Tag Archives: Irish authors

A work in progress: North Road by Eoin McNamee

A few years ago I was driving out of Kilmarnock at midday I was on a piece of dual carriageway between roundabouts on the outskirts of town.  I met a woman in a yellow dressing gown walking down the white line between the lanes. She looked as if she had wandered out of some dream she was having about herself. This story, not yet finished,  from which this extract is taken is called The North Road.

The North Road

   The woman was walking down the middle of the road outside Kilmarnock. It was midday and she was walking between the two lanes, going north. She was wearing a yellow towelling dressing gown and slippers.  She had a lit cigarette in her left hand. There was a bruise on her cheekbone. She walked with her head back and her grey eyes looked north. Cars moved out of her way. She was haughty in her despair. If there was a realm of bad choices she would be queen.

Ellie  had been adopted and had been looking for her birth mother for some years. She wrote to social workers and adoption agencies. She had been led to believe the process would be straightforward but it wasn`t. There were aspects of herself that had to be unearthed, fragile papers. She thought  boy princes entombed. There would be papyri, inscriptions in lost languages.

Ken and Sandra  had brought her up. They were like people who had seen a film of parenthood a long time ago and had tried to re-create it from memory. Whole passages were missing. No-one knew what came next.

An adoption agency sent her the address of a an aunt in Craigmullar on the outskirts of Edinburgh. She wrote to it and a cousin answered.

Your letter has come as a shock to my mother who you call your aunt. She says that what is in the past stays in the past. It would be best for you to keep away and not be digging at things. She says that it is all water under the bridge and anyway her sister has moved away and is not in good health and it would not be good for her if you are who you say you are 

  Yr cousin Kyle

Eoin McNamee will be reading with Glenn Patterson on Saturday, 17th September at 7.30pm in The Ballroom, Metropole Hotel, Cork.

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An interview with Mary Costello

As a writer, and a reader, what attracts you to the short story?

As a reader I like the contained feel of a short story. I like to be taken into a character’s head, experience some small almost imperceptible shift in their being. I like to be quietly and subtly disarmed. The best short stories have a purity that both seduces and reduces the reader.

I kind of stumbled into the short story form. At 22 the need to write began to gnaw. The short story seemed like the quickest access route to something, the imagination probably.  Richard Ford says that he wrote his first story ‘because lived life somehow wasn’t enough, in some way didn’t hit the last note convincingly and was too quickly gone.’

What challenges did you have to overcome when putting together your collection, to be published by The Stinging Fly early next year?

Oh, trying to hit that last note, I suppose. In each story, in each rewrite, you’re straining for it and you think you’re close but like a mirage in the desert it’s always just that little bit further off. You’re writing towards it, to hold it and keep it. So the greatest challenge in getting the collection together was knowing when to stop tweaking.  Unlike other writers I never got to the point where I inserted a comma and then, in the next draft, removed it. I might well turn up at the printer’s door pleading to be let in and change one more word an hour before it goes to press!

Short stories are often overlooked as a genre – from curriculum reading lists to publishing opportunities. Why do you think this is?

Yes, considering Ireland has such a strong tradition and is so highly regarded in the form it is quite baffling that short stories are so rarely prescribed reading at all three levels in the education system. I don’t know why that is, apart from a certain blindness perhaps, and the perception that only writers read short stories.

What would you say was the most exciting event in your writing career so far and what would you like to achieve in the future?

Naturally, having The Stinging Fly Press offer to publish my first collection- a great thrill. These days short story writers have almost given up hope of publishing collections- I know I had. Most move onto writing novels because the novel appears to offer the best chance of getting published. I do have a draft of a novel written but I continue to write stories. I can’t not- I’m addicted. The future? Just to keep writing.

What writers have influenced you?

Early on poetry had- and still has- a great influence- Yeats and Eliot especially, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ted Hughes. When I started writing I read the Americans- Carver, Ford, Flannery O’Connor, Cheever, Updike, etc. Ian McEwan’s collections First Love, Last Rites and In Between the Sheets made a great early impression.  Then, one August, I found myself trapped for two weeks in a self-induced nightmare- a package holiday in Cyprus. The Beggar Maid and Dance of the Happy Shades and a quiet corner of the air-conditioned hotel lobby saved me. Outside the earth fried but I was transported to Northern Ontario and tumbled into something I had hungered for. Seamus Heaney in an essay in The Government of the Tongue describes first coming upon Kavanagh’s poem ‘Spraying the Potatoes’and how excited he was to find the ordinary familiar details of rural life- things he considered beyond or below books, like headlands and blue potato spray- standing their ground in the world of literature. Alice Munro was my Kavanagh.

Another favourite writer is J.M. Coetzee. I sometimes wish he’d write stories too…  imagine, that quiet reflection, the sorrow dropping, the suffering of animals. He read in Listowel a few years ago. He was very brittle and I was very awed. I think that if I’d approached him to have my book signed one of us might well have fainted- more likely my awe would have knocked him out.

Ethel Rohan discussed three of the most influential short stories she read as a teen in an earlier blog post – do you have any particular favourites that you’d like to share with us?

Yes, like Ethel, the school stories mattered and later in college, The Dubliners. Alice Munro’s title story in The Beggar Maid, and another one, Material, were early influences. Her stories have a unique emotional reach. She does time transitions superbly too- the passage of years and generations- she does these quietly, seamlessly. In just a few words, in fact.

I know immediately if a story has that blue-potato-spray effect, that Cyprus feel. The heart races. I read with greed and cannot get enough. Clare Keegan’s stories do this, and Amy Bloom’s, and recently, James Salter’s.  Salter’s story My Lord You completely arrested me.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m looking forward to the weekend -thanks to the festival and The Stinging Fly for giving me the opportunity to read here.

A huge thank you to you, Mary, for agreeing to this interview. And for those of you who’d like to read more blog posts from Mary, you can read Mary Costello’s New York Diary over on The Stinging Fly website.

Mary Costello will be reading with  Kathleen Murray on Saturday, 17th September at 4pm in The Ballroom, Metropole Hotel, Cork.

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Filed under Irish writers

Stories of my Youth by Ethel Rohan

This will be my first time to participate in the Cork International Short Story Festival. Also the first time I will read my work and teach a fiction writing workshop in Ireland. A lifelong friend and my brother and sister plan to attend my reading, another first. It’s huge to me to read and teach in Ireland and at the Cork International Short Story Festival in particular. I’ve a true sense of coming home and full-circle.

As a girl growing up in Dublin’s Northside, one of the first stories I remember having a deep affect on me is Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince (1888). It begins:

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.

It’s a haunting fairy tale that centers on such themes as loss, seeing, duty, sacrifice, and betrayal. The full text is here.

Think how uncanny it felt to me then, all these years later, to read the following [excerpted] blurb for my story collection, Cut Through the Bone:

These stories create a sense of loss in the reader, an ache, but thankfully they avoid dull cynicism. Instead, they bear witness to the difficulty of living for oneself while sacrificing for others. In one story a woman pleads, ‘I’m here though? Tell me I’m here.’ Ethel Rohan’s stories are like testaments to all the women and men who’ve asked the same thing of the world. Those folks remain unseen to most, but this truly talented artist isn’t blind.

— Victor LaValle, author of Big Machine

Another story that stands out from my youth is Frank O’Connor’s “Guests of the Nation” (1931). It ends:

Noble says he saw everything ten times the size, as though there were nothing in the whole world but that little patch of bog with the two Englishmen stiffening into it, but with me it was as if the patch of bog where the Englishmen were was a million miles away, and even Noble and the old woman, mumbling behind me, and the birds and the bloody stars were all far away, and I was somehow very small and very lost and lonely like a child astray in the snow. And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.

This harrowing story also centers on loss, seeing, duty, sacrifice, and betrayal.

The third story that spoke to me as a teenager in a profound way was James Joyce’s Araby. The yearning and disappointment are palpable and deeply resonate. It ends:

Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.

The full text can be read here.

Those stellar Irish stories that influenced me as a child and captured my imagination have stayed, and continue to inspire me today. As an emigrant, it’s fascinating to me, too, that the three stories above also center on the lure of distant places. I’m blessed to have lived two lives: The first in Ireland and the second in America. I write from both selves, but at my core I am fiercely Irish. Everything that comes out in my writing is colored by my Irish childhood. For, to borrow from O’Connor, “anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about.”

All this said, I applaud the Festival’s shift away from the old guard and its dedication to and championing of the best in contemporary short fiction. Ireland and her people are hurting, reeling yet again in its displacement and disillusionment. Yet whenever the odds are stacked against us we always harken back to the heart of ourselves and our unique language, arts, history, culture and legacy. We pull ourselves back up and raise our voices. We are a force. I don’t think it’s too grand a statement to say that stories have always played a critical part in Ireland’s psyche and salvation. Our best stories order our chaos, light up the dim and the dark, and show us who we are. Show us how to go on.

Ethel Rohan will be reading on Friday, 16 September with Alison MacLeod @ 4pm in The Ballroom, Metropole Hotel, Cork

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