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Twenty-seven years ago, Irish author Roddy Doyle published his first novel “The Commitments.” The book starred Jimmy Rabbitte, a young working class kid from Dublin who wants to bring soul music to his hometown so he puts together a band made up of other scrappy Dubliners. The book was a hit, as was the movie that was made just a few years later. Now Doyle has brought his protagonist back in his latest book, “The Guts.” Today, Jimmy is middle-aged, married with kids, living in the Dublin suburbs and struggling to come to terms with his newly-diagnosed cancer. Roddy Doyle joins Diane to talk about writing about his hometown, his love of music and returning to his earliest work.
- Roddy Doyle Author, "The Guts." He is the author of nine novels including "The Commitments" and "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha," which won the Booker Prize in 1993.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The last time the world read about Jimmy Rabbitte, he was a young kid putting together a band in Dublin. Now Jimmy's back. He still loves music. He still lives in Dublin. But he's dealing with decidedly middle-aged problems. Irish author Roddy Doyle talks about his latest book, "The Guts," a follow-up to his first book, "The Commitments," which was published in 1987.
MS. DIANE REHMRoddy Doyle is the author of nine novels and the winner of the Booker Prize. He joins me in the studio. I'm sure many of you will want to join us as well. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And it's so good to see you again.
MR. RODDY DOYLEThank you.
REHMWonderful to have you here. Talk about the title of this book, "The Guts," G-U-T-S. When I saw it, I was a little taken aback...
REHM...until I got into the book. Explain.
DOYLEWell, it seems like a grim way to start, but Jimmy is diagnosed with cancer of the bowel, which -- I don't know about other parts of the world, but Dublin being Dublin, it becomes cancer of the guts, you know, very filthy.
REHMThat's what it would be called.
DOYLEYeah. Yeah. You know, in that half-joking approach to reality. So it seemed as a title to work. I'm normally quite slow at titles. And once or twice, I haven't managed to come up with my own titles at all.
DOYLEMy brother came up with the name of my second book, "The Snapper." And I can't remember now who -- somebody else -- another book -- I can't even recall which book it was, but somebody else thought of the idea. But in this one, it quite quickly became "The Guts." I suppose as well we use it to describe courage, and he is confronting, you know, an awful -- well, it's not even a possibility, but an awful situation. He's got a young family.
REHMAnd he has no idea how to communicate this to the people he loves. Whom does he choose first?
DOYLEHis father. Yeah. There are reasons for that, some of them emotional, although it's fiction and both characters are fictional. But it seemed, given the relationship between these two men and given the fact that I wanted to jump the 25 or so years, in fact, more years from Jimmy as a young man to Jimmy as a middle-aged man, and I thought he'd feel closer to his father and that one of the great things about growing old together is that they've become closer. So I thought his father would be the man he'd want to speak to first.
REHMWhat kind of relationship did Jimmy and his father have in the book "The Commitments"?
DOYLEWell, the father isn't a big presence in "The Commitments," but he is in the two books that come after it, "The Snapper" and "The Van," in which Jimmy, the son, he inhabits those books as well.
REHMSo it's Jimmy, the younger, Jimmy, the older...
DOYLEJimmy, the younger man, yeah. So it's Jimmy Sr. is the dad, and Jimmy, you know, Jr. is the son.
REHMRight. And so we...
DOYLEBut it's an affectionate relationship, but it's kind of -- there's a wall of sarcasm between the two of them, which is very common.
REHMBetween them. Absolutely.
DOYLEBut it -- again, once the sarcasm is there, it beats nothing. But they've gone past that now, you know, 'cause he's in his late 40s, and his father's in his 70s. So -- and as well as that, you know, in the cold way of a writer, I wanted to get the father into the novel as quickly as possible as well 'cause I -- as a character, I like him.
REHMYou know what I love about the cover is that you have drawings of both musical instruments as well as one of those poles from which hangs a blood transfusion device.
REHMSo you've got the music, and you've got the cancer.
REHMAnd you've got the title of the book.
DOYLEYeah. It's an excellent cover. It's really...
REHMIt really, really...
DOYLEIt's clever, and, somehow or other, it's also funny, which is appropriate because it is a grim subject.
REHMHow does Jimmy finally tell his father?
DOYLEHis father. He tells his father about 10 minutes, 15 minutes into a conversation, and he drops in the fact. They're talking about Facebook actually, if I remember correctly, and music and things that happened. He kind of eventually just drops in the fact, I've got cancer, by the way.
REHMAnd how does his father react?
