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February 7, 2016Feature

We met up with the perpetually ascending writer to discuss his non-literary influences, unconventionally renewing his love for music and writing away his obsessions

"I thought about it so much, I mean obsessively..." - 'This is the Ritual'

I met Rob Doyle in December 2014 after an interview between himself and Tony Clayton-Lea.

His novel ‘Here are the Young’ men resonated with me on many levels, and I had a slew of questions regarding the novel. Rob was kind enough to answer them all after the live interview and even divulged some information about the follow up to the novel, which was to be published 12 months later.

That book, ‘This is the Ritual’, was released last month and since then Rob has once again become one of the most sought-after figures in Irish literature.

With constant allusions to music throughout his written work, myself and Rob met to discuss this aspect of his life and other ways he expresses creativity.

For years my main creative outlet was making music. Song writing, rather than prose writing was definitely my thing. I wasn’t great at it, but I did have a passion for it.”

Rob’s musical taste was developing and changing constantly, starting off raw and anarchic and eventually ending up somewhere that may seem quite unexpected.

“It was mostly punk to begin with, then I got into making home recordings, leaning towards acoustic, folk sounds. When I was living in London I spent some time collaborating with an old music friend, and we made a sort of electro album.

When I was younger I was constantly consuming music. However, when I was in my late-20s, around the time that ‘Here are the Young Men’ was coming out, nothing musical was exciting me. I thought I was finished with music, which was a bit distressing and dreary. But over the last few years it’s all changed, I’m listening to new music more excitedly than ever before.

“When I was writing ‘This is the Ritual’ Kanye West’s album ‘Yeezus’ came out and I got obsessed with it. I don’t think I listened to anything else for around seven months. It was the nihilism of ‘Yeezus’, the monumental production.”

“He’s a multi-millionaire but he made one of the best punk albums in 20 years. I love the aggression, that’s what draws me to rap and hip hop, they’re doing what I love in a certain type of literature which is narrativising their own lives in a very raw and visceral way.

“Weirdly, I also find myself listening to a lot of pop recently. If I told a younger me that, I think he’d be angry. Again, when I was writing the new book I started listening to Lorde. She was 17 when she put out her album ‘Pure Heroine’ and it’s so ridiculously good. I think she’s one of the best songwriters since Morrissey.”

It became quickly apparent in 2014 that ‘Here are the Young Men’ is a direct nod to the Joy Division song ‘Decades‘, and throughout his breakthrough novel music is of the utmost importance.

Like a lot of young lads, music was their obsession in the first book. However, there is still quite a lot of musical references in ‘This is the Ritual’ as well.

“For example, there’s one story about a guy called Killian Turner, who’s a very mysterious writer who goes to Berlin in the late 70s, early 80s, before vanishing inexplicably. Before that, he becomes heavily involved in an underground industrial noise music scene. He’s hanging out with these avant-garde Berlin bands, making weird spoken word recordings.”

"I also find myself listening to a lot of pop recently. If I told a younger me that, I think he'd be angry."

When it comes to creative influences Rob’s approach is almost exclusively obsessional.

Like one extract of his latest book reads in relation to the aforementioned character Killian Turner: “his fascination with the work of H.P. Lovecraft bordered on the religious…”

This is a representation of Rob’s approach to art too.

“Even with ‘Here are the Young Men’, it’s a troubling and troubled novel, but it’s a novel that reflects obsessional states of mind. I really felt after writing the book that I had this weight lifted off my shoulders. It was incredible, when you explore these obsessions you end up less afflicted by them.

“I tend to write about the things that fascinate me and that I obsess about. Whatever I’m  engrossed in does tend to show up in my writing.”

Outside of music it’s film and philosophy that Rob fixates on. The criteria for obsession remains the same for him however. The art needs to grab him by the throat.

“I’ve always loved the film maker Gaspar Noé, who directed ‘Enter the Void’. It’s just incredible transcendental film making. I got obsessed with the film while I was living in Paris last summer.”

“Also, for a couple of years I was fixated on the Romanian, pessimistic philosopher Emil Cioran, and it was almost like I couldn’t read anything else.

“I was getting such intense pleasure and fascination from his work that I really couldn’t be bothered with anything else. This went on for two years and it seemed like every conversation I had reverted back to him. I thought to myself that I really needed to write about that guy. So I just wrote the obsession out of my system.”

I was then curious to see whether the collection of stories in ‘This is the Ritual‘ was a way for Rob to tackle multiple obsessions.

“I would certainly call it an obsessional book. It’s about characters who are on the edge. People who are afflicted, neurotic, anguished, desperate and often obsessive.

“I don’t like art that’s half-hearted, lukewarm or tentative. I like to be rocked, I want art to be an immersive experience. Whether it’s Gaspar Noé, Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’ or punk when I was younger, it’s the same intensity that I look for. That’s why both ‘Here are the Young Men’, and even more so ‘This is the Ritual’, are pretty full on with very little let up.”

"I don't like art that's half-hearted, lukewarm or tentative. I like to be rocked"

Outside of Rob’s fixation of film as an art form, he has also plunged himself into the world of film creation.

He will make his acting debut in the upcoming feature ‘Hit the North’, which has an expected release date of summer 2016. However, it’s the prospect of a film adaptation of ‘Here are the Young Men’ that will be getting fans delighted most.

Everything is going in the right direction. Writer and actor Eoin Macken originally approached me and said he really wanted to make a film of it but only if I was willing to collaborate on the screenplay.

“They have a production company and it’s all looking good, we just need to secure the funding, but I’m hopeful right now that it will go ahead.”

Rob Doyle’s sophomore book ‘This is the Ritual’ is a collection of harrowing, sometimes bleak but often sincerely funny short stories. It’s available now through Bloomsbury Publishing.

Photos by Eric Davidson

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