Small talk: David Park

Born in Belfast in 1953, David Park taught English in secondary schools for 34 years before retiring two years ago. He published his first book, a collection of short stories called Oranges from Spain (1990), aged 37. Seven novels followed, including The Healing (1992), Swallowing the Sun (2004) and The Truth Commissioner (2008). He now writes full time and lives, with his wife and two children, in County Down, Northern Ireland.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

A proof copy of Richard Ford’s Canada; Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandelstam, whose husband died in a gulag in Stalinist Russia; Glenn Patterson’s The Mill That Grinds Old People Young.

What book changed your life?

Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The final page, where Rose of Sharon suckles a starving, dying man, revealed to me the incredible power of the novel to change you, and quicken you into some kind of better life.

Who are your literary influences?

William Trevor, John McGahern, JM Coetzee, Richard Ford and Philip Roth.

What is your daily writing routine?

I eat breakfast about 8.30am, scan the news and then desperately think of a reason not to write. If I can’t think of a convincing one, I write for two hours and sometimes go back to it in the evening. I used to try to write for most of the day but it didn’t work.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

When I was teaching I never had time for significant research. I think it was [the novelist] Brian Moore who said that for writers research is a policeman – it stands in the middle of the road and blocks the way.

Where do you write best?

I have a study with a view out to the garden. As well as books, it’s full of objects I like – postcards, my favourite mug, a picture of George Best ...

Which literary character most resembles you?

David Copperfield, as he tries to be nice to everyone. But secretly it would be Steerforth, the bounder.

What are you scared of?

Heights. All heights.

When do you feel most free?

On the beach in Castlerock, on the north coast of Northern Ireland.

How do you relax?

I take a yoga class, play a bit of indoor five-a-side football and I like looking at art.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

Either Vermeer’s “Woman Reading a Letter” for the stillness and the mystery. Or Caravaggio’s “The Taking of Christ” for its drama and technical brilliance.

What book do you wish you’d written?

So many. JM Coetzee’s Disgrace and John Crace’s Be Dead are both powerful examples of the novel’s capacity to explore the human condition like no other art form can.

What are you most proud of?

Having been able to produce a body of work while being a fully committed teacher.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It’s a very special thing. It’s a profession that deserves respect from those who practise it. Without wanting to sound too soppy, a book is a gift of love to the world.

David Park’s latest novel is ‘The Light of Amsterdam’ (Bloomsbury)

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