates the form. When I wrote Resurrection Man, based on the Shankill Butchers, I followed the literary convention and changed everyone’s name even though all the real-life characters were clearly identifiable. It felt coy and a little dishonest. So when I was faced with another real story in the Blue Tango, I decided to keep the names. After that the only troubling question is the moral one – do I have a right to alter the matter and events of a life, and if I don’t, then what is the consequence?
Q. The Blue trilogy, the first of which, The Blue Tango, was nominated for the Booker Prize, is based around the Curran family, whose teenage daughter Patricia was murdered in Northern Ireland in 1952. What was it that drew you to this particular story?
A. Many things. A childhood memory of a brittle and yellowed newspaper lining a drawer with the headline, Judges Daughter Slain, a photograph of Patricia Curran at eighteen, her face dominated by the shadow of her eyes, the mesmeric void, corrupt judges, transgressive sex, a beautiful, doomed girl, post-war white mischief, madness and corruption.
Q. Do you enjoy the research side of writing a novel?
A. I start with a loose knowledge of the story and work off images, fragments, marginal happenings, then research in detail when the book is written. Mostly I’m on the right track. It becomes eerie when the book is published and people start to bring you the unseen matter surrounding a particular event, coming up at the end of readings, writing letters, steering the continuing story into unexpected places.
Q. Do you have a favourite time or place to write?
A. I try to stick to something approximating nine to five. Hard chair and rickety desk. I have a room although I’m not sure if the actual room matters. You bring the writing space with you – if I move to a different place it takes a while to re-establish it.
Q. Who were your early literary influences/books?
A. I read everything: C S Lewis, Blake, Enid Blyton, Dickens, Mark Twain – getting lost in Moonfleet and Kidnapped. When I was eight I spent some time in hospital and my handwriting fell behind. My mother had me copying Blake, Yeats and Keats into a lined notebook. The Victor, The Hotspur, reading Sven Hassel under the covers in boarding school, Richard Brautigan, Graham Greene. Anything I could get my hands on.
Q. Did you want to be a writer from a young age?
A. I think so. Although I wasn’t sure what the job entailed I expected it to be impossibly rigorous and beyond anything I might be able to bring to it.
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. You find yourself getting out from under the conventions you impose on yourself and your imagination. Works start to seep and bleed into each other and you jump ship from one thing to another, purloin sentences and images. I’m working on two novels, one of which may be a poem and a poem which may be an elegy to the memory or unseen presence of Dermot Healy.
Q. What books do you enjoy reading as an adult? Do you have a favourite contemporary writer?
A. I go back to favourite books, stories, paragraphs and poems as touchstones. If I had time I would just learn them all off by heart. But those are my own and I think I’d lose them if I shared them.
Q. What writer/historical figure (living or dead) would you most like to share an airline flight with?
A. Leonardo da Vinci, in the same way as I’d like to bring Mozart to hear Robert Johnson.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation of upcoming writers?
A. When you’re not working, try to live – possess the good of the earth and sun.
Q. What are your impressions of Listowel Writers’ Week? You have also directed Creative Writing Workshops here. What are you most looking forward to this year?
A. Listowel Writers’ Week is a gracious and good-hearted event. It wears its cosmopolitan credentials lightly and I’m always delighted to be part of it. I’m looking forward to the Tarbert ferry and the long straight road.
We are delighted to announce a new event at this year’s festival on Thursday 28th May at 8pm called ‘Eavesdropping on a Novel Conversation.’ Meet the five shortlisted novelists of this year’s Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award: David Butler, Eoin McNamee, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Patrick O’Keeffe and Eibhear Walshe. The event will be facilitated by arts and music journalist Jim Carroll. For more details and to book please click here