Award-win­ning nov­el­ist LISA McIN­ER­NEY on her favourite Ir­ish au­thors, how she’d like to see the coun­try’s writ­ing scene de­velop – and why Ir­ish lit­er­a­ture is in bet­ter shape than ever. Por­trait: Brid O’Dono­van

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The cel­e­brated au­thor dis­cusses her favourite Ir­ish writ­ers.

Lisa McIn­er­ney is one of the most ac­claimed Ir­ish au­thors of re­cent times, and her su­perb body of work has also been rack­ing up a hugely im­pres­sive num­ber of awards, in­clud­ing the Bai­ley’s Women’s Prize for Fic­tion for her de­but novel, The Glo­ri­ous Here­sies. McIn­er­ney’s lat­est ef­fort, The Blood Mir­a­cles, is a grip­ping de­scent into the Cork crim­i­nal un­der­world, mem­o­rably de­scribed in one re­view as “Trainspot­ting meets Good­fel­las”. In terms of her own in­spi­ra­tions, which Ir­ish au­thors did McIn­er­ney rst read?

“I don’t know whether it was be­cause we had a great li­brary,” she con­sid­ers, “or whether Ir­ish ction was just as heav­ily pro­moted then as it is to­day, but as a kid I read a tonne of Ir­ish writ­ers: Tony Hickey, Yvonne MacGrory, Marita Con­lon McKenna, June Con­si­dine’s Beech­wood books. And then be­cause I grew up next to Coole Park, where Lady Gre­gory and WB Yeats used to do their thing, we were en­cour­aged at school to read works by and about them.

“My teach­ers in­sisted we read the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Me And Nu: Child­hood At Coole, by Lady Gre­gory’s grand­daugh­ter Anne. I don’t know if any of us got through it. I’d read it hap­pily now for the anec­dotes about Yeats be­ing dozy, or Sean

O’Casey be­ing a bit of a pup. That ground­ing in Ir­ish lit­er­ary his­tory gave me an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the work of writ­ing, the le­git­i­macy of it, I sup­pose. It’s hard to doubt that writ­ers can make a dif­fer­ence when Yeats is all around you.”

Of course, teenage and col­lege years are piv­otal to the de­vel­op­ment of per­sonal iden­tity. What Ir­ish au­thors did McIn­er­ney read dur­ing that key time?

“When I was a teenager I read Pat McCabe and Roddy Doyle, which ex­plains a lot,” she notes. “Roddy Doyle was great be­cause he cap­tured the way real Ir­ish peo­ple spoke. He knocked the pomp out of it for me. And then Pat McCabe um­moxed me. Sud­denly I was think­ing, ‘How did he do that? Are you al­lowed to do that?’ Read­ing The Butcher Boy at what­ever im­pres­sion­able age I was, made me think about writ­ing in a new way. I didn’t last long in col­lege, I’m sorry to say. Prob­a­bly be­cause Pat McCabe gave me no­tions.”

When McIn­er­ney started blog­ging and writ­ing her­self, were there any par­tic­u­lar Ir­ish works she turned to?

“I was al­ways writ­ing,” she re ects. “I used to write ‘nov­els’ when I was tiny, with my own il­lus­tra­tions. When I was sup­posed to be study­ing for my Leav­ing I was writ­ing. Same in UCC – I spent all my time writ­ing. I don’t think the phrase ‘turned to’ ap­plies. I read what I was read­ing al­ready. When I started blog­ging, I wasn’t in col­lege anymore, so I didn’t have any pre­scribed read­ing. I still feel I missed out on a lot with that.

“I started blog­ging on a coun­cil es­tate, with a view of an un nished green which the coun­cil kept deny­ing was their prob­lem. I was still read­ing Roddy and Pat, pick­ing up books in the li­brary or char­ity shop. Anal­y­sis on the state of the place I re­ally got from other Ir­ish blogs. Twenty Ma­jor, Una Mul­lally, Ju­lian Gough,

Nialler9. On oc­ca­sion peo­ple still tell me they love my blog. Lads, stop. I deleted it in 2011.”

Hav­ing writ­ten blogs, short sto­ries and nov­els, how would Lisa com­pare and con­trast the dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines?

“Blog­ging for me was break­neck and gonzo, pub­lished as quickly as I could man­age,” she says. “All it did was teach me to write to dead­line, some­thing my edi­tor would now tell you I’ve for­got­ten. I met some ex­cel­lent peo­ple through it, though. I nd short sto­ries dif cult. It’s so hard to get the de­tails right, to time it just so. Nov­els are eas­ier. You have room to get to know your char­ac­ters, to bring them here and there, to play around with lan­guage or theme. In short sto­ries, you have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the form. Short sto­ries in­tim­i­date me.”

What are McIn­er­ney’s opin­ions on the cur­rent state of Ir­ish writ­ing?

