Kevin Barry - ‘criminal amounts of fun’

CÚIRT COMMENCES in just a few weeks and among the luminaries gracing this year’s festival is the much-praised Irish author Kevin Barry.

A native of Limerick, Barry’s debut collection of short stories, There Are Little Kingdoms, was published in 2007 to wide acclaim and scooped the €10,000 Rooney Prize.

Barry’s stories are grimly-hilarious gems of oh-so-recognisable Irish life with their vividly rendered worlds of booze, boredom, lust, and desperation. In his most recently published work, The Fjord of Killary, which appeared in The New Yorker a few weeks ago, the gnarly denizens of a harbour-side hotel and its vexed owner (a thwarted poet ), endure a deluging downpour and observe the rising floodwaters with varying degrees of stoicism and trepidation.

“I’m lucky enough in that I get ideas all the time and the short story is the form I would be repeatedly drawn to,” Barry tells me of his work. “Since I started writing seriously in my early 20s the short story has been the main thrust of it though that’s opened out a bit now over the past few years.

“As for our poet friend in the Killary story, I had this character who was after buying a hotel and I was just wondering what his background was and, because it’s written in the first person, I had the idea of making him a poet so that I could go flat-out with the language. I had good fun with him.”

Having made his reputation with his short stories, Barry is now starting to branch out into other genres.

“After the book of stories came out a few years ago it struck me that there were a couple of pieces in there that were really dramatic monologues and there were a couple of very compressed novels and a couple of short films too!

“So I’ve been doing other things in the past couple of years. I wrote a play called There Are Little Kingdoms where I took five or six of the stories from the book and melded them together and Meridian Theatre Company staged that in Cork in 2008. It was tremendous fun and went down a storm. That’s actually getting an American production this year in June, in Washington DC.”

Cúirt will also have the privilege of seeing another stage adaptation of a Barry story, as Rod Goodall is bringing Burn The Bad Lamp to the Town Hall studio for the duration of the festival. This depicts the strange and wondrous encounter between a down-trodden antique seller and a down-at-heel genie.

Interestingly, the idea for the staging was initially mooted when Barry first read at Cúirt a couple of years ago.

“I think it might have been mentioned late one evening in Neachtain’s pub where I was talking to Paraic Breathnach and a few characters,” the author recalls. “Eventually, Rod Goodall rang me and said: ‘We have to do this as a puppet show, with an actor and puppets’ and I thought ‘brilliant idea!’ So I adapted the short story with Rod. It will feature Rod with puppets and he’ll be singing as well, I think it’s going to be massive sport altogether. It’s running throughout the week so I hope people will come along to it.”

Looking further ahead, Barry’s first novel is due out next spring. He describes it thus: “It’s nuts altogether, it’s a portrait of a small, deranged, west of Ireland city as it might be about 40 years from now. All similarities to actual deranged west of Ireland cities are entirely intentional.

“I can’t wait to come back and read from that down the line. It’s kind of a projection of what hipster street talk might sound like in a west of Ireland city in the middle of the 21st century. I had criminal amounts of fun writing it!”

Cúirt audiences can doubtless look forward to “criminal amounts of fun” from Barry’s twin contributions to this year’s festival.

His reading (which will feature The Fjord of Killary ) is on Wednesday April 21 at 1pm at the Town Hall. Also reading at that event will be Tessa Hadley. Burn the Bad Lamp, featuring Rod Goodall and Aine Ní Dhroighneáin, is in the Town Hall Studio from Monday April 19 to Sunday 25 at 8.30pm nightly, and with 4pm matinees on the Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.

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