Limerick writer Ryan shortlisted for best newcomer award

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

DONAL RYAN remembers crying bitterly following Irish boxer Barry McGuigan’s world title defeat to underdog Steve Cruz in the scalding Desert heat of Las Vegas in 1986.

DONAL RYAN remembers crying bitterly following Irish boxer Barry McGuigan’s world title defeat to underdog Steve Cruz in the scalding Desert heat of Las Vegas in 1986.

It was his father, Donie, who reassured him that the former World Featherweight Champion was sure to win the re-match as his loss was due to heat exhaustion rather than his opponent’s timid blows. It never happened of course and Barry McGuigan soon retired from boxing, following the death of his father, in 1987.

For the young Donal Ryan, however, the need to set the record straight had far reaching consequences. He was used to going to hurling matches with his father and enjoyed reading the match reports.

From these he learned how a writer could re-create an event through words, sometimes making it seem even more exciting than it had been in the first place.

Knowing how to spin events led Donal Ryan to rewrite history allowing his hero Barry McGuigan to emerge victorious from a fictitious rematch. It was nothing more than a school essay, perhaps, but one which demonstrated the power of his penmanship.

He explains: “From a young age I always thought of myself as being a writer. I am not even sure why. I just know that it is what I always wanted to be. My parents’ house was always full of books and I read almost constantly before I even started school. Some of my earliest memories are of lying in bed and calling to my mother, Anne, in the kitchen, looking for the spelling of a word and waiting expectantly for her pronunciation and definition.

“I was always amazed by the way those books drew me in. It felt as though their writers had some magical power to create a world inside my head making me stay awake until the sun rose, riveted by the beauty of their words. I loved sport as a child, football and boxing in particular, but I was entirely ungifted, so reading and writing became my main interests by default.”

Donal started to write his latest novel The Spinning Heart in the summer of 2010, just as he had finished writing his first novel, The Thing About December, to be published next year. Both are by The Lilliput Press and Doubleday Ireland.

The former tome was written in twenty linked monologues and is set during the spring and summer of 2010. There are two main narrative strands, about the murder of an elderly man and the abduction of a child, which are continued through each individual character’s story.

Set in an unnamed fictional village in the North Tipperary/East Limerick area The Spinning Heart is currently attracting a very broad appeal. Indeed, critical feedback has been extremely positive from publishing luminaries such as the Irish Independent, the Irish Times and the Sunday Independent.

Ryan’s characters are easily recognisable to readers in an entertaining and vivid way and the success of these early stories has created an incentive to write even more.

“I am currently, foolishly I think, working on a third and fourth book simultaneously,” he says. “I will have to prioritize one soon, though. I normally write between the hours of 9pm and midnight, although I have been writing very little in the last few months.

“With The Spinning Heart approaching publication and then being launched I found that my spare time simply evaporated. We have two young children as well (Thomas and Lucy) so writing opportunities are currently only being snatched at.”

Recently, he launched The Spinning Heart in O’Mahony’s Bookshop on O’Connell Street and felt that they did a fantastic job. He has always loved the Limerick book store so it was his natural choice when asked about a location for the launch, in the city.

“I will be on the main stage at the Dublin Book Festival, at Smock Alley Theatre, on November 16 in conversation with Madeleine Keane,” he adds. “I will be joined by the remainder of those shortlisted authors for Newcomer of the Year, and again on November 18, in conversation with John Boyne. I hope that I have something to say, then, which people might actually want to hear. It is all a bit nerve-wracking at the moment though. I will also be on Síle Seoige’s radio show on the morning of November 17 and will be on RTÉ’s Today Show over the next few weeks.

“I have recorded interviews with Matt Cooper on Today FM and also with Edel Coffey on RTÉ’s Arena show in the last few weeks. These will be broadcast soon and I have also been invited to speak at next year’s Kate O’Brien Festival. I feel very honoured by that invitation.

Donal Ryan has been shortlisted for Best Newcomer at the Irish Book Awards. The award is partly based on a public vote. For details see Irish Book Awards.