DBF Interviews: Jack HartePublished 31/10/2017
Jack Harte is a world-renowned Irish short story writer, novelist and playwright. He is the founder of the Irish Writers Centre and the Irish Writers’ Union. The Irish Independent declared his novel In the wake of the Bagger (2006) to be ‘one of the great books about Ireland’. With over a dozen novels and 24 English textbooks in his literary repertoire, Jack Harte is a force in the international writing community. His most recent book, Rehabilitating the Serpent (Scotus Press), will be launched at #DBF2017 on Saturday, 4th November at Smock Alley Theatre. You will not want to miss this thought-provoking reading and discussion!
Q. You mention in an interview with the Irish Examiner that writers don’t “drop straight from heaven fully formed and equipped with their God-given skills”, that it’s important for writers to hone their craft just like musicians and visual artists. What tips would you share with aspiring writers wanting to sharpen their craft?
What I was challenging in that statement was a traditional attitude that WRITERS were chosen by God himself, endowed from on high with the required talent for the task, and given the divine right to dominate this territory called literature, excluding all invaders and pretenders. A close examination showed that God was partial in selecting his chosen people – they all came from the male half of the privileged sector of society! So it was all nonsense. But it did manage to keep women and working class males out of the territory, at least until the latter half of the twentieth century. My first tip to any aspiring writer is to develop confidence and not be deterred by an arrogant put-down or rejection.
Writing is a participation sport, as well as a spectator one. The kick-about in the public park is valid and enjoyable, even if it is not on the scale of the match in Croke Park. Taken seriously, writing is a craft and has to be learned and improved, whether self-taught or honed in a supportive framework like a workshop. No matter how much or how little talent you have, you can improve your work by reading and studying others who have mastered the craft. Seek, and listen to, critical reaction to your work – if you don’t despair, it will help you improve. Realise that there is no such thing as perfection in writing – only a best attempt.
Q. What is one thing you hope readers will take away from Rehabilitating the Serpent?
An understanding of how our minds are manipulated by those who hijack that which is most precious to us. Religion, for example, starts as a beautiful story, but ends up as an ugly institution – courtesy of the power-mongers who manage to appropriate it. And their power lies in their ability to manipulate our minds.
Q. What is your favourite Book? or a book that you have read numerous times?
You will smile at this! If I had to choose one book to bring with me for a four-year sojourn on a desert island, I would bring the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. I know it would bring me endless satisfaction, contemplating the mystique of words, swimming in the eternal flux of language, basking in its infinite power. Then testing its strength as I fabricate structures, especially when I have to improvise occasionally, as I Meccano the words together into … a lighthouse to attract passing ships.
Q. Which writer inspires you?
Since I first encountered the short stories of Bernard Malamud many years ago, I have been in awe of him as the writer whose artistic achievement I would dearly love to emulate. His short stories articulate the loneliness and isolation of the Jewish immigrants in New York, but he manages to lift his concerns to convey an insight into the universal human condition. Read the story The Jewbird for example – stunningly simple at first glance; then you realise its complexity; this is a story about anti-Semitism written by a Jew, yet the anti-Semite is himself a Jew, demonstrating that bigotry and intolerance are a universal problem.