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Sebastian Barry interview

Sebastian Barry interview

In this Man Booker Prize 2017 longlisted author interview Sebastian Barry tells us the prize has the power to knock years off your age and how the experience of writing Days Without End was a great surprise to him.  

What has it been like to be longlisted?

I was driving along on the back road to Gorey in County Wexford (just to be precise) when my editor at Faber, Angus Cargill, rang me. I had already pulled over to answer a call from my daughter in London so I put her on hold. I knew Angus was on holiday with his family so I was surprised he was ringing me. It is the fourth time in twelve years someone has uttered the highly unlikely, near-impossible words, 'You're on the Man Booker longlist,' and its matchless charm has not worn off -- not an iota. In fact the sheer impossibility has the power to knock at least 60 years off your age (I am 62). I leapt from the car and walked around gabbling back to Angus. Joyful, joyful. Then luckily remembered my fierce daughter on the other line.

What are you working on next?

I am trying to steer towards a final final draft of a new play for the Dublin Theatre Festival, called On Blueberry Hill.

What are you reading at the moment?

Like the rest of the world, I imagine, Carlo Rovelli's Reality is Not What it Seems. As a physicist he's so light on his pins, as befits his subject.

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

Was part of your aim with Days Without End to offer an alternative American foundation myth?

A few years ago I had a necessarily brief friendship with Peter Matthiessen, the late and luminous American writer who had an abiding interest in Native America, (for which he paid dearly along the way).  He was very interested in things as they are, and then things as they are changed on that blue guitar of Wallace Stevens. The blue guitar maybe makes wonderful music, but in the upshot I just wanted to try and locate a 'document'. My aim with the book was not so much to offer an alternative Foundation myth, but a sort of (made-up) eyewitness account by one person who had 'been there'. Not dressed up for National purposes, or nation-building, but simply a bare account of things as they were, or as I imagine they were. But sometimes a book takes you by the nose and leads you elsewhere. It has its own ideas about how you should be spending your time. Consequently the whole experience was a great surprise to me. I started with an intention somehow to honour Peter Matthiessen, engendered by my admiration for him, and ended up with something other. I opened a little door expecting something I would recognise to enter but an unknown creature crept in through the shadows instead.

Days Without End