Writer’s Block With Aidan Mathews

AIDAN MATHEWS is a drama producer at RTÉ who has shone in many lights – poet, playwright and author. He tells SOPHIE GRENHAM about his red-brick in Ranelagh, the effect of technology on his writing process and HIS LOVE OF 1970S GREECE

Aidan Mathews JPEG

Not only is Aidan Mathews an acclaimed author and poet, but one will also see playwright and philosopher on his voluminous CV.

Aidan was educated by the Jesuits at Gonzaga College; religion would play an integral role in his writing. He continued his studies in UCD, TCD and later Stanford University where he was taught by the great René Girard.

Aidan’s debut poetry collection, Windfalls (Dolmen, 1977), won the Patrick Kavanagh award for poetry and the Macaulay Fellowship of the Irish Arts Council.

His earlier and much lauded short story collections are Adventures in a Bathyscope (Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, 1988), and Lipstick on the Host (Vintage, 1992). His latest offering Charlie Chaplin’s Wishbone and Other Stories was released last year.

Aidan has been praised by critics and peers alike, including Colm Tóibín who said, “The stories all succeed in being funny despite the pain and tragedy they imply. They represent a great step forward for the Irish short story.”

His fiction and drama have collected many honours, including the Ina Coolbirth Poetry Prize, a Sunday Tribune Literature and Theatre Award and Italy’s Grinzane Cavour Prize. Aidan lives in Dublin with his wife.

On where he hangs his hat

Because our three thoughtful parents died at the right moment in the last millennium, before the property boom, my wife and I live in red-brick Ranelagh, an area described in James Joyce’s Exiles as “a new suburb outside Dublin.” I was at school there, once upon a time, and am still at home there, half a century later, although the great indoors is what beckons now; and the yard in summer. Continuity is a kind of plotline for which I am very thankful.

On creating

I write in the afternoons and in the evenings mostly, because, like all cold-blooded creatures, I metabolise slowly. Nights under the angle-poise can be nice as well, although never the same since I stopped smoking. Then again, Microsoft in the meantime has opened as many Windows as it closed, streamlining fluency but cancelling the finality that the tedium of typewriters made possible. There is no end in sight anymore, which is almost as hard to bear as a death used to be.

On bookshops

All bookshops smell the same to me, from Foyle’s on London’s Charing Cross Road to City Lights in San Francisco; and it’s that mild, immaculate scent, odour of woodland and fresh laundry, that has kept me sane, if spendthrift, all my grateful life.

On treasured works of literature

To my considerable cultural embarrassment, I imagine it is the three Synoptic gospels in the New Testament (not so much St. John, perhaps); and the psalms and prophetic writings in the Hebrew Bible. How passé the Passion narratives seem!

On work

I am a jack of all trades, and a master of one; but which one still remains to be seen.

On theatre

Much like the Mass in English, I prefer productions anywhere at all with a small cast, a splendid script, an appreciative house, and a few familiar faces to smile at (but not necessarily to talk to) on the way in and/or out.

On his spiritual home

Greece in the 1970s; but I am forty years too late for that. Of course it’s always a mistake to return to a place where one has been very happy in the past, because that mixes grief and gladness in a way that is sometimes intolerable. But you have to be my age to understand that.

Charlie Chaplin’s Wishbone and Other Stories (Lilliput Press, €20.00) is available nationwide.

Image by Alan Betson

Sophie Grenham

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