Wendy Erskine: a flash interview

wendy152

1. Wendy – having written fiction previously, you were returning to an existing interest when you signed up to the six-month Stinging Fly writing course. I’ve heard great things about this course from other participants, could you tell us how it helped shape your writing?

It’s true that I had written a bit before, just for my own amusement really, but I’d never had anything published. I had an afternoon a week off work for a year and so it transpired that I ended up on the Stinging Fly course led by Sean O’Reilly. There are things that you won’t get from this course. If it’s a group affirmation experience, a congratulation fest that you’re after, then it’s no good. There’s no focus on writing at the sentence level, you know, stuff like syntax or the path to a more epigrammatic style. But it showed me totally new ways to think about narratives. It was a brilliant and illuminating experience. Here’s a fraction of what I learnt: the questions I should ask of any story, including my own; the importance of scenes; the need for brutal honesty when writing and reading my own stories; the significance of writing without vanity.
2. In an interview with the Independent newspaper, you said “I want to deal with the biggest themes possible” – the stories in Sweet Home are nicely understated and devoid of the usual Irish clichés – so is that the essential themes lie more in the everyday existence of your characters?

Yes. What a comically grandiose thing to say. Daft really, I suppose. When the stories first came out, there was a lot of (lovely) stuff about how they gave such a vivid sense of East Belfast and so on and how quotidian detail was rendered so carefully. I was delighted people should think that, but at the same time I’ve no interest in writing local colour literature or producing something that is the literary equivalent of a sub, sub-Chuck Close painting. I’m not messing about. There’s no inconsequential shuffling around in East Belfast or any other location. My stories involve existential meltdown, guilt, trauma, acute loneliness, alienation, violence, disintegration, loss. But here’s the point: these ‘big themes’ also constitute the every day for so many of us. So, you know, maybe not so daft.

3. Can I ask, out of a personal curiosity, what inspired you to write “77 Pop Facts You Didn’t Know About Gil Courtney”? The structure is most unusual for a short story. And of course I wondered and had to find out whether or not he was a real person! 🙂

Gil Courtney is not real but he is a type of person I am naturally drawn to in the real world: the person who could have been a contender, had it not been for circumstances, or bad luck, or perhaps their own conduct. I knew I wanted to write about a character like that, a type of Syd Barrett figure, and that I wanted to deal with questions about the validity and importance of art that only ever reaches a fractional audience. The story was originally about 15000 words long and told in a conventional manner but it just didn’t work. It was only when I considered how I could match form and content by using the list of facts that could be found in a music mag that it actually came alive. Lots of people have thought he is real. People have said, oh yeah, I got the Gil Courtney album on Discogs. It wasn’t all that. I can see why he wasn’t a success. It’s been funny. But use the word ‘facts’ and even in this post truth society it still carries an authority. And the name Gil Courtney: it’s got echoes of Gil Scott-Heron, Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Gillespie, Courtney Barnett, Courtney Love. If readers thought they’d heard of him before, it was because they had. Sort of.

Rob Doyle: a flash interview

Rob Doyle

1. You have a novel and collection of short stories in print, with a new novel coming out next year. What was your path to publication?

Looking back, my path to publication was comically arduous, though it didn’t seem funny at the time. Just yesterday, while going through some old folders I found a stack of rejection letters for my first novel, Here Are the Young Men. There were a lot of them. Yet that novel ended up doing well, making it possible for me to live by my writing. These days I meet various younger or up-and-coming writers, and many of them spend their twenties hanging around the publishing scene, going to launches and that kind of thing. I can see the usefulness of it, but I never did any of that. I hardly knew what the publishing scene was, nor where it might be located. I wasn’t living in Ireland, but flitting between various countries like Carlos the Jackal. So when I eventually wrote a book that I suspected was good enough to publish, I was a total outsider and didn’t have any book-world contacts. That probably slowed me down by a year or two. Happily, since getting that first novel published, it’s been a hell of a lot easier for me. I write books, essays, reviews, stories, and a literature column in the newspaper, and there’s generally someone willing to publish what I write.

