Writer’s Block With Mike McCormack

Winner of Novel of the Year at the 2016 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards MIKE MCCORMACK talks getting his big break in a Galway restaurant, making homemade cider and WHAT HE’S DOING NEXT

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At this stage in the game it would be fair to state that Mike McCormack, one of Irish literary fiction’s most distinctive voices, is having a good year. Not only did the Mayo native collect the Novel of the Year accolade at the 2016 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards, but the lucrative Goldsmiths Prize for his uniquely crafted one sentence novel, Solar Bones.

Mike’s previous work includes two much-lauded collections of short stories. The first is Getting It In The Head (1996) and the second, Forensic Songs (2012). In 1996 he was awarded the Rooney Prize for Literature for Getting It In The Head, as well as making the New York Times Notable Book of the Year list. Mike’s other novels are Crowe’s Requiem (1998) and Notes From A Coma (2005). However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Mike’s creative path has encountered some well-documented spanners in the works; making the taste of victory even sweeter. Fellow author Kevin Barry has said of Mike’s Solar Bones, “McCormack is one of our bravest and most innovative writers – he shoots for the stars with this one and does not fall short.”

Mike McCormack lives in Galway with his wife, Maeve.

On home

I live in Galway, have done so off-and-on since I came to college here in the mid-eighties. We live in a little cul-de-sac on the edge of the city, a quiet little place with nice neighbours. The best part about it is the green space which opens out in front of the house – most evenings it’s full of kids shouting and running and jumping and having a good time, they liven up the place. Kai Café on Sea Road is an award-winning place with great food and lovely atmosphere; Maeve and I go there from time to time. I have a special regard for it now because it was here that Lisa and Sarah from Tramp Press brought me to lunch and told me how much they loved Solar Bones and wanted to publish it …

On creating

I work at home in the box room, a little room full of books and a stereo, the usual stuff. The most interesting things in it are the two demijohns which are now empty. I made cider in October and I’ve enjoyed listening to the two jars bubbling and chuckling away to themselves in the corner. Last week I racked off ten litres into bottles; it’s great stuff – I reckon it must be up to 7% proof.

On bookshops

Galway is well served with bookshops and at the moment all of them are independent – Charlie Byrne’s, Dubray Books and Kenny’s. I would gladly spend time and money in any of these places. It is worth taking a trip out to the Liosban estate to visit Kenny’s bookshop and gallery. The books are great – very strong on Irish interest – and the gallery is always interesting. But the best part is that you will get to talk to Des Kenny – he knows everything about books and has that genius for story and conversation which makes every visit there a special pleasure.

On his nightstand

There are only two books at the moment on my nightstand – Liz Nugent’s Lying In Wait because I loved her first book, Unravelling Oliver, a really well-crafted and brainy thriller so I am looking forward to more of the same. There is also a copy of Fernando Pessoa’s The Book Of Disquiet. I have four copies of this book lying around the house, and I pick it up and read a page or two whenever the mood takes me – it’s kind of a Book Of Common Prayer.

On escaping

My hometown is Louisburgh, Co Mayo and every time I go there a lot of anxiety and tension falls away from me… the place really is balm for the soul.

On hindsight

I would have told my younger self when he was first published to enjoy himself more because it gets a lot tougher from here on.

On winning awards

It has been very enjoyable, a lot of good will and nice people. However, a curious thing happened immediately after the Irish Book Awards; I am told I made a nice speech but I remember none of it and when I got outside to be interviewed for radio I experienced a kind of mental blur as if all the synapses in my brain had melted or come apart… I could not string two words together. Really odd sensation.

On what’s next

I have a short story to finish before December 21 so I am working away on that.

Solar Bones (€15) is published by Tramp Press and available from bookshops nationwide.

Sophie Grenham @SophieGrenham

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