“It re­ally couldn’t be any health­ier, could it?

You can’t swing a cat for prizes. We’re like Man Utd in the ’90s.”

What Ir­ish au­thors has Lisa been en­joy­ing of late?

“Ah, it’s an em­bar­rass­ment of riches,” she en­thuses. “All of them? I re­cently read Rob Doyle’s lat­est novel, Thresh­old, which isn’t out till next year, and my God you’re in for it. In­cred­i­ble stuff. Ni­cole Flat­tery is an un­tame­able tal­ent. Wendy Ersk­ine. Ian Maleney’s es­say col­lec­tion is great – Mi­nor Mon­u­ments, with Tramp Press. Kevin Barry’s forth­com­ing novel Night Boat To Tang­ier is a won­der. Danny Den­ton’s The Ear­lie

King And The Kid In Yel­low is bril­liant, puls­ing with imag­i­na­tion, and it ab­so­lutely didn’t get the at­ten­tion it de­served. I wish I was en­joy­ing Gavin Cor­bett be­cause it’s been four years now since the beau­ti­ful head­wreck that was Green Glow­ing Skull.”

If you were to rec­om­mend three Ir­ish books to some­one from abroad, what would they be?

“Anna Burns’ Milk­man, be­cause it’s per­fect and you’ll be a bet­ter per­son for hav­ing read it,” says McIn­er­ney. “Colin Bar­rett’s Young Skins is as good a por­trait of Ire­land as you’ll get, if you want to un­der­stand what makes us tick. If you’re look­ing for in­spi­ra­tion to visit, maybe don’t read Ir­ish lit­er­ary ction. We are a bru­tally hon­est lot. So maybe the sean­chaí Ed­die Leni­han’s Meet­ing

The Other Crowd, in which you’ll nd fresh-faced sem­i­nar­i­ans meet­ing strange ddle-playing men at cross­roads at three in the morn­ing. We have very pe­cu­liar, re­li­gion-doused folk­lore, much closer to hor­ror than to Ae­sop.”

Does McIn­er­ney think there is one au­thor who cap­tures what it means to be Ir­ish in their writ­ing?

“You’d have to make some un­holy writ­ing mon­ster to cover all the facets of life on this

“Roddy Doyle was great be­cause he cap­tured the way real Ir­ish peo­ple spoke.”

rock,” she re­sponds. “And even then, we’d be miss­ing bits: we need more Ir­ish writ­ers of colour, Trav­eller voices, writ­ers from im­mi­grant or di­rect pro­vi­sion back­grounds, writ­ers from out­side of the univer­sity cul­ture. More work­ing-class women! If there was one writer who cap­tured all that it means to be Ir­ish, I think that’d be a shock­ing in­dict­ment of Ir­ish­ness. We’re more com­plex and con­trary than that.”

If you are away and feel­ing lonely, what book would you read to give you a sense of Ire­land?

“Maybe Notes From A Coma by Mike McCor­mack. Spec­u­la­tive ction to make some­one home­sick for small town Ire­land. How did he do that? It’s such an evoca­tive novel.”

For McIn­er­ney, what traits does Ir­ish writ­ing pos­sess that dis­tin­guishes it from oth­ers?

“There’s a lack of man­ners that I

nd ex­hil­a­rat­ing,” she en­thuses. “An un­pre­dictabil­ity. A will­ing­ness to play around with form, to break rules when nec­es­sary. An in­abil­ity to take any­thing too se­ri­ously for too long. And a warmth for char­ac­ter and land­scape, a real love of the coun­try, de­spite its aws, that tends to shine through even when we’re ex­co­ri­at­ing the place.”

What changes would you like to see in Ir­ish writ­ing over the next ve-ten years?

“I’d like to see more di­ver­sity,” says Lisa. “I think edi­tors are keen to hear from writ­ers and com­mu­ni­ties they haven’t heard from be­fore, and not as a box-ticking ex­er­cise. Edi­tors want to be sur­prised and de­lighted. Writ­ers who think they can de­liver that, what­ever background they have, should get their work in. Sub­mit to lit­er­ary jour­nals. Come to read­ings and book launches. Ap­ply for work­shops, prizes, grants, bur­saries.

Join writ­ers’ groups. Make a space for your­self. That’s all. We’re in im­pres­sive shape, and there’s still some­thing in the blood that makes us mad for the tall tales and mad to play with lan­guage.

May we never make a hames of it.”

• Lisa has con­trib­uted to the col­lec­tions Be­ing Var­i­ous (Faber) and Com­mon Peo­ple (Un­bound). She is ap­pear­ing at the It Takes A Vil­lage Fes­ti­val in Trabol­gan on May 11 and the Belfast Book Fes­ti­val on June 15. Blood Mir­a­cles (John Mur­ray) is in all good book shops.

Anna Burns and (in­set) her novel Milk­man

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