From Apple antagonist to children’s literary star: the new career tangent of Julian Gough



Julian Gough (Pic:

Julian Gough is better known – where he is known at all – as a writer of sharply satirical, often odd, short stories and novels for adults.

Gough, who spent much of his childhood in Nenagh and turns 50 this year, was once lead singer for a band called Toasted Heretic, has based himself in suitably distant Berlin while labelling Irish literary fiction of the recent past as “knackered, backward-looking, male-dominated”, written the ending of computer game Minecraft, courted crowdfunders to raise the cash for a recent writing project (offering, amongst other things, lipstick and whiskey-stained postcards in return) and memorably rubbed World’s Most Valuable Brand™ Apple up the wrong way with his satirical BBC National Short Story shortlisted techno-story “The iHole” (which, it seems, has been consigned to a literary black hole forever).

But his newest book charts new territory: it’s a picture-book for children. Continue reading “From Apple antagonist to children’s literary star: the new career tangent of Julian Gough”

Ireland’s Best Loved Poem

I rarely reblog, but happy to make an exception for this excellent post about RTE’ current project, Ireland’s Best Loved Poem.

Top of the Tent

At the weekend, RTE, the Irish national broadcaster announced the shortlist of 10 for their ‘Best Loved Poem of Ireland’ (of the last 100 years) competition. Members of the public nominated their ‘best loved’ poem online and a jury of Irish poetry aficionados cut the suggestions down to the final list shown below. You can now vote to influence the final choice of ‘A Poem for Ireland’ on the RTE Poetry website and the winner will be announced on Friday 13th March. It seems to be perfectly timed for the last weekend before St Patrick’s Day, but there’s something else about timing that bothers me slightly with regard to how ‘fair’ such a competition can possibly be.

The ‘last 100 years’ – mmm, if we count back that takes us to 1915. Well, there’s no poem from that year on the list – it starts the year after with W…

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Samuel Beckett’s description of his ailing mother is poignant, beautiful and original

Beckett … characteristically original

Death and love are the twin towers of all literature, so when someone comes up with an original way of describing one or the other, you have to sit up and take note.

A new collection of letters and postcards written by Beckett between 1947 and ’58, and sent to his friends, the artists Henri and Josette Hayden, have been placed on exhibition by Trinity College Dublin, which purchased them at auction for €180,000 earlier this year.

Included in the lot is a postcard written while his mother was dying in 1950:

My mother is still declining. It’s like one of those decrescendos made by the trains at Ussy which I used to listen to at night, interminable, suddenly resuming just when everything seemed finished and the silence final.

I think she will die in hospital in a week or so.

Not being musical, I never even knew the word “decrescendo”. Quite beautiful.

Read the full story at The Irish Examiner

Writers of the world unite against anti-surveillance

writers-against-mass-surveillancePlease, take two minutes, less, to do this. It’s important, so important that more than 550 writers from around the world have joined together and taken half-page ads in newspapers across the world.

The Big Brother of George Orwell’s 1984 exists, and is being used against individuals by nations and corporations all over the world.

Leading Irish writers Roddy Doyle, Colum McCann and Colm Tóibín are signatories.

They are ably assisted by hundreds of others, including JM Coetzee, Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Walker, Paul Auster, Don De Lillo, James Salter, Henning Mankell, Lionel Shriver, Orhan Pamuk and Dave Eggers.

They say:

It is an appeal in defense of civil liberties against surveillance by corporations and governments. 

In recent months, the extent of mass surveillance has become common knowledge. With a few clicks of the mouse the state can access your mobile device, your e-mail, your social networking and Internet searches.

It can follow your political leanings and activities and, in partnership with Internet corporations, it collects and stores your data, and thus can predict your consumption and behaviour.

The basic pillar of democracy is the inviolable integrity of the individual. Human integrity extends beyond the physical body. In their thoughts and in their personal environments and communications, all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested.

In taking a stand for democracy in the digital age, through social media and online petition, they are using digital avenues to maximise their reach.

It is also a protest against the abuse of those digital avenues by massive organisations, at once underlining the good, the bad and the ugly of the digital age.

Take two minutes to read the statement in full, and add your name to the clamour for digital privacy.

Audio: Cormac McCarthy on using James Joyce as the model for punctuation

Cormac McCarthyHere’s some audio I hadn’t heard before: Cormac McCarthy, Pulitzer Prize winner and the author behind iconic works such as The Road and No Country for Old Men, speaking about his minimalist approach to punctuation.

