Sunday, 25 January 2015

Brief Thoughts on The Passion According to G.H.

Clarice Lispector
I finished The Passion According to GH. It's a strange, mesmerising meditation on life, love, language... actually, I'm not going to even try. It's like nothing I've ever read before. Or, if it is, it leans more towards yoga philosophy, maybe crossed with Julia Kristeva, than any novel I can think of. Like taking mind-altering drugs, there's a shift, or an opening, on reading, after which there's no going back - nothing is the same again.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Nobody Wants To Hear About Your Dreams

So why do so many of us put them in our books? Mea as culpea as anyone, though I do try and limit them to one per book. But no one can stop us blogging about them. . .

I dreamt about a cartoon-like caterpillar, shades of Alice in Wonderland, or Gary from Sponge Bob, only this one was encased in a translucent cube about a centimetre high. And it was a serious dream: the creature in the cube - or maybe the cube was part of the creature - needed to escape, and somehow I was responsible.

Don't go yet - there is a point to this post.

I've started reading Clarice Lispector's The Passion According to G.H., in which 'a well-to-do Rio sculptress enters the room of her maid, which is as clear and white as in an insane asylum...There she sees a cockroach...'  - though I haven't got there yet; in the opening pages we are strictly in G.H's consciousness, and she is 'searching... searching... trying to understand', as is the reader.

Then - no segue - there's my new must-watch TV programme, Nature's Weirdest Events, in which we were treated last night to images of midge larvae - would you look at his little face.

My subconscious mind appears to have combined the maid's bedroom, and the midge, and made - to sleeping me - a quite gripping story. There's the unique character we care about (we do!), there's danger, and rising tension (literally; my cube critter was on an escalator and it was about to reach the top, the bit where you get sucked into the machinery...).

And that's my point. Stories are created by the coming together of disparate ideas, conscious and subconscious. It's just a matter of catching them in the act.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

GENERATION to be published by John Murray

Good news!

My debut novel, GENERATION, will be released in July 2015 by John Murray Publishers as one of the launch titles for its new list, John Murray Originals (they published Darwin's Origin of the Species. Originals - geddit!). Here's The Bookseller. And here's a bit from Bookbrunch:

GENERATION (world rights from Ger Nichol at the Book Bureau) is a first novel by Paula McGrath, whose writing has appeared in Mslexia and elsewhere, and who recently completed an MFA at University College, Dublin. Richards said: "Generation is a short novel that contains a huge amount. It takes place over three continents and three generations, and shows how the repercussions of decisions taken by parents play out in the lives of their children. Like Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, it is told from a revolving perspective, as one character picks up the thread from another. It is ambitious and gripping; formally inventive but always approachable." 

There's a cover design competition too, so if you're that way inclined, or know someone who is, take a look here.

I've been hugely enjoying the editing process with Mark Richards, my editor, and I am very excited about his plans for the book. And of course all thanks for placing it in such a good home go to the indomitable Ger Nichol of The Book Bureau.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Anti-Room at the Dublin Book Festival

I'm slow off the mark writing about it, but the Dublin Book Festival outdid itself this year. Smock Alley was decked out to the nines, and with the lovely Peabody pop-up coffee shop and the handily placed beanbags, not to mention gallons of wine, the punter's every need was catered for. Not least was the line up of panels and launches, which made it very hard to decide what to go to and what to have to ruefully miss.

One I wasn't able to pass on was the Anti-room panel, headed up by Sinéad Gleeson and Anna Carey, with Léan Cullinan, Mary Costello, and Anna McPartlin. Of the three, I have only read Mary Costello's work (and loved it, as do many others, as evinced in her Bord Gais Book Award), but I was eager to hear about the issues surrounding women's writing in 2014. 

In the mid-nineties, I wrote a master's thesis on Edna O'Brien. I'll spare you details (mostly because I can't find the thesis), but the thrust was that reviewers were more interested in her eyes and hair and porcelain skin than in her books. A few weeks ago, I was disconcerted to read this Irish Examiner description of Mary Costello: 'Author of quite brilliant collection of short stories published two years ago, in her late 40s, Mary is attractive with her long blond hair, and luminescent eyes, but there’s a separateness about her...'. So it was no surprise that the discussion was depressingly familiar. Women might be the biggest book buyers, and read books written by both sexes, but men prefer to read men; reviewers tend to be men; these men prefer to review the books of other men; journals publish more men; etcetera. Same old, same old.

These gorgeous bookmarks are available from; proceeds will go towards sustaining the #ReadWomen campaign beyond 2014. 
But the picture is not completely bleak. We should take heart from the very fact of this panel's existence in the Dublin Book Festival, and from the size of the crowd who attended the event. The panelists spoke about how inspired campaigns like #ReadWomen affect women writers, and how they feel about women-only prizes, such as the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (no need for them, in an ideal world, but in the meantime...).

At another event the same morning in the National Gallery, it was small comfort to hear about the shiny, pink cover, featuring a 'Kylie Minogue lookalike' dancing around her Hoover, that was presented to Roddy Doyle for his grimly themed Paula Spencer. Fortunately for him, he was in a position to decline.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Three Colours: Books

The first is a collection of critical essays on David Mitchell. It's for a niche market, admittedly, and I'm it. As an author on the perpetual brink of 'emerging', it took a while to get past the fact that here was a writer still in his forties who'd already had a conference dedicated to his books, and now a collection of critical essays. [In his very modest Foreword, he wonders if 'all these bright people (would) feel hoodwinked if they found out that Derrida did (his)head in'.] The essays in question - there are ten - concentrate on Ghostwritten, number9dream, and Cloud Atlas, and I immersed myself fully and geekily in them. In her Introduction, editor Sarah Dillon extols the benefits to be gained by 'engagements between contemporary writers and readers', and looks forward to more in the future - as do I. This collection is good to dip in to, or to read cover to cover. I also found it useful for links to further reading. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves David Mitchell's books.


I've read snatches of The Pleasures of the Text over the years but never had my own copy. It took forever to find this one, but it was worth the wait. I love the language: 'The text you write must prove to me that it desires me', and I love his ideas about language: 'I am interested in language because it wounds or seduces me'. And I love the yellow cover. 

I wasn't quite sure how to take a present entitled Being Wrong, so I read bits, interesting bits, but then it somehow got shelved. But I was wrong not to read it cover to cover, because I could have saved myself so much being wrong-related angst between then and now. Schulz draws on psychology, philosophy, science, religion -- whatever it takes -- and synthesises the lot into a readable, fascinating whole which attempts to explain why we are so often wrong, why we deal with it so badly, and why we should embrace our inner wrongness. I can't recommend it enough to anyone who has ever been wrong.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Two Publications

It's been a good week. My contributor's copies of Surge (Brandon/O'Brien) arrived, a collection of stories from the Creative Writing schools of UCD, UCC, NUIG, Queens, and TCD. It's beautifully done -- thank you to all at O'Brien Press -- and so far (I'm working my way through at the moment) the stories are terrific. Publication date is the 13th, and it'll be launched at the Dublin Book Festival, and in Charlie Byrne's, Galway, and in Belfast's Crescent Arts Centre.

And yesterday was the launch of Emerging Perspectives Postgraduate Journal in English Studies, which includes my paper, "No One's from Chicago: Finding a Balance Between Theory and Practice". Thank you to the English Graduate Society, and to David and Michael in particular. This publication is particularly exciting because it represents, both in the abstract and concretely, a bringing together of my writing with my English Lit background - a circle completed, or something.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Bone Clocks

I promised @hmckervey some feedback on my current reading. I expect this is what being in a book club is like (I've never been invited to join one, and/or I'm afraid to commit to other people's book choices).

My most recent read is Bone Clocks. It's publication was eagerly awaited, it arrived to much fanfare from Sceptre, and I was eager to hand over my €25 for a gorgeous hard-backed, signed copy, having gobbled up Cloud Atlas, and thoroughly enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

You can hear the 'but' from here, can't you?

David Mitchell knows how to hook and reel his reader in, and once there, he will entertain. Guaranteed. Bone Clocks did exactly this, through the first novella, and the second, and the third. But — there it is — by the time I got to the fifth novella, the fantastical stuff, my enthusiasm waned and then fizzled out.

My son grew up with Harry Potter and I read the books along with him. And enjoyed them, to a point. Fantasy fiction has at its disposal all the tricks it needs to resolve all the problems it creates, which feels like a cheat to me. I had to remind myself that my disappointment with them was unfair; they were, after all, children's books.

It used to be the case that loosely grouped, ill defined 'genre' fiction was disparaged for being light weight, low brow pulp. Though it's no longer p.c. to describe it in this way, in truth, while I enjoyed my granny's Mills & Boons and Agatha Christie's when I was growing up, they felt a little bit shabby when contrasted with Austen and Shakespeare (school), and Rushdie and Joyce (pre-Uni summer). Like comparing fast food to your Mammy's cooking, both provide calories but one is (in my opintion) far superior to the other. The genre stuff no longer satisfied because it was not nourishing.

Cloud Atlas combined novellas of different genres into a magic mix where the whole was more than the parts, but as I near the end of Bone Clocks I've enjoyed the ride, but I'm just not feeling nourished.