A BALD, bearded man in glasses walks into the café bar at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin’s Temple Bar. As he looks around for the person he’s meant to meet – which would be me – no one is giving him a second glance. In the admittedly sparsely inhabited room nobody raises their head, pauses in recognition and nudges their neighbour. The city’s most famous living writer is in the building and no one seems to have noticed.

Has anyone done as much to write Dublin into the public imagination as Roddy Doyle over the last few decades? Yet he can still move around the city of his birth, the city where he has lived for more than 60 years, mostly uninterrupted. “Having a surname like Doyle in this country helps,” he suggests when he finally joins me on the mezzanine. “It’s the sixth most common surname, so, if I say my surname nobody says, ‘Oh …’

“I suppose at this stage in my life being bald and wearing glasses, if I go out into the Dublin streets I’m not alone. I got the bus here today and walked through town and I’ll do the reverse going home. It’s how I normally travel. Nobody comes near me. So, that side of it is easy to manage.”

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that writers go unnoticed, but Doyle, you might think, would be a special case. Since his first novel The Commitments was published in 1987 and certainly since it was turned into a movie a few years later, Doyle has been public property in Ireland. He won the Booker Prize for his 1993 novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, seen his first three books turned into movies, and has been lauded and loathed in his home country for his presentation of Dublin and Ireland in novels and on the big and small screen. The first episode of Family, the hard-hitting 1994 TV series about domestic violence and poverty was watched by half of Ireland’s adult population. And they all had an opinion on it. Politicians and church leaders railed against it. There was even a death threat made against Doyle. Things have, thankfully, rarely been so heated since but he remains part of the national conversation.

He’s good at talking. So much so that he is about to embark on a 10-date Conversations with Roddy Doyle tour, which is the reason I’m here, although we’ll spend most of our time talking about Dublin and time and mortality and the appeal of a Dublin pub.

But the tour first. Where did the idea come from? “Around spring and autumn invites to festivals come in,” he begins, in way of explanation. “There seems to be a huge appetite for festivals. I don’t really share it, I’ve got to say. I couldn’t get worked up about going to hear writers talk, but people in the production company and my agency have been to events that I do, and they enjoyed them, and they thought they were good standalone things.

“So, I was persuaded and not with much difficulty to go on this tour. It’s 10 events. It’s not rock 'n' roll. There is no rider. I won’t be flinging the television out of the hotel window.”

No karaoke then? “I won’t be breaking into song, no. Not yet anyway.”

Instead, he’ll do a bit of talking and a bit of reading. Among writers only fellow Irishman Sebastian Barry might be better at the latter. It is a chance to size up a lifetime of work.

“I have 12 novels to choose from and two collections of short stories so there’s plenty,” he says. “I’m more comfortable looking back on my old work than I used to be. I used to just run away from it when it was finished as quickly as I could and become immersed in something new. And I still try to immerse myself in something new, but I don’t need to deny my catalogue.”

Why do you think you did in the past? “I didn’t want to wallow in it. I was afraid I might try to replicate it. Probably the best decision I ever made when I won the Booker Prize for Paddy Clarke was to make the decision never to go back there, never go back to him. I forgot about that book to the extent that I almost forgot I’d written it and forgot that I had been involved in The Commitments movie, for example. It’s when my kids started watching it years later that I began to reclaim it.”

“I suppose I’m at an age where I’m calmer about it. The Snapper [his second novel about an unmarried teenage pregnancy] in this country, the film particularly, is known off by heart. It’s on every Christmas. It’s a family occasion. I did a stage adaptation and they did a great job but, in many ways, you didn’t need it. The audience could have sat there and recited it to one another and just laughed.

“That seemed to me a terrific thing. I felt very lucky. I’m happy to look back on that work now.”

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It’s difficult to think of a Scottish equivalent to Doyle, someone whose work has been so central to the national conversation from the beginning. Irvine Welsh at a push, maybe, but it is a big push. “I’ve always considered myself a political writer,” Doyle suggests. “I don’t look around for issues. I create characters and the characters bring issues with them. I’ve written about characters who were unemployed, characters who were pregnant outside marriage at a time when that was very significant, characters who have been victims of violence in the home. In the last novel Smile the narrator has been abused by a Christian Brother.

“I could spend a considerable amount of time in radio studios or on the phone claiming some sort of expertise but beyond my writing I don’t. My job is trying to tell a story. I very rarely go beyond the pages of the book and start talking in a general sense. There’s an election on the moment and I’m not opening my mouth. ”

It’s a few days before the Irish election when we meet. There are posters on every lamp post. The front page of The Irish Times has splashed on a poll that suggests surging support for Sinn Fein. Doyle won’t say who he will vote for or who others should vote for. “If somebody like myself said, ‘vote for this party,’ it would irritate the hell out of me.”

That said, scratch the surface and he’ll talk more generally about the soon-to-be-ex Taoiseach (Leo Varadkar may be young and gay and socially liberal, but Doyle adds, “he’s a Tory”), about the crisis of homelessness in Dublin and about the city’s affordability – or lack of it – for the younger generations. All parties have embraced the need for more council housing, he points out.

“Some of them are saying people can then buy them, which will just restart the problem 20, 30 years down the line. There’s an obsession with home ownership. It’s not a Dublin problem. It’s an Irish problem and it may go back to the land wars in the 1880s and the famine.”

Still, unlike the UK, where Brexit was a vote led by the elderly, Ireland has seen younger generations direct the arguments over same sex marriage and abortion.

“It will be interesting to see if they all come out this election. It could be the breakdown of the old system and the old notion that you haven’t truly become an adult until you own a house, which is probably unique in Europe to Britain and Ireland.”

“I speak as a homeowner. I won’t be giving it away. My kids can do what they want with it when I’m not around.”

Doyle’s writing life began before fatherhood (he has three grown-up children). It’s now more than 30 years since Doyle, then in his late twenties, wrote The Commitments. “It’s 30 years since the film,” he adds. “How do you measure 30 years? It’s hard to accept that 1990 is 30 years ago.

"I was just thinking today, my father died six years ago. That’s one-tenth of my life effectively and it doesn’t feel like that at all. It feels like last year perhaps, whereas something that happened in my childhood feels like where it should be, half a century away. The way we measure time changes as we get older, which is interesting as a facet of storytelling.”

I want to ask him about that 27-year-old teacher who wrote The Commitments, when he was known as "Punk Doyle". How punk were you, Roddy? “Not particularly. I liked a lot of the music. I had a pair of Doc Martens and an earring.”

An earring in an Irish school? “I took it out for the interview. I couldn’t ‘find’ it that morning. Wore a suit. The dress code was quite casual.

“I loved The Clash and the Sex Pistols. Still do. But I was never a punk. Never close to being a punk. It just seemed another kind of uniform. I was called ‘Punk’ in school because of the earring and the Doc Martens. That was it, really. There were other Doyles on the staff inevitably and one of them was called Dozy, so I was better off.”

When he sat down to write that first book, what was he reacting against? “I wasn’t reacting against anything really. It was much more positive than that. It was much more joyous if you like. There’s an anger. There’s an energy. There always has been, always will be. But if there is such a thing, it was a joyous anger. It was an appreciation of where I came from, what I had, and I think teaching gave me that.

“I was listening to the kids around me and remembering when this place was a field because it was more rural when I was a child. That would have been Paddy Clarke. I began to realise the spirit of the place and the energy of the place was there to be used. That was what I was picking up on when I wrote The Commitments.”

The Commitments and all of Doyle’s novels hum with the rhythm of Dublin speech. As a reader, I guess I’ve grown up alongside Doyle. The twentysomething I was when I fell so avidly on those Barrytown novels was in my late forties when his short story collection Bullfighting appeared with its attendant intimations of middle age and mortality.

Doyle writes what he knows. “To me it feels natural. This is the material that I have now. My father was 90, so he’d led a good life, been healthy, good in his head right to the day before he died. So, grief announces itself in a way it hadn’t before. I’d had friends who had died, but this was a different one, this was your father.”

He wrote a play, Two Pints, that drew on this. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve written in many, many ways and also I could see it as some kind of tribute to my da.”

His new book Love which comes out in May sifts through similar themes. It’s about male friendships, middle age and dying parents. Doyle’s mother died while he was writing it. “It’s bizarre becoming an orphan at the age of 60. And I think from a writing point of view it’s interesting. It’s interesting getting older, mortality, slowing down, speeding up in some ways. Time, the things it does to you. The sense of redundancy when your children grow up and they don’t need you. Nobody wants to get older, but it is rich material for writing.

“Less and less people will read it. The book clubs are overwhelmingly women and they don’t want to read about ageing men. Ageing men want to read about Hitler and Stalin and football. They don’t want to read about themselves. But nevertheless …”

The new book is essentially about a mid-life crisis. Is that a real thing? “I don’t know, to be honest. I don’t know what’s the extent of the crisis, in terms of how expensive the motorbike is or how long it lasts? How do measure a crisis?”

You haven’t bought a motorbike? “No, but I know people who have. It’s rusting in the back garden. I’m nearly 62 now, so whatever I do it won’t be mid-anything. I didn’t go off to explore the world. I didn’t go to … What do you call it? Burning Man. So, maybe I missed an opportunity.”

Love is a novel about missed opportunities. It’s dark and comic and sad and takes place mostly in Dublin pubs. There are a lot of pubs in it, Roddy. “And, actually, a fraction of a fraction of the ones that could have been chosen.”

What is the appeal? "It’s hard to explain. It’s the sense at certain times of day of calm. The sense of it being slightly forbidden, which is great. It does good things for the self-respect. I really should be somewhere else. 

"There’s a pub near here I could sit in, and I mightn’t talk to anybody but I am listening to the conversation. And they’re looking at the race on the telly and I feel somehow involved, even though I don’t have skin in the game. Somehow I know that if I said something it would be answered and then you’re in."

You say at one point that the pub is a “shy man’s haven.” Are you that shy man?

“Could be, yeah. I can feel at home in a pub. Depends on the pub, depends on the time of day, but, yes, I could be that shy man. I suspect a man who isn’t shy couldn’t have come up with that line.

“I have very close friends, men I have known since I was a child and we meet regularly. I haven’t been in their houses in decades. We don’t do that. We go to the football and we meet in a pub and we have the autopsy in a pub and it’s like the football is the meat in a sandwich in a way.

“If I didn’t drink, if I was warned off the alcohol or if I was an alcoholic this might be a very different conversation, but I’m not. It’s a good question. Would I be comfortable in a pub if I’d done damage to myself and drinking is dangerous? I suspect I probably could be. Luckily, I don’t have to.”

Love, as he has already said, is about two ageing men. Two ageing men talking, increasingly drunkenly, about their feelings. Are we as a gender getting better at that? “I think maybe. I do know there are people who, when you are talking about a problem, get it and there are others – and it’s not just men – who root around in their memories and say, ‘This happened to someone else,’ as if it is a card game. ‘I’ll top your king with an ace.’

His father, he recalls, was fostered as a child. "He was sent out of the house to a relation's house miles and miles from where he lived. It was a huge family, he was the eldest. The pressure was on for space and money, I suspect. And He didn’t see his mother for a year at least.

"I was trying to draw him out on it, but he was very reluctant to say that he was devastated. Very reluctant. He did say that an older cousin met him and realised he wasn’t happy and went to my grandmother and told her and that was the end of that, whereas I know myself, if it had occurred to me, I’d make more of it. I would be more open about talking about it. So there are things like that that suggest we are better at talking about it, but it’s a huge generalisation."

Your new book is called Love. What’s your definition of that word, Roddy? “I don’t have one. It’s such a vague word. I love coffee. I love my children. I love my wife. I love Dublin. I love a bag of chips. And the word is perfectly accurate on all occasions. And it means entirely different things. So, I don’t really know.

“I won’t be losing sleep trying to define love, but you have indicated that I am going to be answering that f****** question quite a lot in the next six months.”

We walk outside to take photographs. People walk past, look at him and walk on. Soon, he will get back on the bus to go home. He loves this city, he says. Not uncritically, but wholeheartedly.

He might not be a writer if he hadn’t lived here, he says. Or at least he’d be a very different one. Inevitably Dublin is very different to the city he grew up in. It’s older, he’s older, we are all older. The world moves on.

“If I was somehow trying to recreate the city of my youth you could find corners,” Roddy Doyle says. “You could find a few pubs that look the same. Luckily, the toilets are a good deal better. They’re lit, for example.”

Let’s run with that idea. Roddy Doyle has lit up Dublin. In his books we can see it in all its colours. That’s something, isn’t it? That’s worth being recognised for.

Conversations with Roddy Doyle is on at the Queens Hall, Edinburgh on March 12. His novel Love will be published by Jonathan Cape in May.