The Wild Irish Rover.

Janet Murray

New York

When I was given the assignment of interviewing Seán Mac Diarmuid in his first U.S. business trip I thanked the Heavens for being a journalist. I've just finished reading his latest novel, "Nightmares", and I must confess I've never been enslaved by a book like this before! I just couldn't drop it! And I dare people to sleep after they're just done reading it. In fact, that's exactly what I hear everywhere, from friends to chats on literature forums with people from all over the world.

Fact is: this 27 year - old Irish lad, as they say, managed to join high quality literature with a kind of horror that goes deep into the mind rather than focusing on a ghost or a psycho - even if they are there in the end. His prose is lyrical in a way that you can almost make verses out of it. But I wouldn't dare tuning it into a song unless if it is to give it over to some obscure Black Metal band. And he paints such precise images, and then contrasts them with difuse and badly lit metaphors in a way that makes you start doubting your own sanity too while you devour his books page for page. He managed to wrangle respect out of the hardest critics, and to drag a crowd of loving fans around, like the one I had to go through at the door of the hotel he's staying in NY. I bet all my month wage that if he so much as puts his red head out of the window, he's gonna top the Twitter trend topics' chart the next minute.

Despite all the popularity, Seán himself is far away from a pop icon himself. He received me in his hotel suite, with a warm smile and a firm handshake. And he wasn't all dressed up as pop-stars often are for interviews. I chose pictures from his Burberry photoshoot to illustrate my article, and he's all dressed up there, all right. But he received me in a worn pair of jeans and white tank top and plaid shirt combo that spoke volumes about his personality this morning. In fact, it spoke so much about him that I felt that photographing him would expose his intimate life somehow. And it felt wrong. "I'm off to see me mom after we're done.", he said about his choice of attire. "Hope you don't mind.". I didn't mind at all, but I couldn't help feeling a little embarassed. After all I squeezed in my interview in his agenda before what was labelled as a "personal errand", which was actually his first scheduled activity in US soil. In my rush to be the first to interview him, I squeezed myself in front of his mom. And there he was, smiling a warm smile.

"So... How do you like the U.S.?"

"Well, the hotel looks grand! (laughs) T'is pretty much all I've seen so far. But I'm after touring a wee bit as soon as I get a chance. The lads from the fan club actually promised me a night out of sorts. I still don't know what they have in mind though."

"But this isn't your first time in the U.S., is it?"

"No. I'm after visiting me mom every now and again here. But professionally, t'is the first time I come here."

"Did you expect all the buzz your books got here?"

"Ah... T'is hard to know what to expect, really. I never know what's going t' happen, sure. And that's most o' the fun of it, so it is."

"So you don't fear that things might go wrong?"

"Course I do! (laughs) But if I made bags of it and blundered a chapter, me sweet Isabelle sends me an "You shall not pass" e-mail, and that's that then."

"Isabelle (Sevigny) is your editor?"

"She's me life-guard."

"How long do you work together?"

"Ah... Ten years or so, I should think... I wasn't even of age yet... Aye, ten years and then a wee bit more. T'is a long time."

"Is that why you've been turning down invitations from larger publishing houses?"

"Aye. T'is precisely why."

"I see your fame as a quiet guy is justified..."

"(laughs) Aye, I'm quite Spartan when it comes to answers. Sorry for the blaggard."


"(laughs harder) We speak a completely different dialect in Ireland, I forgot. Sorry for givin' ye a hard time."

"So, can you elaborate a little on this publishing house issue?"

"So, t'is an issue then, is it? (laughs) T'is quite a simple matter, actually. Why would I change? Larger publishing houses might offer me this and that, aye, but... I'd rather have someone I trust taking care o' me books. I'd rather know where I stand than jump around after getting larger contracts."

"A larger publishing house would offer you more publicity..."

"And what's all that for, then? I am a writer. I've no intention of becoming a star of some sort. Besides, the best publicity is done among friends and family of those who read. You read a good book. What d'ye do about it? You share with a friend, with family, and so on."

"And what about social media?"

"Ah... It can be both a blessing and a curse."

"A Curse? I never expected to hear that from you! Your books are an absolute success in the social media!"

"Which won't prevent me from being honest about it. I've established a good relationship with fan clubs' lads and lasses, aye, and I'm very grateful for all the support and all the bleedin' deadly people I've been able to talk to so far. They're grand, and intelligent and well-articulated, and discussing literature with them is an absolute pleasure..."

"Do you discuss your own books with fan clubs?"

"Not only that, and not mostly that either, but I don't shy away from it either. From the moment you publish a book, it stops being only yours. If everyone is welcome to read, everyone is welcome to interpret as well, aye? There's no right and wrong way to read a book."

"What do you discuss about?"

"All sorts of things, even social media itself. I'm often caught in endless discussions on the impact of it in me job. Students nowadays fail to notice that knowing their own language is fundamental, somehow. And that's intrinsically connected to social media, and the adaptations people do to language in order to write faster online. I often feel like ripping the hairs out of me head while correcting their papers. The times, they're a' changin', aye? And not entirely for the best."

"What else do you discuss?"

"All sorts of things... Other authors... I am, and always will be a reader, and a fan too."

"A fan of...?"

"Mishima. Kawabata. Tanizaki. Stephen King. (laughs) T'is a long list, and I'll keep you there taking notes for weeks and still I won't be done with it."

"So, back to social media... I wanna know about that curse part..."

"Right then. I'm grateful for the fact that me books have fans who'll share their support online..."

"Your books have fans? Not you?"

"(chuckles) People like what I write. They don't necessarily like me."

