herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Revenge of the ‘upper class prat’

That’s just one of the names that Trevor White was called (by Eamon Dunphy) during his tenure at the Dubliner. As his memoir is published, white puts his own work on the chopping block, in an interview with himself

So you've got this new book of diaries. It's probably just a clippings job, right?

Absolutely. It's a shameless attempt to create the delusion that I was slightly less stupid than I really am. It's also self-serving and nepotistic, in the sense that no one mentioned is faintly important in the overall scheme of things. Once you get over that, it's really quite good fun.

Why did you publish it now?

I wanted to provide a small number of readers with a portrait of the boom from a very awkward angle. It's really a collection of journalism, correspondence and miscellaneous legal threats.

From who?

You'll have to read the book to find out.

You were living in New York when you got the idea for the magazine?

That's right.

So why did you launch it?

I wanted to come home. And I guess I also wanted to announce my ineptitude to the world. No, really. In magazine publishing you make all your mistakes in public. The most common pose is shameless self-promotion. You cannot survive without it. If you have any scruples you lose a lot of money.

Bravado and bullshit, in the strict academic sense of that word, are essential. Without a blaring trumpet you are invisible to the small collection of loud chancers and quiet heroes that constitute Dublin society. All is smoke and mirrors. That's why you throw parties, that's why you court the press, and that, worse still, is why you make your mistakes in public.

So how did you make your first mistake?

I managed to alienate the largest magazine publisher in the market, when I noted that one of her magazines had the same cover shot that was used on a rival's cover a week earlier.

What about the Ryder Cup thing?

When you mention that, I start to apologise. Sorry, I say, because I'm legally precluded from discussing golf for the rest of my life. Which is a curious thing, because it makes me both more dull and more interesting.

In that case, tell us what you thought of the Celtic Tiger.

The interesting thing about the Dubliner is not that it existed outside the boom, nor indeed that it could not survive without the boom. Rather, what's interesting about the magazine is that for a small number of people for a very short time -- recently -- it had what you might call a whispered influence in Dublin society. If you found yourself glancing at the cover, even once, then you were culpable.

In a crime?

Not really. More like a caper with a sting in the tail.

You sold the magazine eventually . . .

In November 2008, just as the country fell into recession. Since then, I've been desperately trying to readjust to civilian life. But I still find it impossible to enter a newsagent without moving the titles around. Only this time I hide the magazines that belong to old enemies. Because let's be honest: Dublin would be hell without enemies, don't you think?

There are quite a few attacks in the diaries?

They're candid, insofar as it is possible to be candid anymore. But it's not a bitter diatribe in the great Irish tradition. I'm closer to Forrest Gump than Truman Capote and, believe me, I don't mean that as a boast. There's a lot of affection for the era, too, maybe not enough about the real culprits. Of course we are all guilty of negligence in our way -- but us journalists are especially culpable, are we not?

The Dubliner is nearly 10 years old. What do you think of it today?

Obviously, it's not the same magazine that it was in 2001. Frankly, that's probably not a bad thing. There's a great team working on it these days, and I'm always interested to see what's on the cover. And I'm particularly happy that the magazine now reaches such a large audience as it is distributed inside the Herald each Thursday. The goal was always to produce a magazine that would be for the city of Dublin, not just a small clique. The Herald deal has allowed that to happen in a way that I never really managed. So yes, I'm delighted.

What was the best story you published?

My proudest moment was the day we printed the personal message of Eugene Terreblanche to Michael McDowell after the Citizenship Referendum was passed. His exact words were: "I congratulate the Minister on trying to protect the people against immigrants who they don't want to be in Ireland. What I really appreciate about the Irish is that they are a very proud people. They are really trying to protect the Irish people from the overcrowding of other people. They see Ireland as their sole and sovereign country. For our people in South Africa you are really an inspiration."

While doing all that muckraking, you acquired a certain notoriety, didn't you?

No. I was often mentioned in social diaries. And I am a journalist, which means my byline has appeared in most of the major local publications.

Celebrity is horrific, and no sane man would covet it. I am not that much of a sick, upper-class prat, to borrow Eamon Dunphy's delightful description.

Eamon Dunphy's delightful description?

Yes. That's what he called me in November 2006. I liked it so much that I put the quote on the back of the book.

There you go again, causing trouble.

Not really. I'm a lot calmer today than I once was. Honestly. More private, too.

More private?

Fran Lebowitz said a writer's fame is the best sort of fame, because it's enough to get you the best table in the restaurant, but not enough to get harassed by autograph-hunters.

But you're doing this interview?

My respect for privacy is briefly outweighed by a commitment foolishly made to a small Irish publisher. Tomorrow the phone goes back off the hook.

Oh come on . . .

Seriously. I don't have a Facebook page, we're not in the phonebook and the doorbell's broken. What amazes me is that these things are seen as problems, instead of desirable goals.

You're probably just terrified of bad reviews.

On the contrary. I'm almost positive that some young fool who doesn't know any better will say this book's terrific. That's how crazy the kid will be. Everyone else will line up for a pop in the traditional fashion.

Karma. I seem to remember that your food reviews were pretty savage, too, weren't they?

So what? The Dubliner 100 Best Restaurants remains the bestselling restaurant guide in the country, and it's still a cracking read. The pity is that standards continue to fall in Irish kitchens.

Ouch. Don't you have a kind word for anyone?

Yes, I have some good news for both of us: This interview is over.

The Dubliner Diaries, published by Lilliput Press, is out now, priced €9.99

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