DOYLEQuite casually as well, as if nothing big has been said. But obviously the two of them know that it's a moment of great import, so to speak. And the emotion comes afterwards. And it's -- you know, the father, I think, like every parent, is shocked. You know, it doesn't seem natural that the son would be telling him this news. It should be the other way around. So...
REHMThere's a brother who's missing.
DOYLEYeah. The brother Leslie, or Les, went missing in "The Van," actually, all those years ago. He -- pre-, you know, social media, pre-, I suppose, the Internet. He was in trouble with the police, small-scale trouble. And his parents got him out of Ireland, sent him to live with his -- with an aunt in England, in Luton, I think it was, if I remember correctly.
DOYLEAnd he left that house and just lost touch. So they haven't heard from him in a long, long time, or so Jimmy thinks. And it turns out Jimmy hasn't heard from him. Jimmy goes searching for him. You know, Jimmy's not altogether sure he's going to be alive this time next year. So he's, you know, looking at things differently. He's trying to make the most of what he has. He's dreading chemotherapy. He's dreading radiation treatment or whatever. He's dreading the surgery that's an inevitable part.
REHMHe forgets to tell his wife.
DOYLEYeah. Well, he doesn't quite forget. He forgets to tell people key things all right. But he doesn't want to tell his wife. And that's -- I find that perfectly reasonable. Who wants to tell the woman they love that they have cancer? So I find that quiet reasonable. And he looks for opportunities to do it. But he also then decides, I must find Les, his brother.
DOYLEAnd he does. But then it becomes apparent that actually other family members have found Les already in their different ways. And what Jimmy tells them isn't a shock, and I think Jimmy wonders about that. He wonders, has he been completely self-centered all this time?
REHMRead for us the portion where Jimmy finally does gather the courage to tell his wife with whom he's quite close.
DOYLE"He filled the dishwasher. He took a whitewash out to the line and hung the clothes in the dark. He kept an eye on the kitchen window while he did it to see if Aoife was alone in there. She wasn't. He watched her, angry and gorgeous, giving out to Mahalea. He came back in. She was gone. He made tea. He didn't drink it. He emptied the dishwasher. She came in, followed by Brian, then Mahalea. He tapped Brian on the shoulder. 'Come here, you as well, Mae.'
DOYLE"He brought them into the telly. He pointed at it. That's a television. Brian laughed. 'Now,' said Jimmy, 'you sit in front of it. That's right. Good man. Perfect.' He held up the remote. Have you seen one of these before? 'Yep,' said Brian. 'Good man again,' said Jimmy. 'You can watch it for half an hour, OK?' 'I already had my half hour,' said Brian. 'You're too honest, Smoke,' said Jimmy. 'I told you, be a bit sneaky, sneaky. That's right,' said Jimmy.
REHM"'Have you had your telly today yet, Smokey?' 'No.' 'Have you not? Well, here you go.' Jimmy lobbed the remote at him, and Smokey -- that was Brian -- caught it. 'I don't want to watch telly,' said Mahalea. Jimmy kept forgetting she was 13, although she looked it. He'd never get used to it. His oldest child, Marvin, was a 17-year-old man. The youngest, Brian, was too big to be picked up. 'Just do me a favor, Mae,' said Jimmy.
DOYLE"'Stay here for a bit. I need to talk to your mother.' 'Begging forgiveness, are we?' said Mahalea. 'Something like that,' he said. 'Good luck with that,' she said. 'Is that eye shadow you're wearing?' 'Did you just ask me to do you a favor, Dad?' 'I did, yeah.' 'The eye shadow is my business then,' said Mahalea.
DOYLE'You don't need it, you know.' 'That's not an argument.' 'I love you.' 'So you should.' He left them there. Brian wouldn't budge, and Mahalea loved being involved in the messy stupid world of the adults, even if involvement meant staying out of the kitchen for half an hour. But Aoife was gone. There was a kid with his head in the fridge, and he wasn't one of Jimmy's."
REHMHe almost never gets around to telling Aoife, his wife, that he has cancer.
REHMOne thing I'm noticing about you, the last time you were here, your head was not shaven.
DOYLEWell, that's a long time ago, so, yeah, it's been shaven now 16, 17 years, I think.
REHMHas it really?
REHMBecause I found myself wondering whether you had shaven it in sympathy, in empathy with the character in your book who begins...
DOYLENot at all.
REHM...to try to shave his own head and makes a mess of it.
DOYLENo, no. Well, that's -- you know, this is for the research, comes in. I suppose I shaved -- one of the great things about being a writer, I've got it out of the way first. I haven't had cancer of any form.
