Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Maureen Boyle

Maureen Boyle’s debut poetry collection, ‘The Work of a Winter’, published by Arlen House Press, was shortlisted for the Strong/Shine Poetry Prize in 2019.  Her poem ‘Strabane’, originally commissioned for BBC Radio 4, has just been published by Arlen Press, with photographs by her husband Malachi O’Doherty. She lives in Belfast.

What book(s) are you reading right now?*

I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety – about the French Revolution - published in 1992. I’ve been reading it for a while since it’s enormous, so I did break off to read a few other things in between but wanted to finish it before I go to the ‘The Mirror and the Light’. I love her writing and this one is extraordinary.  People had told me about it and recommended it and I’ve only managed to get to it now. I read Dickens’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ first and loved it. It’s taken me to get to this age to enjoy Dickens – I think I found him too difficult as a child. But his book assumes quite a lot of knowledge of the Revolution and in some ways it’s more an adventure tale. But the Mantel really does ‘start at the very beginning’ going back to the childhoods of the leaders of the revolution like Robespierre and Danton.  You can see in it the strengths that are so evident in the Wolf Hall trilogy – exhaustive historical detail lightly used. It’s total immersion in this earlier time. This book alone would be a life’s work and yet she did it again!  

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

I’ve just recommended Tessa Hadley’s Late in the Day and not for the first time. Hadley came to the Hewitt a few years ago and had a brilliant interview with Emily Dedakis – focused very much on style and method. And I saw her again at Edinburgh last year. She’s just a fabulous writer and this is her most recent novel about how two couples, long married and friends, experience the death of one of the men. It’s a book of great atmosphere – I sometimes remember the atmosphere of a book more than detail when I really love it and that is definitely the case in this one. I can conjure the smells and colours of a London garden in early summer with which it opens. I also love that she is a dedicated teacher. She came to writing relatively late and teaches Creative Writing at Bath Spa and when she was being interviewed in Edinburgh you could really sense both her wisdom and her generosity towards her students. I respect that in a writer. 

Your favourite anthology. (Editor's note: interpreted here as a poetry collection)

Very hard to choose – possibly Seamus Heaney’s Haw Lantern (1987), which was sort of ‘peak Heaney’ for me – I don’t mean I didn’t like what came after but that one seemed miraculous.  It is so much about where you are physically and mentally when the book arrives and that came at a really significant point for me and was full of resonance. Also Paula Meehan’s The Man Who Was Marked By Winter (1992), which was really important to me in coming back to write poetry as an adult and from which I often teach.  

A book yet-to-be-released (at time of writing*) which you are looking forward to reading.

I’m going to cheat if it’s OK and mention a few since I have a veritable wish-list but I’m trying to get through the back pile at least a little first. Two are connected to Joyce. I love it when a book comes along that feels like something you conjured because you wanted it to exist and two of those about to be published are Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught – which is about Lady Violet Gibson, the woman who tried to assassinate Mussolini who was confined in the Northampton Asylum – where John Clare was too – with Lucia Joyce. I’m fascinated by all things to do with Joyce and as well as this treat there is Nuala O’Connor’s Nora about Nora Barnacle. Nuala is another favourite writer of mine – she couldn’t write a bad sentence if she tried – that’s a cliché but in her case it’s true. There is also Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet – another writer I love – and poet Doireann NíGríiofa’s A Ghost in the Throat which is part memoir I think. I should have ordered these before the lockdown but they’ll be worth waiting for.

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention. 

I always come back to Des Hogan’s The Icon Maker which I think is a little masterpiece. I feel Des himself deserves more attention and I think there’s a chance that in the future he’ll be recognised as one of our great writers. His is an entirely singular voice and it is really poetry I think. ‘The Icon Maker’ was his first novel published in 1976 by The Irish Writers’ Co-operative in Dublin and it’s fiction but very closely based on his own life. It’s the story of a young gay man who grows up in the shadow of the asylum in Ballinasloe, County Galway – knowing it as a threat to him because of his sexuality – and taking the boat to England. Des was my very first Creative Writing tutor when I enrolled with him at one of his classes at the City Lit in London in the late 80s. I’d been trying to get back to writing but didn’t know what form I wanted to do. There was an older man in the class who, no matter what we were set, came in each week with a polished but somehow dead piece of genre writing. And Des was so hard on him. The difficulty wasn’t the style but that in using the different genres he was avoiding going to any depth. He had a facility for writing but there was evasion in his approach. Des’s whole mantra was about finding and authentic voice. He’s had a hard life in the years since but is still producing extraordinary work with Lilliput.