"But you wrote the books..."

"Well, yes, but me books aren't a mirror of me in any way at all. I write horror stories, for f*ck sake! What would that make me?"

"I don't know! Norman Bates, maybe?"

"(laughs really hard) Ohohoho, me ma's going t' love that! Well... That's one of the many aspects that make social media a curse of some sort. There's shams there who haven't got a baldy who you are, but they think they do, and they send you all sorts of psycho-nazi-white-alpha-male-plonker shite just because some of your characters are as bloody sick as they are. And they swear to God you're just as disgusting too. There's fanatics of all sorts that think they can tell you what to write about and what not to. There's people who threaten you and your family if you don't stop what they think is a challenge to gods and Jesuses and whatever else they believe in... Surely I'm not big enough to challenge any god at all, but anyway... Social Media is a tool. And like any other tool, it can be handled in different ways. It all depends on who's pulling the strings on the bloody puppet show. And lately, it's been pulled towards hatred and narrow - mindedness too much for my taste."

"And who's pulling the strings?"

"That remains to be seen. I've a couple o' political scientist friends who could answer that question much better than I can. I'm just an observer."

"So you observe... And then write about it?"

"Aye, that's how it's done most of times, so it is. But if you're implying that I'll write about social media..."

"Oh, I thought I had wrangled your next book out of you!"

"You're after trying harder than that then. But trying to make me talk is about as useful as back pockets in a shirt, lass, let me tell ye."

"All right then, since you won't cooperate, I'll move on to other projects. How did you end up on a Burberry photoshoot?"

"Ah... I had that one coming, I suppose..."

"Yes, you did! Most writers I know are indifferent or even disgusted by the fashion industry. And here you are, a laureated young writer who's also the male face of Burberry Prorsum this year!"

"(laughs) All right then... I think you're after getting that long answer out of me after all, aye? (sighs) Let's get on with it, then. Isabelle (Sevigny) has a friend in the fashion world (He's referring to Dana O'Brien). And that friend's been blaggardin' me into it for who knows how long... But it's never been in me to be after earnin' me Joyces like that 'till now."

"What made you change your mind?"

"I needed the Joyces to travel. So I put me own mucksavage self in her hands, and next I know London's knocking on me door with a contract, and there's a grand shooting to be done next tuesday. T'is nothing to do with life perspective, you see? If I'm quare half and that earns me the Joyces I need, why not then? I'm not after doin' it for me whole life anyway..."

"Uh... Quare half?"

"Sorry! (laughs) Good-lookin'"

"Oh, I see... So, since you're quare half, as you say, how do you deal with beauty and looks?"

"I bathe everyday. Next question?"

"Oh, c'mon! You've just casually thrown it in my face that you're good looking!"

"(Laughs) But I don't take pride in it. Me dad always said that 'The farther the monkey climbs up a tree, the further up his... bum... you see.'"

"Oh, you're making that up!"

"No. I'm making it more polite for your sake. (snorts) When I say I'm quare half, I'm merely stating a fact. I wouldn't stand it if me life was centered around that. I guess that's what itches us writers about the whole..."

"You mean vanity?"

"Bang on! Beauty fades. Knowledge doesn't. But other than that, t'is all right. Would the Wandering Angus go into the woods if the fire in his head wasn't a beautiful lass, then? (laughs) There's no crime in beauty, and there's no sin in taking care of your health. Caring for the body keeps the mind in balance. I just don't do it for vanity, and I would never let that become the center of me universe. T'is what matters."

"So you don't keep in shape for vanity, huh?"

"No. T'is a matter of health."

"You're Zen, right?"

"I practice Zen, aye."

"Back to the shooting, how was the experience itself?"

"Ah, t'was a right cráic the whole of it! Burberry shams were nice enough, clothes are beautiful, everyone was fierce professional about the whole thing..."

"And what about Renée Huntington?"

"What about her?"

"You did a Valentine's Day themed shooting with the most coveted top model in the planet and you ask me what about her? What are your impressions?"

"T'is a sniper's nightmare, that lass! So bleedin' thin! (laughs) Renée is very professional for one so young. No wonder she's a coveted professional."

"People say there's something more going on..."

"People haven't got a baldy what they're blarneying on about."

"Now, I've heard from a very reliable source..."

"T'is sorry I am for cutting you off like this, but the best source you could hear from is meself, aye? And I'm telling ye, t'is irresponsible even of people to go about saying such nonsense. I'm a literature teacher, and not just a writer, and the same responsibilities I have with me books I have with me students. I teach children her age, and it would be unethical of me to get involved with someone so young!"

"So... Is there anyone special at the moment?"

"That's a wee bit too personal, isn't it?"

"Do you think that modelling for a big fashion label brought you publicity?"

"Of the wrong sort, perhaps! (laughs) I'm kidding. I don't really know. I didn't evaluate that at all. I did the shooting for the Joyces, as I told ye. It attracts attention, I suppose, but I haven't got a baldy if it made any substantial difference, and I'd rather believe people out there buy me books 'cuz they like them, and not because there's a picture o' me in the back of it."

"Well, Seán, thank you so much for having me here!"
"T'was a pleasure. See you 'round, I suppose."

When I left the hotel, and finally allowed the man to go see his family, more than slightly embarassed, I had an unusual feeling, which is rare for me to have these days. It's that kind of peace of mind that you only get after spending some quality time with a very honest guy. No wonder he's got so many fans. In a world of mass media idols whose lives are rebuilt by snobbish agents, that simple guy who's off to see his mom in his worn-out jeans is a true jewel.

Janet Murphy for The New York Times.