Interview with Roddy Doyle
MJH: Sommer-Herz described giving concerts in Theresianstadt (the concentration camp where she was held for three years); how she played Schubert’s piano sonata in B major, in an icy-cold hall, and she said: ‘I remember thinking, if Hitler would sit here, he would perhaps hate less, with these two bars - with these two bars - which are so grandiose.’ Sommer-Herz also said that music is the best gift given to human beings (and, by extension, the best gift given back to the world by talented musicians). I think of the gift of great story-telling in similar terms. Do you agree? Or do you make less lofty claims for the power and worth of the writers’ art?
RD: I love the idea of changing the course of history by reading The Commitments to Hitler, in 1939. I’d have been happy to do it, to be parachuted behind enemy lines with a paperback and cyanide pills. But I don’t think it would have worked. I think story telling is vital, but not necessarily my own story telling. The ‘is it vital?’ decision is the reader’s, not the writer’s. I’ve met women who’ve told me that The Woman Who Walked Into Doors changed their lives; it’s a humbling, wonderful, embarrassing experience. But I’m sure there are thousands of people who’ve fallen asleep reading my work. A few weeks ago, a young man told me that The Snapper was shite. At the moment I think the best gift given to human beings, or, at least, me, is Didier Drogba.
MJH: How has your fame and success impacted on your life as a writer? Has it, perhaps, changed the way you approach your work, or the early impulse or intention behind your work?
RD: I was in India last week, at the Jaipur Literary Festival. I was invited because the work I’ve done has brought success, whatever it is, and fame. So it would be daft for me to claim that fame hasn’t impacted on my life. It has. But when I’m in my office, working – I don’t think it gets in the way. I still feel the same anxiety as I work, the same excitement, the same determination to do as good, as clear, as original a job as I can. I still hate handing over completed work. I still feel the validity of unfinished work crumbling away when I discuss it with anyone. I’ve a novel out in a few months; I’m as excited about it as I recall feeling when my first book was published. I’m about to start a new one; I feel as giddy and as uncertain as I always have been. If I approach work differently, it’s down to experience, I think, not success. Although, that experience – nine novels etc – is probably a reasonable measure of success.