Monday, March 12, 2012

My First Time: Kevin Barry

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today's guest is Kevin Barry, author of the new novel City of Bohane, which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award in the first novel category and is now available in the U.S. from Graywolf Press.  Barry was born in Limerick in 1969.  His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, Best European Fiction 2011, and many other journals and anthologies.  He also works on plays, screenplays, and graphic stories.  He now lives in County Sligo in the west of Ireland.

My First Time(s)

My first time....
attempting to write a short story is an occasion I can date precisely--August 17th, 1977.  My family was holidaying on Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland.  We were staying in a small, malodorous caravan, and for entertainment, we had just a tiny transistor radio.  Late on the night of August 16th, the deejay broke in, mid-record, to announce, very huskily, that The King, Mr. Elvis Aaron Presley, had passed away.  My parents and siblings at once fell weeping into each other’s arms but I--a small but stiff-lipped lad--was moved to the more austere response of memorious art.  Next morning, at first light, I put pen to paper, and I composed a story in which the Soul of Elvis rose up from the (considerable) dead meat of his earthly remains and ascended into the skies above Memphis, and was absorbed, somehow, into the body of a seagull.  I did not lower myself to explain what a seagull was doing as far inland as Tennessee.  And anyway I soon had the bird light out on an eastward course, and it crossed the black Atlantic, and it came to hover above Achill Island, where it communed joyously with a holidaying Irish family.  Elvis, in other words, Lived.

My first time....
writing a short story that to some degree worked happened late in the autumn of 1999.  In the way of young aspiring writers, I was in an evil garret, nursing a wicked laudanum habit, and huddled miserably above an enormous Dell laptop (period detail).  I was, of course, limp with the usual ambition and neglect.  I was toying, none too gaily, with a short story about the various passengers on a transatlantic flight from Seattle to London.  Not a great deal was happening in the story.  So I suddenly decided to crash the plane.  It was forced into an emergency landing in the Arctic Circle and, period detail, I remember checking in A REFERENCE BOOK if it was indeed the Arctic, and not the Antarctic, that I meant.  I noticed, as the story descended with the plane into lurid melodrama, that I was sitting up a little straighter in the chair--I was starting to have fun.  So next the passengers started to freeze to death, and their only chance of staying alive was to form into a huge concentric circle on the ice and to begin circling endlessly for body heat, like penguins.  It was the first time a short story of mine had surprised me--I hadn’t anticipated a penguin element sneaking in.  I titled the story “The Penguins” and it would be the earliest of my stories to appear in my debut collection, “There Are Little Kingdoms.”

My first time....
writing a novel that ascended from the desk--unlike the dead meat of a couple of previous efforts--was when I set to imagining what a small, west of Ireland city might look like (and sound like) sometime in the middle of the 21st century, if it had resource only to Victorian-era technology, and if it was occupied by homicidal gangs of (extremely fashion-conscious) teenage sluts and sluggers battling for control of the city’s vice and narco trades.  I had the scene set but I couldn’t quite begin the novel because I didn’t know what the city was called.  But then, one night--and again we must descend into melodrama--I had what I can only describe as--ahem--A Vision.  I awoke--this was early in the October of 2008--about 3 a.m., and I was trembling deliriously, and I was in a fever sweat, and I sat bolt upright in the bed, and I cried aloud the single word “Bohane!”  Of course my darling spouse turned drooling from her shattered sleep, kicked me viciously and said, “oh go the fuck to sleep, would you?!”  But I managed to reach a (quivering) hand to the bedside table, picked up the pen and made the note.  The novel City of Bohane appears this spring from Graywolf Press.

Photo by Hugh O'Connor

1 comment:

  1. brilliant. i too spent time in those western irish environs as a lad, caravans in mullaghmore, cottages in malrany and rosses point, the metal man pointing the way to watery graves for naysayers. bohane is great. little kingdoms, too. dark island awaits.