Young Skins author  Colin Barrett brings ‘singular voice in contemporary fiction’ to East Coast

Irish writer Colin Barrett, winner of the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, will be in Massachusetts and other East locations over the next two weeks for readings and signings to support his lyrical short story collection Young Skins:

  • 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, at Newtonville Books in Newton Centre, Mass., where he’ll appear with Single, Carefree, Mellow author Katherine Heiny
    7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan, where he’ll appear with novelist and short story writer Sam Lipsyte
  • 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 2, at the Tattooed Mom in Philadelphia, as part of the Tire Fire Reading Series with several other authors

Called “a stunning debut” written by a “singular voice in contemporary fiction,” Young Skins earned rave reviews in the United Kingdom and Ireland and is now earning similar praise in the US. It consists of six stories and a novella. Set in the small, fictional town of Glanbeigh, the stories bring to life the jilted Jimmy, whose best friend, Tug, is the town terror and Jimmy’s sole company in his search for the missing Clancy kid; Bat, a lovesick soul with a face like “a bowl of mashed-up spuds” even before Nubbin Tansey’s boot kicked it in; and Arm, a young and desperate criminal whose fate is shaped when he and his partner, Dympna, fail to carry out a job.

Also the winner of the 2014 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and 2014 Guardian First Book Award, Barrett–who worked for a Dublin-based mobile phone company before he went back to college to study creative writing–spoke about the influence his growing-up years played in his debut, among other topics:

Do aspects of your childhood in County Mayo appear in your writing?
The landscape, people and community influenced me. But above all, it’s a place to draw from in terms of language–the cadences, as well as the ingenuity and wryness and coded density of the vernacular. And the language of young people, which is a code within a code. But it took reading southern American writers like Faulkner, Hannah, and O’Connor, and the work of modern Irish writers like Kevin Barry, to realize what I had access to; that I was steeped in a language I could actually put on a page and call writing. Growing up, like most people, I thought literature was “fine writing,” and fine writing was something else to what was dropping out of me and my friends’ mouths.

What’s your reaction to Young Skins having received such significant acclaim?
I know I’m very, very lucky. Lots of books are published every year, and many very good books appear and disappear, as far as the market is concerned. I couldn’t possibly have anticipated the success of Young Skins; its ability to resonate with people. Completing it and getting it put out into the world–initially with my very small Irish publisher–was what everything hinged on for me for several years. I didn’t think beyond that.

The collection contains an ensemble of memorable characters. Do you have a process for creating characters?
I build them in images. Even if I never describe what they look like, I have to see them. And I get the characters interacting with their surroundings. I make them tactile creatures in a tactile environment. Just describing the way a character drinks a drink or drives a car does so much work for you. Actors talk about how much of acting is gestural, about bearing and comportment. A bad actor can’t sit in a chair in a credible way. Same with characters. They can say and do and think crazy things. But you have to be able to put them down into a chair in a credible way.

Many of your characters present themselves as being rough and even violent. Yet their interior voices show a real fragility. Do you think this kind of contradiction is an inherent part of being young?
I think it’s an utterly ubiquitous tension that everyone on the planet at almost all ages feels–that gap, or tension, between inner self and what it is you publicly present to the world. It is what being human is, existing in that interstice. If the gap between inner and outer self was somehow elided, we would all be angels in Eden, essentially, inhumanly connected. We would need not talk, and certainly not write. There is no place for art in a completed world.

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