*This interview was conducted back in April, so some of the forthcoming books mentioned at the time are now available - and we're sure she's finished the Mantel book by now as well!

Monday, 6 July 2020

David Butler

David Butler is a multi-award winning novelist, poet, short-story writer and playwright. The most recent of his three published novels, City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2015. His second poetry collection, All the Barbaric Glass, was published in 2017 by Doire Press. Arlen House is to bring out his second short story collection, Fugitive, in 2020.

An outstanding book you read as a child.

Like most of us, I loved The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia cycle, but the two I still periodically go back to are Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass. I love the combination of logical paradox, semantic games, grotesquery, and wild imagination running through these two mind-trips. It’s a fantastic universe peopled with such wonderful inventions – the Mad Hatter, The Queen of Hearts, Humpty Dumpty, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. But it’s also grounded in the bodily uncertainties of the pre-adolescent bamboozled by the arbitrariness of grown-up decrees.

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. This is a witty novel in all senses of the word, filled with exquisite miniatures. Moore's descriptions (such as the decaying contents in a fridge) are crafted with both fun and with sensuous care. But beyond her sumptuous, lithographic precision and acid humour, the novel tackles topics as difficult as race and parental responsibility with genuine wisdom. I’ve also given as gifts a whole raft of novels by the wonderful Daniel Woodrell: Tomato Red; The Death of Sweet Mister; Winter’s Bone.

A book you have read more than once.

I’m a compulsive re-reader. Besides pretty much everything by Dostoevsky, I’m going to single out Blindness, by Jose Saramago, the only novel I ever managed to struggle through in Portuguese (having read it in translation twice). Despite its horrific premise – a pandemic of contagious blindness brings society to its knees - this is a novel of breath-taking beauty. The prose is exquisite, the vision of mankind, despite the Breugelesque horror of a descent into filth and savagery, ultimately affirmative. I’d recommend it to anyone who thinks the present pandemic an affliction!

A book that you started but never finished.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I’ve just recently given up on this one (after a mere 260 pages). It’s a fascinating enough premise, but I found the characterisation so thin as to be two-dimensional and repetitively presented. I also found the pace extremely slow (in the hands of Patricia Highsmith the novel might have come in at 250 rather than 650 pages). I have to confess I also abandoned The Goldfinch, that time after only 200 pages!!

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.

Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo. Rulfo’s only novel (he also wrote one exquisite collection of short stories entitled El llano en llanos), for me this is the greatest novel of the Latin American Boom. Garcia Marquez could quote entire chapters by heart! Written in haunting prose, it’s a kind of Mexican Cre na Cille, straddling the worlds of the living and the dead in its evocation of a ghost town and its dead caudillo but without the jiggery-pokery of magical realism. A monumental, beautiful work, particularly if you can handle the original Spanish.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Glen Wilson

Glen Wilson is a multi-award winning Poet from Portadown. He won the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing  in 2017, the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Award in 2018 and The Trim Poetry competition in 2019. His poetry collection An Experience on the Tongue is out now with Doire Press. Twitter: @glenhswilson

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I always end up with a few books on the bedside table, they usually include a devotional, in this case Tozer on the Holy Spirit by A.W Tozer who writes so beautifully about matters of faith. I always have a book of poetry as well, at the moment it is The Deep Hearts Core: Irish Poets Revisit A Touchstone Poem (Dedalus Press), an anthology of poets with one of their own poems, this is particularly interesting as the poets expand on what prompted the poem, some background and the importance of the piece for them. It’s a great selection including poets like Pat Boran, Dermot Bolger, Eavan Bolan, Moya Cannon, Iggy McGovernand Anne-Marie Fyfe. And lastly I always have a novel on the go, I usually veer between crime fiction, historical fiction (the Roman period being of particular interest) or sci-fi, at the present I’m reading The Old Republic series from Star Wars: it’s just nice escapism to drift off to sleep!

A book you loved reading at a child.

I always loved Roald Dahl as a child and Danny Champion of the World was a favourite, he is a master of creating a whole world and the sense of adventure of this one has never left me, even just seeing the cover of this book takes me back.

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith is a heart-warming series set in Botswana, I would recommend any of the books for anyone looking for a feel-good read. In terms of poetry I’ve recently finished Threading the Light by Ross Thompson (Dedalus Press) and it’s fantastic, search it out!

Your favourite anthology.

I would recommend the Staying Alive series (Staying Alive/Being Alive/Being Human) from Bloodaxe books, there is great mix of lesser known lights and well known classics, a brilliantly curated collection by Neil Astley.

A book yet-to-be-released (as time of writing) which you are looking forward to reading.

I’ve been waiting for The Winds of Winter by G.R.R Martin (as I’m sure many other Games of Thrones fans have) but given the gaps between his previous volumes of the series I could be waiting for a little longer. The television series and the books diverged a few years back so it will be interesting to see which direction the book takes when it does eventually come out. Another book that I’ve been waiting on that just arrived is In the Museum of Misremembered Things (Doire Press) by Linda McKenna which I’d highly recommend; Linda writes such wonderful vivid poems so get yourself a copy as soon as possible.

Niall Bourke

Niall Bourke is originally from Kilkenny but now lives in London, He writes both poetry and prose and has been published widely in magazines and journals in both the UK and Ireland, including The Irish Times. His poems and short stories have been listed for numerous awards, including The Costa Short Story Award, The ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, The Mairtín Crawford Short Story Prize and The New Irish Writing Award. In 2017 he was selected for Poetry Ireland's Introductions Series. His debut poetry collection 'Did You Put The Weasels Out?' was published by Eyewear press in April 2018. In spring 2021 Tramp Press will be publishing his debut novel, ‘Line’. He is represented by Brian Langan at Storyline Lit Agency.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

Huckleberry Finn (again) and A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume. I’m enjoying both, but the concentration is a little shot at the minute so the going is slow.

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

A book I’ve recommended a lot lately (and don’t have a copy anymore as I received it from a friend and then passed it to another) is Sombrero Fallout by Richard Brautigan. An ice-cold sombrero falls out the sky and whoever picks it up will become mayor…It’s got one whole chapter about an avocado sandwich and another called ‘Meanwhile, back in the wastepaper basket’ and an introduction by Jarvis Cocker. Lots to like!

A book that you started but never finished.

Hmm... probably a few I could choose from here but two spring to mind; The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.Noy for me.

A book yet-to-be-released which you are looking forward to reading.

I’m quite looking forward to getting my hand on Susannah Dickey’s Tennis Lessons. I’ve read her last few poetry pamphlets and they’ve really whetted my appetite to see what she’ll do in the longer form.

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention.

Again, probably a few to choose from here too, but Pereira Maintains by Antoni Tabbuchi stands out as a great book I don’t seem to hear much about.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Tanya Farrelly

Tanya Farrelly is the author of three books: a short fiction collection When Black Dogs Sing (Arlen House), winner of the Kate O’ Brien Award 2017, and two psychological thrillers: The Girl Behind the Lens and When Your Eyes Close (Harper Collins). She teaches at the Irish Writers Centre, Dublin and is the founder and director of Bray Literary Festival. Her second short story collection is forthcoming from Arlen House.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading and very much enjoying The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. It begins with a honeymooning couple in Venice who engage an architect to build a modern glass house for them back in their home country: Prague. The story is set before and during the second world war. The husband Viktor is a successful Jewish car manufacturer and the family’s lives are completely upturned when they are forced to leave behind everything familiar. I’m not quite halfway through, but the writing is beautiful and the story intriguing so I daresay it will be a winner!

A book you loved reading as a child.

It depends at what age we’re talking. When I was about 10, I absolutely adored The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. In truth I still do. A dear friend bought me a gorgeous illustrated version of the Chronicles of Narnia a few years back and I love it. At 12, I began to read a lot of the classics. In particular, I loved Little Women, which I read numerous times, also Wuthering Heights and The Mill on the Floss.

A book you have given as a gift / recommended to a friend.

Like everyone, I love to gift my favourite books! So, I’m pretty sure I’ve bought several copies of Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

Like most writers I’m a hoarder of books, so we have many bookshelves in our apartment. I’m going to go with my “Irish” bookshelf. The first book is Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann and Absolute Zero Cool by Declan Burke.

