1. You have a novel and collection of short stories in print, with a new novel coming out next year. What was your path to publication?
Looking back, my path to publication was comically arduous, though it didn’t seem funny at the time. Just yesterday, while going through some old folders I found a stack of rejection letters for my first novel, Here Are the Young Men. There were a lot of them. Yet that novel ended up doing well, making it possible for me to live by my writing. These days I meet various younger or up-and-coming writers, and many of them spend their twenties hanging around the publishing scene, going to launches and that kind of thing. I can see the usefulness of it, but I never did any of that. I hardly knew what the publishing scene was, nor where it might be located. I wasn’t living in Ireland, but flitting between various countries like Carlos the Jackal. So when I eventually wrote a book that I suspected was good enough to publish, I was a total outsider and didn’t have any book-world contacts. That probably slowed me down by a year or two. Happily, since getting that first novel published, it’s been a hell of a lot easier for me. I write books, essays, reviews, stories, and a literature column in the newspaper, and there’s generally someone willing to publish what I write.
2. Would you say your forthcoming novel marks a departure from what you’ve published to date?
Yes, definitely. And at the same time, not really. Threshold is a book that eschews the traditional foundations of prose fiction – plot and character – in order to welcome the reader more intimately inside the mind of its author-narrator: which is to say, my mind, or the mind of someone who resembles me in key aspects as he wanders around Europe and beyond, reeling from the blows of life, trying to figure out the big abiding issues of existence that literature has been worrying since time immemorial: loneliness and longing, sex and love, madness and transcendence, joy and crisis. My instincts as a writer are an extension of my instincts as a reader: I hate being bored, so I’m always rather slavishly trying to write books that are not uninteresting for even a paragraph or a sentence. Constructing a book entirely from my own fascinations and obsessions – artistic, experiential, geographic, sexual, pharmacological, and metaphysical – rather than unfurling a plot focussed on the relationships between fictitious characters, is my latest attempt in this direction.
My stuff has always had a strongly autobiographical bent: a ‘Rob Doyle’ character manifested here and there throughout the stories in This Is the Ritual, and everybody knows that Here Are the Young Men was a thinly-veiled confession of the period when my friends and I wreaked a trail of carnage and atrocity on the drug-flooded streets of millennial Dublin. Writing a book from the point of view of the writer of those books – a book partly about the books this writer would like to write while he is actually and almost inadvertently writing the book you are in fact reading – was a logical progression.
3. How important do you think Literary Festivals are for aspiring, emerging or underexposed authors?
This one is hard for me to answer because, in truth, I only started getting invited to literary festivals after I had found success as a published novelist, and I assume this happens to many writers. It’s the way of the world: the more people want you, the more other people want you. Or, as Jim Morrison sang from the opposite side of the mirror, ‘People are strange when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly when you’re alone.’ One thing I do know is that festivals offer writers, who work for years in solitude without much recognition, a bit of visibility, a chance to show off, and that is surely a welcome thing.
Rob is taking part in our “We Put it Write” panel on Sunday 29th September @ 11.30 in Bray Town Hall, along with writers Declan Burke and Rebecca O’ Connor.