Great writing and great drinking

I didn’t fall in love with Claire Kilroy’s latest novel, The Devil I Know, but for all that I found it less convincing than her Tenderwire of a few years ago, there are still moments that made it a much more rewarding read than much contemporary Irish fiction.

And this was one of them: the relationship between an alcoholic and his pint of stout, distilled (if that isn’t an oxymoron) into a few short lines:

We waited for the tumult within the glasses to settle, the chaos that miraculously resolves itself into a well of black topped by a head of cream – a trick, a cruel trick – it never resolves, but lapses back into chaos the second you swallow it. A chaos so calamitous that you don’t know where to turn to escape it, but by then it is too late. The chaos is inside you. This is the nature of a pint.

Drink and literature are great bedfellows. I’ve yet, somewhat shamefully, to invest myself into anything written by Brendan Behan, but his contemporary JP Donleavy’s The Ginger Man was a fantastic Dublin drink-and-books caper and I’m sure I read something by Kavanagh that was soaked in alcohol. Hemingway, Fitzgerald and many, many more discovered something equally devastating and inspirational in the drink.

The relationship between literature and alcohol was also referenced on BBC Radio 4’s arts show The Front Row (the name of which always puts me in mind of rugby rather than art) this week in an interview with American poet Sharon Olds, whose latest collection is named after her favourite wine.

Last year, in the duration of a literature and creative writing course I embroiled myself in, the after-class drinks were almost inseparable from anything that went before.

Which prompts the question: is there any such thing as great teetotal literature?

New young Irish writers’ journal seeks submissions for inaugural edition

Attention, younger scribblers. There’s just a fortnight left for submissions for the first edition of Under Thirty, a new peer-reviewed journal for Irish writers between the ages of 16 and 30.

Under Thirty was established on a non-profit basis last month by Dr Stephen Doherty, an author and lecturer in Dublin City University.

Dr Doherty is a post-doctoral researcher in the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies and the Centre for Next Generation Localisation in DCU. In other words, lots of scientific-type stuff, and Under Thirty is something quite apart.

In a piece published on Coddle, Stephen explained:

It’s quite experimental and it’s not something that has really been done before within the creative writing world. It came from talking to young writers who were struggling to have their work read, and I thought it would be an interesting idea to set up a organisation where people can submit their work, get constructive advice and have a chance to be published.

As well as offering feedback and advice on submitted work from a 50-strong editorial advisory team (which includes, at a quick glance, the excellent Vanessa O’Riordan from, crime writer Louise Phillips and a host of people with “Dr” before their name), Under Thirty plans to publish a journal twice a year in print in Ireland, Australia and the US and via e-book worldwide.

Submissions for the inaugural edition are invited, with a closing date of midnight on Wednesday, November 7th next.

For more information visit

From Sheridan Le Fanu to Anne Enright, via James Joyce: Liverpool Hope University’s series on Irish writing

Liverpool Hope University series on Irish writingA couple of these have already taken place, but for those of you who may be (a) interested in Irish writing and (b) (crucially) around the Liverpool area, there are eight more evenings taking place on Thursday nights until shortly before Christmas.

The Liverpool Hope University series kicked off a couple of weeks back with what sounds like an intriguing talk by Justice Adrian Hardiman of the Supreme Court titled “James Joyce and the Golden Age of the English Murder”.

If that’s a title to whet the appetite, the great pity is that there’s no way I can retrospectively get to Liverpool on Sunday, October 14th.

Nevertheless, the rest of the talks look no less interesting (or more accurately, not a huge amount less intriguing), starting this Thursday night with Professor Patricia Coughlan of UCC on “Hard Times and Sibling Songs: Sibling Relations in Irish Literature, James Joyce to Anne Enright”.

The four remaining talks in November see Anne Fogarty discuss Joyce’s “The Dead”, Jarlath Killeen on Bram Stoker’s The Snake’s Pass, Jane Suzanne Carroll on C.S. Lewis, Nicholas Daly on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, PJ Matthews on JM Synge, Michael Kennedy on Conor Cruise O’Brien and the Congo and Terry Phillips on Sebastian Barry and Ireland’s hidden history.

For all the details, the full list of Liverpool Hope University’s talks on Irish literature is over here (PDF, 2.54MB).

(P.S. If someone can point me in the direction of anything to give me more info on Justice Hardiman and James Joyce, feel free to leave a comment…)

Pat McCabe on Bram Stoker’s Dracula

It’s strange, because I haven’t had the best of experiences with his books, but I could listen all day to Pat McCabe talk.

The “Arts Lives” show on RTE 1 from a few years ago, which followed McCabe, his wife, the artist Margot Quinn and his student-age twin daughters around their homes in Clones and London, was a real treat.

In that documentary McCabe described writing “a mixture of complete despair and absolute bliss.” (I may not have the wording 100 per cent correct, but it was along those lines.)

I missed this McCabe-on-Stoker documentary on BBC Radio Four a few weeks ago, so I’m only catching up now.

Then again I’m not sure when was the last time I watched or listened to something live – several episodes of Mad Men and last night’s first instalment of Girls are clogging up the Sky box at home, and I was disappointed to learn that not only did I miss the first screening of “You’ve Been Trumped” on Sunday, a documentary on Donald Trump’s outlandish golf complex creation in rural Scotland, but I also contrived to miss the repeat on Monday.

So while I’m a couple of weeks late to this, I’m guessing you might be in the same boat. Here’s the link:

Pat McCabe on Bram Stoker and the Irish influence on Dracula

It’s no coincidence that there’s a focus on Stoker and Dracula at this time of year, of course, and the Bram Stoker Festival takes place in Dublin from Friday until Sunday (October 26-28).

There’s a full list of Bram Stoker Festival events here.

Kevin Barry and the song of the short story

Picture via

Kevin Barry’s “Ox Mountain Death Song” is the featured short story in this week’s edition of The New Yorker, and as he says in a short interview which accompanies the piece, sound and rhythm are the things which dictated the direction of the narrative.

Barry, perhaps with tongue edging its way into his cheek, gives a few insights into his mode of story-writing.

He lies on his back in the ocean off the Sligo coast, for instance, or spends hours cycling through the Ox Mountains in Co Sligo, jumping off his bike to scribble down some notes or talk aloud to himself in an attempt to nail the cadence of the locale.

Most insightful of all, though, is the revelation that the sound of the sentences lift his stories and carry them almost magically in a different direction – “magically” is my word, of course, and one nowhere near magical enough to do justice to Barry’s sense of edge-of-realism – although whether he’s talking about this story in particular or his method ofwriting stories in general I’m not entirely sure

The rhythm of the prose works off refrain and reprise. At the level of the sentence, what interests me above all is its sound. I will happily subvert a sentence’s meaning for the sake of how it sounds, and then just go with whatever change results; I’ll let the sound dictate the story.

The story itself, which details “a portly detective and a rascal from a family a long while notorious”, is available online to New Yorker subscribers. To which class of people, sadly, I’ve yet to graduate.

Read “Ox Mountain Death Song” on The New Yorker (subscription)

The new issue of The Stinging Fly is… out now!

The Stinging Fly, Issue 23, Winter 2012-13

The latest issue of The Stinging Fly, the first since the publisher’s short story collection “The China Factory”, written by Mary Costello, was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award, is now available.

Issue 23 features poet Tadgh Russell and includes fiction from Claire-Louise Bennett, Colin Corrigan, David Hayden, Tania Hershman, Danielle McLaughlin, Gina Moxley, Fiona O’Connor, John O’Donnell, Suzanne Power and S.J. Ryan.

There is also an essay by Costello – she pens this edition’s Re:fresh column, which takes a look at James Salter’s short story “My Lord You”. The cover blurb for “My Lord You”, when it was published in a story collection as part of Picador’s Shots series in 2006, read:

A lonely married woman, after a disturbing encounter with a drunken poet at a dinner party, finds herself irresistibly drawn to his animal surrogate, a huge tawny-eyed dog.

Elsewhere in this edition, it’ll be interesting to see what the occasionally caustic critic Kevin Breathnach makes of Paul Auster’s “Winter Journal”, which has received mixed reviews elsewhere this year.

And when I say mixed, I mean dreadful. Here’s the thoughts of J Robert Lennon, reviewing for the Guardian in August:

Winter Journal is a terrible book – the kind of self-indulgent, ill-conceived, and poorly-edited disaster that makes you doubt whether or not you could truly have liked the works that preceded it.

If that takes us out of the remit of Irish writing, you’ll allow us an occasional lapse, I hope.

