Secret Library Podcast


Secret Library Podcast Episodes

#113 Donal Ryan

113 Ryan Headshot.jpg

Donal Ryan is the best argument for staying hopeful about writing.

In this conversation, we discuss how Donal Ryan stayed optimistic as his first few books were rejected nearly 50 times before he broke in to get one published.

Once he did, he was long listed for the Booker Prize.

We have all heard these stories: of Stephen King impaling rejection letters on a nail driven into the wall by his desk, and writers who just kept sending in their work dozens – and sometimes hundreds– of times.

While these stories are meant to motivate, they rarely explore the heartbreak that is experienced along the way. In this conversation, Donal Ryan shares what kept him going, as well as his thoughts on structure and craft related to his latest book, From a Low and Quiet Sea.

Spoiler Alert: it's a knockout. You won't want to miss this episode! I predict repeat listening...

Discussed in Episode 113 with Donal Ryan:

  • This book started with the ending.

  • “Endings very often do seem quite arbitrary.”
    On starting his novel with an ending in mind.

  • “People see the ending of a novel as the point of it.”
    On being aware of the conventions of literary fiction.

  • “All endings are risky.”

  • He is a forensic googler of his own reviews.

  • “I don’t like the idea of things being tied up too neatly.”
    On when endings go awry.

  • “Nothing you come across in fiction can be unbelievable, really.”
    On the narrative possibilities of real life.

  • “I can’t write a character this unsympathetic.”
    On how Lampy’s character developed.

  • “You’re so free, unshackled when you write evil.”
    On the fun of terrible characters.

  • “Structure works when the reader isn’t too aware of it.”
    On how good writing can mask intricate structure.

  • “I do tend to use structure as something of a crutch.”
    On overcoming a problem with pacing early in his career.

  • “The main thing you have to actually persist with is the writing.”
    On over 50 rejections before publishing his first book.

  • “It can take ten years to write out your bad habits & your heroes.”
    On putting in the hours.

  • “The biggest favor we do ourselves as writers is to write.”
    On how the sausage gets made.

  • “It’s the one thing I knew I was all my life.”
    On always knowing that he wanted to write.

  • “I don’t think I’ll ever be just a writer.”
    On the realities of supporting a family through writing.

  • “It’s very important to make it seem easy.”
    On writing an achievable amount every day.

  • “You create art to illuminate something about humanity.”
    On art being for the audience as much as it’s for the artist.

  • “It’s a very sublime and beautiful way of communicating.”
    On a novel as being part of a conversation.

  • “If you’re bored writing a novel, it’s very likely the novel is going to be boring.”
    On why you need to write what’s engaging to you first.

  • “We definitely have a responsibility as writers to safeguard language.”

  • Liz Nugent

  • “It’s not that big of a deal to write a book; it really isn’t.”

  • “I think every story’s worth telling.”
    On believing in each days writing.

This episode sponsored by listeners like you via the Secret Library Podcast Patreon