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Mister Donovan, you were born in Ireland and left your country in the late eighties. Why did you leave Ireland and go to the USA?

I left Ireland because it was time to hear different voices, to experience a different mental and physical space, in a sense to be in a place where I had no history. It is difficult to find neutral space, but for a few years I found it there. My brother was living in the US at the time, in Arkansas, a state in the south-central region.

Now you are living near New York City in a cabin with woods and farmland around, you got a dog named Hobart. These were inspirations for your latest book “Julius Winsome”. In your thoughts about the book you describe there are some autobiographical traits. Who was your inspiration for Julius Winsome?

My inspiration was an actual event. Near my cabin in the woods lives a neighbor whose dog was shot by an unknown person, who used a shotgun up close. The dog managed to get back to the farm from the woods and collapsed in the flower beds. She survived. I wondered what I might have done had my dog been shot. From those thoughts arose the novel. Very quickly the voice came to me, the name of the lead character, the idea of Shakespeare, and the way the language of the Middle Ages becomes increasingly prevalent as the novel progresses, as Julius Winsome is taken over by a centuries-old style of retribution, though without the charges or the sentence. I knew he had to use an old rifle, though I can think of no logical reason why. It was an instinctive decision, perhaps the inheritance of violence. I put my own dog in the pages, for he too often wandered alone out into the woods, even to this day.

Are you a lone wolf, too, like Julius Winsome?

Yes, for the most part.

Your prose is calm and intensive and it feels as though you understand the scary process whereby a benign loner can become an unhinged killer. The narrative is channeled through Julius perspective, a ruggedly and unpretentious man. But we do also learn about his grief, loss and loneliness. Is this a sense of morality?

Morality for me is a shared sense of what constitutes right behavior, and therefore morality differs according to which community you live in. I believe that ethics are more profound than any morality, because ethics deal in how humans treat each other. Nevertheless, in terms of morality, Julius Winsome lies outside a moral compass. We the readers are confined within his thought process. He has had little real interaction with other people, and so his actions are not measured by any standard except those dictated by his emotions, by his sense of loyalty and courage and compassion, all of the qualities that he knew in his beloved Hobbes. I suspect that he would find morality a very shallow concept. What he valued was companionship, in knowing and sharing his life with Hobbes. Animals do not question, they accept, and when Hobbes is killed, Julius is completely knocked off his axis by sudden grief and loneliness, and then what he feels creeping in the door: revenge. It is not self-centered revenge, it is not self-righteousness. He wants to speak for his dog, who cannot speak for himself. He wants to be a voice for that which is silent. He knows what has been lost, this simple yet profound life taken away by a nameless person, and so he shoots the nameless people he finds wandering with guns in the woods. For him they are guilty of the act or guilty by association. Perhaps that is a sense of morality. Julius misses Hobbes as much and possibly more than a human being—in fact he misses his dog in the same way he misses his father, except that he feels the loss of the dog much more acutely because Hobbes was his last companion. Julius’s loneliness magnifies the loss of Hobbes, and the loss of Hobbes magnifies his loneliness. I think many people are offended by the lack of a border between grief and revenge as they are depicted in the novel, but I don’t accept that there necessarily is a border that one can identify. Therefore in the language of the novel I do not create any divisions in style between moments of reflection and moments of killing. In his mind there are no divisions, so why should I create them? He is a lethal enemy when those feelings turn into action: again, no warning, no logic. This aspect of the novel has the potential to offend some people who may expect a kind of moral reckoning—a kind of process. By the time the novel begins, everything that leads to destruction is already in place. That’s the point.

You wrote Julius Winsome in eight weeks. How is this possible? Did you have the whole story in your mind? Grew the story day by day until it was ready to be written down?

The voice came to me very quickly, and voice is I think the most difficult part to get right in writing. Words one can type all day, but when the voice is right, and the human situation and the setting and plot are in place, I compose quickly. At times I felt as if this novel were being whispered into my head, I wrote so fast. A couple of months later I revised the middle section (I made it much smaller) and that process of editing took an extra few weeks. I do a lot of writing ‘off the page’: I try not to confuse typing with writing.

In Ireland you were studying Philosophy and German language and literature studies. You worked in a cheese factory in Bavaria, then spent six months at the Technische Universität in Hannover, later in the eighties you studied music in Dublin and played classical guitar for seven years. It looks like you are interested in so many things. In the 1990s you wrote your first poetry and after that your novel “Schopenhauer’s Telescope”. When did the first thoughts come up to write poems or a novel?

I wrote poetry as a child, as many children do, and when I was fifteen I had my first poems published. I’ve had an impulse to write from the age of four. My time in Hannover in 1981 was memorable. I was playing classical guitar a lot then, and I remember the Baroque Gardens in the city. I’ve often meant to go back to Hannover and to revisit the university and the English faculty there. In late 1999 or early 2000 I began to write what came to be ‘Schopenhauer’s Telescope’, my first novel. It started as a simple scene that kept getting longer, and after a few weeks I saw a novel form in my mind, that moment when situation and character and plot converge into a whole. The moment when a story is transformed into a novel is one that can almost be perceived. But I had no plans to write a novel. Instead, a novel happened.

Now Julius Winsome is available in Germany under the title “Winter in Maine” and it seems to be an insiders` tip. This is the first of your books that is translated into German. The critics are unanimous enthusiastic. Are you planning to visit Germany any time soon?

No plans at present, but I intend to visit soon. I was in Berlin last year for a visit.

Can you tell us what it was like to work with Thomas Gunkel, the translator of “Julius Winsome”?

He is an extraordinary translator. We corresponded by email. His questions were technically specific but also creative in their direction. My feeling is that the translator’s skill is everything. Not alone does the translator communicate words and phrases and voice and tone, he must also translate metaphor and rhythm and syntax into their equivalents in the new language. This is no easy task, and Thomas Gunkel did everything right. I was fortunate that he translated the novel.

Dear Mr. Donovan, thank you very much for your patience.

You are welcome.





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