Saturday 16 December 2017

Donal Ryan: 'I wanted to hide from the world'

Author Donal Ryan with his wife Anne-Marie and festival co-founder David McWilliams at the Dalkey Book Festival. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Author Donal Ryan with his wife Anne-Marie and festival co-founder David McWilliams at the Dalkey Book Festival. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Best selling-author Donal Ryan has spoken for the first time about the reaction to his comments concerning the difficulties of making a full-time living as a writer.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent this weekend following his talk at the Dalkey Book Festival, Mr Ryan said that although the response was largely supportive, the level of vitriol directed at him left him wanting to hide away.

"I wanted to hide. I wanted to hide away from the world. It was so intense, really. I know it was just a fly in the kitchen that flew out of the window for most people, but for me it was really intense. I was just a bit embarrassed, to be honest."

The Spinning Heart author continued: "I'll tell you what surprised me: the level of vitriol it engendered. People always say 'don't read the comments' but I did and I did get upset by it."

Although he stressed that "most people were really supportive and you literally quoted me verbatim", he added: "I think some people didn't get what I was trying to say. In the article, I said I get really good advances, that my publishers are really generous, that I love my life and I love my job. I didn't say one negative thing but I think people thought I was complaining about my life - and I wasn't."

Speaking about the current climate where anyone who speaks out faces the possibility of a chorus of criticism, he said: "I think we are in the middle of this whole vibe in Ireland, as you know, and I think especially in the public service, if you say something you will get shot down. But I understand it. I understand why people reacted a certain way. But again, most people were very supportive - I just don't think I'd ever talk about money publicly again."

Last February, the award-winning novelist told this newspaper that he had to return to his day job in the civil service so he could pay the mortgage. Outlining the numbers that go into achieving a best-selling status, he explained: "If you look at the charts every week, in the autumn you need to sell around 1,000 books to be No 1. At the moment I suppose about 500 books would do it or 300 even - it depends on the time of year."

Mr Ryan said he gets a small percentage per book: "So I would need to sell a huge amount of books to make a good salary out of that." But he stressed that he was both lucky to have a great job in the civil service and the support of his "fantastic" publishers.

Asked why he wanted to hide away at the time, Mr Ryan gave a characteristically honest reply: "When you feel you are disliked by strangers, it's an incredibly upsetting thing. You know what the funny thing is? When people say something bad about you, you believe them for a few minutes. It's a really strange thing. I was talking to another author recently and they said that - even when someone says something outlandish about their work -they actually invest that with truth for some reason and it's very hard to shake off."

But he reassured his readers that the white noise of his critics hasn't affected his creative process: "No, actually one thing I can do is push everything aside while I'm writing and that's why I write really." Again he stressed: "I wasn't attacked but I'm just replying to the commentary on the article."

Speaking about the possibility of cyberbullying laws in Ireland, he said: "Sure, we've all heard stories of people being bullied to death, especially at a young age in school. It's horrendous and I do visit schools a lot because of the Leaving Cert and I talk about this a lot - about thinking before you say something.

"Think of the damage you're going to do. It's about being kind. It's such a fundamental thing everyone knows deep down - to be kind -but it's so easy to fire something off and then it's out there in the ether. It's gone from you but it can stay around and do damage."

The writer went on to praise his wife Anne-Marie as being the woman whom he credits with his success. She reads his work as he writes and Donal said "a certain expression" gives her feelings away, if she is not enjoying his work.

"I often get sulky for a few minutes but then I see she's right," he laughed. "But then - when Anne-Marie loves something, I get so high. I wrote a short story recently called The Blind Man and she said she thought it was nearly the best thing I'd written and I was just on this high for hours I was so happy, I was walking on air."

Sunday Independent

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