Red dirt-the book of summer 2016

Red dirt is a novel written by Elizabeth Reapy, former editor of Wordlegs. Firstly, I am always in awe of someone who writes a chunky novel like this and secondly I am in serious awe that it manages to engage a “normally” only short story reader like me!


It is a story which is divided into three sections. Elizabeth succeeds in writing in three very interesting voices and very different styles of narration. She really did not go for easy! The characters are all young, Irish people who have headed off to Australia for different reasons and at the end their worlds collide. It is an Irish novel written in what is becoming a very Irish setting, Oz.

I cannot recommend this book more for a summer read. It will keep you reading from the very start until the end. Never a hard read but never an easy one either, if you can see what I mean! The content is edgy, the dialogue is hilarious and spot-on Irish throughout. The girl has done good. Mayo people can be proud.

Red Dirt is published by Head of Zeus and it really is in every good bookshop everywhere!

My reading year of 2015

Looking back over the amount of books I read this year, I feel a bit disheartened. 13! Only 13 books. Recently, my excuse for every sort of failing is to blame it on the baby! I am going to blame my small reading list on the presence of our beautiful, sunny little boy who also naturally loves books too! If I think about it, the reason he is showing such interest in books, then it has to be down to the time Simon and I have put it that. That is for another post!

I want to briefly list the books I read this year and then expand on a few of my favourite stories from the whole host.

  • Tom Morris with his debut collection “We don’t know what we are doing”
  • Danielle Mc Laughlin “Dinosaurs on other planets”
  • “Tender” by Belinda McKeon
  • “The Green Road” by Anne Enright
  • “Walk the blue fields” by Claire Keegan
  • “Antartica” by Claire Keegan-a re-read
  • Chekhov-“Selected Stories”-this was a re-read
  • Donal Ryan and “A Slanting at the sun”
  • “Beatlebone” by the brilliant and much loved, lit-crush, Kevin Barry.
  • Madeleine D’arcy and her debut short story collection “Waiting for the bullet”
  • Paul O’ Reilly and his debut collection “Girl at the window”
  • Flannery O Connor and her complete stories-re-read of some of them and some are new to me-It is a large volume!
  • Selected Stories by David Constantine
  • “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver-a third re=read, I think. My all-time litcrush is the Carver.

Stories that have stuck with me over the whole year, stories that I recommend to friends to read and stories that I force the very poetry-obsessed husband to read are the ones I would like to push on you, like a sort of “Short story” drug overlord!

First one is Thomas Morris and his story “Castleview”. Thomas has a great talent for writing about nothing and everything, a relaxed storytelling style with his lovely Welsh accent coming up throughout the whole of his collection. I really enjoyed his collection but “Castleview” sticks with me. A young teacher with a sadness, a sad wife and a sad life gets even sadder at the end. It ends with him aggressively rubbing a stain on the carpet which ends in blood on his knuckles which ends in a looking out the window in wonder and disgust and looking back in on his sorry self. His stories are powerful and often very, funny and observed.

Second is Claire Keegan. I could choose many of her” stories but it has to be “The Ginger Rogers Sermon. An impulsive, dare I say “naughty” schoolgirl seduces one of her father’s workers and the twists and the tragedy keep on coming and ends with an almost evil family dance in their parlour. This story is proving to be in my top three most loved stories and one in which prompted me to attend a recent, superb workshop with the writer, Claire Keegan.

I have always enjoyed reading David Constantine’s short fiction and when Comma Press/Atlantic Books sent me on his new, Selected Stories to read, I savaged them!(the stories, not the publishing company) This collection opens with “In another country” which has inspired a Film 4 film called 45 years. I have not seen this film and again, I blame the M-boy baby! This short story is a fave and was when I read it years again before the film came out. David writes with little regard but full respect for puncuation, sentences and dialogue marks. If you have read him, you will understand and probably agree it totally works. “In another country” is about a married couple who are together for 45 years and getting quite old. News from the past arrives that threatens to wreck those 45 years. It is a tender, slow and quiet story that will make you want to re-read it again just for the awfully tragic ending. I love it.


Donal Ryan sickens us all in a good way. Seems like a lovely man whenever I see him read or hear him on the radio. He also can write novels and now he seems to easily write short stories. I know they weren’t easy but a sign of a good story is one which seems as if “I could do that” and his debut collection, “A Slanting at the sun” definitely does that! I loved most of his stories, some were not quite in the traditional short story genre and more of a musing on life and sadness. My favourite was the title of the collection, A Slanting at the sun. Donal will make you all teary, his writing is so emotionally strong that you would want to be made of steel to not cry or feel the pain of the characters. In this story, he layers the emotions on and on and up and up climaxing with a pensive reflection from the aggrieved character. I won’t give plot details away. If you want to see how it is done, go get the book.

I could go on an rave about each and every one of the books I read and how they moved me in different ways but you really should have been reading my blog and their individual reviews throughout 2015! Pay more attention next year! Actually, my next post will be a New Year promise to myself and you. Based on reading and stories and stuff.

We have little time to do everything so read the three stories above for different reasons, but mostly because you treasure the short story.

Happy Christmas! See you in my next post in the New Year or just before it!