DOYLEGlad. So, yeah, so am I. But one of the great things about being a writer is that you can use, you know, the aging, you know, the little humiliations every day, the little joys of watching children growing up, the little griefs of them not being children anymore, the little slowing downs, things like that, eyesight, you know, hair loss. You can use them in your work. It means less and less people tend to read them, but it's a great -- it's a very healthy way, I suspect, of using your life. As you get older, you can use it as your raw material.
REHMBut, you know, the...
DOYLESo -- but I -- just I started shaving my head 'cause I was going bald, so just I decided I'd head it off at the pass.
REHMReally. Did you try to do it yourself?
DOYLEI do. I shave my head, yeah.
REHMYou did it yourself?
REHMDid you nick yourself in the process as Jimmy did?
DOYLEOh, I do regularly. Inevitably, everybody -- you know, everybody shaves. So this is what I mean. You use the stuff, you know. I don't do it very -- I don't -- I'm quite -- I was in and of out of a lot of the elements of my life, I'm quite careful when I shave. So I've only nicked myself in the back of the head a few times.
REHMRoddy Doyle, his new novel is titled "The Guts." And we'll be talking more about it when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Roddy Doyle, who really came to such great prominence with his book "The Commitments," which later became a movie and is now a musical, a play in London.
DOYLEThat's right, yes.
REHMAnd you watched that and wrote that.
REHMAnd saw it.
DOYLEI did. I spent 10 weeks in London, from August through to October last year, at the rehearsals every day, starting off in a parish hall in the west of London and ending up in the Palace Theatre, bang in the middle of the West End of London. And there was a huge drum -- we're back to drums -- with "The Commitments" over the canopy, with my name on it as well, which gave me a great kick.
REHMOh, my gosh.
DOYLERoddy Doyle's "The Commitments". And I saw the drum being installed. It weighs a ton. And early on…
REHMHow big is it?
DOYLEIt's huge. It's huge, but it arrived in the back of a truck early on a Sunday morning to avoid any traffic congestion difficulties in the center of London. So I watched it being hoisted from the back of the truck and then plunked down on top of the canopy of the Palace Theatre. And that was an absurd, but really, really nice and quite emotional moment to see that happening.
REHMHow involved were you in the development of the play?
DOYLEWell, I wrote the script or the book, as it's often called. And so very involved, really. And initially, particularly, I chose the songs that we were going to use because I wanted -- I had seen "Jersey Boys," which I thought was a terrific show. And I loved the way the rhythm of the songs was used to propel the story. So I was looking for songs that would allow us to do the same thing, not just, you know, now it's time for a song. Yeah, perhaps later on when the band was good. But the challenge was, I suppose, how do you start a musical about a group of people who can't play their instrument and don't have a singer yet?
REHMAnd your cast had not even been born when you wrote "The Commitments."
DOYLEYeah, most of them. You know, one or two of the older ones obviously had been, but the core cast hadn't been born when I wrote the novel. So it was lovely. And that way, I suppose, it's lovely in a small way in so far as the cast weren't born, but actually just the mere fact that the book is still there -- because I published it myself. Myself and a friend of mine published it, self-published it in Dublin in 1987. So all these years later it's a West End play. And that in a deeper sense is very satisfying.
REHMSo you're having a different kind of fun with that.
DOYLEYeah, yeah. Essentially, if you were to describe my work, I stay at home and I write novels. That's what I do. And I've written 10 of them so far. But I decided a while back that if there was ever an opportunity to do something that, in a childish sense you could call a once in a lifetime opportunity, I'd do it. And "The Commitments" was very much a once in a lifetime opportunity. I couldn't see myself now parking my career as a novelist to write books or write scripts for musicals. The urge I don't think is there, unless it was a reasonably surprising idea that appealed to me somehow. But I just felt it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. And it's not something I'd ever have predicted would happen to me.
DOYLESo I'm open to those sort of ideas. It's not measured in terms of -- it's not a commercial measure. It's more how to use my time, you know, the best way I possibly can.
REHMHow much of an involvement did you have with the movie, "The Commitments?"
DOYLEWell, I co-wrote the script in that one. Other than that -- although it's obviously vital. The script is the foundation of all the work. Other than that I wasn't involved in that. The two co-writers, Dick Clement and Ian Frenais, were living and working in Los Angeles. And they wrote on top of my script. We didn't sit around a table. So we only met briefly once. And then I wasn't involved in the casting or I wasn't involved in the selection of songs. And I only visited the set a couple of times. I just felt a little bit overwhelmed by that. I was delighted it was happening, but it was very, very different to how I was -- I was teacher, you know. And I was living in a one-room flat.
