I knew this would happen. With his new book, Walking With Ghosts, coming out this week, I knew there would an interview or two (or nine!). I knew it.
I did NOT know that his interview with Catherine Shoard at The Guardian would be quite this intense, however! Gabriel rarely shies away from speaking the truth in very certain terms, but this time? Well, this time he tells his own personal truth as well as the truth about what’s going on in the world.
The response on Twitter has been electric! So many readers have responded with cheers, thoughtful asides, and heart-felt thanks for Gabriel’s wide-ranging comments about global politics and the politicians driving us all to drink, about clerical abuse and holding people accountable, and about his own struggles with the past. It is always lovely to see more people discover the wise and intricate person we know and to watch them suddenly recognize him as someone they want to learn more about. Sometimes I send them here, to this website. Mostly I leave them alone to relish Gabriel’s insights and experiences and to enjoy his eloquence and his occasional wrath.
about the recent US election
Byrne was in London on the way back to his farm in Maine, where he lives with his wife and three-year-old daughter. It’ll be thin, he said, Biden’s margin is miles slimmer than anyone predicts. He called it in 2016, too.
“If you were in touch with the rage that was on the ground, you were not looking at Hillary Clinton and saying, she’s going to get elected. That rage is still on the ground. The 40 million who support Trump haven’t wavered one iota.”
about the movies
He is evangelical that we recognise “the power of film to form you. It’s not just an escape and not just entertainment, it’s influencing the way you see the world.”
When I ask if he feels culpable, he grins with almost masochistic enthusiasm. He says he has tried to take on only those projects he thinks have something valuable to say – Louder Than Bombs (about grief), Hereditary (family secrets), Lies We Tell (a drama directed by a window-fitter, which he agreed to “because I’ve never seen a movie about Muslims in Bradford”). But, yes, he feels guilty that he is in the pay of a bad business. “Hollywood isn’t interested in making artistic statements or necessarily even entertaining. It’s interested in making money. That’s its first and only goal. It doesn’t have a conscience.”
about fantasy and lies
Our ability to distinguish truth from fiction is in desperate peril, Byrne thinks, “and that’s where they want us”. He frets about how Zoom is fast-tracking a breakdown in human relations, and has just read a book about terrifying advances in sex-doll technology.“We now prefer the fantasy,” he says. “We find comfort in the lies. I was the victim of that for so long. I imbibed everything. It led to a place where I became extremely unhappy. And now I question everything. I believe it’s a responsibility to do it.”
about his new book
It is a peculiar book – half morbid, half a determined attempt at rebirth. “If you lose your curiosity about the world,” he says, “you’re in danger of, in some small way, kind of dying.” He’s awestruck by how long a small child can look at a leaf. “I want what they have!”
The book is also a conscious departure: stylistically ambitious, purposefully (and successfully) so. “Yes, yes, yes. I wanted to write it.” He cares about the reviews – even if you don’t read them, he says, you always get the gist. “People come up and say: ‘Listen, I just want you to know, I did not agree at all with what they said in the Guardian.’”
Now, he is 80-odd pages into his first novel, set among Irish construction workers who built roads and railways tracks and the M4. It’s a love story about home, too.He sounds in no hurry to return to movies. Shooting the second season of Fox’s War of the Worlds in Wales this summer doesn’t sound a lot of fun, with the morning Covid swabs and “subliminal atmosphere of fear”.
Yes, if you remember, when Gabriel called to say Hi to us, he was in the middle of that pandemic-dominated shoot and it sounded really icky and–WHAT!? He’s writing a NOVEL!?
Oh, this is magic, as Jo March would say.
Linda Nylind had this to say about her photoshoot with Gabriel: