Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review of Hellkite by Sarah Harsh


Am so happy with this review of Hellkite by Sarah Harsh of Emory University that was published recently in the digital journal of Irish Studies Breac

Furious Women and Scorned Men


Author: Sarah Harsh (Emory University)


Hellkite Cover
Geraldine Mills. Hellkite. Dublin: Arlen House, 2014, 160pp.
Irish women’s short fiction is in some sense a twice-marginalized genre. Women’s writing has, at times, been overlooked, while short stories are frequently misread as profitable breaks from the serious business of novel writing. The compilation of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Literature, for instance, aimed to establish the Irish literary canon and, in the process, exemplified both problems in its initial underrepresentation of women writers and its lack of separate sections devoted to short fiction. Yet critics and readers alike have long celebrated the Irish short story, mastered by such writers as Frank O’Connor and James Joyce, while, more recently, feminist scholars and writers work to reclaim Irish women’s voices. Irish women’s short fiction thus proves a productive intersection for literary analysis. Heather Ingman’s A History of the Irish Short Story pays significant attention to the contributions of Irish women writers from Emily Lawless to Edna O’Brien. Elke D’hoker’s Irish Women Writers and the Modern Short Story situates her subjects in relation to the canon while focusing on “how their work challenges the norms and orthodoxies of the Irish short story itself.”[1] Geraldine Mill’s startlingly imaginative collection Hellkite demonstrates this potential for Irish women’s short fiction to both enrich and unsettle our understanding of the genre.
Hellkite is the third short fiction collection by the Galway-based poet and teacher. Throughout the collection, Mills articulates her own voice and vision while simultaneously casting a sidelong glance at her literary forefathers. In “Frost Heave,” Mills revisits “The Dead” by probing the emotional distance between a husband and wife in a colder, darker story than Joyce’s original. Stripping away the familiar comforts of Irish hospitality, Mills sets her story in the hinterlands of the domestic realm. On a nocturnal stakeout in his henhouse to catch the animal that has been slaughtering his chickens for sport, Folan reminisces about the demise of his marriage. Thinking back to a seemingly happier time on a beach, Folan remembers how he failed to recognize his wife:
He looked back to see Gretta as she strolled the strand… something about her startled him. Something he didn’t recognize. As if a creature had come in from the sea and enveloped her so that the wife he looked at was the wife he couldn’t see. A great loneliness came down over him then. He wanted to run to her and put his hands on her face and feel the warmth of her while he promised her a new microwave, a maple tree, the heavens (37).

Just as with Gabriel’s double-take, a moment of misrecognition prompts waves of both isolation and affection. Yet in Mills’s story, the reader can follow the consequences of this intimate distance through Folan’s memories. Not long after this startling moment, Gretta leaves Folan for an American man she met on the internet. In Mills’s clever updating, Gretta’s hidden romantic life is revealed through her Facebook privacy settings.

Five of the fifteen stories in Hellkite deal with adultery, but Mills is more interested in the before and after than in the act itself. One of the strongest stories in the collection dwells on the possibility of an extramarital affair. The unnamed male protagonist of “Once Bitten” reconnects with a woman with whom he once shared a feverish, fleeting intimacy. Their renewed relationship involves all the trappings of a tawdry affair: lies, promises, midlife ennui, and clandestine hotel rooms rented by the hour; yet the relationship is conducted exclusively through letter-writing. The narrator has compartmentalized the epistolary affair into P.O. Boxes and hotel rooms, yet his emotional investment cannot be contained and must instead be cauterized.

More than adultery, emotional and occasional physical violence between lovers serves as the connective tissue between Hellkite’s stories. In the title story, Cora lures her ex-husband to a ghost estate where she locks him in the utility closet and leaves him to drown in rising flood waters. Mills renders Doyle’s claustrophobia with a vivid yet detached realism. This tale exemplifies a recurring theme in Hellkite; one in which women force men into uncomfortable domestic situations.

The opening story, “Centre of a Small Hell,” finds Bernard and his two small daughters coping poorly with the death of the mother, Margaret, who had abandoned the family. Margret’s departure and subsequent demise has left Bernard heartbroken, helpless, and enraged. Forced into the typically maternal role of primary caregiver and homemaker, Bernard grieves his own entrapment with animalistic intensity: “he let out a roar like the cow did when the calf was stuck insider her, and it had to be cut out, its vernixed head lolling to the side, dead” (22).

Animals roam across Hellkite and throw into relief mankind’s extraordinary capacities for both cruelty and companionship. From the predatory mink of “Frost Heave” to the panicked sow of “Centre of a Small Hell,” Mills finds the animals kingdom a productive foil to complicated world human relationships. In “The Call,” for example, aging bachelor Kieran cares for a family of swans with the loyalty and generosity that his human family denied him. Cross-species friendships are not always employed so effectively, however, as in the weakest story in the volume, “Pretty Bird, Why You So Sad.” Predicated on a tired equivalence between songbirds and women, the story treats immigrant women’s experience in clichés.

Characters from the otherworld also bubble up in the collection. Drawing on the techniques of magical realism, Mills weaves her supernatural characters into the lives of ordinary characters. In “Drinking his Strength Back,” Finn MacCumhnaill wanders into a supermarket and is taken in by a lonely divorcée. In “The Best Man for the Job,” the angel Gabriel pays a visit to an elderly couple’s back yard and reveals a family secret. In “This Street with Looking-Glass Eyes,” a devoted brother reimagines quotidian events as fairy-tale-like miracles in the hopes of coaxing his sister out of a debilitating depression. Whether magical or mundane, Mills is preoccupied with transformations: yellow seeds become blue dye (“Indigo”), tusks become piano keys (“Every Piece of Ivory a Dead Elephant”), cheating husbands become pigs (“Foraging”), and ex-wives become murderers (“Hellkite”).

Ingman identifies “changing identities” as the predominant theme of the Irish short story since the 1980s and notes the tendency for women writers to move away from the male-dominated “realist” mode toward more imaginative fiction.[2] In both theme and technique, Mills’s collection exemplifies Ingman’s assessment. With its violent reversal of domestic roles, exploration of female cruelty, and mythic imagination, Hellkite is a rich contribution to a tradition in transition. While Hellkite will surely appeal to those invested in Irish women’s writing and the short story tradition, it should also interest any readers weary with happy endings.

[1] Elke D’hoker, Irish Women Writers and the Modern Short Story (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 2.
[2] Heather Ingman, A History of the Irish Short Story (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 225.



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Stellar Review of Gold


Gold (Little Island Books, 9781910411551) received a STARRED review in the April 15, 2017 issue of Kirkus Reviews (circ. 10,000). The review was posted on Kirkus Online on March 29, 2017. The reviewer says “The twins’ quick-paced, action-packed journey will sweep readers right along with them.” The complete review follows:

Twin boys, Starn and Esper, live in Orchard Territory, a grim place where most animals, insects, and plants have died, suffocated under ash from a catastrophic series of volcanic eruptions. The white boys’ mother and sister have died of a new illness, and their father has become one of the workers that painstakingly pollinate trees by hand. The new world is run by the crude, small-minded Sagittars, everything strictly controlled and enforced with harsh punishment. On a dare, Starn opens their sister’s sealed room and finds a book handwritten by their great-aunt telling of gold on one of the islands all citizens are forbidden to visit. Starn’s obsession with flying spurs him to design and build a glider in secret so that he and his brother can capture the treasure and return to liberate their father from his relentless work. After some close calls of discovery, the boys set off on their adventure. Mills perfectly contrasts the two halves of the story, using a vocabulary unique to Orchard to describe that world and completely new ways for the boys to describe the islands’ vivid, unfamiliar flora. Heavy concerns—bad government, environmental challenges—are compassionately woven into a story with Mills’ poetic lyricism showing through. Also of note is Lauren O’Neill’s gorgeous cover illustration. The twins’ quick-paced, action-packed journey will sweep readers right along with them.

AND

Gold was also recommended in the May 15, 2017 Summer Reading Issue of Kirkus Reviews (circ. 10,000). A portion of the book cover was also included on the cover of the issue. See attached.



PREVIOUSLY ANNOUNCED:

BOOKTRADE:
5/1/17, School Library Journal (circ. 26,747)

PRINT:
May/June 2017 BEA + ALA issue, Foreword Reviews (circ. 10,000)

ONLINE:
6/8/17, Foreword Reviews Online (34,413 uvpm) Book of the Day

COMPLETE BOOKTRADE REVIEWS:

School Library Journal

Twin brothers Esper and Starn long for a world devoid of darkness and ash after massive volcanic explosions leave their world in ruins. The government, policed by the authoritarian Sagittars, is harsh and cruel. The boys’ father works at the Orchard, where he helps pollinate fruit trees. One day, Esper dares Starn to break into the “forbidden room” in their apartment, an area that has been off-limits since their mother and sister died. They discover a hidden map left by their great-aunt, which describes a path to islands with gold that can help save their dying world. With courage and bravado, the brothers construct a hand glider and set out across the ashen horizon toward the forbidden islands. Strong world-building and thought-provoking themes make this ideal for tweens looking for dystopian tales. VERDICT Though not as dark and disturbing as more YA dystopian offerings, this postapocalyptic tale nevertheless keeps the adventure thrilling and will enchant fans of both fantasy and fantastic sci-fi.–H. Islam, Brooklyn Public Library




Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Story House


‘So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rainwater’. William Carlos Williams’s poem came to me as I was walking through the grounds of Lisnavagh House, in County Carlow recently while on a week’s writing workshop with The Story House. Through dripping branches, I came across the child's red toy, the rain not so much glazing it as hitting off its sides while all around me not white chickens but swathes of perfect snowdrops that rang their silent bells to summon me to work.



And so much depends upon people with purpose. Without Margaret O Brien and Nollaig Brennan we would not have had this opportunity. These two women had a vision, saw the need for Irish writers to have an experience such as that of the Arvon Foundation and set about realising it. Lots of people have vision but not the courage to bring it to the next stage. They had, giving of their precious time to seek out tutors, a location that would be able to accommodate sixteen people, room for workshops and an inspirational setting. A tall order but they did just that in Lisnavagh House.
                               
I had come to this place to learn about writing for children. Just because I had published Gold last year didn't mean that I knew how to take the next step in this exacting writing form. I needed the guidance and expertise of the masters and that is what we got in this place with roaring fires, nourishing food and people of like minds. 


Their choice of workshop facilitators, E R Murray and Sheena Wilkinson, was inspired. They were a perfect match, a symbiotic pairing where one sparked off the other and between showing and telling, through a series of entertaining prompts, we became familiar with the rudiments of good story, and like the keepers of the flame, they kept the fires of our imaginations burning brightly.

Evening meal was prepared by three participants per night and like a Masterchef programme, the ingredients were laid out for us and recipe to hand so that we could follow it line by line. I cut my teeth on cooking for such a large and discerning group with fellow chefs Ger and Aidan. We sang our way through the preparations, chopping, grating, stirring. So busy was I trying to hit the high notes that I didn’t read the recipe correctly and was a tad too generous with the spices on the sweet potato. If anyone noticed they, creatively, said nothing.
Our accommodation was in one of the cottages away from the main house and it afforded us a walk there and back each day to have some time to think about what was worked on earlier. Evenings were spent in the library, reading from favourite books, reading from our own work or listening to the published works of Sheena and Elizabeth as well as our visitor Patricia Forde who entertained us hugely with her writing experiences to date.


Storm Doris raged through the trees as we returned to our cottage each night, the sound of a fox, a flick of its tail in the flashlight, the rooks settling into the trees, a last song. Thanks to one and all for making it such a worthwhile experience, but especially the visionaries, Margaret and Nollaig. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

When writing came in search of me







Here is my article from Little Island's Blog where I tell how writing found me
From the moment I first held a pencil, it was clear that I was going to be a ciotóg. The word ciotóg, an Irish word, not only means left-handed, but also refers to someone who is gauche, awkward, not quite right. School knocked the left-handedness out of me. The sinister hand of the devil was locked behind my back and the anaemic tentacle that was my right hand had the pencil forced into it. With great difficulty, it tried to shape fat sluggy ‘Bs’, matchstick ‘Ks’ as letters stumbled off the page, collided, became dirty holes in my copy book when I tried to erase them.
The right hand now conformed to do what it was never supposed to do: to write.
It recorded all those living images that were part of my life: a wren, with its tiny fan tail in the air, flitting into a hole in the wall; common-cat’s-ear or hawksbeard like stars fallen on the grass; the snail climbing up the window pane. I wrote out all that was inside me at school and when I read it out, the nun sent me into the higher class to repeat it. I thought it was another punishment. I stood in shame as I voiced my written words and the nun clapped, the students clapped.


Being child number ten of eleven pregnancies, there was always a lot going on in our household, mouths forever opening and closing like swallow chicks in July waiting to be fed, to be heard. I learned very early on that the easiest thing for someone like me was to watch, to become an observer in the drama that was constantly unfolding within our four walls.
There was a paucity of books in our house. The most exciting moment in my seven-year-old life was the day my brother put me on the carrier of his bike and cycled the three miles to Galway’s library, housed at the top of the world in the old building that is now the Courthouse. A whole new world opened up to me. Greedy for every story I could find, I secreted those titles (that I couldn’t take home with me) at the back of shelves, in the hope that they would be there when I returned the following week.


Unlike Pablo Neruda, I do not know precisely when writing came in search of me but it did; I heard its voice and answered back. I wrote all through my teenage years. College saw me taking the scientific route, where I made lists of new words as lengthy as metabolic pathways; words like osmosis, diatoms, carapace. Later, I did a BA at night, re-imagining the lives of ancient Greece: Iphigeneia, Clytemnestra, Menelaus.
I wasn’t a writer. I was just someone who wrote. Being a writer was something completely different. Writers didn’t come from a background like mine. They didn’t write the everyday story. They went off to Paris and lived in attics, drank absinthe, and wrote masterpieces. All I wanted to do was draw pictures of what I saw in the world around me, the beauty and the pain, the tiny lacerations of the heart.
Years went by and I kept my world inside me. Then in the early 1980s, the loneliness of motherhood in a sprawling housing estate pushed me into my first creative writing class in St Colmcilles’s School, Tallaght. Here I was encouraged to let the words paint the pictures for me. Drawing them out of my own history, I put them in tentative lines on the page. And when I did, I could hear my own voice in the crowd of voices and it wasn’t being drowned out at all. Writing had somehow found me within myself. I learned to type. I bought my first typewriter. Yet writing was always consigned to the end of the pile after all the other jobs had been done.
Life was moving on. My children were getting older.
One night, while driving home from a reading, an empty hearse overtook me on the road. I looked up at the sky and made a vow that I wouldn’t end up at the back of that hearse and not have written. My approach to everything was upended and anything that wasn’t a priority − like family or work − was catapulted to the lower pecking order. Furry green things grew at the back of the fridge. A moonscape of fluff congregated under beds. Consanguinity between weeds and flowers was actively encouraged. I used my car as my office while I waited for my children to finish their dancing or athletics. With a hot water bottle and a flask of tea in the colder weather, stories fell out of the sky and into my notebook. I didn’t have a lap top then so it was all written in long-hand, right-hand, or sometimes left-hand when the other got tired. The universe stood up and cheered as if to say ‘Geraldine we thought you would never do it’.


I wish to acknowledge the invaluable support of Máire Bradshaw (Bradshaw Books) who took a chance with me and published my first small collection of poetry, Unearthing your Own, in 2001. Since then I have published a book approximately every two years to include four of poetry and three of short stories. In 2016, Gold, (Little Island), my eighth book and first novel for children took flight. I’m very grateful that writing sought me out, that I heard its call. It calls to me every day. Even now.
Photographs courtesy of Peter Moore taken at the Heritage Park in Lisseycasey in County Clare.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Where image meets words



This perfect reflection captured by Peter Moore in Newport on 7
January, 2017 is the inspiration for  poet, Preston Hood's reflection.


The Mirrored Soul

A gull mid-glide still
Above the camera-click-calm

A blue skiff arcs in white below

After seeing this our glistened hopes
Dance like egrets along the inlet of light

And yet... we still wonder what we don't know

Preston Hood 111

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Year



 It's a new dawn 
It's a new day 
It's a new year
(Courtesy of Muse and Peter Moore)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Gold top ten in the Book Bag


It is always a great lift when you book gets a bit of recognition and I am absolutely delighted that the Book Bag has chosen it as one of their top ten for 2016.

 
 


This is what the reviewer says about it. What is so rewarding about this review is how well the reviewer got into the minds of my characters.

Twins Starn and Esper are growing up in a world made dark and silent by massive volcanic explosions. Ash now covers the planet and every aspect of life is controlled by the government, policed by the strict, heavy-handed Sagittars. They long for sunshine, fresh air and the freedom of a life only vaguely remembered by a few. But a game of dares leads them to discover an ancient book written by their great-great aunt, filled with strange writing and a treasure map. This propels them headlong into a journey across the darkened skies in a hand-built glider, in search of the gold that will vastly improve their lives. What they find there is a hidden world; one left behind when the volcanoes exploded. The revelation of the gold is not at all what they thought it would be, and is a discovery that could expose the governments' lies and save a dying planet. 

With exceptional crafting and a delicate hand, Mills has created a portrait of an unnerving future world while environmental calamity has stripped all light, save from that that exists in the lives of two young boys. Through their dreams, imagination and daring, the reader is taken on a marvellous journey. Gripping and compelling, the boys venture from a world of darkness, regulation enforced by fear and mere survival to one of light, possibility, growth and freedom. The juxtaposition of the two is explored and balanced perfectly through use rhythm and cadence in the text. The use and invention, or rather evolution of language plays both on myths and legends of old as well as a contemporary understanding of how words and communication change in ever-changing times. 

The characters are tangible and textural and the relations ring true. Starn and Esper are two sides of the same coin, and must follow their own wisdom and hearts while working together creating a wonderful and moving dichotomy. When one twin loses all memory, we see the struggle of the other to regain a sense of grounding and stability in this brave new world; something he can only do with the help of the other, creating a powerful statement about the true nature of inter-dependency. And while there are environmental and social messages in the story, these take a back seat to the purpose of the tale; an imaginative and wondrous adventure in the vein of such classics as Treasure Island and The Swiss Family Robinson. Never too heavy or dark and packed with adventure, it is interspersed with humour and child-like wonder. It is exciting, dramatic and filled with nuance and beauty. Written with clarity, compassion and purpose, Gold is open enough to allow the reader to fulling engage; come to his or her own conclusions; paint his or her own pictures in the realms of imagination. An amazing story, filled with life, Gold is a story to be treasured. This book simply sings!

 If you want to see the other books chosen in this list, click on the following link:


Top Ten Teens Books for 2016