Monday, July 9, 2018
INTERVIEW WITH PHILLIP DONNELLY
Today I welcome Phillip Donnelly to the blog. Come on in Phillip, make yourself comfortable.
Comfy? I’m not sure where you hail from but here in the south, the first thing we ask is “What would you like to drink? Whiskey? Bourbon? I make a mean mint julep.
I’ve no idea what a mint julep is, but I like mint and I like tulips, so I’ll have one of those, please.
It’s basically half a glass of Southern Comfort, a splash of soda, sugar and mint, Anyway, let’s get the important stuff out on the table first. Beatles or the Stones?
The Beatles, definitely. They changed music (twice!) and fused popular music with youth culture -- not just for the baby boomers but for Generation X and Y as well. Generation Z have moved to the cloud and taken music with them. They stream it and bathe in it but they no longer drink it. It surrounds them but it’s not inside them. The Beatles are inside me, but as for the Stones, the most interesting thing about them is their longevity. How can men in their seventies still strut? I can barely amble.
All-time favorite movie and why?
The Life of Brian by Monty Python. I’m not sure why. It’s incredibly funny, of course, and I still laugh at it, even after watching it well over a dozen times. There’s something deeper there too: hypocrisy exposed, hubris laid bare, the delirium bred by faith. I can’t get enough of it.
One of my favorites also, love the “Sunny Side of Life” scene at the end. Now that we’ve got the small talk out of the way, on to writing. I have read your bio and I understand we do have some things in common. We both had degrees in psychology, both misanthropes, both contrarians and we both write dark humor. Do you think there is a connection between all those traits?
Perhaps. Dark humor may be an pressure valve to prevent a build-up of misanthropic gases in the psychic gut. Novels are flatulence. As for psychology, I had hoped it would cure my misanthropy, but understanding how the mind works did little to endear it to me.
As far as writing, I know how I do what I do … but how do you do what you do?
Err… I don’t do what I do. I mean I know how I did what I did but I don’t do it anymore. I used to sit down, six mornings out of seven, and write for three or four hours. Sentences formed, chapters rose and novels wrote themselves; and then rewrote themselves. Now that I don’t write, nothing gets written. One piece of advice I would give is to try to get an editor to make it edible. It will never set properly without one.
Phillip, I have read bits of some of your books and you are definitely going to be on my reading list. Which of your books should I start with and why?
Letters from the Ministry and Kev the Vampire were professionally edited by Jayne Southern at Rebel ePublishers, so they’re definitely a cut above the rest. If office politics interest you, go for Letters from the Ministry. If psychopathology is more your cup of hemlock, go for Kev the Vampire.
But neither books are easy reads. Boots is free to download and contains published short stories and extracts from the novels and the travel writing. I suppose that’s a good place to start; and to judge by my sales figures, people also consider it to be a good place to end.
Jayne is my editor also, she’s awesome, where most editors try tone down my weirdness, Jayne encourages it, she also adds great words like Gobsmacked. So, could you tell us a little bit about your latest work?
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned it has been three years since my last confession. The last thing I was working on was an apocalypse novel and a love story, with lashings of dark humor, of course, and ladle worth’s of psychology. It was different from everything beforehand in that I set out to make it readable, rather than clever. I usually write to amuse myself, but this time I wanted to put the reader first. And… three years have gone by.
I also saw in In Kev the Vampire you write about a maudlin, introspective vampire. Believe it or not I have a maudlin, introspective vampire in one of my books. How did you come to create that character?
I don’t remember how it started. I’ve always been fascinated by vampires, but Kev, of course, is not a vampire. He’s just a deluded fantasist. If we introspect too much we become blind to the real world. I’m only halfway through your Heavenly Pleasure and your vampire is still possessed by some demon (much like your current President), but I’m looking forward to getting to know him more (the vampire, not the President). The world needs more introverted vampires, rather than the extroverted monsters who are running the show nowadays, the lunatics to whom we have handed the keys of the asylum.
I noticed in Kev the Vampire, you dedicated it to someone named Sandra. There is an old superstition among novelists that when you dedicate a book to a wife or girlfriend it is a death Nell for that relationship. Your thoughts?