Priced at €7 (within Ireland) and €10 if you’re abroad, the latest issue can be purchased from The Stinging Fly website. Mary Costello’s The China Factory can also be purchased from The Stinging Fly for €12.99.

Mary Costello follows in the footsteps of Dylan

A bit strangely, I thought, Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles: Volume One” is featuring on The Book on One on RTE Radio 1 all this week.

Dylan’s memoir made a bit of a splash when it was published in 2004 – notwithstanding the fact that, having been won over by the hype, I struggled to retain an interest for longer than a page at a time before eventually giving up on “Chronicles” about halfway through, it was an act of hubris surely unparalleled in recent publishing history to deliver a book with a title containing the words “Volume One” without ever, it seems, having any intentions of getting to work on Volume Two. And it was supposedly a three-part memoir, too.

Things should be a lot more interesting for an Irish audience from Monday next (October 22nd) when actress Caitríona Ní Mhurchú reads two stories from Mary Costello’s debut collection “The China Factory”.

The book is on an 11-strong longer-than-a-shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award, the winner of which is announced at the end of next month.

Starting on Monday night at the regular slot of 11.10pm, Ní Mhurchú will read “The Sewing Room” over three shows, with “Things I See” showcased on Thursday and Friday night.

The China Factory is published by The Stinging Fly.

Five years on, I found a new respect for Anne Enright’s Booker Prize win today

The winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize will be announced tonight, but flicking through the Guardian’s informative series of Booker infographics this morning it brought to mind the achievement of Anne Enright in winning for “The Gathering” five years ago.

There haven’t been a whole lot of non-male, non-British, non-Oxbridge-educated winners…

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There are 11 more slides over on the Guardian.

Welcome, bienvenue, fáilte (and that’s my stock of Irish words exhausted already…)

October 15th, 2012. A week or so before my 35th birthday, and the day that the Irish Writing Blog came into the world.

As far as mission statements go, you won’t find anything too developed here. I just wanted to read as much as I could about Irish literature, and I struggled to find a single place that would serve as even a half-arsed one-stop-shop, so I decided to give this a go.

The blog’s origins owed something to the launch of a 28-story collection, a Chinese Nobel Prize winner and a couple of poetry festivals in New York. (You can read a little more about the history on the “About” page.)

Whether it will survive and prosper, or become just another decent idea that floundered on the rocks of passivity, I couldn’t possibly say just yet. But in common with most Irish men of a certain age I find myself responding energetically to both flattery and abuse, so I’d welcome any comments you have. As long as they’re related to words on a page between two cardboard covers of varying pliability, I’m interested.

There’s also an RSS feed lurking around the place somewhere; if you find it feel free to subscribe.

Till next time.


Eavan Boland takes leading role at America’s biggest poetry festival

Eavan BolandIt looks like the New York metropolitan area is getting the best of the Irish literary festival scene at the moment.

A reading including John Montague and Pulitzer-winning American poet C.K. Williams is the highlight of the Irish Arts Center PoetryFest in a couple of weeks’ time, while last weekend saw Eavan Boland take on a leading role in the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, which is described as the biggest poetry gathering in the United States.

Speaking about Boland, the Dublin-born 68-year-old who has been a Professor of English at Stanford University in California for the past 16 years, Dodge organiser Martin Farawell told the New Jersey Star-Ledger:

[Boland] has become a really powerful, unique voice. She is treating the details, the tribulations of the inner life of a married woman, raising children, and elevating them to the same level as ‘male’ subjects, like war.

In one of a couple of discussion-led “workshops” (my quotation marks – I’m not sure what exactly to call them), Boland was alongside Philip Levine, the 83-year-old US Poet Laureate, and husband and wife poets Joseph Millar and Dorianne Laux under the banner “Poetry and the Working Life”.

Eavan Boland isn’t the only Irish female writer earning star billing Stateside, with Claire Keegan taking in at least a couple of stops over the next week or so.

Keegan’s work, whose back catalogue includes the short story collections “Antarctica” and “Walk the Blue Fields” and the novella “Foster”, features in an evening of short fiction introduced by Granta editor John Freeman and renowned writer David Mitchell – no, not that one – in Symphony Space on Broadway on Wednesday evening (October 17th). Exactly one week later she will return to her alma mater Loyola University in New Orleans.