2. Would you say your forthcoming novel marks a departure from what you’ve published to date?

Yes, definitely. And at the same time, not really. Threshold is a book that eschews the traditional foundations of prose fiction – plot and character – in order to welcome the reader more intimately inside the mind of its author-narrator: which is to say, my mind, or the mind of someone who resembles me in key aspects as he wanders around Europe and beyond, reeling from the blows of life, trying to figure out the big abiding issues of existence that literature has been worrying since time immemorial: loneliness and longing, sex and love, madness and transcendence, joy and crisis. My instincts as a writer are an extension of my instincts as a reader: I hate being bored, so I’m always rather slavishly trying to write books that are not uninteresting for even a paragraph or a sentence. Constructing a book entirely from my own fascinations and obsessions – artistic, experiential, geographic, sexual, pharmacological, and metaphysical – rather than unfurling a plot focussed on the relationships between fictitious characters, is my latest attempt in this direction.

My stuff has always had a strongly autobiographical bent: a ‘Rob Doyle’ character manifested here and there throughout the stories in This Is the Ritual, and everybody knows that Here Are the Young Men was a thinly-veiled confession of the period when my friends and I wreaked a trail of carnage and atrocity on the drug-flooded streets of millennial Dublin. Writing a book from the point of view of the writer of those books – a book partly about the books this writer would like to write while he is actually and almost inadvertently writing the book you are in fact reading – was a logical progression.

3. How important do you think Literary Festivals are for aspiring, emerging or underexposed authors?

This one is hard for me to answer because, in truth, I only started getting invited to literary festivals after I had found success as a published novelist, and I assume this happens to many writers. It’s the way of the world: the more people want you, the more other people want you. Or, as Jim Morrison sang from the opposite side of the mirror, ‘People are strange when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly when you’re alone.’ One thing I do know is that festivals offer writers, who work for years in solitude without much recognition, a bit of visibility, a chance to show off, and that is surely a welcome thing.

Rob is taking part in our “We Put it Write” panel on Sunday 29th September @ 11.30 in Bray Town Hall, along with writers Declan Burke and Rebecca O’ Connor

Anne Fitzgerald: a flash interview

Anne Fitzgerald Author Photograph

1. Your collection “Vacant Possession” shines a light on the horrific treatment of unmarried mothers forced to give up their babies for adoption. Could you tell us something about the public response to your work. Did people approach you to tell their own stories?

Vacant Possession is arranged in four movements. The second movement celebrates the lives of my beloved parents Annie & Charles Fitzgerald. The third and fourth movements explore Devlara & McQuaid’s Architecture of Containment pertaining to Adoption in 20th Century Éire which not only prevails in 21st Century Ireland but thrives.

Given that Vacant Possession’s is the first poetic response to Devlara & McQuaid’s Architecture of Adoption Containment Culture, it is not too surprising that people from all walks of life have reached out to share their experiences, predicaments and reflections with me on foot of reading my volume. Some have travelled across oceans and continents others have crossed phone lines for comfort.

2. Caitriona Palmer calls the collection: ‘Raw, poignant, wrenching, and deeply courageous…’ do you find that poetry is a way of confronting life’s more emotional experiences?

No, I don’t find that poetry is a way of confronting life’s more emotional experiences? For me poetry is a way of life. It is not something I do in my spare time. It is the all. Everything else has to fit around it. The poem always comes first or at least the process of writing it.

3. As well as writing, you also run Forty Foot press. What was the impetus behind that?

The genesis for my publishing house Forty Foot Press emanated from discussions with the historian Kevin Whelan, the late Duchess of Abercorn Sasha Hamilton, founder of The Pushkin Trust in a addition to American foundations. Established in 2006 it is a publishing house for contemporary Irish Fiction and Poetry. Some of our titles include Shane Harrison’s short story collection The Benefits of Tobacco (2007) and his novella The Testimony of Virginia McCabe (2013). We’re delighted to be publishing Dermot McCabe’s Gothic novel trilogy Dredgemarsh in 2020.

