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Tales from the darkside
€36,000 better off after winning the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award, Kevin Barry has been hailed as one of the finest Irish writers of his generation. In an extraordinarily frank interview, he talks LSD, Chinese marriage scams, death threats, the IRA and daffodil theft with his old Limerick colleague Stuart Clark.
Stuart Clark, 25 May 2012
Jelly-bellied real ale enthusiasts, lesbian hipsters, OAP kiddie-snatchers, a poet-turned-publican and a terrorist Goth.
Those are just some of the people populating Dark Lies The Island, the latest short story collection by Limerick-born, Sligo-domiciled author Kevin Barry who hit the headlines recently when he won the €36,000 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Award with his yarn about the aforementioned beer nuts.
Presenting him with his bank manager-pleasing cheque was Melvyn Bragg who praised Beer Trip To Llandudno for “taking a disregarded and often scorned stratum of male pals and finding wit, pathos and great energy there.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the South Bank Show man’s fellow judge Joanna Trollope who proffered, “We were especially impressed by the tiny details and conversational fragments that make this story so much of now.”
Not surprisingly, Barry’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing since.
“Yes, all my friends have been calling up saying, ‘Now you’ve got a few bob in your pocket you can get us back for all the pints we bought you when you were broke!’” he laughs.
Would it be fair to say he’s been suffering for his art these past few years?
“Erm, it’s been okay since the first book of stories, There Are Little Kingdoms, came out,” the affable 41-year-old reflects. “I’ve had grants and bursaries from the Film Board and Arts Council and royalties from the books themselves, but you’re certainly not getting rich. You’d be amazed by how little money even famous authors have. I know of household names who are selling in the low thousands – and you’re only getting a quid a book.”
What does a debut need to shift to be deemed successful?
“A couple of thousand is considered okay,” he suggests. “I’ve been very lucky to get the coverage and do five or six thousand here and a few thousand more in the UK.”
Good for a first outing, then?
“Yeah, but it’s getting very tough to keep going. I don’t think you can be a career novelist any more. You have to do other things.”