From The Commitments to The Guts, there is no mistaking the rich humour, authentic dialogue and contemporary crossover of Roddy Doyle’s writing. With a knack for perfectly and intimately portraying everyday Irish life in a remarkably concise form of prose, it’s not hard to see how he has become firmly established as one of Ireland’s best-loved writers.
Eleven novels, two collections of stories, a memoir of his parents, eight children’s books, a number of plays and screenplays, and an opera translation have made their way to the page from Doyle’s acutely focussed mind. But what about the man behind these remarkable observational works? Here are ten things you might not have known about the author of The Barrytown Trilogy, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Woman Who Walked into Doors.
Doyle studied English and geography at University College, Dublin. After graduating he went on to teach those subjects at Greendale Community School in Kilbarrack, north of Dublin. He’s not the only person from the school to go onto literary success. One of Doyle’s pupils has also become an author; Celine Kiernan has so far published five fantasy novels for young adults.
In his third year as a teacher, during the long summer holiday, Doyle began to take a more serious approach to his writing. His first book, written during this period, was the heavily political satire Your Granny’s a Hunger Striker, though it remains unpublished. Why is that? “Because it's utter shite,” Doyle told The Guardian in 2011. “I sent it to every agent and publisher I could find – and either it wasn't coming back, or it was coming back unopened”.
Doyle was still working as a teacher when he self-published his first novel, The Commitments, in 1987. He'd established the company, King Farouk, in order to do so. Thankfully, a draft he'd sent to the publisher Heinemann was rescued from the company's 'slush pile' and their editor Dan Franklin – who Doyle still works with today – gave it a broader publication. First editions, published under King Farouk, still exist, and are much sought among collectors.
Doyle has picked up his fair share of literary awards; the Irish Book Awards, Novel of the Year for The Guts (2013), a 2011 French Literary Award for The Snapper, and of course the 1993 Booker Prize for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. But he also has the face of a BAFTA Award staring out from his trophy cabinet. Doyle picked up the Best Adapted Screenplay gong at the 1991 BAFTAs for the film version of The Commitments, which he had reworked for the screen with established comedy writing duo, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.
A Chelsea supporter since he watched the television broadcast of the 1967 League Cup Final, Doyle has previously cited the BBC website’s football pages as a source of distraction from his writing. “I shout at the telly when watching football in ways that I would never do otherwise,” he told iNews last year. In 2014 Doyle co-wrote The Second Half, the memoir of former Manchester United and Ireland footballer Roy Keane, and he was also one of the celebrity managers in the first series of David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s Fantasy Football League in 1994.
Yep, Belinda Moller, who Doyle met when she was publicising the film version of The Commitments, is the granddaughter Erskine Hamilton Childers. A politician with Fianna Fáil, Childers was the fourth President of Ireland, serving from June 1973 until his death the following November. Married for three decades, Moller and Doyle have three children.
Though his influence on popular comedy characters may be questionable, there can be no doubting Doyle’s positive impact on children and young adults. The author has written several books for children, including the Rover Adventure series, whilst his debut young adult book Wilderness (2007) had the writer of the best-selling book series in history fangirling away like the rest of us. “Roddy Doyle is an absolute genius!” exclaimed JK Rowling, who has also described Doyle as her favourite living writer.
Two Pints started life as a short sketch on Doyle’s own Facebook page. Six years later the concept had been expanded and adapted into a very distinctive play, with a unique setting. Even if it wasn’t perhaps what Doyle, or his bank manager, had hoped for.
But not rock music, as he told The Guardian in a 2017 interview, “it’s too distracting, too many stops and starts, howls and lyrics.” It was only after he finished teaching and turned to writing full-time that Doyle found that he needed some kind of background noise to help him write. “A friend suggested music,” he explains in that same interview, “That seems odd now, that someone had to persuade the man who wrote The Commitments that he might enjoy listening to music while he worked.”
We hosted Conversations with Roddy Doyle, in which the writer looked back on his work and career, in our Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday 11 March.
The venue for London Literature Festival and Poetry International, Southbank Centre is the home of literature and spoken word events in the UK. Throughout the year we host talks, discussions, readings and more featuring bestselling authors, award-winning poets and inspirational writers.