DBF Interviews: Patrick McCabe

Pat McCabe 03/03/2018Patrick McCabe was born in Clones, Co. Monaghan in 1955. He has published many novels, including The Dead School and The Butcher Boy. His movies include The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto, both directed by Neil Jordan. His novel Heartland, which he describes as an ʻoutlaw country songʼ, an ʻelectric hillbilly operaʼ, has been published by New Island. He is currently performing in ‘the analogue monologues’, written and directed by himself. Pat is married with two grown-up children, to the artist Margot Quinn. His longstanding relationship with Dermot Healy goes back to 1977 and the first issue of The Drumlin,as well as an argument about Isaac Babel and fourteen pints in Tullyvin. He misses him greatly.

We caught up with Pat to talk about the the genesis of Heartland, the influence of music on his work and the writers who have inspired him. You can hear more from him, along with his host of collaborators, at ‘Heartland: Words and Music from the Soul’s High Lonesome Valley.’


How did the idea for your new novel, Heartland, come about?
Well I thought about it many years ago and I’ve always been kind of trying to find a way into the story, which ended up being a kind of seventies thriller Western really. It takes a long time to find the form, you know, it could be tried out in various different guises before you actually see it come through.

How long do you think you were working on it altogether?
Over thirty years. It sounds really long but my books are all really one book, you know, you keep writing and writing and you turn out the books, so some of the original ideas would have been thirty years ago. The actual writing would have been two.

You’ve chosen to celebrate this book with a collaborative show full of musical performances. What influence do you feel music has had on your work?
Everything is kind of aspiring towards music. It’s not really complete, particularly as I get older. Musicians fill it out for me. I’ve done a lot of these things over the years. I work a lot with Jack L; he’s a longtime collaborator, and Ian Lynch, he’s just a great piper, I thought. I’ve been writing a lot about seventies psychedelia, but that’s now for me almost like folk music. It’s distanced, so I can write about it in a way that isn’t fashionable, and it certainly isn’t that. In the music that we’re doing for this one, pretty much the centrepiece will be seventies psychedelia, aspects from Heartland and other works that I have done. Kevin McGahern is joining me now; he’s going to read Philip Larkin, who’s a poet I’m very fond of. He’s just reading two poems. It’s really like a sort of a village hall show, that’s the idea.

In this latest novel and in much of your earlier work you show a talent for creating first-person narrators who are repellant and yet totally compelling. What advice do you have for writers hoping to create such convincing voices?
Probably the most notable one who’s done that would be Anthony Burgess with Clockwork Orange. Clockwork Orange is like that; The Man Who Fell to Earth is a bit like that. I suppose Catcher in the Rye is a bit like that. You know, there are lots of them but I don’t necessarily set out to do that; it just ends up that way. It wouldn’t be to everybody’s taste now.

Every such original work as yours must draw inspiration from somewhere. Can you tell us about a book that’s influenced or inspired you?
Oh absolutely, yeah. Well I would obviously have a debt to James Joyce. A lot of the Southern writers, American Southern writers, like Faulkner. Carson McCullers in particular; I like her. Nearly everyone has had an influence on me in some way, everything I’ve ever read. Certainly Anthony Burgess, yeah, Anthony Burgess and Joyce I would be fond of.