I love “The gun” by Mark Haddon, have a watch and see if you might like it too!
You can listen to the podcast here where Mark chats to Granta about his story and the writing process at http://granta.com/Granta-Audio-Mark-Haddon/
You can also download a pdf of it to save to your tablet/kindle or print it out here https://web1.asl.org/jambalaya/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Mark-Haddon-The-Gun.pdf
My one minute vlog is up on youtube and it is my first try! See it here.
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!
The Granta New Irish Writing was reviewed by Eileen Battersby a few weeks back and she seemed unimpressed with many of the stories and writing in the new issue of Granta New Irish Writing. I can see her point about the title being “New Irish Writing” but perhaps the editors meant new Irish writing by established and well-loved Irish authors!
In this issue, we have the lovely Kevin Barry( and an black and white photo of him.) writing about his time in and love of Cork city. Fascinating, as always I am hooked into his every written word! Also there are pieces from Colm Tóibín, Emma Donaghue, Sara Baume, Colin Barrett, Roddy Doyle, Siobhán Mannion, Belinda McKeon, Sally Rooney, Donal Ryan, and William Wall and more.
In fact, Eileen raved about William Wall so much that I broke my “No buying books” New Year’s resolution and ordered his new short story collection from Doire Press!
I am enjoying reading the free stories and writing on the Granta website and finished a nice short story by Nuala Ní Chonchúir called “Mayo, oh, Mayo” and have to admit the title drew me in being from Mayo myself. Enjoyed the scenes of Knock basilica and delighted with the ending!
You can find the freebies here.
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.
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
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.
Books in my life at the moment
Galway Stories given to me by Lisa Frank, “Selected Stories” by Chekhov bought for €2.99, “The Milo Adventures” reviewed by me for the In touch Magazine, “Everything ravaged, everything burned.” just finished and enjoyed greatly. Finally, I just got a hold of Thomas Morris’ debut short story collection, “We don’t know what we’re doing”.
I need more time!
The Girl missing from the Window by Paul O’ Reilly
I am always excited about new Irish short story writers, Paul O’ Reilly seems to gave won every awards going and is also talented in every artistic way you can name. His collection, The Girl missing from the Window is published by Doire Press and was launched at the Strawberry Festival in Enniscorthy which I attended.
Paul writes very well, he can pull a story structure together exceptionally well and constructs the perfect start and end of stories with no hardship.
The first story in the collection, What Rose did, draws you in from the title and the opening sentence.
“The day before Rose Carney died was a Friday.”
It’s direct, always a winner for a short story so it makes you want to read on and on. The story is slow-paced with simple language. It is highly current as the topic of the story is that of teenage suicide. It seems to have gained a lot of attention as when I read reviews on the collection, it was mentioned constantly.
Other interesting stories were What’s eating him? This story has a strong American feel to it, about a customer who falls in lust with the waitress in the diner that he is in. A good feel to this as I read it, easy going.
The Love Drug marks a departure from the tone/style taken by the writer so far. In this, the narrator is a grieving husband who loses his wife due to a mistake she makes at a party. I won’t give it away but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that this type of situation is outside of writer’s normal life experience. I think it shows slightly and I’m not sure if I was convinced of how real the character’s lives and mistakes were to the writer. It’s like when your mother or father tries to be hip, cool and down with it. Anyway, all I can say is that perhaps the writer was experimenting with content and he gives it his best attempt, which was good enough for me a a reader.
Guys and the way they might look at you is also a very good story. Probably my favourite out of the collection. I like a long, short story and this is such. I hated the female character and loved the male one in it. For me, this means the story is a hit! For example, if I can feel strong emotions towards one character as if they are real, then the story is alive. I loved the way the story was drawn out and out and left linger at nearly forty pages long. The ending too, is sweet and smacks of real people, real life and relationships. This is where the writer shines, when he can write feeling into the characters and where I can feel like this really could happen and not just an idea that has no connection with the writer and his experience.
I would recommend the collection as Paul is a skillful short story writer. The Girl Missing from the Window is a balanced piece of work that centers around the relationships in families and partnerships, each story earns its place with the quieter ones sitting nicely among the more noisy ones! It entertains!
You can buy this book from Doire Press at doirepress.com
Thoughts on the review process
Apparently, most journalists don’t even read the books they review, they skim, hope and write random sound bites about books. I have developed a knack for knowing when this is happening! Can tell it straight away!
But, guess what? I read all the books I review, I think deeply about them and I wake at night and toss and turn about the worry of offending and upsetting talented writers…I sometimes hold back in case i meet these writers and they hate me.
I have taken my time reading Paul O’ Reilly’s short story collection and after reading this, I have been thinking so much about why I like certain collections, styles and themes. i have also been bingeing on Wells Tower, Everything burned, everything ravaged and Madeleine D’arcy’ Waiting for the bullet and yesterday, Claire Keegan’s Antarctica!
What all this reading, thinking and tossing and turning has led me to conclude is that writers, obviously have unique voices and writing styles but I usually enjoy them all. The thing that will turn my head is the content, intended audience or the “turn” of the story.
Content-Irish short story writers tend to write about fairly typical things. Some male ones can verge towards sex, drinking and being drunk in the snow/old man’s pub, rock and roll, depression, mental health issues etc. Some female short writers like to write about affairs. Women having affairs with their sister’s husband or driving in a car with their husband and not connecting with them at all throughout the journey. Other favourite women’s content includes women getting pregnant when having sex for the first time and having the baby and giving it away.
I am stereotyping, somewhat, for effect and to make a point. But these sort of content issues have been covered again and again and I am sure Irish men and women have moved on from these types of reading contents.
I love all sorts of writing styles and voices but in terms of content, for me to LOVE a collection, it has to quirk things up. Not a huge amount just don’t start the story with an affair, women’s curves and breasts…If it’s funny silly, brilliant. If it is bizarre as in I have never met a character like the one in the story, I am in! I also don’t like stories that are so experimental they make no sense at all in the world we live in. you know those ranty types, trying to be all “James Joyce” and “Ulysses”. Leave that to the genius, please. Gives me a headache.
So, when I make a good review, it usually down to my personal tastes in these things.
Phew. I can breathe now and perhaps, sleep tonight. My disclaimer is over. I feel much freer! I am hoping to use these categories to give more honest reviews and hoping no offence will be taken as I am sure there is a market for all those affairs, stolen kisses and pints of guinness out there!
What type of situations and people do you like to read about?
As you know, I am a member of the Carlow Writers’ Co-operative, I love it but recently I have noticed that most of the writers are turning to poetry…Hmmm, is poetry the new black? We have three fiction writers and two short story writers, me and another girl. We met at my gaff after baby went down to talk all things short and to critique and overhaul each others work.
She brought me a copy of Flannery O’ Connor’s Writing manual type book, Mystery and Manners. It is made up of her thoughts and lectures on writing prose with a full chapter dedicated to the short story form. I have just finished that very chapter and it is brilliant, of course. She speaks about the two main and important parts of the short story. They are, according to her, mystery of the personality of the characters as in the character needs a personality and the second and probably most important things is the concrete, the visual and the senses. What does the writer see, what does the writer want the reader to see and feel or get meaning from? In fact, her musings and advice remind me of a poetry workshop i did last week with A Doctor Derek Coyle…Perhaps, poetry and short stories are more similar than we think.
Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’ Connor is available from every good place you can buy books, i would think. Amazon has it http://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Manners-Occasional-Flannery-OConnor/dp/0374508046