Arts Q&A: Belfast author Jan Carson on Flannery O'Connor, Elliott Smith & Alfred Hitchcock

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, author Jan Carson

Ballymena-born author Jan Carson's new book The Fire Starters is out now

1. When did you think about a career in writing and what were your first steps into it?

I've always thought of myself as a writer but never actually wrote anything until I arrived in Portland, Oregon for a new job in 2005. I didn't know a soul and began introducing myself as a writer. Very quickly people began to ask to see what I'd written and that was the beginning of the most frantically productive period of my writing career. Thankfully, I haven't stopped since.

2. Best gigs you've been to?

Low at the Ambassador, Dublin about 2004; Belle and Sebastian at Roseland Theatre, Portland, Oregon in 2006 and Bob Dylan at the O2 Arena, Dublin in 2014.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

1990s indie rock band Pavement because they are the band I most consistently want to listen to when I'm in a good mood.

4. The record you'd take to a desert island?

Elliott Smith – Either/Or. It's the record I always play when I'm writing.

5. And the book you'd take to a desert island?

Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find. I love her wit and her dark humour and the way she truly gets under her characters's kins. It's been an annual read since I first discovered it about 20 years ago.

6. Top three films?

I am a huge Hitchcock fan and I still love Rear Window though I've seen it umpteen times now. In the last few years I absolutely loved The Lobster and also Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here. I find it quite hard to suspend disbelief with both theatre and film, so the films which stick with me are always the ones where I become completely lost in the characters and story.

7. Worst film you've seen?

I really hate preachy earnest films where I feel like my emotions are being manipulated and I'm being coerced into believing some moral about life, so films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile absolutely drive me insane.

8. Favourite authors?

Flannery O'Connor, George Saunders and Truman Capote.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?

I like to walk and swim as much as I can. I find I can work out my writing ideas most easily when I'm moving and often spend time just walking round East Belfast trying to get to know a character or unpick a difficult plot line.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

A good holiday should be a mixture of rest and adventure and I'm always most excited about getting to visit a place I've never explored before.

11. Pet hate?

I get irrationally annoyed by people saving tables in coffee shops and walking three or four abreast on the pavement so no one else can get past.

12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Thai food

Dessert? My mum's rice pudding (as long as I get the section with the crispy bit on top)

Drink? A nice big glass of Rioja

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

I have a group of incredible women, mostly Belfast-based, who I meet up with as often as I can. They mostly work in different areas of the arts and are incredibly supportive and encouraging. I've moved around a lot and it's taken me a while to settle back into living in Northern Ireland but I'm now approaching a decade of having these women in my life and I'm very thankful for all of them.

14. Is there a God?

Yes, I think there is but I'm pretty sure I'll be wrestling with this question and its implications for the rest of my life.

:: Jan Carson's new book The Fire Starters is out now, published by Doubleday Ireland

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