Sunday, 14 September 2014

John Boyne and David Mitchell at Mountains to Sea

Friday night's Mountains to Sea event in the Pavillion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire with John Boyne and David Mitchell entertained a full house, with good banter between the two writers and Edel Coffey, the interviewer. They read from their respective books, and riffed on whatever topic
Edel hit them with: Kate Bush, Boyzone... the usual literary stuff.

Boyne talked about his reasons for naming his old school in his book and was
unrepentant about it, having suffered beatings at the hands of priests there in his schooldays. His new book, A History of Loneliness, sounds well worth a read.

Mitchell read a letter from Bone Clocks, which was doubly intriguing because I'm halfway through the book (and enjoying it). He denied being so Irish now that he felt he'd had to write a novel about Ireland, but admitted that he was able to do 'expat living in Ireland' or second generation Irish. Maybe he just needs a few more years...

The highlight, though, had to be when Mitchell, responding to an audience question, said he'd see the young lady (whose question it was) later, and would introduce her to "excalibur"... You had to be there!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Hidden City

Or, to give Karl Whitney's book it's full title: Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin by Foot, Bike, Bus, Train and Tram; In the Sewers and Underground Rivers; Along the Edges and Behind the Hoardings...  As promised to @hmckervey, this is the first of a few short reviews of books I've been reading lately. (It should probably be in Goodreads, not here, but somehow I've never managed to make the time to figure out how or why to use that site. Should I find time? Is it worth it?)

The concept itself is what first recommends the book to me, closely followed by 'dammit, why didn't I think of that'. Whitney moves around Dublin by foot, bike... well, you know the rest, and describes what he sees in clear, unprejudiced prose. Yet, because this is psychogeographical writing at its best -- yes, I stole this term from the flyleaf, and later, from Whitney's book when he references the Situationists, an avant-garde group set in 1950's Paris (where else) -- there is a very personal layer to the essays. Thus, when Whitney explores the fringes of West Dublin, he describes his own family's move there, and the effect the moves had on him. And because his is highly structured and intelligent writing, this move is echoed by the later chapter on Joyce and his family's many moves. You can follow Whitney down Dublin's drains in an excerpt from book, printed in last Saturday's Irish Times. You too might find it completely compelling.

PS For the sequel, I'd recommend taking along that smartphone, and a nutritious packed lunch. It's the Mammy in me -- we worry!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Am Reading

The #amwriting never appealed to me, though I do like the sound of the book by the same name. When I'm writing I'm not chipper enough to be on twitter #-ing.

But, it's September, and I'm not going back to school (Ph D next year, all going well), and suddenly I find myself in a post-college, between novels hiatus. It's not that I don't have a project — I've a new novel started — but with the last one just gone out into the world, there isn't any sense of urgency. I'm good with deadlines...

So, I'm in the happy position of being able to Enjoy Reading for a few weeks. My pile is high and demands attention but I'm going to cheat on it. Come 2nd September, this is what I'll be reading (actually, I don't know which version we're getting in these parts. I like the one on the right, if anyone wants my opinion).

And on September 4th, I'm looking forward to Ben Lerner's 10:04. His Leaving the Atocha Station, which I recommended for Necessary Fiction's Summer Reviews was riveting and infuriating, but mostly riveting, and 10:04 sounds even more so.

And before both of these, I'm hoping to get my hands on Karl Whitney's Hidden City.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

BKS Iyengar

I was working in the Upstart Crow, a book and coffee shop in Long Beach, California when I happened upon BKS Iyengar's book, Light on Yoga. This was 1990 or thereabouts, and I'd never encountered yoga before, at least, not up close. It was practically unheard of back at home. But something about the simple silver cover and the black and white photographs attracted me, so with my 30% staff discount I bought it and brought it home to have a go. I opened a page randomly, to prasarita padottanasana. Legs wide, bend forward, how hard could that be...? There was a ripping sound, hamstring maybe...

WhenI bothered to read the introductory essay it became apparent — if it wasn't already — that yoga is not for the faint hearted or the fickle. It requires attention and discipline, and ideally, a teacher. I've been to quite a few classes since, and have been teaching classes myself since the mid-90s. Although I never went to Puna to attend his classes in person, many of my colleagues did. Mr. Iyengar was an exemplary practitioner of yoga and an exemplary teacher, and by all accounts, an exemplary human being.

May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Irish Women Artists 1870-1970

This exhibition is on in Adam's showrooms on Stephen's Green (free), and it's well worth a look. There are familiar names - but often these are of the famous male relatives of the women artists (Yeats, Henry, Beckett, McDonagh etc.).

Mainie Jellett's cubist paintings are wonderful, though A.E. Russell, apparently, did not agree, describing them as 'subhuman' and a type of 'malaria'. I loved the illustrations of Nationalist, Grace Gifford, and the gorgeous portraits by Estella Frances Solomons. But Camille Souter's impressionistic landscapes are my favourites (you can download the brochure). [In one of those weird synchronicities, she also happens to appear in a story-thing I've been working on; I'll take it as a sign not to abandon it. Yet.]

We followed our visit up with take-out coffees and a shady spot in Stephen's Green - perfect!

Monday, 21 July 2014


I'm just back from the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English in Vienna. There were parallel sessions running each day, along with up to five different readings to choose from, so sadly I had to miss lots of great-sounding events. But there were lots of highlights to compensate:

  • an all-round great panel, The Writer's Perspective and Influence on Form, featuring Pat Jourdan's wonderful story-paper "Various Exits" on 11 stages of closure in the short story, Louise Ells' inspirational "What can we learn from Alice Munro?", and the very different approach of Lisa Smithies on how human behavioural biology influences the creative writer (and congrats to Lisa on winning the overall conference short story competition). 
  • meeting Robert Luscher, whose theories on short story sequences saved me oodles of time during my own sequence writing crisis.
  • meeting Elke D'hoker, whose work on short story cycles I've encountered and admired.
  • the warm and lively response to my reading, in no small way thanks to the lovely Rebekah Clarkson and my high-energy co-reader, Ida Cerne.
  • the relief of finishing my talk "When is the story no longer a short story?" and the pleasure of listening to, and meeting, my fellow panellists, Paul Mitchell and Neta Gordon, and of course our kind and humourous co-panelist and moderator, Allan Weiss.
  • the must-read list I came away with, including...

Friday, 11 July 2014

The End Of The MFA (my MFA...)

Nearly two years ago, at the start of my MFA in UCD I wrote this post.
Today I handed in my thesis, a novel-in-stories called No One's From Chicago. It's wonderful to have had the opportunity to spend time with like-minded, same-stage writers, working under the supervision of experienced (kind, patient) professionals. I can honestly say the MFA was two of the most enjoyable, and profitable (artistically!) years I've spent.

And in breaking news, UCD MA alumnus Colin Barrett has just won the Frank O'Connor award for his Young Skins. Well done, Colin!