Donal Ryan credit Anthony Woods

Quirky Q&A with Donal Ryan

Article published on May 5, 2017.

We were thrilled when Donal Ryan agreed to our Quirky Q&A for the latest issue of nb magazine – and even more pleased when we read his responses, which had pretty much all of us laughing out loud! As we had to edit for space in the magazine we are delighted to now present them in full:


Cats or dogs?

I love most dogs but they’re all too needy. Always with the hanging tongues and imploring eyes and air of imminent heartbreak. I can’t take the guilt they make me feel. I love the aloofness of cats, their air of perpetual disdain, the way they occasionally deign to be petted before walking off mid-stroke with an expression that says, You tried, human, and you failed. They’re self-possessed and independent and they don’t need to be taken to a park so they can bound about and chase sticks and squirrels and roll in muck and splash around in pools of e coli. A cat is less likely than a dog to lick your face or go to the toilet on your living room floor or leave a steaming, tennis-ball sized surprise on the path outside your house. A cat acts like a cat; dogs act like extremely idiotic and loveable humans and they’re far too likely to make you love them and to break your heart in two. Having said that, my cat died a few weeks ago after eighteen years and my heart is pretty battered after her. She was a classy lady.


Paper clips or staples?

Easy, easy: paper clips. Gentle, forgiving paper clips. They’re lovely. You can go horribly wrong with your sequence of pages and your paper clip will slide obligingly from the top left corner and wait while you re-shuffle your leaves before sliding back on and acting as though nothing ever happened. A staple will break your fingernails and pierce your skin when you try to pry it loose. It’ll punish you by ripping your pages to shreds and then it’ll snap its spine so it has four weapons to stab you with instead of two. Staples are intractable and cruel and bloodthirsty. Paper clips and staples are both paper-binding stationery in the same way that Augustus and Caligula were both Roman emperors.


Coupé or estate?

I’ve owned four coupés: a Ford Capri, a Hyundai Coupé, an Alfa Romeo GTV, and a Mercedes CE230. The Merc was a proper classic and was technically my dad’s but I used to pretend it was mine. The Capri dropped its driveshaft onto the motorway once, nearly killing me. The Alfa Romeo went wrong, sometimes spectacularly so, at least twice a week. The Hyundai went on fire outside a supermarket. The Mercedes sulked and left its gearbox on a boreen in Co. Mayo, a hundred miles from home. Much like dogs, coupés are needy and annoying and they’ll break your heart. I can’t extend this analogy farther because cats don’t resemble estate cars in any way. But I’m getting older and my children’s legs are getting longer and their social circles are widening and I find myself more and more often scrolling through ads for big boxy cars with loads of doors and seats and luggage space and even feeling a little bit excited by them.


Plane or boat?

I wish I had the time to travel everywhere by boat. I’m a nervous flyer. I always think of Billy Connolly pointing out the conceit at the heart of airline safety spiels: IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT WE LAND IN WATER? THAT’S LIKE SAYING IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT WE SWIM IN F*****G CONCRETE! I’ve been on a few hairy flights, but nothing too bad. Until last year, on the way back to Shannon from New York, when the captain announced that there was a ‘problem’ with the landing gear and he couldn’t be certain it was properly descended. So the cabin crew went through the procedure for an emergency landing and the captain circled the estuary to burn off his fuel and he cut his engines and glided into Shannon and the crew shouted BRACE, BRACE, BRACE into the weird silence, and my travelling companion, the poet Mary O’Malley, and I took our leave calmly of one another and of the world, fully expecting to be incinerated as the belly of the fuselage and the Shannon tarmac entered a fiery marriage. But it all turned out fine, the wheels were down and locked, and I didn’t cry or scream or anything on the way down, so I was very proud of myself. But I’m even less keen on planes now than I was.


Bridges or tunnels?

Bridges. They’re noble and beautiful and romantic. Tunnels give me the willies as bad as flying. I don’t think humans were ever meant to be airborne or underground. I hate the idea of there being tonnes of earth and rock above me. I took my kids on a cave tour last summer and we actually ended up standing on a bridge in a tunnel, above a creepy Styx-like river, deep in the earth. The tour guide told everyone to stop walking and she turned off the floodlights. This is what the complete absence of light is like, she said. This is what stifling a screaming panic attack so you don’t cause a stampede of American tourists and small children on a rope bridge above an underground river is like, I thought.

I walked through a crumbling, unlit tunnel linking two World War Two anti-aircraft stations once. It was barely wider than me and I’m not too wide. It took about three minutes. I was completely convinced I was going to die for the entire time. I was following my friend Anthony who knew the way and we had no light source so I threaded my fingers through the belt loops of his jeans, just in case he thought it’d be funny to leg it on me. When we got out my hands had frozen from the adrenalin dump and the terror and it took a little while to extricate me from Anthony’s pants. The farmer whose land we were trespassing on came over and offered to shoot me.


Cinema or theatre?

Theatre. The experience of going to the cinema is nearly always ruined by the sound and smell of people eating cheese and onion crisps. Why can’t cinemas content themselves with flogging overpriced popcorn? It was invented because it can be eaten almost noiselessly. Why bring crisps into the equation? I don’t get this whole thing of snacking throughout a movie. How hungry can a person be that they have to masticate and slobber and slurp and rustle snack-packaging from the opening ads to the end credits? Eat before you leave the house, I say. Or go for a meal afterwards. Or how about don’t eat crisps at all? They fur your arteries and dull your senses and give you bad breath and give me palpitations and high blood pressure even when I’m not the one eating them. Also, theatre is pure living magic.


City flat or rural hideaway?

I love the idea of a rural hideaway that’s properly hidden and tastefully appointed and stocked to the rafters with food and booze and has a games room and a pool and a security perimeter and staff, where I could strut around like the king of the world and drink my morning coffee surrounded by mountains and lakes and pure luxury. But that’s never going to happen so I pick city flat, so there’d be shops nearby in case I run out of crisps.


Read Guy Pringle’s recommendation to read Donal’s latest novel, All We Shall Know, here.



All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan, published on 20 April, 2017 by Black Swan, in paperback







Main image of Donal Ryan © Anthony Woods


The Ice by Laline Paull


A Plain and Simple Truth by Jane Emerssen

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