Beatlebone by Kevin Barry-my thoughts on real or not real events in the West of Ireland

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

People who read my blog know that Kevin Barry might just be my favourite writer ever. But, that doesn’t mean I let him away with everything and any sort of writing behaviour. Along with some other people. I have been waiting on his new novel, Beatlebone for a while now so when I heard him read the first few pages back at the Festival of Writing and Ideas, I felt a bit nervous.


It didn’t seem to grab me. It sounded odd to hear Kevin read about this Liverpudlian icon of John Lennon in the West of Ireland. But, I kept my faith. I knew Kevin would write something brilliant. He had too. We haven’t been seeing much from him for a year or two. After the City of Bohane and his two short story collections, he had gone away to his Garda Station or as Beatlebone reveals, Achill Island.

Keeping in mind that it is not every day we get something from Kevin to read. I also only primarily read short fiction. These facts must be kept in mind as I read the book and now give you my thoughts on it.

I received a copy of the book a month before it was officially published. I showed it off and I read it as quickly as a busy person can over a couple of weeks at bedtime. I have a young baby so my reading time is short and in bursts and the novel form is not suited to my life at all! I wanted to savour the novel, I didn’t know when I would be getting writing from Kevin so I enjoyed every word, piece of dialogue and quirks along the way.

I mostly loved the book. The bits I didn’t still work. sometimes the narrative and dialogue went on when I had got the point but again, because he is one of my favourite authors, I allowed myself the pleasure of the overkill!

Beatlebone is a novel about the imagined return of John Lennon to an island he owned off the West Coast of Ireland. He strikes up a brilliantly hilarious friendship with his chauffeur, Cornelius and we get some spot-on dialogue. Dialogue is and will always be Kevin’s strong point. I never tire of it, it can on for pages and I immerse myself in the way Kevin gets Ireland and the way we speak. Cornelius’s job is to keep John Lennon from the clutches of the press until he reaches the island. He brings him to an awfully, depressing and sad hotel in Mulranny. I hated the characters in this section. Yuck. I also hated the constant drug references and the scary “Primal Scream” therapy they undertake.

I have read a couple of reviews since and they all have varying opinions. Some are “shocked” by the turn in the novel. The turn I am speaking about is when after all the above drug taking and scream therapy, Kevin takes over the novel for one chapter. He tells us how he wrote the book, why and all about his research and how he even stays on the island. I don’t believe a word of it though I believed it all at the same time!

Kevin shows his ability to change tone and voice so easily it makes me feel sick and jealous. But, this probably was my favourite quirk of the novel. Other readers have not quite “got it” and claim it just doesn’t fit and that a novel can’t do this. Well, guess what? It does work and you can do anything you feel like and it is good to see a push in the writing, not only in this section but throughout. Kevin switches and plays with form and language throughout. Each section taking on a different atmosphere and style. Choose from a selection-a semi-Joycean monologue with no punctuation, a screenplay of the screen therapy session or an auto-biographical section in the feel of “On Writing” by Stephen King.

I felt that this book despite its moves and sways is more accessible than City of Bohane but accessible does not mean bad. A good book or story needs to be accessible, entertaining, witty and quirky. And Beatlebone hits all the notes perfectly for me. the only question I have left for Kevin is what happened on the island? Did he stay there, did he go at all? I’m from the West of Ireland certainly all that could have happened to him was a bit of cold, rain and wind. But that is the beauty of this novel. It may or may not have happened. Respect.

Beatlebone is published by Canongate and is really worth a go.



Tender by Belinda Mc Keon

I picked up a copy of the new Belinda Mc Keon novel, Tender when I was down at the Festival of Writing and Ideas at Borris House last weekend. I started reading it on a Sunday and a week later, I have finished it.

I savaged this book, read it every minute I could, which is usually at bedtime when Emrys has gone to bed. On the back of the book, Nick Laird said he read the book in a day and I wondered if he had children!


It is a fabulously simple book of friendship, relationships, sexuality and city living. It is set in the 90s, the same time I went to UCD and could relate to all of the novel’s antics. I won’t give away anything except to say the “turn” of the book, when it happens is what shapes and saves the book from falling into a comfortable and safe read. It was safe and cosey for the first few hundred pages but then it jumps in a place that I did not see coming. The style of writing changes to suit this character dip. Lots of short and snappy sentences show the main character’s thoughts.

I am going to recommend it, Belinda Mc Keon is a cool chick who writes as crisp as anything.  perfect for a summer read or a anytime read.


Festival of Writing and Ideas-new books by Ann Enright and Belinda McKeon

I will post about my day down in the gorgeous Borris House later this week but first, let me tell you about my new beauties.


Tender by Belinda Mc Keon and The Green Road by Ann Enright.

I usually read short stories, as you know but these books have made me sit up and buy!

I had no intention of buying the Belinda Mc Keon one as it is as big as a bible so it would be much more handbag/baby bag friendly if I waited for the smaller version. But, the side of the pages caught my eye yesterday in the Eason Book Tent. They are dyed a striking purple and we all know that purple pages are the new white.

I will let you know how the read goes but already, I am thinking about bed and my date with “Tender”.