The Irish author has won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Goldsmiths Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Award for Solar Bones
What is your motivation for writing a novel? And, after such massive critical acclaim with Solar Bones, is there an internal desire to match or exceed that success with your next book?
“The motivation to write This Plague of Souls came from the realisation that the theme of men building worlds could do with a bit more exploration. In Solar Bones, Marcus Conway, an engineer builds the world in roads and bridges and so on, all the projects of Civil Engineering. But are there any other ways of building a world and if so what would those other ways cost– examining that question guided me through the writing of This Plague of Souls. And with regards any desire to match or exceed Solar Bones – well, as an artist you are always trying to do better – trying to see further and deeper.”
When it comes to writing novels, do you have a particular structure in mind or do you start with character or plot and go from there?
“My starting point is always with a character or more exactly a character in a landscape. I have had the image of Nealon crossing the threshold of his house and the phone going off in his pocket for the longest time. And it is night-time, his house is in darkness, his face is covered in the forensic glow of the mobile phone – all those elements helped define the kind of crime noir novel it was going to be. So, that opening scene sets the compositional and aesthetic terms of almost everything that happens after that.”
Where did the idea for This Plague of Souls come from?
“I started this book a very long time ago – the first files on my computer date back to 2012 – over eleven years ago. And I noticed that in its earliest years it was about how the world collapses and comes crashing down. But over the years, and especially during the Covid years, its theme changed to a consideration of how do we put the world back together after it collapses. I was impressed the way artists stepped up and gave of their gifts and genius during those uneasy opening months of Covid – all those free concerts and readings we watched online. Would artists be able to remake the world after a catastrophe? How would they go about the task? All those partial thoughts and impressions fed into the thematic idea of This Plague of Souls.“
What is one key piece of advice you wish you’d received before you became a published author?
“Everything takes longer than you think it will. No matter how much time you think you will need to finish a manuscript or story you need to add 20 – 30% more time to your calculation. I only realise that now after I have published my sixth book but if someone had had the foresight to point it out to me earlier it would have saved me a whole lot of anguish.”
What type of books do you like to read in your spare time?
“My reading is all over the place – I read everything from literature to pulp fiction to poetry and current affairs. For some reason I have developed a taste for reading books about how businesses’ collapse – I think it is because I find great consolation in reading about how really smart people do really stupid things. I am thinking specifically of John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. That is a remarkable tale of brilliance and foolishness – how, with a great idea, Elizabeth Holmes conned the whole of Silicon Valley into investing in a fraudulent company.”
What’s the one book you wish you had written?
“The last book that filled me with that kind of covetous envy – I wanted it as my own was – was the French novel Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal. It tells the story of how a young man loses his life in an accident and follows his heart as it is taken from his chest and set into its new home in the chest of another recipient. Read it and you will know something more about love and heartbreak, sacrifice and the ecstasy of being alive. A masterpiece.”
Mike McCormack will appear at the Dingle Literary Festival on Sunday 19 November where he will be interviewed by author, Kevin Power. Visit dinglelit.ie for more information on this as well as other talks and events taking place over the weekend.