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Prize-Winning Author in the First Person


WRITING his latest novel, ``Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha,'' in the first person was a new undertaking for Irish author Roddy Doyle.

``At first it was difficult,'' he explains in a telephone interview, ``because I had only a vague notion of what Paddy was like, I wasn't sure of his interests. But once I wrote a few scenes and chapters, and once I knew what his interests were, then it became easier, and it was quite enjoyable.''

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Now the former teacher is hooked. ``I'm doing it again in the next book,'' he says. ``It'll be a 40- or 39-year-old woman, but it's the first person again. I think I like the idea of trying to get inside their heads and trying to capture the way they think and the words they use and that type of thing.''

Mr. Doyle started writing ``Paddy Clarke'' shortly after the birth of his first son, an event that sparked his interest in childhood. Set in Dublin in 1968, the tale of 10-year-old Patrick Clarke won the 1993 Booker Prize, one of Britain's highest literary honors.

Even though Doyle was also 10 in 1968, he says the novel is not autobiographical - the Clarke family's troubles at home were not his own. ``My memories of childhood are overwhelmingly happy,'' he recalls, adding that his parents still hold hands.

But many things in the novel are from Doyle's memory bank: household articles, a book about Belfast-soccer-great George Best, and the story's location along the Dublin coastline.

``I've no interest in trying to recapture my childhood, per se,'' Doyle says of the similarities, ``I was trying to use my past as a way of guiding me for this book.''

An appreciation for music also guides Doyle's writing - Barrytown, the fictional suburb where all his novels take place, is named after a song by the group Steely Dan. He says people humming and singing bits of songs in his books are realistic: ``I do it all the time. If I'm walking around my house I break into song ... particularly in certain rooms - bathrooms as you know are notoriously good for singing in.''

But his use of popular culture has a dual purpose. ``Ireland 20 years ago was a very insular place both literally and culturally,'' he says, citing attempts to keep out foreign culture, games, and music.

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``What I want the books to be and the films to be is an accurate reflection of modern Ireland. In `Paddy Clarke' the big music going right through it is [American country-western singer] Hank Williams, not some Irish version, but Hank Williams himself.''

Books and sporting events also appear in Doyle's writings - as does humor. Doyle was an awkward youth, and he says that in order to fit in, he learned to make people laugh.

``I've often seen things as absurd,'' he says, listing political posturing and aspects of ``middleclassness'' in particular, ``It's just the way I look at the world.'' The humor varies from novel to novel, he says, ``In `Paddy Clarke' there's a lot of humor, and I think it's there so I can kick the legs out under the reader later on in the book....''

Doyle says there will be no sequel to ``Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha,'' but he is working on a fifth novel, which may change topics several times before it's completed. ``The challenge,'' he says, ``is always to write something different.''

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