The Manchester Review
M.J. Hyland
Interview with Roddy Doyle
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Roddy Doyle is one of the world’s best-known and most admired writers. He’s the multi-award winning author of eight novels, all of them critical and popular successes, including, the Barrytown Trilogy: The Commitments (filmed in 1991), The Snapper and The Van. Doyle’s extraordinary novel, Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha (1993) is the bestselling winner in the history of the Man Booker Prize. His next novel, due out in April 2010, is called The Dead Republic, and it's the final book in The Last Roundup trilogy. This interview for The Manchester Review took place in late January 2010.


M.J. Hyland: In a remarkable documentary/interview, shown recently on the BBC, the pianist, Alice Sommer-Herz (then aged 98) was asked if she still practices the piano every day. She said, ‘But, of course. This is my food.’ And, by that, I suppose she meant many things, including that she depends on music and that she couldn’t stand to live without it.
Do you practice every day? Could you stand to live without writing books and plays?

Roddy Doyle: I never practice, if by that we mean writing for the sake of it, to improve or hone the craft – train, like an athlete. I just write, pick up where I left off the day before, the novel or the story or screenplay, whatever I’m working on. I work Monday to Friday, unless there’s a deadline flying towards me; then I’ll work weekends. I love what I do, and I think about it a lot. I’m not sure if I’m ever properly switched off. I work quite hard. But, as for not being able to stand life without writing, if I begin to think along those lines it just feels like sentimentality, or self-importance beyond the call of duty. Surviving without a book to read would be much more difficult than life without a book to write.

MJH: Could you tell me a little more about this? About why it is that you love what you do; what it is about writing that you enjoy? And, are there things about the act of writing, the slog of it, the painstaking editing, or anything else about the life of a writer that you don’t love?

RD: I love writing a sentence, examining it, writing the next one, seeing how they work together, moving on, making slight changes. I love when I look up at the screen and I find that it’s blank: I’ve written a page – it’s a tiny triumph. I love watching as the story builds – a sentence that confirms it’s going to be story, an idea for the title, a burst of dialogue that makes the characters seem familiar, or unfamiliar, or interesting – brings them to life. It’s the daily writing life. I like writing scripts; I love the shape of the page, the dialogue running down the middle – I think it’s beautiful. I enjoy editing when I finish the first draft. I hack away at the words and sentences and paragraphs. The more painstaking editing – third and fourth drafts – I find very hard; the final decisions. It’s getting harder. I don’t remember being remotely as anxious when I was younger. I blame my kids; they’ve beaten the arrogance out of me.