When you complete what seems to you like the final draft of a short story, Mr. Barry, do you …
Please, there’s no need to be formal. Relax.
Thank you. So when …
By the way, would you care for a drink?
It’s a little early …
Nonsense. I’m having one.
Well, okay …
But just tiny sips of this little tiger, actually, as it apparently causes blindness.
Right. Okay. (takes tiny sip) Jesus God!
Imported from the Ukraine. I find it quite the heart-starter at this time of morning.
Okay. So, with regard to your new collection of short stories, Dark Lies the Island …
Well, quite. So how would you describe the prose style employed in …
I have many prose styles. I have as many styles as there are stories. I let the story dictate the style.
But isn’t it more typical for the writer to find his or her voice and then …
Drone on in that voice for 40 years? I’d rather scrape my eyes out with a fork.
But doesn’t an artist require a purity of vision that speaks in a single …
As an artist I consider myself to be one hundred per cent corrupt. And I say that with a measure of twisted pride.
So how do you write a short story?
Most often stories come to me in the form of hallucinations.
Or perhaps better to say they come in spectral visitations. (raises palms disarmingly, smiles) In fact it’s best not to delve too deeply into the origins of one’s stories. They generally come from pain, anger, bitterness, misery and hatred. Stories come out of problems. If you have no problems, you have no stories.
What are your problems, specifically?
(chuckles, pours another drink, downs it) Where would you like me to begin?
I think I get you. Are you aware, relatedly, that Dr Freud once said psychoanalysis wouldn’t work for Irish people?
Quite so. Because where would you begin?
Let’s go back to your many and various prose styles …
A prose style is a direct projection of a writer’s personality, nothing more and nothing less. And once a certain amount of time has passed, you’ll find there isn’t very much you can do about your personality.
But if you employ many prose styles, wouldn’t that suggest a fractured personality?
Do you hear voices, Mr Barry?
Routinely. They’ve long since stopped bothering me. I just write them out.
So is writing in some ways close to …
Madness? Well. If you spend your life devoted to the creation of fictional worlds and people, you will become familiar with many of the motions of madness.
This is getting a little heavy. Can you talk a little about specific stories in the book?
Certainly not. They are for the readers to discover and make of what they will. They vary greatly. Sometimes the story and the style of the story will be quiet and thoughtful. Sometimes the story and the style of the story will be jumping up and down looking for attention like some horrendous tap-dancing child.
Do you intend to give the reader a good time?
Nothing more and nothing less.
Are you competitive about writing?
Brutally so. John Cheever once said that writing isn’t a competitive sport. He was lying through his teeth.
Often in your stories a very Irish dialect or idiom is used. Do you worry this might cause difficulties for American readers?
If I can get Kansas, Kansas can get me.
The short story has enjoyed something of a renaissance lately. Why so?
Because the Internet has reduced our attention spans to the levels of little frogs. So people are inclined to read short. But in fact short stories are the most intense prose form, and they ask most of the reader. They are not literary fast food to be gobbled down like chicken nuggets.
Do you find sex difficult to write?
No more difficult than it is to enact.
There is a lot of booze in your stories …
Because there is a lot of booze in the world.
Finally, when was the last time you wrote a short story?
KEVIN BARRY is the author of three books, most recently the story collection Dark Lies the Island. His debut novel, City of Bohane, was a New York Times Notable Book, won the 2011 Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, was short-listed for the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year and the Costa First Novel Award, and won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. He won the Rooney Prize for Irish literature for There Are Little Kingdoms, his debut story collection. His stories have appeared in the New Yorker and Best European Fiction, among other places. He also works as a screenwriter and playwright. He lives in County Sligo, Ireland.