Anne is reading in our Poetry Salon on Sunday 29th September at 17.15 in The Harbour Bar, along with Susan Lindsay, John W Sexton, Eileen Sheehan, Jean O’ Brien, and Donald Gardner. With music by Ailie Blunnie.

Gerry Hanberry: a flash interview

GerryHanberry2 (1)

1. Gerry – you are coming to give a talk about the Wilde family on Friday 27th in the Strand hotel based on your book: “More Lives Than One – The Remarkable Wilde Family Through the Generations.” Could you tell us some of the challenges you faced when researching the Wilde family?

To take on any project involving Oscar Wilde is a bit like treading on hallowed ground. There have been so many books on various aspects of his life and indeed his death that one feels the need to justify adding to the pile. Academia can also at times feel certain ownership of Wildean studies. My book arose out of a non- fiction project I undertook as part of my MA in Writing at NUIG many years ago now. Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, published a book in 1867 called ‘Lough Corrib: Its Shores and Islands’ where he describes setting off from Galway to circle the lake examining the many historical sites and the rich Archaeological heritage of the area. My project involved retracing his footsteps and seeing what remained of his ruins and locations and in doing so to find out something about the man himself. I soon found myself drawn into a story about an amazing man who married a remarkable woman and fathered a genius. The story of Oscar had been told many times. However, the story of the remarkable Wilde family from their earliest origins down to the present day, spanning the generations and thereby supplying a full overview of the family, had not been done. So what was intended to be a straightforward project for my MA extended into a ten year labour of love and admiration.
The Wilde family roots are to be found in County Roscommon… finding Oscar’s grandfather’s grave, finding their little hunting lodge deep in Conemara, finding the ancient sites that sparked Sir William’s imagination – all this was very exciting and challenging at times.
The Wildes were also very good at creating a myth around their more humble origins – breaking through this myth is always a challenge .. some more recent research that I conducted following the publication of the biography has thrown up even more interesting insights into the Wilde family roots– these I have recently published in ‘Roscommon, History and Society’ (Geography Publications- Ed- William Nolan). These I will mention at my talk in Bray.

2. Your other non-fiction book is: ‘On Raglan Road – Great Irish Love Songs and the Women Who Inspired Them’ What was the inspiration behind this?

As well as being a writer and poet I am also a working musician . I like acoustic folk music and world music so I have a wide repertoire ranging from Irish ballads and folk songs to English and American material. I am often asked questions about the inspiration behind some of the great iconic songs we all know so well – Who was ‘Nancy Spain’? Who was ‘Grace’? Who is the real ‘Galway Girl’? Who exactly was the enchantress who inspired Patrick Kavanagh to write ‘On Raglan Road’?
A few years ago I was asked by the Percy French Society to give a talk on Percy and his songs. While researching the haunting love song ‘Gortnamona ‘ written by Percy about the death of his young wife at the age of twenty, I was so struck by the story that I though it deserved to be more widely known – I put that idea together with the curiosity about the other songs and before I knew it I had the bones of a book.. The book ‘On Raglan Road – Great Irish Love Songs and the Women Who Inspired Them’ contains the stories behind fifteen well known songs from the ancient ‘Una Bhán’ down through Thin Lizzy’s ‘Sarah’ and Mick Hanley’s ‘Past the Point of Rescue’ etc.. including ‘Danny Boy’ and others.

3. You are of course an award-winning poet. Does music also inform your poetry or do you see the two as separate art forms?

Song lyrics are related to poems but they are distant cousins – certainly not brothers and sisters… Some songwriters are indeed poets, Dylan, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen to name but three but mostly song lyrics need the music of the tune to live and survive … ‘She loves you , yea, yea, yea!!!’ Comes to mind (although Lennon and McCartney did write the finest of poetry as lyrics too – ‘A Day in the Life’ for example).
My own poems often tend to be brief reflections, or short narratives, written mostly in free verse . I do occasionally write poems that rhyme but I find rhyme in my poetry can sometimes make the poem sound false or forced ….Music is important in a poem.. there must be musicality — The music often comes to the poem through rhythm and assonance and alliteration rather than direct end-rhyme as one finds in most song-lyrics… Having said that, Yeats, though tone deaf, was a brilliant user of rhyme. Philip Larkin also ..
A lot of people today find their poetry in song lyrics and so do I to a degree.. but I am always amazed by the power of words arranged on a page.
Interestingly, I find I can write some poems, read some poetry, sing a few songs and listen to music – with maybe some cross-fertilisation … but I find it very difficult to write any poems when I am working on prose or non-fiction – It’s as if a light has been switched on in another room in the ‘grey matter’ and has been switched off in another…

Gerry will be giving a talk entitled “Wilde Times” on Friday 27th September in Cafe Vergnano in The Strand Hotel @ 8pm directly after the Bray Arts Journal launch.

The Strand Hotel was built in 1870 by Sir William Wilde!

Katie Donovan: a flash interview

Katie_smaller_size

1. Katie – you are taking part in our Writing from Life event – much of your poetry deals with the deeply personal – your journey through motherhood and the losses of those dearest to you. Do you find that poetry allows you to confront these topics in a deeper way than memoir and prose could?

I have been writing about my life since I was a teenager. I did keep a diary for a while but it was very dull and time-consuming. I was a journalist during the 1990s, writing features for The Irish Times, and that was a good way to explore my interest in people and the Arts while also earning a wage. I have flirted with fiction and memoir. But I always come back to poetry. Not that all of my poems are wonderful – they begin fairly raw and have to be crafted. Many never see the light of day.

My first book of poems, Watermelon Man, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 1993. It reflected a lot of what was going on for me in my twenties: searching for the right romantic relationship; travelling and trying to figure out where I belonged in the world; the mystery of my own body; and of course my feminist beliefs.

I think it is marvellous that more and more women are writing about their lived experience, and the memoir is a very popular genre right now, but poetry feels like a more natural outlet for me, and always has. It is a way to channel my surprise, fascination and frustration with everything from human relationships to the ecological crisis our planet now faces. Writing poetry is a mysterious process where I must partly surrender and see what bubbles up from my subconscious. As I write, the way becomes clearer.

Writing poetry helped me to channel my grief, horror and outrage when my husband was ill with a cancer – it was a brutal and trying five years, and I could not morph myself into a model unselfish wife. At the same time there were many tender and sweet times – life is so complex, it is never one thing – during that phase of my children growing up and my learning how best to deal with my husband’s condition.

In poetry flashes of humour, vivid imagery and layered meanings can suggest both delicately and profoundly what the flat explanatory quality of prose renders too humdrum. In one of my poems “What Can I Give Him?”, which is set in the hospice, the focus is not just on the horrific fact that my husband is close to death, but on the fact that our daughter could sing to him and lift his spirits. It is only seventeen lines. In a poem it is possible to render both a story and its emotional impact deftly and without the boring “in between” bits.

There is a lot of musical talent in my family, which mostly passed me by, but it has left me with an appreciation of the close relationship the poem has with song. I enjoy the rhythmic, incantatory quality of poetry, and how it can play with sound when read aloud. Recently three of my poems about the sea were set to music by the pianist and composer, Izumi Kimura, while she was Musician-in-Residence with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown. It was an amazing experience to sit in on a rehearsal.

That is not to intend any disrespect to the memoir writers, I loved Emilie Pine’s “Notes to Self”. I am only setting out my own particular stall!

2. You have also edited “Ireland’s Women: Writings past and Present” – which women in history do you find particularly inspirational?

That anthology came out in 1994, as a direct response to the three volume Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991) which featured very few women. Eavan Boland said that she felt embarrassed to be included in such an exclusionary publication. The mostly male editors pleaded ignorance. Enough said.

So myself, the late A. Norman Jeffares, and Brendan Kennelly, worked on an inclusive anthology to feature the voices of writers of both genders, describing the lives of Irish women in poetry, prose, song or drama. It was an exciting collaboration between three very different people. We all learned from each other.

We dedicated it to Mary Robinson, then Ireland’s first woman president, and included part of her inaugural speech. Robinson, with her unshowy intelligence, her feminism and her ecological awareness, has long been inspirational to me. The legendary Queen Medb, from The Tain, is a figure who inspired one of my early poems “At Queen Medb’s Cairn”. Clearly based on an earth goddess, Medb was lusty, independent and powerful – it was a relief to learn about her, as when I was a girl, role models were limited to the likes of Mother Theresa and the Virgin Mary.

Other inspirational figures who are included in the anthology are the long-time feminist campaigner Ailbhe Smyth, the pirate queen Granuaile, the veteran travel writer Dervla Murphy, and the memoirist and columnist Nuala O’Faolain. I admire many of the women writers in the anthology – too many to mention all by name – some of whom, like the poet Eithne Strong, have fallen sadly into obscurity.

It was wonderful to see the eventual publication (in 2003) of the fourth and fifth volumes of the Field Day Anthology, which included the women who had been left out of the first three. But it seems we keep needing to remind ourselves of this legacy – new anthologies of Irish women’s writing keep being produced and hailed as ground-breaking – I wonder when Irish literature will really become fully integrated and representative?

3. Do you feel that Irish poetry is in a healthy state right now?

Yes, I think it is a thriving community of diverse voices and there is a lot of support available, particularly for younger poets and Spoken Word poets. Regular opportunities for poets to meet, mingle and showcase their work are offered by the likes of Staccato in Dublin and O Bheal in Cork. Poetry Ireland, the Munster Literature Festival and many other arts organisations programme poetry and encourage poets to take an active part in events all over the country.

The recent MEAS (Measuring Equality in the Arts) report presented worrying results with regard to the amount of women being published by Irish poetry publishers. However there are notable exceptions, such as Arlen, whose list is predominantly female. Many Irish women poets, like myself, are published in the UK (Bloodaxe, my publisher; and Carcanet, both publish the likes of Caitriona O’Reilly, Mary O’Malley and Ailbhe Darcy). There is also the FIRED! initiative, which I am involved with, which actively supports Irish women poets both past and present. Chris Murray deserves a shout out for her pioneering work with FIRED!, not to mention the Poethead website she curates, which is a wonderful showcase for women poets.

I think it is hard for younger poets across the board who, as they get a bit older, want to support a family, as a poet will always have to take on a day job, and it is the constraints of this, together with family obligations, which can reduce a poet’s energy and head space. This has, however, always been the case, ever since Patrick Kavanagh famously borrowed a shilling for the gas, which was really to buy his supper as he was almost destitute. Now that I have been writing poetry for over three decades, I say to younger poets to just keep going with whatever slim pickings they have in terms of time and energy. It is the continuity that matters.

Katie is taking part in our Writing from Life event along with writers Eilis ni Dhuibhne and Thomas Kilroy on Saturday 28th September: 13.00-14.00 in Bray Town Hall.

Máire T. Robinson: a flash interview

photocolour_máire

1. Máire, you are facilitating our “A Sense of Place” fiction workshop during the festival, and have mentioned using samples of work from writers such as Daphne Du Maurier and Elif Shafak to illustrate the importance of place. Could you tell us how important setting is in your own work?

Setting is hugely important in my work. My first novel, Skin Paper Stone, is set in contemporary Galway City and it’s a kind of love letter to the place. My current novel-in-progress is set in New York City in the first half of the 1900’s, a time and place I have a particular fascination with. Obviously, setting is important in order to provide an atmospheric world for the reader, but it can also inform every element of the story: plot, theme, mood, character, even dialogue. I’m particularly interested in the relationship between setting and point of view. In fiction, no setting is ever really neutral because you are examining place through a specific lens. I’m looking forward to exploring some of these ideas in the workshop.

2. What do you think are typical mistakes made by writers setting out, and how might they avoid them?

Writers need to be free to make their own mistakes and find their own path. They should take didactic writing advice or “rules” for writers with a heavy pinch of salt. (And yes, that statement is technically advice, so feel free to also ignore me.) I’m constantly seeing the same boring stuff trotted out about not using adverbs or semicolons or whatever. The thing is, not everyone wants to be Hemingway. Let’s be honest, Hemingway probably didn’t even want to be Hemingway.

“Kill your darlings” is another oft-cited one that always struck me as particularly abysmal advice. At the very least you should copy and paste your darlings into a separate word document and then email it to yourself for safekeeping.

3. I see from your academic background that you completed a Film Studies degree, and then went on to do an MA in Creative Writing. Do you think that studying writing formally has helped you? Would you recommend it to those starting out or could they serve their apprenticeship just as well through extensive reading?

I can’t in good faith say yeah, go ahead and do a Masters in Writing because the cost of these kinds of programmes can be prohibitive for many people. Luckily, I qualified for a grant so was exempt from course fees and received a small stipend. Through that and working part-time I was able to cover my costs. Otherwise I couldn’t have done it at all. This was in 2007/2008 when rent wasn’t as ludicrous as it is now either.

The financial aspect aside, yes, studying writing helped me a lot. The best thing about it was meeting other fiction writers. It seems bizarre to me now, but at the time I didn’t know any. I became reassured that sitting at a desk and creating imaginary people wasn’t such a strange thing to want to do with my life after all. Another positive was having time to read and discovering new books. I read constantly, fell in love with short stories, and tentatively began to write my own.

So, I think a Masters is worth doing if it’s an option for you, but it’s by no means a necessity. The positive aspects: meeting other writers, getting feedback on work, finding out about the publishing industry, etc., are all things you can do outside of a third level course. There are a range of brilliant short-term writing courses available these days. The whole publishing industry has been demystified in recent years thanks to the internet, and Twitter in particular, where publishers and literary agents have public profiles.

As for serving an apprenticeship through reading, yes, this is non-negotiable whether you go the Masters route or not. Reading is central to becoming a writer. But my advice would be not to approach it as a chore with a big list of books you feel you “should” read. (Even the term “tbr pile” strikes me as kind of guilt-inducing and joyless.) I’ve always loved the Emily Dickinson quote: “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry”. That’s the spark you’re looking for, the connection, in discovering the work of writers that speaks to you and the work you want to create yourself. You have to follow the thread of your own writerly obsessions. It’s a massively subjective thing.

Máire is facilitating our “A Sense of Place” fiction workshop on Saturday 28th September: 10.00-12.00 in St Cronan’s BNS, Vevay Cresecent (off Vevay road)

To book, email: blfwkshops@gmail.com

Angela Carr: a flash interview

Angela-T-Carr_Headshot_2017__616

1. Angela – you’ve had your fair share of success in poetry competitions, most notably perhaps the “2018 Laureate’s Prize for Best Single Poem” selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Could you tell us what that meant to you? And how important prizes are to writers and to poets in particular?

I have been very lucky! I entered The Poetry Business’ International Book & Pamphlet Competition because their imprint Smith | Doorstop produce beautiful books and Liz Berry, whose work I love, was one of the judges. Contenders for the 2018 Laureate’s Prize for Best Single Poem were drawn from all the submitted manuscripts, with Carol Ann Duffy making the final choice. It’s a wonderful thing to have a piece of work picked out by someone of her stature. I felt I could now legitimately call myself a poet. I think each writer makes their own mind up about how important prizes are. They can be useful in helping a writer or a piece of writing reach their best audience which is why I curate a monthly list of poetry competitions and opportunities. There’s no doubt that certain awards can launch or consolidate a career – The Forward Prizes and National Poetry Competition in the UK, or the Patrick Kavanagh Award in Ireland. For me, the anonymity of a competition has always been the biggest pull and the opportunity to put my work in front of poets I admire. There’s no greater test of a poem’s effectiveness than to have it picked from a pile of as many as two thousand other poems. I like that the work stands or falls on its own merit.

2. In an essay published in The Lonely Crowd critiquing a selection of your own poems, you said that “Poems, like forests and fairy tales, are places to grow and change…” Could you elaborate on that?

No-one who enters the fairy tale forest emerges quite the same as when they went in! The essay talked about writing poems from life and how it’s not enough to simply transcribe events as they happened. The facts must be put under pressure, pass through a crucible and be tempered in some way in order to become a poem. When I was writing my debut collection ‘How to Lose Your Home & Save Your Life’ (Bradshaw Books, 2014), I drew heavily from life and the act of putting real events on the page created a necessary distance from the emotion of the experience. Once they were on the page, it became a different kind of problem – how to shape it, what language to use, what do I want it to say? Ideally, the truth of the facts become subverted by the truth of the poem.