I honestly had never heard of that superstition. ‘Gadzooks!’ as they used to say on Scoobie Doo. But my wife has had many dedications and she hears no death Nell. Or if she does, she puts her headphones on.
In Boots you write from a rat’s perspective. How do you put your head in a rat’s mind, is if fun?
Deep down we’re all rats, but some of us are more ratty than others. I often write from the perspective of an animal. It’s a useful way to show people in a dark light, to highlight strange angles. I’d love to have to talent to actually paint the world through the mind of an animal, like Emma Geen did in The Many Selves of Katherine North, but that’s way beyond my ability.
I see you are ready for a drink refill. Here we never let your drink get below the on-third mark, and letting someone actually finish a drink is against the rules of southern hospitality.
Yes, the Irish are like that too. I’ll have another one of those minty tulips, please!
I love the concept of your book The Inaction Man, the not quite the anti-superhero more like a hero with existential angst. I’m thinking of the merchandising possibilities, maybe “inaction figures” in Happy Meals? Tell me, how did you come to create that character?
Again, I really don’t remember. I wrote that one very quickly. It just plopped out. In many ways, he’s like Kev the Vampire, or David Vincent from an earlier novel. I’m fascinated by quixotic characters that can’t bear the world they live in and invent a new one. The revolt against reality appeals to me. As a narrator, it allows me to show the world through the prism of someone who sees it quite differently.
Who are your favorite writers? Writers who have influenced your work?
Orwell, Shakespeare (the tragedies) and Douglas Adams. I’m a big fan of Bill Bryson too. I admire Joyce and Beckett too but most of it goes over my head.
I hear you, I’ve tried to get through Finnegan’s Wake twice and failed. Who is your favorite fictitious villain? Or are you all about the hero? Who do you love to hate?
Richard III is magnificent, but I’m more about the hero. I’m interested in the oppressed, not the oppressors.
One man’s Utopia is another man’s Dystopia. What would describe Utopia and Dystopia for you?
1984 is a dystopia that troubles me, more now than when I first read it in 1984. In today’s post-truth world, when facts you disagree with are dismissed are fake news, when every step you take and every click you make is monitored, where face recognition software knows your thoughts before you do, I fear the future will be “a boot standing on a human face – forever.” It may be a virtual boot, and it may be coming through your smartphone screen, but it’s standing on your face. Had we but eyes to see it.
Ah, yes, I think one of the most prophetic Owellian quotes is “They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what's happening”. You have traveled extensively, which place in your travels was your favorite and why?
I really don’t know. I’ve only been back in Ireland for a year but already the previous twenty-five feel like a dream. I can only remember the present and even that’s hazy. The past is downright murky… but the future is golden.
Has travel influenced your writing, and if so, how?
I don’t think it influenced the fiction. That’s mainly set in Dublin. I wish it wasn’t, but the place feels more real than any of the other places I’ve lived in, even if the Dublin I write about, the Dublin of the 80’s, no longer exists.
Dorothy Parker once said “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do for them is to present them with a copy of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course is to shoot them now while they’re happy. What is the best advice you can give an aspiring writer?
First, find a successful writer and ask them. Failing that, find an unsuccessful writer who actually writes. If you can’t manage that, just sit somewhere quiet and write, write, write.
I read on your bio that one of your motivations for travel is looking for aliens to take you to another planet. Since you are here, now, I assume you’ve been unsuccessful in your quest, ever come close?
Not a single one. No aliens, no UFOs, no nothing. Just people! Everywhere I go there are just people. I never tire of meeting foreigners though. I’d prefer to meet aliens from a different planet, of course, but alien cultures fascinate me too. Fortunately, my job as an English teacher allows me to spend four hours a day in their company, so I feel like I’m still travelling.
Just in case you are successful in your next foray into voluntary alien abduction, do you have any parting words for the people of earth? (Please try to keep it clean and civil).
Fear Trump! There is no greater threat to the environment, no bigger danger to peace, no ogre so orange.
I think this is a great place to end the interview. I want to remind readers that you can find Phillip’s work at: