Born in Finglas, Co. Dublin in 1959, he has worked as a factory hand, library assistant and publisher. His debut play, The Lament for Arthur Cleary (1989), received the Samuel Beckett Award. His other plays include two 1990 one-act pieces, which were staged by the Gate Theatre: The Holy Ground and In High Germany, which was later filmed by RTÉ television. The Abbey Theatre, where he was playwright-in-association in 1997, has staged four of his plays: Blinded by the Light (1990), One Last White Horse (1991) April Bright (1995) and The Passion of Jerome (1999). His most recent play, From These Green Heights (Axis Art Centre, Ballymun) received the Irish Times/ESB Irish Theatre Award for Best New Irish Play of 2004.
His nine novels include Night Shift (1985), which received the AE Memorial Prize, The Woman's Daughter (1987), The Journey Home (1990), Second Life (1994), Father's Music (1997), Temptation (2000), The Valparaiso Voyage (2001) and The Family on Paradise Pier (2005). He has published six volumes of poetry, including Taking My Letters Back - New & Selected Poems (1998). In 1997 he devised and edited the best-selling collaborative novel, Finbar's Hotel, and followed it in 1999 with Ladies Night at Finbar's Hotel. He has edited many anthologies, including The Picador Book of Contemporary Irish Fiction. Between 1977 and 1992 he ran Raven Arts Press in Dublin, and in 1992 he co-founded, and has since been executive editor, of New Island Books.
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