Writer's Block with Colin Barrett - The Gloss Magazine

Writer’s Block with Colin Barrett

Award-winning author Colin Barrett from Co Mayo discusses his roots, writing, reading, success and more with Edel Coffey…

Colin Barrett is from Co Mayo. In 2014, his debut collection of stories Young Skins was published and awarded The Rooney Prize, The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize and The Guardian First Book Award. Barrett’s stories have appeared in The Stinging Fly magazine, the New Statesman, The New Yorker, and Harper’s Bazaar. In 2019, Calm With Horses was adapted for a feature film starring Barry Keoghan. His debut novel, Wild Houses is out now. He is Writer-in-Residence at UCD.

ON HOME I was born in Canada, so my very earliest memories are of living in Toronto. We moved back to Ireland when I was four and I grew up in Mayo, where my dad is from. Mayo is my undying creative subject so it’s become my imaginative home, it’s where my stories live, but Dublin is my home because that is where I live. Myself and my family spent six years in Toronto up until last summer. It wasn’t sentimental, it was practical – we went there for my partner’s job. We had a daughter at that point who was six months old and our boy was born there too, so they will both have what I had. It’s strange how these cycles repeat. Having been away during the pandemic with our young family, we were always going to come back to Ireland, but that enforced absence of the pandemic really did concentrate our resolve on coming home.

ON ROOTS My father’s side goes back a long way in Mayo and my mother is from Wicklow. I’m the eldest of five boys so I always had a friend. My nearest brother is only 18 months younger than me. The house just became more populous with kids as we went along and my cousins were around the same age so I was always in a very social context as a kid, but I did enjoy time to myself, drawing, and reading books.

ON BECOMING A WRITER I did a degree in English at UCD but I wasn’t a very good student. Instead of reading what I should have been reading to get good grades I started reading The Stinging Fly and The Dublin Review and literary journals and then I got into short stories. The Stinging Fly was looking for new writers and I thought I will write something and send it to them and about four years later I did! I like to take my time with things. They took the first story I sent them, and that felt great. I’ve got book deals and whole collections published, but when I got that email I do distinctly remember walking along the canal in Dublin and just being over the moon for a week afterwards. It was really important at that time and probably gave me years’ worth of motivation.

ON WRITING I have mainly written at a kitchen table. I used to be a night owl and stay up late and write but now it’s just not feasible with the school run every morning. Once I’ve dropped off the children, I start writing as soon as possible and then pick up momentum. Of course there are days when nothing happens. When I was finishing Wild Houses I would go to the library in Toronto for an hour or two. There’s something about people around you doing their work that disciplines you to not faff around. This year I’m Writer-in-Residence at UCD so I have an office in which I can write, which is the first time that’s happened.

ON SUCCESS It’s wonderful to get the recognition but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Don’t take your eye off the ball. With each book, I’ve done the best I can. In the most meaningful sense, that is the biggest success.

ON READING I know some writers can’t write and read at the same time. I’m not one of them. I have fallen behind with Irish writers but I’m trying to catch up. A book that meant a lot to me was Kevin Barry’s first collection, There Are Little Kingdoms.

ON BOOKSHOPS I love Books Upstairs and Hodges Figgis, where we launched Wild Houses. It’s a beautiful space. You can get any book you want online but I still love going into bookshops and picking something off a shelf, in the moment, and impulse buying. @edelcoffey

Wild Houses, written by Colin Barrett, published by Jonathan Cape.


All the usual great, glossy content of our large-format magazine in a neater style delivered to your door.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This