Limerick’s literary force Kevin Barry honoured for his unique way with words

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

LIMERICK author Kevin Barry who has earned international acclaim for his works – he has captured the world’s most valuable short story prize and has featured on the New York Times book review - has been named the Limerick Person of the Month.

LIMERICK author Kevin Barry who has earned international acclaim for his works – he has captured the world’s most valuable short story prize and has featured on the New York Times book review - has been named the Limerick Person of the Month.

The Ballinacurra Gardens native who now lives in County Sligo with his wife Olivia said he was delighted to receive the award from his home county.

“It’s great - fantastic to get it. Ye haven’t forgotten me yet in Limerick,” he smiled.

Kevin captured the world’s most valuable short story prize, the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award, worth £30,000 (€36,000) in March of this year.

“Money-wise, it’s the biggest short story award going so it gets a lot of attention because of that. It was very lucky timing as well because just the same week I had a new book of stories coming out so it was brilliant timing for the new book, ‘Dark Lies the Island’,” explained the writer.

The collection of short stories, he says, is going down well with the public since its release. “Publishers are terrified when you present them with books of stories, they want to publish novels all the time but it’s been going really, really well for me here and in the UK and it’s coming out in the US next summer.”

The launch of the book also coincided with a “great review” by the New York Times book review of his first novel ‘City of Bohane’. The review, he says, was the break he needed to establish himself in the US literary market.

“The US is such a big market with so much stuff coming out all the time, your really need to break over there and that’s the best one you can get I suppose. I was in Boston and New York doing readings afterwards which was great. My face has got around a bit more this year.”

Having started writing fiction in his early 20s – he is now 43 – Kevin describes 2012 as both a “challenging” and “interesting” time for writers “with so many things competing for our time.”

“I think we spend so much time on-line that people can find it difficult to go into a quiet space where you need to be to read a book. On another level people have never read more stuff - when you are on-line you are reading. It will be interesting to see what happens. Definitely I think shorter books might be the way forward.”

The popularity of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, he agrees, is chipping away at people’s attention span. To date, he has resisted the temptation to sign up to social networking sites. He emails “and that’s about the size of it”.

“If the minute you wake up, you check your iPhone at the side of the bed, then you are immediately into that space that you are in when you are on-line, when your attention wavers. It’s not a good place if you are trying to write a book in the morning. I have made a very conscious decision not to be on things like Facebook or Twitter just because they are such an easy way to procrastinate and not do the work. You can kind of convince yourself you are doing something useful when you are not, really.”

Americans, in particular, he says, are “amazed” by his social media stance, “but it’s done me no harm so far anyway, we’ll see how it goes.”

His general rule is to avoid the internet until the afternoon. “For me that’s what works,” he says. “As soon as I crawl out of the bed I make coffee and get to the desk as quick as I can. When you are half awake and still half asleep, in a funny kind of way you are not afraid to embarrass yourself on the page, you just spew it all out”.

He doesn’t own a kindle – a digital device to read electronic books - not as of yet anyway but he could be tempted. “I don’t see anything wrong with reading books on e-readers, I don’t think it’s going to replace books. I think what will tend to happen is in book shops you will get very lush productions of books. It will be really important to give books good design and make them really nice objects. The end of the market I think it might hit is the stuff you would buy in airports, the cheap paperbacks”.

When he’s not above in Sligo writing or travelling to promote his works, Kevin can be found back in Limerick catching up with his family and friends. The city, he says, is “very different” now compared to when he left it in the early ‘90s “when it was fairly down-at-heel”.

“It is starting to come round. There seems to be loads going on. For years I think Limerick kind of trailed behind Galway and Cork in pushing its cultural forces to the fore. I think that’s changing and it’s fantastic for the city.” The Limerick Person of the Month is sponsored by the Limerick Leader, Southern and the Clarion Hotel.