DOYLEAnd kind of shy, busy enough, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer numbers while this was happening. You know a security man leading me to another security man and then being brought into a room with 100 people in it. And it just seemed -- I didn't tally with what I was doing, so to speak. But I was very impressed with the film when I got a chance to see it.
REHMBut you had to adjust to that larger world.
REHMYou really did.
REHMHow did it change how you looked at your own world of writing?
DOYLEIt didn't really. That was the trick, I think. And I separated the novel writing, if you like, or the short story writing from the other aspects of writing more collaborative stuff quite quickly, in so far as whenever I'm writing a novel I'm never thinking ahead, hoping it might be a movie, which could destroy what I'm doing.
REHMOh, absolutely. I would think so.
DOYLEIn terms of how I structure it, in terms of the dialogue and how parochial or local it is. So I decided very quickly they're two separate worlds. And the world I live in is the world of the novels. And the world I go and visit now and again is the other stuff, the theater work, the film work if I'm lucky. And the two are very different. But it's great. I work in the attic at home. And it's great, you know, I come down and I go out in the world and I have a good social life. But it's great to have the opportunity to -- at one point, for example, just before "The Commitments," the musical opened, I was sitting with the producer. And we were having a laugh in a break in rehearsals. And I asked him, "How many people are in the building at the moment working on this?"
DOYLEAnd he told me 172. And I thought that was wonderful. Between musicians, cast, carpenters, all the work, 172 people were getting the whole thing together. And that isn't what a writer anticipates when they sit down.
REHMYou know, you've gotten marvelous reviews for this book, both in The New York Times and The Washington Post. I must say one reviewer talked about the difficulty of getting through that conversation between and father and son in the beginning because every second or third word is an expletive.
REHMAnd so you couldn't read for us from that first part of the book.
DOYLENo. It's way too early in the day, yeah.
REHMIs that really how people talk?
DOYLEWell, it is how these people talk, yeah. I wouldn't for a minute suggest that everybody in Dublin speaks that way, but I what would insist is that quite a lot of people in Dublin speak that way.
REHMBut father and son seem to enjoy that dialogue.
DOYLEYeah, it's part of the rhythm of the way they speak. It's part of the rhythm. There's no violence in it. There's no wish to offend. And, you know, I've been listening to my parents, who are now -- my dad is 90 and my mother is 88. And I'm listening to them talk quite a lot these days. And they're reminiscing about the old days. And they know, you know, the sight of myself or my sisters or my brother there, as well. And they're talking about events and conversations they recall from the '30s, '40s and '50s. And yes, these expletives drop into them as well. Not as rarely -- my parents don't speak in that way, but I do, I've got to say. And my children, who aren't really children anymore, they do as well. But it's part of the rhythm.
REHMWhat kind of a childhood did you have?
DOYLEWell, in a casual sense a perfectly normal one, sadly.
REHMWhatever normal means.
DOYLEWell, exactly. That's the problem. But, yeah, it was a two parents who -- very, very reliable. My father came home at the same time every day. He was a printer, then a teacher of printing. And my mother was a housewife. I had two sisters and a brother. There was another boy, but sadly he died in infancy. But it was a very -- it was on a housing estate that was built in the early 1950s.
DOYLEOh, yes. Yeah, by the standards of the time, yes. It's only later on that my mother would talk about, you know, again when I was adult, about how difficult it was at times to make ends meet. My father was on strike once and they talked later on to me about how difficult it was to recover from that.
REHMBut you didn't know that at the time?
DOYLENo. No. Ever. And it was in an area of Dublin, which is now almost inner-city, but at the time was semi-rural. And again, from the writing point of view, this was fantastic because I lived in Dublin City, Dublin 5 postal district. When I came out the gate and crossed the road I was in County Dublin. I crossed the city line right on my road. And as I grew older the fields became building sites.
DOYLEAnd the road, which was a lane outside, became a major road to the airport. And the whole country was changing right in front of my eyes. And it's only later on when I was a writer that -- most particularly in the book, "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha," the one that won the Booker Prize. But quite often these images from a different kind of place, a different type of Ireland, I've been using them ever since, really.
REHMWhat year was "Paddy?"
REHMAnd that's when you were here in my studio.
DOYLEThat's right, 21 years ago.
DOYLEIt's getting more and more depressing.
DOYLEWe're adding years all the time.
REHMAll right. We're going to open the phones, take some callers. 800-433-8850. If you've just joined us, Roddy Doyle is with me. And of course, the author of "The Commitments," which became a movie, now a London musical. He won the Booker Prize for "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha." And let's go first to Brian, in Rockville, Md. Hi there. You're on the air.
BRIANGood morning. And, Mr. Doyle, I've been a fan of yours for a very long time. And remember going to a book signing for "The Van," in Boston, maybe over 20 years now, I guess. And during that time you said the reason you wrote "The Van" was that, as you were writing "The Snapper," the character of Jimmy Sr. started to be very interesting to you. Have I got that right?
DOYLEYeah, yeah, that seems familiar. I'm not going to deny that.
BRIANOkay. Well, my question is, I really loved Jimmy Sr.'s very resourceful daughter in "The Snapper." I wonder if she's back in "The Guts."
BRIANAnd also wondering if you had that same experience, as you wrote "The Guts." Were there new characters that you introduced that you think may be something you'll build on down the road?
DOYLESharon, the daughter, is in "The Guts," but she's not a major character. She's just in one longer chapter really. It would have been a mistake, I think, to try and -- I was keen not to gather them all up and bring them all in and make them all a part of the book because it would have been a bit like "The Commitments Two," which didn't promise much, you know. But there are characters who haven't been in the -- and, you know, obviously, there are new characters because it's more than a quarter of a century since we last saw Jimmy Rabbite. So there are new people. But I've no plans to go back again.
DOYLEAfter 10 novels I've written I've only -- there's only one that stands alone, "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha." I've always gone back to the other characters. So it's a possibility that I might at some stage do that, yes.
REHMBrian, thanks for your call.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Most of this book, Roddy Doyle, is dialogue.
REHMI mean, and that was true as well for "The Commitments." How difficult is it to keep the momentum going when there are so few long passages that carry the novel forward?
DOYLEIt's the challenge, really. It's the hope that the reader will stay with you. It has been said and I've been told that dialogue is one of my strengths. I suppose to a degree it is, but whole passages of dialogue don't do the trick necessarily. There has to be some sort of a story behind it as well. And so I've always been drawn -- I think there's no better way to bring characters to life than to get them speaking. Or if not speaking, I think four novels are in the first person so the novels are actually written by the characters, so to speak. And it also gives a stronger sense of locality. I do have an ear for the way people speak.
DOYLEI love listening to the little -- the challenge for say Jimmy's young daughter, the 13-year-old Mahalia.
DOYLEThe word like, you know, when you hear teenage girls, they do…
DOYLE…because often -- I have a teenage daughter.
REHMEvery other word.
DOYLEEvery other word is like. And if you actually, literally transcribe it, it's unbearable, you know. It's grand if it's someone you love, but if you're actually reading it like, like, like…
REHMYou've just used the word grand, which appears millions of times in this book. Why?
DOYLEBecause that's what we do.
REHMEven when people ask him how he is…
REHM…he's in chemotherapy, he's had surgery and people say, how are you, he says, grand.
DOYLEWell, it's the standard Dublin man standard Irishman's response to everything. He'd be coming out of the rubble carrying his dead mother-in-law on his back or whatever, and somebody'll say how are you -- I'm grand. And then we'll probably give a hint of the truth, but it's one of those reassuring things as well because if I phone my children, as I will later today, and I'll ask them how are you, and the youngest will say, oh, I'm grand. So it's just one of these things that transferred.
REHMI'm fine. I'm fine.
REHMHere in the United States, that's what you hear.
DOYLEThere's a delicatessen just around the corner from me and the staff are largely East European. I think they might be Polish. I'm not sure. But I was buying a sandwich there. And the young woman behind the counter held it up in her hand and she said, "Is it grand?" So she'd been listening.
REHMSo she's adapted.
DOYLEShe'd been doing her homework, so to speak.
REHMYes, indeed. You know, one thing that perhaps is inevitable, but still surprising, is the fact that Jimmy, in the midst of chemotherapy, post-surgery begins an affair.
REHMHe adores his wife Eva.
REHMWhy does he do that?
DOYLEWell, it's a good question. And I don't know the answer to it because outside of the words in the book there's no more. But I felt at the time -- will I let him do this? Will he do this? Will there be consequences? Not necessarily because I don't believe in that either. I don't think there should be moral consequences all the time in fiction. No more than there are in life. But I just felt, well, how would I be? You know, if I think there's a strong possibility I'll be dead, you know, does it not make your moral compass wobble a bit? And if, for example, as is the case, it's a woman who you really kind of, in that silly way, fancied when he was a young man, Imelda Quirke from "The Commitments."
REHMAnd she's still quite lovely.
DOYLEAnd she's still an attractive and mature woman, you know.
DOYLEAnd she comes across as quite vivacious or whatever, but there's a loneliness there, as well. There is a husband, but he's an absent presence or whatever, such a thing is possible. She tells him nothing about her family, but anyway, they fall into this brief fling. It's more a fling than an affair, I think.
REHMI think that's a good word. Roddy Doyle, his new novel is titled, "The Guts." Short break. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd here we go, back with Roddy Doyle. His new novel titled "The Guts" takes us back to the commitments. Jimmy is certainly the featured character. It is 27 years later. Jimmy has bowel cancer and therefore the title of the book but also the innermost life of this man who, as the novel begins, finally tells his father and then his wife and his children that he has cancer. Let's open the phones to Therese in Greensboro, N.C. You're on the air.
THERESEHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call. I'm a huge...
REHMYou're most welcome.
THERESE...huge fan and I'm so enjoying this interview with Mr. Doyle.
THERESEI am driving to visit my daughter. And my husband actually passed away 13 years ago tomorrow from cancer of the bowel. And the description -- when Mr. Doyle read the description of Jimmy's -- the scene where Jimmy is trying to tell his wife was so accurate. That was the exact description that my husband had trouble with. My children were actually the exact ages, 17, 13 and 8. And him trying to tell me that day after coming from the doctor was exactly like that.
THERESEThe distractions of three children and, yeah, it was amazing. And this whole interview has just bring back such a flood of memories.
REHMWell, I'm so sorry for your loss.
REHMAnd I hope as you read this book you will take some joy, some laughter from...
THERESEI will. I think I definitely will. We were a huge commitment, Diane, (unintelligible) ...
DOYLEYeah, that's nice to know.
THERESE...and, yeah, we just loved it. So -- and we actually were fortunate enough in 1999 to visit Ireland. And my husband was in treatment and received chemo while we were there. We were there for three weeks and he would travel to Cork for his chemo.
THERESEYeah, it was and they were lovely. We could not have been treated more wonderfully.
DOYLEYou could understand them down there in Cork, could you?
THERESEOh, exactly, yes. They were wonderful.
DOYLEThey talk so fast down there.
THERESEWell, it was cute because I would always tell my husband after each treatment to be sure and go and drink a pint of Guinness.
REHMWise move indeed. Thank you so much for calling. We have an email from Susan who says, "I'd love to hear Roddy Doyle talk about his books for kids. I'm looking at a brief list here, 'Greyhound of a Girl,' 'Wilderness,' 'The Extra Big Rover Adventures,' 'Her Mother's Face,' 'The Complete Rover Stories Slipcase.'" Goodness, you've been prolific.
DOYLEYeah, yeah, it's often used as an insult for a writer, the word prolific as if...
REHMI certainly didn't mean it that way.
DOYLENo, no, I know you don't. I know exactly that you don't but -- and yes, I've always managed to -- I'm always working. It's a long day, you know. And I wouldn't be able to work on a novel for eight hours a day or nine hours a day. It's not -- and my -- the energy levels, you know, they're not intense as such but I wouldn’t be able to give it nine hours.
REHMBut turning to a child's book...
DOYLEYeah, it's no problem. I might go downstairs, make a cup of coffee or do what Jimmy does, empty the dishwasher, fill the dishwasher, something of that -- and go back up and I'll write for children. And I did at first -- because I had children of my own -- and it starts off with something for them really in the evening time. I'd write a few pages of a story and read it to them that evening. And if it worked I'd go on. And eventually it became part of my working day.
DOYLEAnd now I did ask myself, now that my children are too old for children's stories, would I keep at it? And yeah, I have a new book out now, certainly in the UK and Ireland in May. It's called "Brilliant." And it'll be...
REHMTell me about it.
DOYLEWell, I got this incredible -- again, it's one of these once-in-a-lifetime things -- I got this invitation from the St. Patrick's Day Festival committee in Dublin to write a story for the parade. The parade is a huge event in Dublin every St. Patrick's Day. And they wanted for a change to maybe instead of having just an array of floats going down O'Connell Street to have the floats somehow tied into a story. So I wrote this eight chapter story about the black dog of depression.
DOYLEChurchill -- Winston Churchill suffered from depression and he called the depression the black dog. And I decided that the black dog would be a huge animal that would come down onto the city and, you know, invade every household. And, you know, because the economy was in such a terrible state and suicide rates are -- there's more openness about it I know, but suicide rates are frightening. And, you know, the unemployment rate, you know, it's like a memory of the 1980s. It was pretty dreadful.
DOYLESo I kind of made this black dog a real presence. And the only people who can get rid of the black dog are the city's children, you know. So they gather up -- it starts off as two children and eventually they come to realize that every kid in the city is running out to this black dog. So having done that and having seen the parade go down the middle of Dublin, it was a wonderful day, you know, a brilliant day, really just extraordinary, I decided to make a novel of it. So that's coming out in May. It'll be out here as well. I'm not sure when but it -- I'm not sure what the plans are.
REHMBut it's the children who lift the black dog.
DOYLEYeah, yeah, they finally -- they -- there's a battle just over at Dublin Bay. And they beat the black dog.
REHMWhat a great idea. I want to hear a little bit about, if you recall, "Her Mother's Face."
DOYLEYes. "Her Mother's Face" was inspired by my own mother's story. My mother was born in 1925 and her mother died in 1928 of the flu. And my mother has no memory of her mother's face, just her hands doing things, peeling an apple, winding up a gramophone. And then in the strange world -- the strange lower middle class world of Ireland at that time, post War of Independence, nothing was said. She didn't know her name. She didn't know where she came from, never saw a photograph.
DOYLEYou know, photographs were very rare. In an age where we photograph everything it's hard to imagine, but there were no photographs. Her father was a very nice man. I have a vague recollection of my grandfather but he wasn't a talker about anything. He was involved in the War of Independence, didn't talk about it. And he didn't talk about his -- and then he got married again when my mother was nine. So her memory of this was gone.
DOYLEJust reminding myself that I am actually in the United States because I only arrived last night, but she discovered cousins on Long Island, first cousins that she hadn't known existed. And they didn't know that she existed. And she was in her 50's when this happened. And they're alive and well and kicking on Long Island. Perfectly good people, yeah.
DOYLESo that was a fantastic discovery for her, and for them I hope. But I think -- well, obviously she's my mother, but particularly for her. So I was inspired by that and I decided to right sort of a fairy tale where this young girl has no recollection of her mother. Her father, you know, a lovely man but, you know, sad and...
DOYLEYeah, yeah. And then this woman appears to her in a park nearby where she is and tells her to, you know, look in the mirror if she wants to see her mother. And years later she's looking in the mirror and she realizes that the woman she's looking at is very similar to the woman who had told her to do that years before.
DOYLEI love ghost stories, you know.
DOYLEI don't believe in them which is probably why I put a lot of work into them.
REHMGood to write.
REHMAll right. We'll take another call from Susan in Cleveland, Ohio. Hi there.
SUSANHi. I am just so grateful to speak to you and I want to share one thing that you as a writer will appreciate. My kids and I were driving to the Grand Canyon and we had the soundtrack by tape of "The Commitment." And we're toodling toward the sunset coming out of Oklahoma and "Mustang Sally" into the sunset. And it was just such a -- I'm so grateful for what you have created.
DOYLEYeah, just -- let's be clear now. I didn't write "Mustang Sally."
SUSANI know, I know, I know. But the whole context -- the whole -- my kids...
DOYLEI wish I had.
SUSANYeah -- no, my kids and I had seen the movie and, oh, I just love your -- the vibrancy of Ireland. Thank you.
SUSANIreland is vibrant.
DOYLEYeah, when the movie came out in Dublin, just a few weeks before it came out I was still a teacher. We bussed all the kids from the school up to see it in a newly opened multiplex cinema. And they got a half day for the rest of the day, so that was their school day was to go and see the...
DOYLESo I was a hero for about 48 hours. But a few kids who had a band came into me the following day, lads of 16 or 17. And they said, really liked the film, sir. And I said, oh, thanks very much, lads. And they were humming and hawing and sort of lingering at my desk for a while. And then, one of them says, will you write a song for our band? They obviously thought I'd written "Try A Little Tenderness" and all that stuff.
REHMExactly. Exactly. Here's an email from Orna, and that's spelled O-R-N-A. She is a Dublin woman living in Richmond, Va. She says, "Roddy Doyle's 'Commitments' opened up a dialogue in Ireland about poverty and sexual abuse, the likes of which had never come before."
DOYLEI wonder if she -- I wonder is it "The Commitments" Orna's talking about or the television series Family, because that certainly caused -- it was a four-part series about abuse in the family and, yes, poverty and deprivation. And it did cause a storm, yeah. It was broadcast very soon after I won the Booker prize. So I went from being a kind of minor celebrity to being a hate figure for a while among certain people. And it did -- I mean, people either loved it or hated it. But when they hated it, they really did. I was the subject of sermons in churches. I got hate mail, I got death threats. It's quite a -- it's hard to imagine now.
