Writer’s Block with Joseph O’Connor

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In the latest in our weekly book series, the internationally celebrated and multi-award winning author JOSEPH O’CONNOR tells SOPHIE GRENHAM about his attachment to the sea, his HATRED OF PUBS, and a particularly beloved photo PATTI SMITH gave him once …

Joseph-O'Connor-by-Gerry-Sandford

Joseph O’Connor is a multi-award winning author, journalist, playwright and academic. He has written eight novels and two collections of short stories, including Cowboys and Indians (1991), Redemption Falls (2007) and Ghost Light (2010). Of course, there is the magnificent Star Of The Sea (2004), which sold more than a million copies and has been published in thirty-eight languages.

Along with his many accolades, Joseph has been a Research Fellow at the New York Public Library and Visiting Professor of Creative Writing in Residence at the City University of New York.

Joseph currently lives in Killiney with his wife Anne-Marie and their two sons. His most recent novel, The Thrill Of It All (2014), is available now.

On his seaside home

We live in Killiney, near Dalkey. As a kid, I always wanted to live here, but of course I didn’t think it would be possible on a writer’s earnings. The success of my novel Star of the Sea allowed us to do that. So I’m very fortunate. Not many author’s books bought them a house.

To me, the sea is a kind of opera. It’s always beautiful, no matters its moods. I run a few kilometres on Killiney Beach most mornings, an extraordinary and quite undeserved privilege.

On pubs

In general, I detest pubs, the greatest venues for time-wasting and pointless male drivelling ever invented. I’d rather have my eyes poked out by cocktail sticks than ever spend an evening in a pub. But Dalkey has some nice ones, like The Queens, The Club and Finnegan’s.

The great poet Auden wrote of Spain in the middle of the Spanish Civil War that he was happy to know that Spain had some marvellously beautiful churches, even though he didn’t want to go into them himself. That’s how I feel about Dalkey’s pubs.

On food

My two favourite restaurants in Dublin are That’s Amore in Monkstown, where we eat as a family most Sunday nights, and Junior’s in Ringsend, a fabulous place. If you’re into honest, loving cooking done by people who have an Italian feel for what they’re doing, as opposed to cheffy crapology, those are two excellent establishments.

I’m fond of people who like and respect cooking. I wish I were better at it myself. My wife and my youngest son have a true feel for the inestimable pleasures of making a meal for a group of people who love each other. To me, there’s a sort of sanctity in that.

On his office

I have a purpose-built study in the garden of our house. On the wall is a photograph that my idol the singer Patti Smith gave me once, of a typewriter owned by the great writer Hermann Hesse. It’s the room in which I wrote my book Ghost Light, my own favourite of my eight novels.

On making a novel work

It’s a bit like marriage. You have moments when you fall out with writing and have a little squabble with it, despite your deeper love. And you hope, in those moments, that your commitment will carry you through.

On the books of his life 

I don’t have a favourite novel but I do have books that were important to me or got me going as a writer. They include Colm Toibin’s The South, Dermot Bolger’s The Journey Home, Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda and Dickens’ Oliver Twist. I think of those books as friends who taught me something.

On the iconic cities he has called home

My adorable wife is a Londoner, and our first son was born there, so I feel far more at home in London than I would in many parts of Ireland or even Dublin.

To me, London is the greatest and by far the most successfully multicultural European city. It’s changed a lot recently. Many say it’s becoming a city for the rich. At the same time, every writer has a bulletproof affection for the place of his or her twenties, because that was the place where you learnt how to write. For me, that was London.

More than that, I feel a primal and deeply affectionate connection to New York, particularly to downtown Manhattan, where we’ve lived from time to time over the last twenty years.

I’ve worked there, teaching, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a Fellowship at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, where I researched my novel Redemption Falls. And our children have both gone to school there, which sort of deepens your stake in a place. It’s the capital of the world but it’s also a city of neighbourhoods.

Cowboys And Indians ( €13.50), Star Of The Sea (€14.20) Redemption Falls (€14.20), Ghostlight (€12.65) and The Thrill Of It All (€12.99) are published by Vintage and available from bookshops nationwide.

Image by Gerry Sandford

Sophie Grenham

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