Claire Kilroy

The award-winning writer discusses dead horses, the new Athens, and her upcoming appearance at the Belfast Book Festival

Claire Kilroy is one of the most exciting talents to emerge from the ever vibrant Irish literary scene. Her debut novel All Summer was described in The Times as 'compelling ... a thriller, a confession and a love story framed by a meditation on the arts', and was awarded the 2004 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. Her most recent novel Tenderwire received widespread critical acclaim.

You’re coming to Belfast for the Belfast Book Festival, have you spent much time in the city?
I’ve never been to Belfast. I have been to Ikea, but I don’t think that counts. I have a lot of friends who are Belfast writers like Carlo [Gebler] and Glenn [Patterson] who are going to show me around though. Carlo tells me it’s the new Athens!

You attended writing workshops with Michael Longley while you were at Trinity – have Northern Irish writers or poets impacted your own work?
Michael is a dear friend. He still has links with Trinity, he’s the Ireland Chair of Poetry. I saw him last week when he was down here, but I’ve never seen him in his natural habitat. My new novel that’s out in May, All Names Have Been Changed, is all about the Irish writing tradition, so Northern poets like Mahon and Heaney are in there. It’s almost impossible to avoid those guys.

You have appeared at a few book festivals before – do you have any stand-out memories or horror stories to share?
No horror stories at all! The one that stands out was my first reading which was at the Edinburgh Book Festival. It’s a massive event and I was terrified. I read with a Belfast writer actually, Bernard MacLaverty. He’s a very generous man. He knew I was scared – because I told him. It was terrifying but I entered a state of bliss afterwards.

Actually, there was a book festival in New Delhi that myself, Glenn Patterson and John Boyne were flown out to, where the hotel caught fire. Glenn lost all his clothes. Me and John did have clothes but we didn’t have any shoes on. It was definitely a bonding experience to be stripped of everything and not know what was happening for 24 hours.

We were given old-man clothes to wear – Glenn ended up in a tracksuit that was too short for him, John Boyne was wearing an old man’s jumper. The three of us were sitting around in shock, hitting the mini-bar!

John Banville is one of your favourite writers. How does it feel to be on the same line-up as him at the Festival?
I last saw Banville at his reading at Listowel Writer’s Week last year. I was glued to it, it was a magnificent reading, and then I came out and everyone kept saying, ‘Did you see the horse being shot?'.

Out the window behind him was a race-track. A horse fell during the race, they put a white tent around it and had to shoot it, and then they dragged it away. But I hadn’t even noticed. [Banville’s] stuff is so spellbinding.

Banville is famously a Nabakov fan, as are you. How have these two writers informed your writing?
Lolita is in my DNA. I read it first when I very young. I read it periodically and read it again last week. Rapture would be a topic of mine, and it’s the topic of Lolita. Also, in the sensuousness of the prose you can see the world the writer is describing. Banville wrote one on rapture, Athena. You can learn to write from really good books, and how writers evoke the world around them. I hope one day to learn how to convey that immediacy.

Tenderwire has been selected by the Belfast Book Festival’s reading group. How do you feel about it being dissected just before your event?
With Tenderwire it’s ok, as it was really popular, whereas with All Summer it didn’t tend to do as well. So with Tenderwire it’s painless. Usually at festivals you are reading a new work and you are reading blind to a new audience. In this instance I’ll be reading to a familiar audience, so it’s more fun for me.

Will you also be reading from your new book? I take it it’s not called Draft anymore?
The title changed the day before we delivered it [to the publishers]. We’ve gone through so many titles. All Names Have Been Changed was originally the last line, but the day before it went in I got a better last line. Tenderwire came out in 2006, so because this one’s new I’m dying to talk about it. The new one is untested.

Claire Kilroy reads at the Belfast Book Festival on Thursday 26 February at 1.00pm. Click here for more details.

Hilary Copeland