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Novelist Eoin McNamee: ‘I owned a bureau de change on the Border in the 1990s and I started a novel based on it six months ago’

The author talks about the need for a Minister for Travellers Affairs and the inspiration for his next book


Eoin McNamee, director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing at TCD. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Eoin McNamee, director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing at TCD. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Eoin McNamee, director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing at TCD. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Director of the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing at Trinity College in Dublin Eoin McNamee is the author of screenplays and novels including Resurrection Man, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize. He lives in Co Sligo with his wife, and they have a son and daughter.

What’s your earliest memory?

It would be hard to pick out one. Early memories sometimes drift up toward you and sometimes you find yourself falling through them. I do know that they inform everything I’ve written.

When and where were you happiest?

In the house and garden where I was brought up in Kilkeel, Co Down.

What is your biggest fear?

Same as any parent: worry for your children.

What’s your least — and your most — attractive trait?

Probably doggedness for both.

What trait do you deplore most in others?

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Closed minds.

What’s the first thing you’d do if you were Taoiseach?

Appoint a minister for Traveller affairs and start dismantling racist and discriminatory legislation against our indigenous people.

What’s your biggest insecurity?

That I would lose faith in art.

Who would you most like to go for a pint with?

George V Higgins. He was a lawyer before he became a writer and represented Gordon Liddy at the Watergate trial.

Which fictional character do you most identify with?

Travis McGee, John D MacDonald’s great detective hero.

What is your most treasured possession?

An unnamed pink rose taken as a cutting from the garden of Ruth Ormsby’s home in Dromore West in Sligo. She was a nurse on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and was the only Irish woman to die in that war.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

People talk about guilty pleasure in reading. I don’t believe in it. Read as much of the trashy stuff as you like as long as you read some of the good stuff as well. And don’t worry about where you read it.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Not so much advice as example. Meeting Eugene McCabe when I was starting out helped me to fit into the world as a writer; friendships with the late Gordon Burn and David Peace giving you the sense that you’re hunting down the same prey.

When did you last cry, and why?

Reading Gail McConnell’s witness to her father in her poetry collection The Sun is Open. William McConnell was a prison official who was shot dead by the IRA in 1984.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

My son Owen, who is studying to be an actor in a great performing arts programme at IT Sligo. In the likely event he turns it down, then Edward James Olmos.

Do you believe in a God?/Is there life after death?

I do believe in a God. On life after death, I hope not. One life is enough.

What’s your favourite word?

The one that fits into the place allocated for it in the sentence and therefore in the world in that moment.

What’s the last TV show you binge-watched?

The Good Fight. I studied law and have been around lawyers most of my life, and law dramas bear no resemblance to the real thing. We wouldn’t watch them if they did.

What’s been your closest brush with the law?

Depends on what you mean by close. Depends on what you mean by law.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

It wouldn’t matter. He wouldn’t take it.

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

The ability to repair a child’s broken heart.

Tell us a secret...

I owned a bureau de change on the border in the 1990s. I had a conversation with a producer about those days when I was working on Vikings: Valhalla last year. She said: “That’s like The Sopranos.” So it was. I started a novel based on it six months ago.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I agree with the poet and undertaker Thomas Lynch who says the dead shouldn’t tell the living what to do. My wife Marie says Renée Reed singing Drunken Widow’s Waltz. 

Eoin McNamee co-curated Blue Raincoat Theatre Company’s The Book of Sligo, a unique community-based creative arts project. Blueraincoat.com