3. Do you feel that your Scottish roots have any bearing, directly or indirectly, on your work?

I don’t actually have Scottish roots. My parents are Irish immigrants who moved to Scotland in the 1960’s – I’m second-generation Irish and a citizen from birth – and while I may not be Scottish, I do identify as Glaswegian! I moved to Dublin in 1999 and it was ten years later before I began writing in any serious way. Apart from my love of reading as a child, the only aspect of my life in Glasgow that impacts on my work are the elocution lessons my mother sent me to when I was four years old. I studied for nine years, including four years of formal exams through LAMBDA in London. In those classes, I discovered poetry, even curated mini-collections, and developed an instant and long-standing resentment toward William Carlos Williams, after being asked to read his ‘Landscape With Fall of Icarus’ on sight in an exam at the age of twelve. Happily, we have now reconciled.

Angela is facilitating “Poetry: So You Think Your Poem is Ready to Publish?” on Sunday 29th September 10.00-12.00 in St Cronan’s BNS, Vevay Crescent (off Vevay Road) To book a place, email: blfwkshops@gmail.com

David Butler: a flash interview

David Butler

1. Like many Irish writers, you write across several genres. How do you decide which genre will best fit a particular idea?

Trial and error, I guess. I’ve often moved between genres while dealing with a particular theme or issue. My play ‘Blue Love’, for instance, is adapted from a single chapter in my (as yet unpublished) novel ‘Under the Sign of the Goat’. I have found that, where poetry is concerned, I tend to deal more directly with ‘life issues’, without the need to fictionalise.

2. You’re giving a workshop at BLF entitled ‘Writing for the Stage’. What are the biggest challenges specific to writing drama?

The American philosopher Santayana once said that where the novelist gives us the protagonist’s actions viewed through the prism of their mind, the dramatist gives us the protagonist’s mind viewed through the prism of their actions. This is the real challenge of dramatizing (as opposed to writing dramatic monologues which address the audience directly). Most people can write dialogue, but good dialogue alone doesn’t create drama.

3. Besides reading, do you have any hobbies and pursuits that feed directly into your writing?

Absolutely! The most useful by far has been acting and directing. This is not merely a case of learning the mechanics of theatre. In order to act well, you need to identify with and ‘believe in’ the character you’re playing. That’s a useful approach to creating and writing any character, whether in drama or fiction. There’s nothing as uninteresting as a stereotyped portrayal, particularly of a ‘baddy’.

Mia Gallagher: a flash interview

Mia Gallagher (photographed by Robbie Fry)
Photo by Robbie Fry

1. How would you say the Irish publishing scene has changed over the last
twenty years?

There are a lot more small Irish publishers and journals bringing out really
interesting quality work. For fiction, New Island and Lilliput were around
in the late 1990s, and the Stinging Fly had just been established – but
Tramp, Banshee, Gorse, Crannóg and others weren’t even ideas. With digital
platforms and social media the reach of these publishers is also much wider.
In the early noughties the big international houses set up offices in Dublin
and that strengthened Ireland’s visibility as a site of publishing as well
as writing. On the flipside I think it’s trickier in some ways to sustain a
practice. Back then the big challenge was finding a publisher for the first
book. Once that was published, you were ‘on your way’. Now there are no
guarantees. Lots more books, lots more competing media, and bigger
publishers in particular getting merged and incorporated all the time into
global corporations whose aim is to maximise profit, not necessarily promote
more meaningful writing.

2. How important do you think it is for an author to get a literary agent?

It depends on what the author wants. Agents can open doors, sniff out
opportunities and handle contracts. They can be invaluable sounding boards
creatively and are a necessary buffer if legal, production or financial
issues come up with publishers. Any author who has a product (e.g., a book)
that they want to sell through a mainstream publisher, particularly to an
international audience, probably needs an agent. For authors who want to
publish independently or who are only starting off, there’s no rush.
Remember the agent is working for the writer, not the other way round, so
it’s important to find an agent who is a good fit.

