No city for young artists: Barry laments cultural brain drain in Dublin

The author, whose new novel has made it onto the Booker Prize longlist, says the housing crisis is making it impossible for artists to live in the capital any more

28th July, 2019
Kevin Barry: ‘Young creative people can’t afford to live in our cities’ Pic: Clare Keogh

A whole new generation of writers and artists are abandoning Dublin city, forced out by the housing crisis in a cultural brain drain that will have dark consequences for the capital as a whole.

That’s according to Kevin Barry, who last week became the only Irish author to be longlisted for this year’s prestigious Booker Prize for his new novel, Night Boat to Tangier.

The author, who lives in Sligo, said he had great sympathy for the younger generation of writers and artists. “It’s really bad news for Dublin,” Barry told The Sunday Business Post. “Young creative people can’t afford to live in our cities.

“We were the last generation who were given the time and space to learn about ourselves as people and writers. We had great space, and you had time to figure out what you wanted to do.”

Born in Limerick, the 50-year-old has for many years lived in a former Garda barracks in rural Sligo, where he wrote Night Boat to Tangier, along with his novels Beatlebone, winner of the Goldsmiths Prize for experimental fiction in 2015, and City of Bohane, which won him the International Dublin Literary Award in 2013.

“I’ve won awards and bursaries – most artists aren’t as lucky as that,” Barry said of his ability to make a living as an artist. “I’ve found readerships. I don’t have to teach. But I live in a remote part of Ireland and I don’t have a big mortgage.”

Night Boat to Tangier, a tale of two ageing gangsters searching for a relative in a ferry port in Spain, was conceived as a result of Barry’s annual trips to Spain in the winter months.

He said he was unable to get the lead characters of Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond out of his head, to the point where he became an insomniac.

“Writing a novel is a slow-motion crack-up,” he said. “I had these two fellows showing up - they would show up in short stories and the effect was always the same: they’d destroy the short story, because they were too big. So I realised: ‘Oh God, I’m going to have to give them their own novel’.

“The writing process was uncomfortable. It was just under a year and it got so intense that I couldn’t switch off from them. I changed my working practice for this novel. I started to sleep two hours a night. I was lighting candles. I would have the log fire going and cello music in the background, and I’d be doing Maurice and Charlie. The minute I sent the book off to my editors, I was sleeping eight hours a night again.”

Night Boat to Tangier has been nominated for the Booker Prize alongside Quichotte by Salman Rushdie, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, The Wall by John Lanchester and Lanny by Max Porter among others. The judges described it as a “rogue gem of a novel” and a “crime fiction not quite like any other”.

The Booker Prize was won last year by Northern Irish writer Anna Burns, who saw a massive sales boost for her novel Milkman as a result.

When asked about the potential commercial effect of a Booker Prize win in October, Barry said he was trying to keep his focus on his writing.

“I try to remember that writing and publishing are very different things. Prizes and reviews and interviews – that’s publishing. I try to keep my attention focused on the story, and trust that. The rest will take care of itself.”

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