was born in Ireland and currently lives in New York. He is the author
of the novels Sunless,
Winsome and Schopenhauer’s
Telescope, which was nominated for the Booker Prize.
Young Irelanders (Overlook Press,
(also published as Country of the Grand,
with Gerard Donovan
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Gerard Donovan: A
couple of the stories began life in the early nineties, before I ever
had a serious interest in writing fiction, and a couple were written a
year or two ago. Most of them are about five years old. All were
revised and re-worked many times, and they changed focus, some
dramatically, over the years as my own experiences changed and my style
began to work its way to the surface. In that way they went through
many lives, with different characters and even plots. They contain
layers of stories that were written and discarded, and a couple of the
pieces harbour a character or two from stories that didn't make it but
that I cannibalized. I can see traces remain here and there like echoes
from the sides, and I like that effect, so much like life in that
respect, where every object has two or three invisible associations and
memories. And I'm able to trace the history of my style through some of
is the oldest, Archeologists
is the newest. I've never put so much effort into anything. I'd be
afraid to add up all the time, but it's at least equal to the time I
spent at my novels.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
GD: Now and then, yes,
but I got over it quickly. I really had to wait for the stories to
suggest their own unity rather than have one imposed on them, some
artful attempt at binding them under one cover for the sake of it. That
unity did not arrive until late. The stories began to lean in a certain
direction as if under the weight of an influence I myself did not
detect. The feel of a collection emerged from that time on.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
GD: The arrangement
was difficult. The stories that were not included withered on the vine
and wanted no more attention. As for the arrangement, I once studied
music for a time, and in thinking about an order, I employed a sense of
changing keys as part of the decision. I tried to arrange them tonally,
paying attention to beginnings and endings. The thorn in the side of
arranging stories is that I could not shake loose the conviction that
each one ought to be independent too. But ultimately, beginning with a
morning story (Morning
Swimmers) and ending with an evening story (Visit) was an
effort to create the space of a natural day for the stories.
TSR: What does the word "story"
mean to you?
we enter after it has begun and leave before it has finished, a form
with its own battery of resonance and suggestion that lasts far beyond
the final line.
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
My ideal reader is a lay reader with no particular axe to grind, a
person who has lived a life or two or five already, someone who does
not want to be hammered over the head with metaphors, familiar
associations such as brand names, plots that reflect what happened
yesterday, or exotic subject matter that relies on being different for
its strength. A reader who does not need or desire validation but is
nevertheless in love enough with living to want to witness more of it,
in a delayed sense, in stories. That "delay" is what intrigues me about
writing, and I wonder if it's what attracts readers to the written
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
GD: I'd be
interested to know if the reader sympathises with any of the
characters. If the reader senses that she is present in the stories,
can see and hear the sounds around her, can trace her own blood running
in the characters as they face their situations. If the reader
responded to their plight. I suppose I'm talking about harmony: whether
the tonal sound I've put into the stories is the same sound the reader
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
GD: Good and
something else. I keep realizing that more people read them than I
previously thought. I'm not that especially well known, I'm not to be
found in airports or doctors' offices, so it's always a revelation when
so many people seem to know about one or more of my novels, and indeed
now this collection. I have the sense that more and more people are
reading my work, and that's a territory I'll navigate while (I hope)
still paying the same attention to what I'm writing.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
GD: A novel set in
the west of Ireland.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
GD: Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look Now (the new selected release with the Patrick McGrath introduction). I think she's a genius. B. Traven's The Night Visitor (for the second time recently). And finally, Andres Dubus' Selected Short Stories.