Sunday 22 September 2019

My cultural life: author Donal Ryan

Donal Ryan
Donal Ryan
Love/Hate's Nidge
The Grapes Of Wrath

Donal Ryan is the author of four bestselling novels and a short story collection. He has won numerous awards, among them the European Union Prize for Literature, The Guardian First Book Award and three Irish Book Awards. He was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2013 for his debut, The Spinning Heart, and again in 2018, for From A Low And Quiet Sea. His work has been adapted for stage and screen, and The Spinning Heart is a set text on the Leaving Certificate syllabus and in 2016 was voted Irish Book of the Decade in a nationwide poll run by Dublin Book Festival. He lectures in creative writing at the University of Limerick. He is married to Anne Marie, and has two children Thomas (10) and Lucy (9). He is shortlisted for the Eason Book Club Novel of the Year category in the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018. You can vote for your favourite author on

Film: Braveheart


I couldn't watch Braveheart (above) for years because I so regretted not joining my FCA comrades in the army of extras. All the lads had war stories, they'd all been high-fived by Mel Gibson, they'd all fought at Stirling and York and Bannockburn, and I'd spent that summer washing dishes. But for all the keenness of those regrets, I never tire of the movie. As preposterous a hagiography of William Wallace as it is, I love it.

Band: AC/DC

If the word 'fan' is a diminution of 'fanatic' then when it comes to AC/DC I'm a fan in the truest, Oxford-dictionary sense: I am filled with excessive enthusiasm for them. I own everything they have ever recorded, mostly on vinyl, with CDS and cassettes as backup.

Book: The Grapes of Wrath

My favourite book is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (below). As well as being a sublime writer, Steinbeck was an avowed egalitarian, feminist, social reformer; he saw clearly the terrible consequences of moral relativism and knew well the fundamental truth that kindness was humanity's only hope of salvation. The Grapes of Wrath, charting the Joad family's journey from dustbowl Oklahoma to the promised land of California, has about it the spirit and feel of secular scripture: it's a call to non-violent arms for people who recognise that corporate greed and neo-liberal politics will destroy this planet and everything that lives on it.

The Grapes Of Wrath

Music: The Parting Glass

Sometimes, when she thinks no one can hear, my wife sings The Parting Glass, and it does my heart good. It's a Scottish and Irish farewell lament that originated somewhere in the 16th Century. I think it's fascinating that a piece of music so luminous and powerful can be of such nebulous provenance, but that adds to the ghostly beauty of it.

TV: Love/Hate

Love/Hate's Nidge

I have taken the position publicly that, in many ways, Love/Hate (above) was a better TV show than The Sopranos. I have staunchly defended this position in the face of all kinds of know-it-all-ery. It reveals the filthy, terrifying pith of Irish organised crime. Infinitely tense, and written and acted so searingly and brilliantly. Nearly every scene is clear in my memory.

Sunday Independent

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