DOYLELuckily the death threats never came through the letter box. They came in directly from the television station that broadcast it, but there were death threats. There was a photograph of me with the word dead and rat across my forehead, you know. And I think it's the work I'm proudest of, I think in a way, because of the storm that it caused. And it did open up, you know, Women's Aid, an organization involved in the welfare of women who've been in violent marriages and violent relationships were inundated with calls.
DOYLEBecause I think a lot of women were looking at this thing thinking that they were the only woman who was being beaten by their husband, their partner. And they saw it happening on screen. And that had a colossal impact in the country. It's hard to imagine now. It's only 20 years ago but it was the first time I think this was publicly, I suppose, addressed. And it was really well made. I don't claim ownership of that. I wrote the script but the director Michael Winterbottom who went on to make wonderful movies, directed it. And the casting was fantastic. It was really, really well made.
DOYLEAnd have the adult population in the country watched it every Sunday night for four weeks in May in 1994. And the audience figures got bigger and bigger as the things went on. It had a colossal impact on the way people thought about these things.
REHMHas that been shown here in the U.S.?
DOYLENot nationally, no. I think it's been shown in smaller spaces I think but...
REHMAnd it's simply called "The Family."
DOYLE"Family." No the, "Family."
REHMAnd, you know, one always wonders with that kind of negative reaction from the public, how the pressure on your whole being must have been affected.
DOYLEWell, I don't know. At the time it didn't feel like that. Obviously there was a certain -- I remember the decision to go down to the shops to buy a bottle of milk was a decision whereas it was almost automatically before that. But things settled down after a while and it was fine. And there was a lot of -- a lot of people really, really loved it. And that brought a different pressure.
DOYLEYou know, I'd go to the pub for a quiet time with a friend or two friends and there's a cue of people wanting to tell me their stories or to buy me a drink, which I don't want, you know. I'm not a -- that's not how I live. So -- and -- but we had the two babies in the house. You know, that was a -- it was unsettling.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." They are now young adults. Are they still in the house?
DOYLEThey are, yeah.
REHMAre they really?
DOYLEYeah, yeah, they are.
REHMNo jobs yet.
DOYLEJobs-and-a-half so to speak, bits and pieces. One of them is making films and he's busking to make his money. He's a drummer and he busks on the streets and makes money and he's making films and planning web television series and stuff like that. So it's a new form of employment, isn't it really? You know, it's not 9 to 5 work with a pension. It's a new form of employment and brilliant to watch, really admirable.
DOYLEI mean, the whole production side of it, he's -- you know, to my -- he's my little boy and he goes out every day and he's looking for locations to make his film. And, you know, he's talking to people who I never thought he would ever talk to, you know, people who own -- Dublin is full of unused office space and he's talking to these people, looking for one office space and things like that. So he's organizing it all himself with a couple of other people.
REHMAny other children?
DOYLEWell, the youngest is still in school. She's got another two-and-a-half years of high school left. She's actually in London at the moment doing work experience. She's at a year called transition year where they mix up -- they do work experience. So she's now with her cousin doing work experience in London. She left the same time I did yesterday so she's on a big adventure for two weeks in London. And the eldest boy is -- he's hoping to go to college as a mature student and he's making ends meet as well with work, yeah.
REHMDo you hope that they stay in Ireland?
DOYLEI do. Yeah, I do. Obviously it's great to see them all the time. But on the other hand, you know, whatever feels right for them. I mean, the immigration has always been a fact of life in Ireland. And then it seemed to stop being a fact of life during the boom years and it's back. And there's -- you know, there's obviously a tragedy to it. But on the other hand, it seems to me that leaving the country isn't what it used to be. I mean, we have cheap flights, we have Skype, we have texting, we've a better educated group of young people immigrating.
DOYLEAnd there's more an adventure perhaps involved. I don't want to be dismissive, you know. I don't want to claim that everybody who leaves Ireland wants to leave. That's not the case at all, you know. And there are actually less young people in the country than there used to be, which is a dreadful thing. But on the other hand, it's not. So if my kids said they wanted to leave, I'd be thinking, oh well, we won't see them again anymore. But that's part of the package, isn't it really as well? And -- but we will see them, you know, and go and visit them.
REHMOf course you will.
DOYLESo it's not the tragedy that it would've been, you know, when you had the immigrants wake where, you know, you would have a get-together with people before somebody immigrated and the knowledge that more than likely you would never go to see them again.
DOYLENow that's going back a good while.
DOYLEThose days are gone.
REHMRoddy Doyle. His latest novel is titled "The Guts." And it is a follow on to his novel "The Commitments" which later became a Hollywood film and is now a musical in London. What a pleasure to see you again.
DOYLEThank you. And you.
REHMI'll look forward to the next time. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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