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Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry was born in Limerick in 1969 and now lives in Dublin. He writes sketches and columns for the Sunday Herald in Glasgow and the Irish Examiner in Cork. He has written about travel and literature for The Guardian, The Irish Times, The Sydney Morning Herald and many other publications. He was awarded the 2007 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for this collection.

Short story collections

There are Little Kingdoms (Dzanc Books, 2007) 

Winner: 2007 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature

Reviewed by Elaine Chiew

Interview with Kevin Barry

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Kevin Barry: They’d been slowly oozing from my fetid little brain onto the computer screen for the best part of seven years. The oldest story dates almost to the last millenium, the most recent was still being fiddled with about five minutes before the collection went to print early in ’07. So all in all, it was a pretty slow and laborious process. Frankly, it took a lot out of me. I have been left a husk of a man. Art is a hideously painful business, you know. Pity me! Or at least buy me a drink.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

KB: With the later stories, maybe, yes, a bit. As you write your stories, I suppose you start to realise that certain themes and obsessions raise their unpretty heads again and again and again. So a pattern emerges, and you think, okay, so maybe a coherent collection can be designed around this.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

KB: The thirteen stories in the collection were chosen from maybe thirty in all that I’d written. Sometimes, I tend to write in a bluntly satirical mode, choosing targets the size of barn doors, and while I love these satirical stories dearly, believing them to be touched by comic greatness, they didn’t really fit in with another strain of story I’d been rustling up. These other ones were darker and probably more ‘realistic’, whatever that means (I have lately lost all interest in ‘reality’) and these stories ultimately made up the main meat of the book. Maybe I’ll do an out-and-out satirical collection later on. Arranging an order is tricky. I had music in mind, actually, favourite albums. I was thinking of how a masterpiece like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is structured: open with a couple of killer tracks, then let it get all lowdown ’n’ weird ’n’ smoky.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

KB: I am hugely insecure and desperate to be loved and I want my reader to adore me, to a disturbing, stalkerish degree, so yes, I always have a reader in mind when writing. It’s an ideal reader, a massively sophisticated type with a subtle mind, a feel for poetic resonance and a wonderful sense of humour. Me, in other words.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
collection, anything at all?

KB: Can you believe how good this stuff is? Do you think I’m better than Saul Bellow yet? What do you mean you’re not sure? Pah!

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

KB: Really cool. And I’m afraid I have to make a confession. (This is all turning out to be very therapeutic, actually.) I’ve been haunting bookshops and hiding behind display signs of TV chefs (Nigella is excellent to hide behind as she has a huge arse) as I spy on the short fiction section and see if anyone’s tempted by my sweet bait. I’ve also been counting how many copies of the book are left in shops, and I’ve been covering other “upcoming” authors’ books with mine. Oh what a rancid, poisonous, competitive fiend I’ve become! I have by now attracted the attention of several store detectives.

TSR: What are you working on now?

KB: I have recently finished reinventing the novel. Expect seismic shudders to surge through the world of letters in the very near future. The novel is called Ways To Disappear and is a magnificent achievement. I’ve also taken about half the stories from the collection and scrunched them into a gooey stinky mess and – tah-dah! – turned them into a stage play, which will tour in Ireland later this year.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

KB: Karen Russell’s gloriously inventive St Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves which rocks, big-time. David Malouf’s Every Move You Make, which is monumentally impressive, and makes me want to go and live blokeishly in the Australian outback (‘Da dingo took mah baybee!’). And I’ve revisited, as I often do, an all-time classic, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, which contains the greatest story in the language, For Esme – With Love And Squalor. (And wow, he does bitchin’ titles, doesn’t he?)