3. To dramatize or to narrate – how do you decide which genre best suits an
idea?

I don’t write a lot of plays though I have devised plays (co-created them
from improvisation with other actors and a director). The text of a play
(what’s written) is basically dialogue and stage directions. An interesting
text will offer indications about the unseen – what the character thinks,
feels or remembers. It’s on the writer to have thought these through and
figured them out, but on-stage it is the actor who explores this material
most fully and brings it to life. Essentially it’s the unseen, the past and
subtext that interests me the most as a writer, so I think at heart I’m a
fiction writer. Though lately I’ve been getting more curious about what it
would be like to write for the screen…

Mia is giving our Bray Literary Lecture: Practice, Process, Product on Saturday 28th September @ 11.30 in Bray Town Hall. This is a free event and is sponsored by The Stinging Fly.

Olivia Fitzsimons: a flash interview

IMG_5077

1. Olivia – you've been doing really well on the competitions scene. In fact, you won the BLF flash fiction contest last year! How important do you think prizes like this – and also readings – are to emerging writers? You are very kind!

I've been really lucky. Prizes and short-listings are great for your confidence and profile. Winning BLF was incredibly important to me, it really made me feel part of the writing community here. Catherine Dunne who presented me with my prize has been so kind since and she always introduces me to everyone when I meet her. I feel sort of minded! Of course prizes don't help when you sit down to write, you still have to get words on a page, but one of the most unexpected things about them are the people you connect with. I met my very good writing friend Louise Farr at The Benedict Kiely Awards and she is one of my first readers. Reading at this year's BLF is a real highlight for me, especially since I've only been writing for three years. Reading work aloud makes it come alive but also watching other authors perform is really important. Wendy Erskine is really engaging. Nuala O'Connor has a real wit and charm when she reads. She's so confident. I love the way Mia Gallagher reads her
work, she's like lightning, vivid and magnetic. BLF is such a lovely festival to attend and the line-up is incredible. Join us!

2. You describe yourself as "a Northern writer living in Wicklow." We've recently seen excellent collections such as Catholic Boy by Rosemary Jenkinson and Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine, which give a real flavour of growing up in Northern Ireland. How important are your northern roots to your writing?

I avoided writing about the North at first and made a decision to write about anything else but of course my novel-in-progress is set there. I'll probably write about the north forever in some guise or other. It's in my bones but I have a complicated love/hate relationship with the province. It's fantastic to see so many northern writers getting broader recognition and stories that resonate with wider audiences. It's the idea that you can write about home and there is something universal in a good story, well told, that transcends everything else. I guess that can be said of all places really, it's our job to make the ordinary extraordinary, no matter what we write about.

3. You were recently announced by the Irish Writers Centre as one of the 7 writers awarded a residency in Cill Rialaig this October. Can I ask what you intend working on during your time in isolation? 

I'm working on the second draft of my aforementioned debut novel. I wrote it quite quickly while on the Stinging Fly Six Month Fiction course run by Sean O'Reilly and at the same time I was being mentored by Niamh Boyce under the WORDS Ireland National Mentoring Programme. Looking back I think it was really fortunate timing
because I persuaded myself I wasn't even writing a novel but happily they knew better and encouraged me to keep adding to the manuscript. I've given myself a deadline of 1st November to finish it as there are some very kind people waiting to read it. The residency is of huge importance to me because with young children writing in
the summer is very difficult and also because this opportunity had no age limit. I'm an 'old' new writer and therefore excluded from lots of awards and residencies because of my age, despite fulfilling all the other criteria. I'm excited to meet the other incredible writers attending, and so grateful to the Irish Writers Centre and Cill Rialaig for the opportunity.

Olivia is reading in our Literary Salon on Saturday 28th September in The Harbour Bar @ 17.15 along with writers Niall McArdle, Daragh Bradish, Robyn Rowland, Simon Lewis, and Celia de Freine. And musician: Keith Burke.