Monday 20 May 2019

Write side with novelist Paul Lynch

Novelist Paul Lynch on his famine story, his uncle Gerry Stembridge, and trying to wean himself off his iPhone

Paul Lynch
Paul Lynch
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Your novel Grace is set in the Famine. Do we shy away from the topic in Ireland?

I suspect we are comfortable talking about the Famine so long as it remains in the abstract. But it is the novelist's job to put flesh on history, and who doesn't want to imagine more deeply what the Famine was like? As Virgil put it to Dante in The Inferno, "I think it best you follow me for your own good, and I shall be your guide..."


Did anybody give you encouragement to write?

I'm lucky to come from a family where books are cherished. My parents were supportive and it helps too that my uncle, Gerry Stembridge, is a writer. It was an inspiration to watch him from afar growing up, to see his success and how hard he worked. When I showed him the first pages of my debut novel, he spoke the words of encouragement I needed to hear.


How, where and when do you work? Describe the room.

I write on a black and battered Ikea desk, with a wall of books to my left which I am slowly filling with hardcover editions of the great books that I love. I keep some lines from Heaney in a photo frame: "Compose in darkness. Expect aurora borealis in the long foray but no cascade of light."


Are you easily distracted?

I begin work early in the morning and stay offline till about lunch. Once you check your email, your thought patterns change, and those periods of deep concentration become impossible. I am fighting a battle to get my reading attention span back and have been weaning myself off my iPhone. I'm about to swap it for an old Nokia and a black notebook.


Which books would you take with you to the desert island?

I would grab Volume III of the Annotated Shakespeare which contains all the tragedies and romances, and Folio's stunning slipcase edition of Robert Fagles' musical translation of The Odyssey.

Paul Lynch's novel Grace is the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year

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