My Cultural Life: Nick Laird

'A Cookstown skinnymalink mumbling for a bit' - Nick Laird warns his Aspects audience what to expect.

How do you find living and working in New York for part of the year?

It’s a hassle moving back and forth, especially with dogs and children, but I like New York a lot. We’re in Greenwich Village and it’s a bit like being back at college. Everything’s very handy. My daughter’s nursery school is on the ground floor of the building we live in, and the gym and library and coffee shop are all within a block’s walk.

You can pay people to come and take your washing and bring it back clean, or bring you food or groceries. You end up leading a very localized existence, which lets you concentrate on teaching and reading and writing. And New York always feels much more open and energetic than London.

You’re back in Northern Ireland for the Aspects Festival. Do you look forward to spending time in the country?

Yes, of course. I’ll be staying with family and will be seeing some friends. I’m back and forward all the time to Cookstown.

You’re also involved in the upcoming Sixty-Six Books project at the Bush Theatre in London at the end of October. Can you tell us about that?

I don’t know much about it, but I understand that 66 writers were commissioned to rewrite the books of the bible, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James edition. I did Jonah, and the poem, ‘Cetacean’, is being performed by an actor called John Light at the Bush Theatre. I’m going to miss it, unfortunately. John Light’s a great name, isn’t it?

So far you have published two novels and two poetry collections. It’s rare these days for a writer to be successful in two different disciplines. Does each discipline feed into the other?

Very occasionally you can steal bits from poems for the prose, but no, they don’t really help each other. If anything it’s the opposite: they call each other out and rough each other up; the prose becomes too knotty and dense, the poetry too chatty.

I find the whole thing very tricky and can only do one at a time, with a bit of decompression in between. But I do like to write them both. I think it allows you to be various, to have differing concerns. It’s reductive but it’s also true to say that poetry is basically concerned with death (and commas), and prose concerns itself with life (and commas).

Fiction tends to be social, and lets you think about lots of different people moving through the world. It can be funny or thrilling or sexy or violent. Poetry, for me at least, tends to be turned inwards. Both, though, can surprise you, or let you surprise yourself.

It’s also nice to write something that most people, including my relatives, can read if they like. Poetry is so far from the current culture that it seems like a closed door to most people I know. Or maybe it was always like that.

What are you working on at present?

I’ve just finished a book of poems called Go Giants which comes out next year, and I’m fidgeting with the start of a novel. It’s set in Papa New Guinea in 1960. Not sure why.

Do you keep up with new writing from Northern Ireland? Is there anyone you particularly like reading from here?

Yes, I try to. From the younger crowd I think Leontia Flynn and Alan Gillis are great.

What can those who come to see you read at the Aspects Festival expect?

They can expect a carnival extraordinaire, with flashing lights, dry ice, synchronized swimming, fire-breathing and a special appearance from Stephen Nolan… or possibly a jet-lagged stopping Cookstown skinnymalink mumbling for a bit and then wandering off towards the bar.

Nick Laird will be reading (or mumbling) on September 22 at 7pm at The Castle Garden Room, North Down Museum, alongside fellow writer Blake Morrison as part of the Aspects Irish Literary Festival 2011.