Voice and rhythm – Interview with David Butler


Writing in different genre poses a number of problems, but also opportunities for modern writers. ‘It’s  not always immediately obvious to writers in what genre an idea or a voice will best develop and come to life,’ says David Butler, who is not just a fiction writer and poet, but an award-winning playwright as well. ‘As a modus operandi having something on the go in different genres has got me out of jail in terms of writer’s block. My first published novel, The Last European (2005) was written while I was doing a Spanish Literature PhD in Trinity, and whenever that novel got stuck, I worked certain passages into poems which eventually led to the Via Crucis (2011) collection. Likewise, a central chunk of my current novel in progress, Under the Sign of the Goat, evolved into a one-act play, Blue Love, which won at the Cork Arts Theatre last year and more recently a British Theatre Challenge award. A version adapted for radio was even shortlisted for RTÉ’s P J O’Connor, 2016.’

David is heavily involved in all aspects of theatre, and use skills learned from acting to get inside the skin of characters. ‘Often it comes down to voice and rhythm,’ he explains. ‘To play a character on stage, you need to inhabit their speech and idiolect. At one level, they’re entirely defined (on the page) by their own discourse. But you also need to inhabit rather than merely play them, if you’re to avoid caricature/cliché. I think the same holds true for characterisation in fiction.’

While writing the novel The Judas Kiss (2012) he set myself the task of understanding how a paedophile can justify himself to himself, (and how other characters make excuses for him).  One way to approach this was to create a complex of first person narratives so that each character is seen from a variety of perspectives which don’t quite mesh. ‘I can’t say I was method-acting, but I had to believe in them (in every sense of the phrase) while they were narrating their respective sections’. Dave’s advice for writing in different genres is to read as much as possible in the genres that interest you, don’t be afraid to throw down one piece of work if its reaching a dead end, and pick up another, you can and will get the energy back to return to it.

Being a writer in our zappy ‘what’s next’ digi-platform world ultimately means having to adapt and reinvent modes of writing to reflect how we communicate. Some prefer novellas now to novels because they simply don’t have time to commit to 400 pages in one sitting, etc. Plays and short stories are making a come-back because of the speed and ease that they can be digested. For others, it’s a case of only reading what’s popular [on trend!] on tablets or mobile devices. Increasingly our Facebook posts are more like ‘living memoir’…our ability to tolerate vast tranches of text is more a challenge than a luxury. We ‘haven’t time’ we keep declaring, while being hyper-expressive on multiple digital platforms, reporting life quicker than we seem to be living it. Publishers of course recognise these changes and are demanding more from their authors. If you are lucky enough to write a blockbuster novel, you will more than likely find yourself responsible for writing the follow-up screenplay or film script for the big screen. Writers like Lisa McInerney has found herself in this position with her award-winning book: The Glorious Heresies, which she will now be adapting for film, writing the script herself. Writers like David Butler recognise and respond to these demands as easily as the characters in their stories do. Being ‘one’ type of writer is no longer an option if you expect to make a career of it.  

David Butler’s debut poetry collection, ‘Via Crucis’, was published by Doghouse in 2011, while his most recent novel, ‘City of Dis’ (New Island) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. A second poetry collection, ‘All the Barbaric Glass’, has been accepted for publication by Doire Press. Literary prizes include the Maria Edgeworth and Fish International  Awards for the short story, the SCDA and Cork Arts Theatre awards for drama, and the Féile Filíochta and Brendan Kennelly  awards for poetry. He lives in Bray and is married to short story writer and novelist Tanya Farrelly.

Previous articleTed Hughes – The Iron Man
Next articleInkroci n. 21 – Content – October/November 2016
June Caldwell
June’s short story collection is due in 2017 with New Island Books. Her story SOMAT is published in the award-winning The Long Gaze Back – An Anthology of Irish Women Writers edited by Sinéad Gleeson and was chosen as a ‘favourite’ by The Sunday Times. Shortlisted and/or Highly Commended for: The Colm Toíbín International Short Story Award; Lorian Hemingway (USA); Sunday Business Post/Penguin Ireland Short Story Prize; RTÉ Guide/Penguin Ireland short story competition; Over The Edge New Writer of the Year. She is a recipient of a John Hewitt bursary and an Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) literature award after completing an MA in Creative Writing at Queens’ University, Belfast. Her short fiction is published in The Moth, The Stinging Fly, Sixteen Magazine, Literary Orphans, RTÉ Ten, The Bogman’s Cannon, North West Words, Woven Tale Press, and Popshot Magazine, as well as a biography of a Trouble’s moll with Gill & MacMillan (2006). You can listen to June talking about writing short stories on Hen House with further mention of her writing on CBC Sunday Edition (Canada).