SL: All Summer and Tenderwire orbit around art objects that may or may not be authentic yet are capable of producing intense rapture: a painting and a violin, respectively. In All Names Have Been Changed the focus of your characters’ obsession is Glynn, a writer. What were the differences and similarities in creating your characters’ relationships with him?
CK: Rapture is rapture, and you can be enraptured with anything or anyone. It’s all about what captures the imagination, what ignites that spark, and writing about rapture is a shared characteristic of those three novels. They feel linked that way. With All Summer and Tenderwire, the enrapturing object remains aloof, perfect, and as unattainable as it is inanimate. However, in the case of All Names, Glynn, the adored one, has feet of clay, he answers back, and so Declan’s rapture cannot be sustained. It sours into frustration and disillusionment – he’s growing up, really. I loved writing the closing scenes of the novel, about the acceptance of imperfection, about the fragility of your heroes, and about picking yourself back up.
SL: What writers made you want to write? How have they influenced you?
CK: John Banville and Vladimir Nabokov are the two biggies for me. They both write beautifully and illuminatingly and wittily about rapture and its pitfalls. As novelists, they function on every plane – not only at the level of the unit of the sentence (“the greatest invention on earth,” is how Banville describes it), but also at the bigger picture, the arc of a finely tuned and devastating plot. When I read Lolita at the age of 16, I transcribed bits of it into a notebook, as I wanted to be able to write sentences of my own, and I wanted those sentences to be as vivid as Nabokov’s sentences, and as piercing. I wanted to be able to capture the way, say, an afternoon in late September feels, that sadness of summer fading. Glynn is one of those writers. All Names opens – and indeed closes – with the observation that “Nobody wrote about September like Glynn.”
SL: What is it like to be a writer in Ireland right now, particularly in light of the economic crisis?
CK: It’s easier, in that basic necessities are cheaper, getting by is cheaper, and there’s no longer shame in not having the money to go out to dinner. It’s quite peculiar too, in that suddenly the government is looking to writers as the innovators who’ll get us out of this economic crisis. Anything to do with Fianna Fail makes me suspicious. Having said that, writers are on the other side of the fence to the builders and bankers who brought the country to its knees, in that writers create, they invent something new, whereas the builders and bankers simply destroyed. They extracted wealth from the land and left the country with ghost estates, a black hole of debt. A writer starts with the black hole of the blank page and imagines things into being – characters, stories, places. We make something out of nothing. So the country has moved from a period of destructivity back to celebrating its opposite: creativity. That can’t be a bad thing.
SL: Will you stay in Ireland?
CK: In the past, it’s been economic stagnation that has forced people to leave. Bizarrely, the fact that Ireland was thriving was the thing that was driving the likes of me away, for the simple reason that I could barely afford to live here anymore. Yes, I’ll stay, absolutely. Delighted to. I love it here. I always have. I was reared for export, and dreaded the prospect of it, so I still can’t quite believe my luck that I’m here.
SL: What are you working on now?
CK: A novel about the boom and bust. It’s a tale of folly and hubris.