Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Jobs for a Wet Day by Ger Reidy

Jobs for a Wet Day by Ger Reidy was recently launched at the Westport Arts Festival by Arlen House.  'A powerful chiselled collection of short stories which are by turns funny and bleak and compassionate,' is how Mike McCormack describes it and how right he is. This in no mean feat for a debut collection.

There is no sentimentality here but an authentic and scrupulous depiction of rural existence in all its drudgery and small lives. Characters move through the pages with resigned acceptance of the weather and the pain and the few bob that comes to them through the headage payments but with that resignation comes humour too. We are introduced to Gaughan, whose life revolves around the arrival of the postman and what he might bring or, Reilly who stretches his life beyond the grey confines of his world to visit a woman in Mexico City. Then there is the wonderful world that Reidy creates in 'My Big Day' where the character seems like he has just stepped into, or out of, a page from Juan  Rulfo's Pedro Páramo..

The stories are well and truly imagined by the perfectly chosen art work by Dermot Seymour on the front cover. Congratulations to Ger on this  fine achievement. That it may soar.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Once Upon a Place

For the children in all of us, Once Upon a Place is a must read. Launched last Monday in Iveagh House, Stephen's Green I was so honoured to be there and to be part of the anthology. With its synergistic blend of outstanding poets and short fiction writers, stunning artwork by PJ Lynch and the publishing expertise of Little Island, it is definitely greater than the sum of its part and can only be a winner. 

The brain child of Eoin Colfer, Laureate na nÓg, in his introduction he writes that ‘ with every word you read you will be transported to various places around Ireland where magic is as warm and golden as the summer sun.’ And he’s not making it up.

There are magical stories and poems of place by Eoin himself. Derek Landy. John Connolly, Seamus Cashman, Siobhán Parkinson, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick, Sarah Webb, Enda Wyley, Pat Boran,Mark Granier, Roddy Doyle, Paula Leyden, Oisín McGann, Jane Mitchell, Kate Newman, Jim Sheridan and there I am  plonked in the middle of such illustrious company.    
As if that wasn’t enough, when I climbed the very fancy stairs of Iveagh House not only did I have the pleasure of meeting, Eoin, PJ Lynch and his son Sam, but PJs illustration of my poem ‘Snail Pals’ was framed for all to see alongside Kate Newman’s’ How to Feed a Stranger’s Donkey’.
I have no doubt but we all suffered from a most welcome writer's cramp as we sat conveyor-belt style and signed for all we were worth.

Thank you to all who were involved in the creation of this beautiful book, all at Laureate na Óg, Children’s Books Ireland, Little Island and Poetry Ireland. An anytime present for young and old.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reading with John Banville and Orflaith Foyle at Westport Arts Festival

What a highlight of the year it was for me to read at the Westport Arts Festival last Saturday with fellow writer, Orflaith Foyle, and  Man Booker prizewinner, John Banville. It has been a while since I have read with Orflaith so it was a real treat to hear her poetry again, and listen to her stories of where she has lived throughout her life so beautifully told in the poem: And Where Else?
Sometimes we were mistaken for Canadians
And because we replied  Australian
We seemed to make sense.
School friends demanded why we weren't black
Since we came from Africa too.
And where else?

Some years ago I heard John Banville say that he regards the sentence as the greatest invention of human kind. It is not the characters who have the power. It is the language that has the power. Listening to him read from his stunning new novel The Blue Guitar certainly proves that he is the master of the perfect sentence. The final scene from which he read was powerful in its tenderness and beauty.

And what a lovely dinner we all had together afterwards with John and his wife, Janet, Orflaith, Ger Reidy,  Westport poet,short story writer and committee member, Alan Hayes of Arlen House and Colette Nic Aodha.

Thanks to all of the committee for inviting me, and for looking after us so well. A special thanks to Bláth of the High Street B&B where we had the most delicious and interesting breakfast while listening to Maeve Edwards reading her pitch-perfect piece about being a Skype Granny, on Sunday Miscellany.  


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Launch of Growing a New Tail by Lisa Taylor

What a great, great occasion it was for me to launch Lisa’s first short story collection, Growing a New Tail, in the Pearse City Library, Dublin, on Thursday 3 September, where she shared the evening with Susan Knight and her new collection, Out of Order.
It was in a small cottage in Carna in 2009 where we had to stand up on the table to get a phone signal that I first experienced the power of Lisa's fiction. Virtual strangers, we were there to work on our Poetry collaboration, The Other Side of Longing, which was to be published by Arlen House. Sitting by the fire one of the many damp summer evenings, Lisa read me an extract from a story and the voice was so exciting, I was surprised that she wasn't writing a lot more fiction. The power of her work was evident back then and two poetry collections plus the collaboration since, I am so delighted that she has finally opened the door to the extraordinary characters who were crammed in behind it, clambering away to be let out and came tumbling onto the pages of Growing a New tail. Stories that were  snatched up by prestigious journals before their ink was dry and ‘Mosaic’ went on to win the Hugo House Flash Fiction Award just before the book went to print.
The act of writing opens up the world in surprising and revealing ways. In any collection worth its salt, a reader is looking for something that goes way and beyond the ordinary. In stories that expose the tiny lacerations of the human heart, Lisa burrows right through the shell of life's experience and into the kernel of literary truth where she effortlessly tackles weighty topics such as rape, mental illness, death and life after death with an intelligence and energy that shimmer with intensity.
Hybridision of form is something Lisa is very passionate about and this is evident in the opening story ‘Visible Wounds’ where her weaving of poetry with prose, echo and re-echo off lines in such a poetic way that gives the story a rhythm, a music that makes it sing.
She aims the arrow straight to the target in each narrative, bringing her characters to the edge. In ‘Five Percent’ we meet the character who is able to make people disappear when she closes her eyes. We meet Jerry, the OCD sufferer who is more upset by the dander and sloughed-off skin of his wife’s infidelity in his freshly-made bed than he is by the infidelity itself. I am thrilled to see that the very first story I heard in Carna is there to under the title ‘Storm’ where the wonderfully sympathetic character Peggy is. ‘… as nice as home-made ice-cream in a July afternoon, always a smile and maybe some peach muffins.’ The voices are always wildly original ‘as the pill-in-the-mouth kind of pretending character’ of ‘Leash Laws’ who gets to make her escape from the home for the bewildered in a most creative way. And such stealable lines as ‘Sometimes ten years (in a relationship) can make a woman feel like life has caught her in a headlock and she’s choking on the monotony.’
Her ability to portray layers of complex relationships and emotions are clearly shown throughout as in her ekphrastic story ‘House the Colour of Dusk’ inspired by the  stunning painting by Robert Sparrow Jones that now graces the front cover.  
I love her play on the word tail/tale. Yes’ the salamander grows a new tail  in the title story but each tale she writes exponentially develops to get such masterpieces as ‘Narrow Paths Somewhere’ or ‘Ten Minutes’ that tell the main stories slant and make it all them more powerful for it. 
One of the things that was also brought to my attention was the repeated motif of food. Her characters love their waffles, their hot and sour soup; their almond croissants; their pot roast; their cheese and tomato sandwiches. And in the way of the characters, this is a collection to be savoured, like a rare truffle or vintage wine or a double espresso over ice. In reading them, the natural instinct is to be greedy to read them all in one go. Take each one slowly, each nuance, each scintillating trope; each mouth-watering image. Until the hunger drives you back for more.  
I would like to congratulate, Alan Hayes of Arlen House, who is responsible for publishing this beautiful collection. A big congratulations to Lisa for pushing out the boundaries and getting this collection into the hands of readers, greedy for good stories.