Dave Eggers on the dialogue of Roddy Doyle

Roddy DoyleMassive congratulations to Roddy Doyle – his latest novel, The Guts, has been named Irish Novel of the Year at the Bord Gáis Irish Book Awards.

A lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges since Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize. Even that, Doyle’s masterpiece, published 20 years ago – 20 years ago! – came a few years after the completion of the Barrytown trilogy and the success of the movie version of The Commitments.

Doyle hasn’t exactly been inactive in the two decades since. Quite the opposite – the books The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and Paula Spencer and the ambitious Henry Smart trilogy (1999 to 2010), the TV series Family, the memoir Rory & Ita, a collection of short stories (Bullfighting), a series of acclaimed children’s books and the fantastic Fighting Words venture have all been worthwhile.

But by all accounts (aaarrrrgggghhhh – it’s on the to-read list), the publication this year of The Guts, a return to the world of the Barrytown gang more than two decades on, felt like getting home after a long journey. The diversion was all the more welcome after last year’s Two Pints, a tiny, needless book that felt both like a publishing swindle and a pale imitation of his previous work. Because Roddy Doyle did as much as anyone to define the Irish identity at the end of the dark days of the ’80s. It’s often been said that the Ireland soccer team of 1988 and 1990 helped to usher in the Celtic Tiger. That’s probably a gross simplification, but what is beyond dispute is that Doyle’s work captured the Ireland of the day better than anyone else.

Dialogue has always been integral to Doyle’s work – it’s no surprise that The Commitments, at less than 200 pages, much of it razor-sharp dialogue, was so successful as a screenplay. Here’s Dave Eggers, of McSweeney’s publishing house and acclaimed author in his own right, talking about Doyle after a New Yorker fiction podcast reading of the story “Bullfighting” a couple of years ago:

I don’t think there’s anybody alive that’s better at dialogue than Roddy Doyle, and I think that was one of the first things that attracted me to his work.

He doesn’t make a conversation into a long, ornate mess. He writes dialogue and it reads at the speed of actual conversation and it gives it a buoyancy and a levity that’s central to his work, even though the language itself in the dialogue is pretty everyday.

He doesn’t give them words they wouldn’t actually say in the pub. He doesn’t have them make incredible insights when they’re three, four beers in. I don’t know how often a bunch of guys drinking beer and watching a game say incredibly brilliant or insightful things, it’s pretty rare. So I think when you let them make a joke over what it would be like to have relations with your mother-in-law, it gives it a nice truthful rhythm.

You can listen to Dave Eggers reading “Bullfighting” at the New Yorker fiction podcast here. It’s an hour you won’t regret.

James Joyce updates x 2: UCD to develop Joyce Museum, and details of The Dead Weekend announced


Image via digital.ucd.ie

More than 101 years after a row with the proposed publishers of Dubliners led James Joyce to leave Ireland for the last time, his alma mater UCD has revealed plans to dedicate a museum to the writer at its Newman House buildings on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green.

A large room known as Aula Maxima, interlinking the two buildings, will house a permanent Joyce museum as part of a joint plan between UCD and the National Library of Ireland.

Joyce graduated from UCD in 1902 and his links with the college will be the primary focus, but the museum will also include items relating to other writers with UCD links, among them Mary Lavin, Flann O’Brien, Gerald Manley Hopkins and Cardinal Newman, for whom the buildings are named.

The museum is given a provisional opening date of early 2016, and while costs haven’t been revealed the Irish Times has estimated that it the project may run to as much as €20m.

An estimate of 140,000 visitors per annum has also been declared, a figure which represents approximately 14% of the annual pilgrims to the Guinness Storehouse, but then that ratio is probably to be expected given the level of marketing invested in the home of the black stuff (both in-house and by the State).

The announcement of a new museum should not overshadow the fact that there are already at least two Joyce museums in Dublin – the James Joyce Tower and Museum in the Martello Tower at Sandycove (currently closed for renovations until February) and the James Joyce Centre on North Great George’s Street in Dublin city centre.

The James Joyce Centre hosts The Dead Weekend from January 4-6 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the publication of Dubliners, which first went to press in January 1914 – on an initial print run of 1250, according to this resource.

There are a series of talks and workshops about The Dead and its influences, and while the cost for the whole weekend is a not insignificant €180, there are some events that are free-but-booking-required, most notably the closing talk by the always eloquent and informative Joyce scholar Declan Kiberd on Monday, January 6th, titled “Dubliners: The First Hundred Years”.

