Small talk: Dermot Healy

Novelist, poet and dramatist Dermot Healy was born in 1947 in Westmeath, Ireland. Among his works are A Goat’s Song (1994), The Bend for Home (1996) and The Reed Bed (2001). He has won two Hennessy Literary Awards in Ireland. Healy is married and lives in County Sligo.

Who is your perfect reader?

The person who finishes the book. Without the reader there would be no writer.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Virgil; a dictionary of quotations; Shakespeare’s love sonnets; Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s Recollections; Howl by Allen Ginsberg.

What book changed your life?

When I was 14 or 15 our teacher introduced us to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. It was just for entertainment – we read it aloud – and all of a sudden it became a treasure.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

I didn’t ever know – I just kept at it. I know writing is what I do but I still don’t see myself as one.

What is your daily writing routine?

It’s important to get the morning done ... I start about 9.30am or 10am. I like the idea of stopping mid-sentence, like Graham Greene.

Where do you write best?

I write mostly in my office in the shed outside at home but it can get very cold. I write best on the train, among people. As a writer you spend so much time away from people.

What would you change about yourself?

I’d get up earlier and not put things off.

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

I travelled to Luton from Ireland so I could visualise where one of my characters had gone to live. I saw a pub, ordered a pint and found the barmaid was from Sligo – and so was everyone else in the pub.

Who are your literary influences?

There’s a whole lot of them: Charlie Higgins, Joyce, Heaney, Angela Carter, William Faulkner, Roddy Doyle – a great mate of mine – and Borges.

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

I’m no good at dinner parties. I feel very uneasy at them.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

My father said: “Don’t annoy your mother.”

What is your current favourite word?

Bump. Shakespeare made it up – I’m always fascinated by etymology.

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

John Yeats’ portrait of himself. He kept dabbling with it right up until he died so it’s unfinished. It has had the most extraordinary effect on me.

What does it mean to be a writer?

There isn’t any distinction between a reader and a writer – reading is so much a part of it.

Dermot Healy’s latest novel is ‘Long Time No See’ (Faber)

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