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A round of rapid-fire questions with Donal Ryan

On the ground floor of the Schuman Building, Donal Ryan welcomes Limerick Voice reporter Manon Gilbart into his office where piles of books are scattered on a large wooden desk. Sitting by the window, he is rocking a grey UL T-shirt as he answers a round of rapid-fire questions.

Donal recently won the Jean Monnet literary award for European Literature for the translation of his novel ‘From a Low and Quiet Sea’. His new book, ‘The Queen of Dirt Island’, will be out next summer.

Favourite AC/DC song?

Gone Shootin’, from the album Powerage. I think because the songwriting is very good in it. It strikes me as the perfect rock song, it has those beautiful riffs and an amazing solo.

What is the one book you always find yourself going back to?

I think it’s The Stand by Stephen King. There’s a book called The Grass Is Singing, by Doris Lessing – it’s just so tense, there’s only a few moments of release in the book. You know it’s not gonna end well, but you keep reading through it. If you ask me tomorrow, it could be different. I think we’re so influenced by the books we read.

Latest TV show you’ve watched – and loved?

Sopranos, that’s just perfection. At the moment, I’m watching Boardwalk Empire, I’m years behind with this but it’s so good. Also, Love/Hate that came out a few years ago. Funnily enough, actually, all my favourite TV shows are about gangsters, I don’t know why.

A classic you feel guilty for not reading?

I do feel terribly guilty about War and Peace, my father bought me a very old and very rare copy of it. I sit down now and again, read maybe 10 pages, and think ‘ok this time now I’m going to read ten pages a day until I’m finished.’ I don’t why I don’t, because I can see the beauty of it – I can see all of life is there. But I’m going to do it. I was better when I was younger with long books, I don’t know why but as I get older, I really appreciate shorter books. Maybe because I’m gonna die soon or something. I’m in a hurry. When you’re young you think you’ll never die, now I feel impatient.

When it comes to the main protagonist of a story… Hero or anti-hero?

I’ve had arguments about this with people actually and I’ve been on a judging panel once where one of my fellow judges said we can’t vote for this book because the main character is horrible. I think it’s very closed minded. It’s completely subjective. I don’t think a protagonist needs to be relatable to everybody. I think they should be human, realistic. I hate to see a book being dismissed because the protagonist is unlikable or does things the reader wouldn’t do.

What is one album you will never get tired of listening to?

New York, by Lou Reed. I listen to it in the car on long journeys. Also, The Pogues album, If I Should Fall from Grace with God – it’s just so beautiful.

Which book from your TBR pile will you tackle next?

Hot Stew, by Fiona Mozley.

Given the choice of inviting 3 dinner guests – dead or alive – who would you want sitting at your table?

 If I stick to literary terms… I know everyone says it but James Joyce, I’d love to have him in a room and to know what he was really like, he just seemed to see into the souls of people, so I’d love to see if he displays that in real life. Doris Lessing, she just seems so funny and warm, so wicked, she’d be great craic. I think I’d also have Emily Dickinson, it’s tragic she didn’t get published in her lifetime.

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