All the details about The Dead Weekend are here

Awards and prizes round-up: How little fiction is becoming big


Anne Enright is a former recipient of the Davy Byrnes Short Story Prize (pic: http://www.stingingfly.org)

I’m easing my way back into things. The past couple of months have seen everything else catch up and overtake me, and it’s only now, with the changing of the clocks and the evenings drawing in, that I’ve had the temerity to tell everything to slow the fuck down and take the time to sit with a book or two.

I started with Donal Ryan’s The Thing About December, added Elske Rahill’s Between Dog And Wolf to the to-read pile and then lost myself in the slow and powerful rhythms of The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, where I have remained for the past few days (I sometimes read novels by non-Irish authors with non-Irish names, too, honest. Plans are afoot to read The Diary of Anne Frank in the next couple of weeks before visiting the Anne Frank & You visual exhibition at Pearse Library, and I’ll re-read A Christmas Carol for the first time in a few years next month, having decided that my four-year-old is probably a year or two too young for the full-version bedtime story treatment. I try to get to Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales most Decembers too. If you’ve any other recommendations for favourite Christmas reads, they will be very gratefully received in the comments below…)

But anyway, back to this month, and when easing one’s way back into regular blogs is the challenge, there’s no more straightforward way than by glancing around the awards and prizes news.

You might say that awards skew public perception, that they inflate the importance of a winning novel while reducing the also-rans to obscurity. You would be right, but to distort what Churchill once said about democracy, it’s the worst possible system of marketing books, except for all the  others.

Prizes, and the attention they attract through longlists and shortlists and winners’ announcements, are great for book marketing. Yes, the judges are the kingmakers, their blessing bestowing sales spikes for the anointed authors and dispelling many of the remainder to, quite literally, a short shelf life. Prizes such as the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award have done well to democratise things, albeit at the expense of timeliness, but the appointment of an expert jury remains the standard format, and that’s the route taken by Davy Byrnes Short Story Award, which returns for its now characteristic (Word of the Day alert!) quinquennial appearance.

Given Alice Munro’s coronation by the Nobel committee, I feel like we’re living through a golden era for the short story. Whether the proliferation of reading devices has had any effect on the return to prominence of shorter fiction, I have no idea, but time may well come to show that the iPad (first launched 2010) revolutionised a lot more than just technology. Notwithstanding Eleanor Catton’s 832-page Booker-winning mammoth The Luminaries and Richard House’s well-received four-books-in-one-with-added-multimedia doorstop The Kills, there is a real appetite for bitesize literature now – Colm Tóibín and Zadie Smith have both released tiny novels recently, and on the evidence of two recent announcements short story prizes are all the rage.

The Davy Byrnes Award opens for entries in December ahead of a February 2014 shortlist announcement with the winner garlanded next June, and if the judges are anything to go by this should be seriously high on quality: Booker and 2004 Davy Byrne award winner Anne Enright (pictured above), IMPAC winner Jon McGregor and Guardian First Book Award/Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award recipient Yiyun Li. (Oh, to be an English-speaking fly on the wall when those three are discussing short stories…). The criteria for entry for the Davy Byrnes Short Story Award are available over here.

The Irish Book Awards includes a new category in the shape of the writing.ie Short Story of the Year Award. It’s a welcome development for the short story – the Novel of the Year shortlist, which last year bizarrely included three short story collections, is now actually restricted to novels.

While Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies took him to some international renown, it’s fair to say that the six shortlisted stories bring a list of mostly unfamiliar names to the fore. Colin Barrett’s debut collection Young Skins was the subject of a very favourable review by Sinead Gleeson in The Irish Times last weekend; he’s nominated here for “Bait”, while Trisha McKinney, Danielle McLaughlin, Niamh O’Connor (who day-jobs as True Crime Editor of the Sunday World) and Billy O’Callaghan make up the rest of the shortlist. You can read all six shortlisted stories over on writing.ie here.

Looking briefly to the longer form, the Novel of the Year award is foremost among the Irish Book Awards and Donal Ryan, whose The Spinning Heart was named overall Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year in 2012, is in contention here for The Thing About December. He’s up against some big hitters, though, with Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments sequel The Guts, Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic and the debut novel of outstanding playwright Frank McGuinness (Arimathea) also shortlisted. The sextet is completed by Gavin Corbett (This Is The Way) and Catherine Dunne (The Things We Know Now).

You can vote for the Irish Book Awards over here until November 21st.