In this brief email-interview with the Allingham Festival, Paul discusses his writing, his dreams, and becoming his translator's worst nightmare.
Paul Lynch is the author of the critically lauded Irish novels Red Sky In Morning, currently nominated for France’s best foreign book prize, le Prix du meilleur livre étranger, and The Black Snow. He has been hailed as a major new writer by authors such as Sebastian Barry, Colum McCann and Daniel Woodrell. Prior to the publication of his debut novel, Paul was the chief film critic of The Sunday Tribune. Paul will hold a seminar on Saturday afternoon as part of the Allingham Festival, wherein his readers and other writers can learn more about his writing life. Later that evening, he takes part in the Wonder of Words event, alongside Donal Ryan, Theo Dorgan and the Poetry Divas.
Allingham Festival: Both your novels are set in the past. Is there a reason behind this? Do you find it more natural to be creative in the past rather than the present?
Paul Lynch: I do not choose what I write about. My books come to me like rabid dogs — they set their teeth into my leg. When the virus takes hold, the only way to save myself is to write it out of my system. The appeal of the mythic realm — writing about Donegal in 1832 or 1945 — is that it can work as an abstraction in which to stage the big questions about life. Allegory also allows you to ask questions about the present. The fact is that all historical fiction is born of the moment they are written in, and so both Red Sky in Morning and The Black Snow are deeply contemporary novels.
AF: The theme of Allingham 2014 is 'Creativity Across Borders'. Your debut novel 'Red Sky In Morning' has been published in the USA, translated into French and nominated for France's Best foreign book prize. To what extent were you involved in the translation process? Your writing style is unique, and has been praised for its reinvention of grammar and structure - how did this translate into French or other languages?
PL: My translator had a terrible time of it. She told me so over lunch last spring, said that there was a moment while translating it that she considered quitting translation altogether. My French is not so great, but I am told she did an incredible job. What you have to accept as a writer is that there is no such thing a perfect translation. If you gave the book to a different translator it could be quite different — not structurally, of course, but there would be a change in terms of a uniqueness of feeling that comes from word choice. I take the attitude that after translation, it is no longer really my book but the translator’s. They are the unsung heroes of literature.
AF: How does the process of writing a novel begin for you? You have said elsewhere that Red Sky in Morning'was inspired by the TG4 documentary on Duffy's Cut. What is it that sparks your imagination, and how do ideas develop into a novel?
Red Sky in Morning was inspired by a documentary about Duffy's Cut and the 57 Ulstermen who died in Pennsylvania in 1832. The Black Snow began from a dream I had about a burning byre. What a dream! You never know where the spark is going to come from, you just have to be open to it. What follows then is a long gestation period. I don’t sit down to write the book immediately. I allow the idea to settle, for other ideas to nucleate around it. It might be a year later before I sit down to write it. By that stage, I have pages and pages of notes and a fair idea what I am in for. I begin very gently and spend months finding the unique sound of each book. I might spend three or four months just writing the first twenty pages.
AF: You were the Sunday Tribune's film critic for five years. To what extent has film influenced your writing? Do you have you any plans to write for screen or stage?
PL: I see a lot of my sentences like a camera tracking through a film. My mind is a film shoot that doesn’t lose anybody any money. I would be a nightmare filmmaker. I did consider it for a while before I realized novel writing was really what I was about. A good thing too — I am such a perfectionist, I would require hundreds of takes to get each scene right. My budget would overrun by millions. In my writing, I see a lot of what I write about cinematically, and roam about as if my mind were a camera. I love the idea of making a novel feel a little bit like a film — climbing into the mind's eye of the reader and making them "see" what they are reading. DW Griffith invented cinematic grammar by reading Dickens. And writers for many years now have been learning from cinema.
AF: Do you have any advice for young or aspiring writers?
PL: If you want to be a writer, you must be a serious reader. You must read the good stuff, the stuff that has bite. Read the modern-day masters from all over the world. Read the classics — the great masters who have stood the test of time. You can learn everything you need to know about writing by reading them. You do not need to sit a class. And do not be afraid of the “difficult” books. They ask more of you but return so much more. I do not know a single good writer who hasn’t been devouring books most of their life. Reading matters more than writing. Great writers are even better readers. I could happily give up writing but I could not give up reading.
AF: What's next for Paul Lynch?
PL: I'm in the deep of writing my third book. It will be a follow up of sorts to Red Sky in Morning, and tells the story of Coll Coyle's children. My wife has read some of it and thinks it is very different to anything I have done before. I am delighted with this — I cannot abide the idea of repeating myself. I seem to have been writing solidly now for over five years without much of a break, having leaped from one book to the other. I can feel it taking its toll. The back is getting sore. I have another year of solid writing ahead of me I reckon, but after this, I will take a little break.
SEMINAR: PAUL LYNCH
VENUE: ABBEY CENTRE
TIME: 4 PM, SATURDAY NOV. 8TH
WONDER OF WORDS
VENUE: ABBEY CENTRE
TIME: 8 PM, SATURDAY NOV. 8TH