Small talk: Glenn Patterson

Born in Belfast in 1961, Glenn Patterson studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia before publishing his debut novel Burning Your Own (1988). It won a Betty Trask Award and Ireland’s Rooney Prize for Literature. A memoir and seven novels followed, including Fat Lad (1992), The International (1999) and That Which Was (2004). Patterson is married with two children and teaches creative writing at Belfast Queen’s University.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?
I started writing really early on. My only role model was Jimmy Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy. I spent most of my seventh year in a dressing gown (to look like a smoking jacket).

What book changed your life?
Midnight’s Children and Shame, both by Salman Rushdie. They made me think I’d try my hand at a novel.

What is your daily writing routine?
Actually, I have an annual routine. I always start work on January 1. I stop drinking at midnight on December 31, write like fury in January and tail off in February.

What novel would you give a child to introduce them to literature?
At the minute I’m reading The Old Curiosity Shop to my 10-year-old. I know it’s making a great impression on her.

What are you scared of?
Facebook. I’m scared even to look at it.

What books are currently on your bedside table?
Married Life by David Vogel; Karoo by Steve Tesich; David Park’s The Light of Amsterdam; and How To Solve Cryptic Crosswords. It’s a very morbid bedside table.

Where do you write best?
In a room at home, which I love. During my first four books I moved house about 12 or 13 times, so now I’m glad to have come to rest.

What music helps you write?
I can’t have music or noise. My mum tells me I used to do my homework with my thumbs pressed into my ears.

Who are your literary influences?
Rushdie. And the poem “Snow” by Louis MacNeice. My schoolteacher tells me that when I read it I said, “I’ve got it.”

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?
Lauren Laverne would have the best iPod ... But it would have to be Dorothy Dietrich, the escapologist.

What book do you wish you’d written?
Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, but I am glad that I haven’t had the life experiences that he must have had to produce that book.

What does it mean to be a writer?
Time was that being a Northern Irish writer meant you were invited around the world to speak about the Troubles. That doesn’t happen much any more so it’s being able to pander to the every whim of my elderly, one-eyed cat.

Glenn Patterson’s latest novel is ‘The Mill for Grinding Old People Young’ (Faber)

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