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.

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.