INTERVIEW: Garrett Carr

Garrett Carr, author of The Badness of Ballydog, talks about inspiration, publishing and seagulls

Watch Garrett Carr reading from The Badness of Ballydog

Ask author Garrett Carr where the inspiration for his debut children’s novel The Badness of Ballydog came from and it’s clear the idea has been lurking in the depths of his imagination for a very long time.

‘I couldn’t have been more than three or four,’ Carr explains. ‘I was looking for cartoons and turned on BBC 2 instead. It was a history programme, or maybe it was a myth, about a Chinese man who invented the first diving bell. When he came up he said he saw a monster down there, one so huge it took three weeks to pass him by.’

The first of a trilogy, The Badness of Ballydog is set in different parts of Ulster and reinvents the north’s tradition of myth and legend. For Ballydog – the baddest town in the world, under threat from a vast sea monster – Carr drew on his experiences growing up in Killybegs, a fishing town in County Donegal, where his father owned a trawler called the Villa Du Port Louis.

‘The gulls were everywhere,’ Carr remembers. ‘They were the soundtrack to your life.’

The novel has already been optioned by a film production company, the second in the series Lost Dogs will be on the shelves later this year, and book number three is well underway. But success for the 35-year-old writer didn’t come overnight.

‘I sent the book out to about 40 agents. One rejection arrived in the post the very next day! I didn’t think the mail got to England that quickly.’

Signing a three-book deal with UK publisher Simon and Schuster has made Carr philosophical about that early rejection. He’s also still getting used to his current status as a published, full-time writer.

‘I’m still learning how it works. You know publishers, my publisher anyhow, show the covers of books to Waterstones to get their opinions on whether it will sell or not? And a cover has to look good at this size.’ He holds up thumb and forefinger, squished together to frame an invisible postage stamp. ‘Because that’s how most people see them on Amazon.’

Carr is usually willing to bow to the publisher's experience in regards to books (admittedly easy to do when they never asked him to make any substantive changes to The Badness of Ballydog or Lost Dogs). It’s only on titles that they've disagreed.

The Badness of Ballydog was nearly renamed The Badness, but Carr convinced them to go with his original title. Now they are trying to settle on the name of the final book in the trilogy.

Carr wants to call it Last Days of Loughlinger but his publishers aren’t wild about it.

‘They don’t like the Lough, they think the spelling will confuse people.’ He sips his coffee thoughtfully and admits with a wry smile, ‘They don’t really like linger either. But I haven’t thought of anything better yet.’

It’s interesting that neither publisher, other than their complaints about Lough vs Loch, nor agent balked at the idea of setting a children’s book in Ireland or, in Lost Dogs, Northern Ireland.

There was a time that Glenn Patterson was the poster-boy for Northern Irish non-Troubles literature. Now more and more Northern Irish writers are combining a local setting with mainstream publishing success. If this keeps up then one day we might even catch up with Scotland, which is positively over-run with love-lorn lairds and cantankerous detectives (although not in the same book yet).

Carr thinks the secret is that readers don’t care if the novel is set in Banbridge or in Prague, it’s the story that's important. 'You can keep it local,' Carr says, ‘but still make it universal.’