Arts Q&A: Malachi O'Doherty on Leonard Cohen, The Quiet Man and Bernard MacLaverty

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, author Malachi O'Doherty

Malachi O'Doherty's latest book, Can Ireland By One?, is out now. Picture by Paul McErlane.
Malachi O'Doherty's latest book, Can Ireland By One?, is out now. Picture by Paul McErlane. Malachi O'Doherty's latest book, Can Ireland By One?, is out now. Picture by Paul McErlane.

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

When I was about eight years old. In primary school I wrote wee poems into a special notebook. I made the mistake of showing it to a teacher who marked them. I always had an inclination towards writing that others might have had towards sport, music or drawing.

2. Best gigs you've been to?

Leonard Cohen at Lissadell 2010, Leonard Cohen at Kilmainham, 2008 and Leonard Cohen at the Odyssey Arena 2009.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

Bob Dylan in the corner mumbling to himself and not bothering anybody.

4. The record you would take to a desert island?

What's the point? I'd get sick of anything in a week. Perhaps Bach's Matthew Passion since I would have to work to know it all. It's something I could get deeper into over time and maybe learn German from, though I'd have no-one to speak it to.

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

The Bible. Or Ulysses. For the same reason I'd take the Matthew Passion; they are big and would engage my mind for longer.

6. Top film?

Bladerunner. Aside from being ultimately philosophical, the cityscape and its sounds, those occasional unexplained thuds, bomb blasts or expulsions of gas, metrofarts, make the whole experience of watching it feel immersive and despairing. I recently went back to India and saw how young people, born since I had last been there, accepted the grotesque air pollution. Bladerunner shows us how a baseline understanding of what's normal can change disastrously in one generation.

7. Worst film you've seen?

The Quiet Man, an unwarranted celebration of wife-beating and a trite depiction of rural Ireland. Rubbish from beginning to end.

8. Favourite authors?

Doris Lessing. I have read all of her stuff from her communist phase to her mysticism and sci-fi. She was definitely a formative influence on my thinking. A really astute psychological observer.

Wendy Erskine. There's such an earthy grasp on life in her work and a Belfast that is familiar to me.

Bernard MacLaverty. His book The Anatomy School probably has the best sex scene I have ever read.

9. Sport you most enjoy?

I don't have that gene and almost never get excited about sport though I'll usually watch a Wimbledon final. I still have to ask Maureen my wife what is going on and how she knows that a break point - whatever that is - is coming up.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

I go to Rossnowlagh in Donegal nearly every year now, always back to the Sandhouse Hotel. I am such a simple soul. And Ballycastle, to the coastguard's cottage. My grandfather was a coastguard there. I have travelled extensively, spent years in India and North Africa and hitch-hiked around much of Europe in my youth. I haven't exhausted my wanderlust but I am fed up with airports.

11. Pet hates?

Bad grammar. Practically everyone now talks about "the amount of people" or says they "should of done something". Of course the language evolves and finding the balance between keeping it as it was, insisting on correctness, and letting it change is hard. I'm a writer. I use language. I want to use it well.

12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Smoked haddock and poached egg. I once wrote a poem about how the glory of this combination has to be proof of the existence of God since hens' eggs, fish and woodsmoke never come together in nature.

Dessert? Banoffee.

Drink? A nice chilled pint of Guinness awakens a little gratitude too in my tired soul.

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

My best friend is Maureen Boyle, my wife. I spend more time with her than with anyone else and after 27 years our tastes and ideas are approaching some kind of convergence. Not quite there yet.

14. Is there a God?

A serious question deserves a serious answer. I don't know.

:: Malachi O'Doherty's latest book, Can Ireland Be One? is out now. Spanning centuries of history alongside contemporary issues, this book looks for answers by talking to those who know and understand it best.

Malachi will be discussing his new book on Wednesday September 28 in Bangor Castle as part of the Aspects Festival. The celebration of Irish writing runs from September 22 to October 2 at various locations around Bangor. For full programme and tickets visit aspectsfestival.com