In Ireland, novels and plays still have a strange force. The writing of fiction and the creation of theatrical images can affect life there more powerfully and stealthily than speeches, or even legislation. Imagined worlds can lodge deeply in the private sphere, dislodging much else, especially when the public sphere is fragile.
The problem is once you've written the opening paragraph and worked out how the rest of the story will go in your head, there's nothing in it for you. I write in longhand using disposable fountain pens on the right-hand side of the notebook for the first draft, then I rewrite some of the sentences and paragraphs on the left-hand side.
The novel space is a pure space. I'm nobody once I go into that room. I'm not gay, I'm not bald, I'm not Irish. I'm not anybody. I'm nobody. I'm the guy telling the story, and the only person that matters is the person reading that story, the target. It's to get that person to feel what I'm trying to dramatize.
I said that when I looked at photographs of the firefighters who went into the Twin Towers, their faces looked to me like Irish faces. I hadn't yet learnt how careful outsiders have to be when talking about race in America, and I'd put my foot in it. Someone stood up and said aggressively, 'What do you mean by Irish faces?'