A book you have read more than once.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I’m a massive fan of Du Maurier and Rebecca is a total masterpiece.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Orla Fay

Orla Fay edits Boyne Berries. Recently her work has appeared in Dodging the Rain, Atrium Poetry, Tales from the Forest, The Pickled Body, Impossible Archetype and Crannóg. She was shortlisted for The Cúirt New Writing Prize 2019 and highly commended in The Francis Ledwidge Poetry Award 2019. Her debut poetry collection Word Skin is forthcoming from Salmon in the spring of 2023.  Twitter: @FayOrla

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’m nearly finished reading Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I’d read Normal People last year, so I was curious to read her debut. She has a way of dealing with intimacy between characters which is unique, and her style is very approachable. 

Poetry-wise I’m reading Growing Up in Colour (Doire Press), the debut collection from Maurice Devitt, and Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor (Salmon Poetry) by Anne Tannam. I hope to review both for my blog soon. 

A book you loved reading at a child.

I was a great reader when I was a child. One that springs to mind is Heidi. Heidi and her grandfather are responsible for the first time I ate cheese. I read how he would make bread and cheese for Heidi, so I made toast with cheese. I’ve never looked back! I also loved nursery rhymes and I got a huge hardback volume from Santa one year that served me well.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is the first. It’s a large hardback illustrated by P.J. Lynch. It was given to me by my mum at Christmas 2007. The last book is Beloved by Toni Morrison which I have dated as read in 1999!!

A book you have read more than once.

This would have to be Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I adore anything she writes, and I can’t wait until (and hopefully she does) release a new novel. 

Your favourite anthology.

I will mention two here. Staying Alive from Bloodaxe Books was an incredible collection. It introduced me to poets like Czeslaw Milosz and Michael Longley. Forgotten Light Memory Poems edited by Louise C. Callaghan is also gorgeous. In it I found Death of a Season by Antonia Pozzi and Heartwood by Susan Connolly, whom I got to sign the page her poem appears on. 

Samantha Porciello

Samantha Porciello is Artistic Director of Place to Wonder Children’s Theatre Company, who use storytelling to translate mindfulness tools in a child centred language. Samantha recently wrote Dream a Little Dream Children’s Relaxation Book that assists in lowering anxiety, with activities to create coping strategies and promote emotional wellbeing for children aged 5 - 10.

Book people should know more about.

Last year I came across The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. It follows the journey of a superficial china rabbit who loses his owner. On his journey into the wild world he learns how to truly love. Last year I read it to my 7 year old son, the more I read the more it touched my heart. It was poetic, simple and beautiful. It captured the universal knowing, that in order to love you have to be prepared to lose. By the end of the book I was sobbing, no book has ever moved me like that. A good lesson in empathy and love for children and grownups.  “Edward knew what it was like to say over and over again the names of those you had left behind. He knew what it was like to miss someone. And so he listened. And in his listening, his heart opened wide and then wider still.”
A book you loved reading at a child.

When I was 8 my mom brought me to a beautiful small book shop in a small town and she bought me Matilda. This was my first experience of Roald Dahl's work and I was so delighted with his silly and innovative use of words. The grownups in the story were so flawed and cruel, and I was fascinated that a little girl the same age as me could face such adversity with courage, tenacity and wit. It validated to me that things weren’t always fair and children weren’t always protected but it demonstrated resilience to me in such a wonderful way!

What book(s) are you reading right now?

At the moment I’m reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It follows the writers journey of burning through her conditioning from society to connect to her true self. It feels very apt for this current crisis we find ourselves in. We are asked to collectively sit and be still. In doing nothing we are doing everything. Glennon says "if I am willing to sit in the stillness with myself, I always know what to do. The answers are never out there. They are as steady as my breath and as close as my heart beat”.
In the silence we can finally hear ourselves clearly.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

The first book is The Helping Hands Handbook For Kids; I asked my mom to buy this this book for me when I was 9, after my mom took me to a protest for the environment. It was really formative experience for me and really activated this urge to reach out and help and make change. The last is Romancing the Ordinary, A Year of Simple Splendour by Sarah Ban Breathnach, about her recovery from an accident and through this experience she began to see the extraordinary in the ordinary in the every day simple things. Smells, texture and taste.

A book you have read more than once.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. I’ve read this book across all the decade of my life, from 16 to 35. It's a coming of age novel that follows the journey of two best friends summer adventures over the course of 20 years. It captures the beauty and complexity of female friendships, it translates how formative and magical they are and also how achingly painful it is to let a friendship go as you both change and evolve in different directions. Every decade I read, I it understand it more clearly.