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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Starving Behan regularly lost Borstal Boy drafts

Author Brendan Behan. Photo: Hulton Archive
Author Brendan Behan. Photo: Hulton Archive

A long-lost audio tape has been unearthed in which Brendan Behan reveals he regularly lost early drafts of his masterpiece novel Borstal Boy while he was struggling artist in Paris.

The revelation comes in an interview conducted with Behan in 1961.

It is due to be broadcast for the first time today in an RTE Radio One documentary about his time in the French capital.

Documentary On One: Brendan Behan in Paris paints a romantic picture of an author who went hungry during his time writing early drafts of the novel in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In the audio, Behan says he often wrote in the Hotel Louisiane, famous for attracting Jean-Paul Sartre, Miles Davis and Salvador Dali.

Weary

"Borstal Boy I started in Paris in the Hotel Louisiane," said Behan.

"The principal difficulty in writing a book is getting some place to write it if you haven't got any money.

"I didn't have any dough, I had no place to go.

"I lost the bloody manuscript of it lots of times, I was so weary looking for a place to sleep, I forgot the goddamn thing."

The programme is co-produced by Deirdre McMahon, whose father, Frank, won the 1970 Tony Award for his stage adap- tation of Borstal Boy, the first ever Tony for an Irish play.

Ms McMahon, who made the documentary with Tim Desmond, decided to delve into Behan's work for her doctorate when she went back to college as a mature student in recent years.

She uncovered the interview in an archive in New York during her research.

In another extract, Behan describes taking food from windowsills.

"If you go along window- sills in Paris, you're always sure to find something. People have a habit of leaving odd pieces of food up," he says.

Behan particularly remembered how the young American author Norman Mailer, who was in Paris at the same time, had once treated him to a meal.

He says: "Norman Mailer bought me ham and eggs... a time when I hadn't eaten ham and eggs in a long, long time."

The documentary will be aired today at 1pm and repeated tomorrow at 7pm.

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