Irish writer Roddy Doyle has a very bad throat. “Holding this mic now makes me want to sing. But I’ll probably sound like [the extremely low-pitched grainy-voiced singer] Barry White.” The writer of the 1993 Booker-winning Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Doyle spoke about what it can mean to be an ‘Irish’ writer. “It’s easy to resist the temptation of ‘playing Irish’ especially at home. But outside, there are expectations. Recently, I was told, ‘Drink this. You’re an Irish writer.’ And I don’t drink. But if you’re Irish and you don’t drink Guinness, then you’re obviously recovering from alcoholism.”
A former school teacher, Doyle left his teaching job to write full-time. There was a moment when he was a bit nervous that he would run out of his “subject matter” but he continued writing, “charting much of the geography of his childhood”.
What marks Doyle’s novels and short stories are how they are all different, whether in pace or tone. “What I was terrified of [after writing his first novel in 1987 The Commitments] was to fall into a rut. Just because one book won a prize or another was made into a film that’s watched 20 years later doesn’t mean one sticks to that formula.”
Talking about The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, his 1996 novel about a woman battered and trapped in a marriage and yet able to elicit (nervous?) laughter, Doyle spoke about how he got a hate mail (“a picture of me with the words ‘Death’ written across my forehead”) when the story was dramatised for television. How did he react? “I threw it in the bin. I decided to not make it a big deal. A lot of people were upset that I had written about ‘the Irish family life’ in such a way. But one woman told me, ‘How did you get inside my fucking head?’ That felt so good. The reviews that trashed me after that didn’t bother me at all.”
Doyle is thinking about revisiting the characters of The Commitments, the story about a group of Dublin teenagers who go on to form a soul band. “It’s been 20 years and they’ve grown older. Ireland was in recession then. Twenty years later Ireland is again in recession. So much has changed.”
The author once called ‘Punk Doyle’ (“I attended a Ramones concert and the name stuck”) mentioned why he was so happy to finally come to India. “My son’s schoolmate once told him, ‘Your dad’s picture is in a history book.’ I looked it up and it was the picture of a small, bald-headed man with a bad eyesight. And yes, there I was — Gandhi.”