In which conditions does your writing come into being/flourish? Does mood play a role?
I don’t think I require specific “conditions” as such. I’m writing all the time. I don’t struggle to make a start in the mornings. I’m not necessarily always writing well, of course, and it may be that there are times of the year when the words are coming more smoothly, maybe in summer ... When there’s more light and you can swim in the lake, you’re a happier animal, and maybe you're in a physical and mental condition where you're more attuned to your work.
Which conditions are detrimental to the right concentration?
The presence of the Internet. To write well, you need to be in a very concentrated frame of mind, and being online is the antithesis of that. When you’re online, your brain is hopping around like a demented little flea, and this is not a good place to be if you’re trying to write.
I’ve convinced myself of two things: 1) that there’s a God; and 2) that he has a big lever to turn the Internet on and off and he only turns it on at 1pm in the day. I try, religiously, to keep away from the online world when I’m writing in the mornings.
Does writing need a room (physical, mental, emotional) of its own?
Well I do have a room ... or a shed, more specifically. It used to be a holding cell for the prisoners who were held at our house, which used to be a police barracks, dating back to the 1840s. Sadly there isn’t the ghost of even a single tortured Fenian. I like to write in this place but I don’t need it ... I write in cafes, on trains, in hotel rooms, I’m not precious about it.
Which place does writing occupy in your life? How does it interact/interfere with life, or does life interfere with writing?
I’ve been lucky enough to write fiction and drama full-time since my first book of stories came out in 2007. I don’t teach or do anything else. And after a while you find that writing stops being the thing you do, and it becomes the thing you are. All of your life is turned towards the object on the desk, and how you transform the materials of your own life and experience into fiction.
Is the literary translation of life into stories/poetry/drama somehow an unceasing commitment? Could you give an example of how that works?
One of the peculiar things about it is there’s a kind of time lag ... It takes a long while before the events and emotions of your life start to surface in your stories and scripts. I find that often a story or a play will be inspired by something that occurred maybe ten or eleven years ago in my actual life. You just have to be patient and not strike too soon or not force it. Often the inspiring material has to sit back in your unconscious for ages before you’re sufficiently embittered to start writing.
Does the unconscious come into play, and if so, how? Could you give an example of how something gestated over a certain time? Do the best passages come (un)intentionally?
The unconscious is the place where fiction and drama happens. The only thing in life that is close to writing is dreaming—they both come from the unconscious. And when you think about it, we are all brilliant storytellers when we dream...the dialogue is perfect, we conjure great cinematic scenes, there are plots with their own dream logic. Writing is all about trying to get to the place where we dream while we’re awake. That's why I like to write first thing in the morning while I am still (as Don Delillo nicely put it) "puddled in dream-melt".
Which is your favourite genre and why?
I try to read as broadly as possible across the genres ... so I read what’s referred to as ‘literary fiction’ (a phrase that makes the soul shudder), and crime fiction, and ‘popular fiction’ and graphic novels and essays and memoirs and poetry. Above all, actually, I think the daily or nightly reading of poetry is essential, not just for your development as a writer but for your development as a person.
What is the purpose of writing for you?
To keep me going. I’d be fucked without it.