The Thing about Donal Ryan

It’s great when you meet someone you admire and they don’t let you down. Not only did Donal Ryan not let people down when he spoke at the last Saturday, but he came across as such a normal, nice person, unburdened by ego and affectation.

donal ryan 2

The author of The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December was an entertaining and informative speaker. He read extracts from both books and the first thing that struck me was how good they would be as audio books. (Afterwards he told me that this was happening in the US and had worked out really well.)

The story of his rejection letters is the stuff of legend now and was an obvious thing he talked about and was questioned on. He said it was easy to buckle under the weight of rejections. He said publishers have a fixed criteria for what they want. He said every writer will face an “infinity of rejections” and that a “whole world is out there waiting to say No”. Great!

He said he and his wife (Ann Marie) used to have a good laugh at the rejections, which he has kept in a folder and which he will eventually sell (Hang on to them rejections!). His work was famously found in a slush pile, an unfortunate term he said for what is “a mountain of people’s efforts…a mountain of love”.

Amazingly for such a talented writer, he said it took him 20 years to have confidence in his work. He credits his wife for this, who supported him and pushed him. He said the longest road for a writer was “finding your voice”.

Donal said he was still working as a labour inspector, although he is due to quit next month to write full time. He has a three-book deal with Random House. Sounds great. It is. But he said this places a new kind of pressure on him. He negotiated the contract himself (he has legal training) and said it was an ordeal. He was speaking at an event organised by the Irish Writers’ Union,, which, among other things, provides advice to members about contracts. He hung around for ages afterwards and was very approachable and friendly to everyone and anyone, including aspiring writers.

Asked in his talk what books had an impact on him, he mentioned Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. He said a great writer is one who can create an image that won’t leave your mind. On that note, I can’t resist quoting his opening two sentences in The Spinning Heart….

“My father still lives back the road past the weir in the cottage I was reared in. I go there every day to see is he dead and every day he lets me down.”

My review of The Spinning Heart


About Cormac O'Keeffe

I've written a novel. And, it's going to be published. This April. Mad, or what? It's entitled 'Black Water' and is a crime novel set in Dublin's gangland, along the evocative Grand Canal. This blog is about that bumpy journey, which is about to get really exciting. You'll also find some photography on this blog, particularly snaps that relate to my novel, much of it centred along the canal. There are also some reviews, both fiction and non-fiction, many of them published in the Irish Examiner, a daily national newspaper in Ireland. I work as security correspondent there and have specialist interests in crime, drugs, policing, the justice system, communities and human rights. Both my personal life and my professional life have fed into my novel, or, rather, have been poured into it. My novel was granted a literature bursary by the Irish Arts Council in September 2014 and my journalistic work has won multiple awards from the Law Society of Ireland over many years, most recently in 2015.
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