Saturday, 12 April 2014

Apply, Submit... Wait

It's been a busy few months of form filling. I'm applying to do a practice-led Ph D, and for the funding that would make it possible. It's also the season of the Cecil Day Lewis award application, the Dublin City Council application, the new Maeve Binchy Travel Award (for registered UCD Arts and Humanities students), and there may have been a couple of others. My success rate for form filling isn't great, so it can feel like a time-consuming and disheartening occupation, taking from the actual writing. Yet it is a necessary part of being a writer.

I did manage a few submissions too, and now it's time to sit back and wait for the outcomes of all of the above.

Luckily, the wait will be sped along by the ongoing editing for my MFA thesis, and the welcome distraction of the Dublin Writers Festival. The programme of events was launched last Thursday and there's some exciting stuff in there. I have my name down for The Library of Korean Literature, New German Writing, Javier Cercas, and Siri Hustvedt -- because I have a lot to learn about all of the above.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Dublin Writers Festival Flash Fiction

'Dark business' and 'unsettling' are two of the responses to my piece, Insomnia

Dublin Writers Festival has a flash thing going on on its blog/facebook. Prompts are provided by facebook fans, and the challenge is to respond with a 1000 word piece of fiction - so don't blame me; blame the prompt!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Synesthesia, Nabokov, and Me

I finished Langrishe, Go Down recently, published in 1966, and reached for the next long promised read, Tim O' Brien's The Things They Carried. Set during the Vietnam war, it is as much concerned with the art of telling stories as it is with the stories themselves; I came away edified.

On then to the long avoided Speak, Memory, foreword written by Nabokov in 1966. I'm decades behind with my reading, but catching up...

Why avoided? For the simple and superficial reason that the edition we have has an ugly, dense font that's hard to read. But I'm reading it now. It might take a while because, aside from the print, every sentence demands proper attention - sometimes a couple of readings, and definitely no skipping! I'm off to the dictionary regularly (which always annoys me when English is not the writer's first language). More edification, then.

One of the many things I didn't know was that Nabokov was a synesthete ('the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body'), the details of which he admits 'must sound tedious and pretentious to those who are protected from such leakings and drafts by more solid walls than mine are.' Not to me; I have the same 'condition', in that I've always seen the letters of the alphabet as having an associated colour. Learning to read was a synch. I often wondered if it was some primer or alphabet-learning toy that caused the associations, but apparently not. Nabokov realised this long before the scientists did when he was only seven:

'I was using a heap of old alphabet blocks to build a tower. I casually remarked to (mother) that their colors were all wrong.'

It turned out that his mother was also a synesthete; scientists now know that it's genetic. And by the way, the colours in the alphabet blocks above are all wrong!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Langrishe, Go Down

Recommended to me not once but twice in the space of a week, and only a lifetime (mine) since it was first published, how could I not put Langrishe, Go Down to the top of my tbr pile?

I'm a Kildare woman, and I've spent quite a few years studying English literature, but I had never heard of Aidan Higgins. I don't know why; I don't even have any theories. But when I opened it and began to read it felt as if my DNA was resonating along with the Kildare vowels.

—Grand evening, Helen said.
—Tis indade, grand, thanks be to God
—Not a-tall, M'am. Yarra, not a-tall. Sure you have it all to yourself. The gate's open for all them that want to.
—...All you do hear all the year round is the birds and the Shinkeen flowin by.

The old people who lived around us, Miss Hickey and Paddy Loughman and Jimmy Loughman and Leo (Leo who?) came alive on its pages. Even the house had a name almost identical to the one in which I grew up. Given that it's a book about the demise of a house, and a family, it sent a shiver.

The prose is sublime. 'The pure architecture of his sentences takes the breath out of you,' Annie Proulx says on the cover. I wonder again why I never heard of Aidan Higgins, and how Annie Proulx did! I let it go, let the language surround and imbue me, a 3D Word Picture of Kildare.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Spoiled For Choice: Cúirt and DWF

Eleanor Catton, Rachel Kushner, Donal Ryan, Julian Gough, Sebastian Barry, Eimear McBride, Colin Barrett, Emma Donoghue, Anita Shreve... 
There's a fantastic line up of names for Cúirt (Galway) in April, and the Dublin Writers Festival (DWF) in May. Tickets are on sale for both. Time to get scheming.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

TULIPS in Necessary Fiction

My story, Tulips, was inspired by Zbigniew Herbert's fabulous, and fabulously orange, Still Life With A Bridle (see my earlier blogpost here), and by the property crash in Ireland.

There are some who think it's too soon and too clichéd to write about property developers, but I don't think we've even scratched the surface. In our eagerness to pin blame on the banker-developer-regulator trilogy we've developed a collective amnesia about our own collusion. Few of the chattering classes didn't manage to buy an investment property or two, and tedious, self-congratulatory conversations took place in homes up and down the country, homes before been untroubled by the word 'portfolio'. We were all in it, shamelessly, up to our necks. While I agree that it's too easy to satirise now, with hindsight, I don't agree that we shouldn't be writing about it. With every year that passes we're gaining new perspectives, and only when we have a lorry load of these can we sift and select, and discover real insights into what happened. We could think of it as collective raw material, out of which definitive works can emerge.

The story of the black tulip is a well known part of Dutch history. Maybe as a nation we hadn't read it; if we did, we sure didn't learn anything from it. In my story I don't aim for satire though, I actually feel sorry for my developer. Because during those heady years we were all a little bit developer, a little bit developer's wife, a bit tiger cub, living the fantasy.

Hope you enjoy reading, and many thanks to Steve Himmer at Necessary Fiction for publishing it.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Creating Something Novel

@LeeRourke brought this book to my attention on Twitter. It sounds great, about 'a man who begins to delete his novel'. I'll have to order a copy. What? It's a novella, I'll fly through it. What? The TBR pile falling on the dog last night? I reinforced the pile with coffee-table book bookends. Besides, the dog seems to prefer sleeping under the table now.

I'm also waiting for the postman to bring Chimera, by John Barth. Here's Wikipedia: 

Chimera is a 1972 novel by the American writer John Barth, composed of three loosely connected novellas. The novellas are Dunyazadiad, Perseid and Bellerophoniad, whose titles refer eponymously to the mythical characters Dunyazad, Perseus and Bellerophon (slayer of the mythical Chimera). The book exemplifies postmodernism, with several Q&A sessions and three diagrams, all in Bellerophoniad.

There's a bit of a renaissance going on in at the moment in Irish experimentalism, and I'm all for it. Literature needs its pioneers. I have my gorgeous copy of gorse's first issue (limited and numbered, so you'd better get cracking...); The Honest Ulsterman is coming back, online, this year; Colony is new, and accepting submissions of 'innovative and unconventional writing'.

Will I be submitting? I tend to steer away from — to paraphrase The Honest Ulsterman's Darren Anderson — the charade of writing which declares itself experimental (article on William Burroughs) — it hasn't gone well in the past. My plan is to keep reading, to keep asking questions, and to pay attention, because if novelty is to emerge, it will most likely do so organically.