The reason I’m posting here is because he cites James Joyce as a reference point for his punctuation style, while also name-checking 18th century writers (“like Swift or someone”) who “wrote so well but punctuated so poorly”.

While there’s a lot to be said for clarity and “simple declarative sentences”, as McCarthy says, I can’t help feeling that he takes things to the other extreme.

Having used quotation marks, sub-clauses and parentheses in the space of a few short lines, I’m probably emblematic of all McCarthy rails against, but a confession: I love the contribution punctuation can make to a great sentence.

The audio below is taken from a rare interview McCarthy gave to Oprah Winfrey in 2008.

Say hello to Tramp Press, Ireland’s newest publisher of literary fiction

tramp-press-logoIn all the media coverage that surrounded the announcement of the Man Booker Prize longlist last week, perhaps the most striking was the revelation that Donal Ryan, one of three Irish representatives among the “Booker’s Dozen”, had been rejected 47 times and only succeeded after being championed by a particularly persistent intern at Lilliput Press in Dublin.

For intern then, read publisher now. Sarah Davis-Goff has established her own publishing house, and in a development that is so well-timed one would almost think it was deliberate, the website of Tramp Press went live a fortnight ago, a few days before the Booker longlist was announced.

Quoted in The Sunday Times today, Davis-Goff says, “I got the confidence to do this from having found something on the slush pile and just trusting my judgment on it. I feel like I have the ability to go through manuscripts and know.”

Tramp Press has “about three projects” which they’re really excited about, the first of which is expected arrive on shelves next year.

While the leaning is certainly on literary fiction – the Tramp website’s “Stuff We Like” section includes mentions for Granta, The White Review, Times Literary Supplement, the Dublin Review of Books and The Millions – its homepage nevertheless proclaims that it is “actively seeking brilliant fiction of all genres”.

Best wishes to Sarah & Co. A new independent Irish publisher of quality literature is always something to be welcomed, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will follow developments at Tramp Press with interest.

Visit the Tramp Press website here

Sarah Davis-Goff and Tramp Press are on Twitter here and here

In search of Irish satirists

a-modest-proposalI’ve been thinking, and yes, that’s a dangerous thing.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this particular subject will become clear here over the next week or so, but for now I’d like to throw the floor open for discussion. The topic:  Irish satire and satirists.

When you think of satire among Irish writers, who springs to mind?

Jonathan Swift, of course, is the grand-daddy of them all, with works such as Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal possessing a reach far greater than the number of people who’ve actually read them. Gulliver the written work is dense and difficult in parts, but Gulliver the movie persona is famous the world over through Ted Danson, Jack Black and others.

Who else? Brian O’Nolan/Flann O’Brien/Myles na gCopaleen, absolutely, but I’m of a different generation than that which enjoyed a regular diet of Flann O’Brien, Donal Foley’s “Man Bites Dog” columns in the Irish Times and Hall’s Pictorial Weekly on RTÉ.

Later, as satire increasingly found a natural home in radio and TV, the likes of Dermot Morgan, Gerry Stembridge, Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan rose to prominence through the vehicle of satire.

Aprés Match (Barry Murphy, Risteard Cooper and Gary Cooke) is a staple of satirical comedy in Ireland, and Pictorial Weekly was revived by Murphy.

Mario Rosenstock took inspiration from Scrap Saturday and ran with it, and Oliver Callan crested  that wave to become a household name too; no recent satire has been as scathing as that of David McSavage’s The Savage Eye; the Rubberbandits have taken Irish satire to MTV.

But back to where I started.

Is Irish satire now restricted to the airwaves alone?

Or are there practitioners at work in written form too?

Satire, these days if not in the past, must be a little more subtle when it appears in written form. Rosenstock, Callan, McSavage et al can take a baseball bat to the mores of society and it’s a roaring success; the same approach in a short story, say, would be far too heavy-handed.

Kevin Barry is one Irish writer who readily springs to mind (well, this mind at least). His “The Fjord of Killary”, first published in The New Yorker three years ago and subsequently collected in his Dark Lies The Island last year, fitted the pigeon-hole of satire more than anything else; “Supper Club”, the opening story in the recent Silver Threads of Hope charity anthology, was an even more blatantly satirical riff on the excesses of Celtic Tiger Ireland. Barry himself described Gavin Corbett’s recent novel This Is The Way as a satire.

So past or present, who’s your favourite Irish satirical writer? And who might have been overlooked but deserves to stand on the same stage?

Let me know in the comments.


