8:00am

Sat May 21, 2011
Author Interviews

'Commitments' Author Pens Short Goodbyes To Youth

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Most of the men in Roddy Doyle's new collection of short stories are lads. They're Irish guys who lift a pint, tell jokes, and watch football in packs, as they did when they were in their late teens. And yet, they're men confronting all the issues of middle-age - hair where they don't want it, children who leave home, wives who've heard all of their jokes, and the mounting realization that some things they'll just never get around to.

Roddy Doyle, the best-selling, Booker Prize-winning author, has helped define modern Ireland for Americans through his novels, including "The Commitments," "The Snapper," and "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha." Now he has a newly published collection of short stories, called "Bullfighting." And Roddy Doyle joins us from Dublin. Thanks for much for being with us.

Mr. RODDY DOYLE (Author, "Bullfighting"): Hello.

SIMON: How do, at least these stories in "Bullfighting," wind up all getting -unless I miss my guess - grouped around what seems to be that common theme of lads growing into middle-age?

Mr. DOYLE: Well, yeah. I suppose because I have been going through middle-age, you know? And one of the good things about being a writer is that everything becomes research somehow. I wouldn't go out of my way to experience the indignity of middle-age just because it might be good meat for a story.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOYLE: But it's happening, anyway. So you may as well use it.

SIMON: Do you write short stories just to warm up these days?

Mr. DOYLE: No, not all. I write short stories when a little idea occurs to me, that I know isn't a part of a novel that will stand by itself and should be concentrated.

And for when I say should be concentrated, I mean I should concentrate on it as a very, you know, limited piece of work. And these little ideas have only occurred to me relatively recently in the last 10 years; small ideas, little moments in a life that seemed to be quite revelatory.

I work on them sporadically. I haven't written a short story in a while now. And I think it'll probably be a few months before I write another one. I have a vague idea for one, but I want it to fester away in my head before you start writing it.

SIMON: Boy, I wasn't expecting that involved an answer. I thought you might have said, well, short stories are shorter. That's how I approach it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But...

Mr. DOYLE: It's a little tiny bit more to it than that. Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. A character named Donald who is 48. He notices one day that all of his friends seem to be 48, because all of his friends are people he grew up with. And a few of them moved away to, like, America or Canada, but it seems his friends are people he's known all of his life. Is that still true in modern Ireland?

Mr. DOYLE: It's certainly true of me. I do have, you know, a body of friends who I've met and, you know, some of them quite recently; others in the last 20 years, which the older you get seems quite recent.

But my core group of friends I have known since I was 13 and we started in high school on the same day. And we've been, you know, pals ever since, really. And we're all the same age within a couple of months.

We would have been people who started looking for work in the 1970s, and we were lucky that either we got a place in college or work, and we never had to move. And like a lot of north side Dubliners, once you come from the north side you stay on the north side. You don't move across the river to the south side or anywhere else in Ireland. It's either the north side of Dublin or emigration.

SIMON: And like so many of the characters in these stories, I'm thinking particularly of the title story, "Bullfighting." When you get together do you all revert to being 13 years old again?

Mr. DOYLE: I prefer to think maybe 16.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, forgive me for underestimating your maturity. Yeah.

Mr. DOYLE: Thirteen would actually be...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOYLE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Thirteen is just a little bit creepy. Sixteen is just about of acceptable.

There are enthusiasms that we've shared all our lives, like football - soccer as you call it. And we will talk about that. It's one of the things that drew us together, really, and like a lot of men. And it's something that we still have in common. And we always talk about the football.

In a way, I think people who don't understand will look at us, these people, and imagine that the, you know, they're diving back into their child would somehow. But it's not, its continuity. We're all parents. One of us is a grandparent and we carry that as well. You know, we talk about our children. We talk about examinations. We talk about them leaving school. We talk about their colleges.

It's like it's rather than just - if our shared experiences is in a pot, we add things to the pot as we get older. But we still delve into the stuff that's at the bottom of the pot, if that makes sense.

SIMON: The title story "Bullfighting," a group of guys - old friends all the same age, same neighborhood - run off for brief holiday in Spain.

Mr. DOYLE: Yeah.

Mr. DOYLE: Until we get to the last section, in which I guess we'll try and get you to talk about, it doesn't seem like they see much of Spain.

Mr. DOYLE: No, and it's not the point, really. They go off to enjoy one another's company.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. DOYLE: And, again, it's anecdotally the story happened to myself and my friends. We were staying in a small town in Spain. And the point was not to charge around Spain and see it, the point was really just to get away from everything, turn the phones off and just hang around for four days and just, you know, chat around the table in a small town. And that's what we did.

And coincidentally, there was fiesta on, including the bullfighting and the release of bulls onto the street, which came as a shock the first time. Just walking down the street, maybe 11 in the morning, looking for somewhere to have a good cup of coffee and the bulls came running around the corner.

And, luckily, there are cages. I was wondering myself, you know, what the thing is, you know, there were cages all over the place that you could slip into sideways and I was, you know, stupidly wondering what they were for and, you know, two and two became four very quickly as I charged and got into a cage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOYLE: You know, so that was part of the atmosphere of the thing.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. DOYLE: I had no real curiosity to go to a bullfight. But after a very long day, a really pleasant day where we, I suppose, got slowly drunk, and then sober again, so to speak, we were heading back towards the house. We were walking by this temporary bull ring, and we realized that although it was quite a quiet, the place was full and the exit gate was open, so we walked in. And I walked into the center of the bull ring just when they released the bulls. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOYLE: ...I found myself in this ring with a huge bull. And at one point, luckily, somebody with a little bit of sense tapped me on the shoulder and said you might like to get out of here. That polite...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOYLE: That polite way we have...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. DOYLE: ...and I thought that was good sound advice, so I did. But the following morning, again, sitting around the table having coffee, laughing, you know, chatting away, we just thought this was a, you know, quite an extraordinary event to occur. You know, no huge ground, earth-shattering thing, a good anecdote, something to tell. You know, I told my wife about it. I phoned her up and said you won't believe what happened, but an anecdote, not a short story. So this is about friendship really and how friendship endures. And...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. DOYLE: But the excuse, it really wouldn't have occurred to me, really, if I hadn't stupidly walked into the bull ring.

SIMON: Speaking from Dublin, Roddy Doyle. His new collection of short stories is called "Bullfighting." Mr. Doyle, a pleasure. Thanks so much.

Mr. DOYLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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