How Irish author Sebastian Barry writes

Sebastian Barry said, “Wonderfully, out of that private box of miracles that is a writer’s life, I just wrote that sentence [that now opens the book]: ‘The method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake.’”
[in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, August 12, 2016]

Sebastian Barry

[photo: Alan Betson]

Barry’s latest book, Days Without End, had mixed beginnings. He spent nine months writing a long chapter about the famine in Ireland, and expected the book to be ‘very, very dark.’ But then he cut this chapter down to a page and a half, and then wrote the sentence about the corpse.

‘The whole damn book was just lying in behind that sentence.’ After that it was easier, there were ‘four or five joyous months where, for once in a decade, you are going down to your work room like a 22-year-old instead of a 61-year-old, and being very surprised.’

My first novel Ignoring Gravity had its origins with one sentence which flowed from my pen, so I understand where Barry is coming from. However he used his sentence to start his novel, whereas mine became the keynote of my protagonist’s personality.

Barry’s novel is about America’s Indian wars in the mid-19th century, the protagonist is Thomas McNulty. Orphaned during Ireland’s Great Famine, he sails to Canada and starts a new life in America. As a soldier, he travels the Oregon Trail in Missouri, fighting with Sioux.

Read my review of Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way.
Sebastian Barry


‘Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry [UK: Faber]

See how these other authors write:-
Hanya Yanagihara
JoJo Moyes
Paula Hawkins

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How one sentence changed author Sebastian Barry’s novel #writers via @SandraDanby