Update: I asked the question on Twitter earlier and among several interesting responses came these from “anonymous writer/director” ManintheBlackPyjamas:

[tweet 334317608973254656 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 334318036196659200 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 334319009824649216 hide_thread=’true’]

Commemorative coin is “greatest insult to the Joyce family ever perpetrated by Ireland”

James Joyce commemorative coin

By pointing the finger at the entire country, it’s hard not to feel like we’re all to blame.

Stephen James Joyce, grandson of the writer and the man who held the keys to the entire Joyce canon until copyright expired two years ago, was quoted in the Irish Times weekend edition about the Central Bank coin debacle this week.

Joyce is seen by many as a controversial figure for the manner in which he governed the Joyce literary estate, although it’s perhaps a little unfair to criticise him for trying to shield his famous antecedent from all the worst elements of commercialism here, particularly given Joyce’s mixed relationship with his native country.

But possibly the most striking, and dispiriting, thing in the whole thing is the news that the whole lot of 10,000 coins had been sold out by Friday, two days after they were issued.

That’s 10,000 coins – containing an incorrect quotation, with a stated value of €10 and a retail price of €46 – gone at a rate of 200 an hour.

But I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised when the trappings of culture become more important than culture itself.

Why writing is always best as a solitary pursuit

I have always been a bit confused by the idea of co-authoring. I can never get my head around what the writing process must be like on things like, say, hit big-budget boxset-style TV series.

Several – perhaps dozens – of writers routinely appear in the end credits, leading me to a quizzical expression and the question – what, exactly, do they all do? Do they convene in a large room and sit in a semi-circle in front of their laptops? Does one writer concentrate on one setpiece, a second on another, with an overall Wizard of Oz type – Aaron Sorkin, for example – pulling all the strings as he looks over their shoulders?

The short answer is I don’t know. I would guess that every show is unique, with different modes of work that rise from the earth during the “writing process”.

Maybe this is one thing that large writing teams have in common with their more conventional cousins, whose primary collective attribute could be boiled down to the word “solitary”: that the act of writing – putting words down in order to tell a story, and getting that story completed in a manner that gives meaning to one reader, or enjoyment to another, or baffling wonderment to someone else – is never anything less than chaotic. It may be a bit like childbirth. You get from one side to the other, where the world is changed utterly, but the bit in the middle, the action, is something anguished and unexplainable.

TV writing is one thing, but co-authoring books is quite another. It can work fine in non-fiction – Levitt and Dubner have nailed teamwork for their Freakonomic series, the Christmas bestsellers’ list every year is filled with ghost-written books, and children’s books would be a whole lot poorer without a top of the range writer-illustrator alignment.

But it’s altogether more problematic in the sphere of so-called “creative” writing. How can you co-write a novel, or a collection of poems, or a play? The relationship between writer and editor can be strained enough with adding another name to the book jacket or the poster.


All that came to mind today when I read of the High Court settlement between Roddy Doyle, and a number of other parties from the world of Irish theatre on the one side, and Bisi Adigun on the other.

Doyle and Adigun teamed up to co-write a modern retelling of JM Synge’s century-old classic “The Playboy of the Western Word”, which attracted plenty of press when it was given a world premiere at The Abbey Theatre. All was seemingly fine and well for a while, until a second run at the same venue a year or two later contained a host of changes which had not, it seems, been okayed by both writers.

Cue legal action, culminating in the transfer of all associated rights seemingly solely to Adigun in a settlement on Wednesday.

It’s all a bit unseemly, and not an environment that writers would usually be familiar with.

I’m sure Doyle will be happy to have put the episode behind him so that he can concentrate on something that will undoubtedly garner him much more positive media attention when The Guts, his quarter-of-a-century-later sequel to The Commitments, is published later this year.

Faber adapts Peter Murphy novel cover for river-themed social event

The people behind Faber Events, the publisher’s social arm, have adapted the cover of the recently published (and already quite acclaimed) Shall We Gather at the River, by Irish novelist Peter Murphy, for a forthcoming event in London.

Faber and arts-culture-angling-birdwatching-and-all-points-in-between site Caught By The River have joined forces for the event at The Social on Little Portland St, London W1 on Monday week (February 4th).

It will showcase a reading by Murphy from his alternative-Wexford-set novel, as well as other readings which seem connected by a watery theme, including former Booker-shortlisted Mick Jackson, Olivia Laing, Tom Bolton and Charles Rangeley-Wilson.

Perhaps most striking of all, the poster for the event (below) is based on the attention-grabbing cover of Shall We Gather at the River.

For more details, or to purchase a ticket (just £5 for pre-payers), visit the Faber events section. Shall We Gather at the River is available from all good bookstores, while you can check out Caught By The River for more ethereal stuff.