'Lynch brings alive the grimy realities of a land and family in the grip of the Troubles, while also conjuring the lilting dreamscapes of a young boy's mind.' Observer
‘A tale of great delicacy and originality, in which the fierce intensity of adolescence and, even more, the paranoia and yearning of childhood are evoked with precision, grace and overwhelming conviction.’ Independent on Sunday
‘“Torn Water” has the tight tone and feel of the period it depicts and captures well the uncertainties of someone leaving the capsule of childhood behind and taking their first footsteps out into the vast unknown where there are no certainties and no ghosts or angels to guide you.’ Irish Sunday Independent
'As a moral lesson for modern Ireland it is conventional but appealing.' Irish Times
‘You get the beat of a writer’s heart all the way through the book.’ Jennifer Johnston
John Lynch talks to Louise Tucker
Your main character's name shares the same initials as yours, which
suggests an autobiographical connection between you. Is the book based
upon, or inspired by, your own life in any way?
I suppose there was no escaping a connection. I think it was Joyce who said
that all writing is fictionalised biography. I decided to embrace that and
acknowledge that as it was my first novel I was starting in a territory I
knew quite well, namely Northern Ireland. I was quite upfront about the
blurring that occurs between the writer and the page, as it does between
actor and character.
Like James you grew up in Northern Ireland during a particularly troubled
period in its history. How has that affected you?
As I get older I find the impact of that time working its way to the
surface of my thinking more and more. When I was growing up it was just a
case of getting on with things, putting one foot in front of the other like
most people. But I have been well schooled in fear, I know that now.
Watchfulness is another trait, and keeping one's own counsel: these are all
attributable to a world where nothing was certain and where everything
could change in an instant.
James's relationships within his small family are difficult, and at times
very lonely. As one of five, how did you research the role and feelings of
an only child?
Every child, I think, no matter how surrounded by siblings, has a
tremendous capacity for aloneness, for disappearing into a world that is
exclusive. Acting also helped me. I've played a fair number of solitary men
and I'm sure I tapped into that on some level.
How did your parents influence your career, if at all?
My parents were very supportive. My father was always very taken with
literature, with its potency, and I suppose I inherited that.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was fascinated with novelists from a very early age, even before acting
began to work its magic on me. I always wondered what it would be like to
create a complete world, using only language, and I remember thinking that
the men and women who did this must have the keys to some distant and
You live in France now rather than Ireland, where you lived for many years.
Where is home for you and why?
Home is the borderland in Ireland. It's informed me more than I'll probably
ever know. I love the landscape and the sense of flux in the people,. I
like France too; we have a place quite near the Italian border and being
half-Italian I feel very comfortable here. It appeals to the Latin in me.
As a film and stage actor you are already very successful. What triggered
your desire to write fiction and how did writing a book differ from writing
They're both solitary activities (although the screenplay for the film Best
was co-written with my wife Mary McGuckian) but the novel is much more so.
It's a profound commitment lasting anywhere up to and beyond two years, and
it stays on the page, whereas with a screenplay you're always writing to
have it fleshed sooner rather than later.
Mr Shannon inspires James to act in his first play. Who or what inspired
you to become an actor?
A man not dissimilar to Mr Shannon. He's dead now unfortunately, but he did
a great deal in our area for drama and encouraged many young people to
pursue it professionally including myself.
Cal was your first major film, for which you were selected whilst still at
the Central School of Speech and Drama. Did it boost your confidence as a
student or undermine it, in that there was so much more to learn? And what
was it like to appear in such a success so early on in your career?
I felt very comfortable in front of the camera, and given I had spent the
previous three years learning how to act on stage it came as a revelation.
When I went back to finish my studies I found it frustrating as I missed
the focus of film performance. I remember I couldn't wait to experience
Having straddled two creative professions, writing and acting, would you
single out either one as a particular favourite?
Well, I haven't directed, not yet at any rate. I find writing the most
challenging; it's also fresher and newer to me. The responsibility is
bigger in that you're juggling a number of characters and stories whereas
with acting you have the luxury of worrying about only one.
Who are the actors and writers who have influenced you?
Sam Shepard has been an important influence and I admired John Cassavetes
and the work he did with Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. I loved Montgomery
Clift, who had huge sensitivity and vulnerability as an actor, and I
recently had the chance to work with Peter O'Toole, who is a complete actor
with tremendous technique. I also love Gabriel García Márquez's writing and
that of Seamus Heaney, Joseph Campbell and Bob Dylan.
How did writing this book change you, if at all?
It was a bit like stirring the sediment at the bottom of a pond. A lot of
debris floated to the surface, lots of memories and feelings that had long
lain hidden and I've had to have a good look at them, and decide which to
keep and which to throw away.
What are you writing now/next?
At the moment I'm trying to write about the disintegration of a man through
addiction, how the spirit can shift and ache when someone loses their way.