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.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Nessa O’Mahony

Nessa O’Mahony is a Dublin-born writer. She has published five books of poetry and is a recipient of three literature bursaries from the Arts Council.  She was Writer Fellow at the John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies in UCD in 2008 / 09. The Branchman (Arlen House 2018) was her debut crime novel and she is working on a sequel.  Her most recent book is a poetry collection, The Hollow Woman on the Island, published by Salmon Poetry 2019.  Website  Twitter  Facebook

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I'm currently reading Sarah Moss's Ghost Wall, having heard her speak about it at this year's Ennis Book Club Festival. It's a fabulously forensic exploration of a certain attitude that has been causing a great deal of mischief in the world recently: an atavistic belief that old ways were better and an utter failure to empathise with other human beings. My second copy of Hilary Mantel's new book The Mirror & The Light is also waiting for me (the first copy I gave to my sister who is currently in lock-down having come back to Ireland from the UK). I'm just realising that if this is read several months from now, people may have forgotten why that was necessary!

A book you loved reading at a child.

I read and re-read Pride and Prejudice from about the age of 11 onwards, supplementing it with the movie and TV adaptations (all of them!). Unfortunately the adult Nessa has less time for Darcy's snobbish diffidence, but the teenage me was thrilled by it. Elizabeth is still my heroine, though.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

I'm currently in the attic space, so the bookcase here is almost entirely poetry-based - we keep the fiction in the spare bedroom. The first book on the poetry case is Pablo Neruda's The Book of Questions, and the final book is an enormous volume of Shakespeare's The Complete Works. I think that both copies are actually belonging to my husband, Peter Salisbury, but what's his is mine! There are also piles and piles on the floor, but let's not mention them.

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

Nuala O'Connor is a fabulous writer and brilliantly evokes period and character, so I'm really looking forward to her next book, which is about Joyce's wife Nora Barnacle. She spoke about it very enticingly at last year's Bray Literary Festival.

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

Mary Morrissy's book The Rising of Bella Casey didn't get the attention it deserved when first published. It's a wonderful exploration of character, and of the fascinating women who often get side-lined by the better-known male sibling (she was the sister of playwright Seán O'Casey). Mary is a wonderfully wise and perceptive writer and we are lucky to have her.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Isabelle Kenyon

Isabelle Kenyon is a Northern poet and author of five chapbooks. She is the editor of Fly on the Wall Press, a socially conscious small press for chapbooks and anthologies. Her 2020 books are with Indigo Dreams ('Growing Pains') and Wild Pressed Books (short story 'The Town Talks'). She was shortlisted for the Streetcake Experimental Writing Prize 2019 and for the Lichfield Cathedral Competition 2019.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

The Long Take by Robin Robertson and The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee. Unfortunately, both of which I am only vaguely enjoying in which I picked up because of the prizes they had been shortlisted for… I think the problem is I don’t really care about any of the characters!

A book you loved reading at a child.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funk: Meg’s dad has the ability to read characters from books into living in the real world which causes complications when the villains come out of certain books…

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

The short story collection The Thing Around Her Neck (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) for her excellent storytelling, and Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy, because the arguments and the insights into Muslim cultures around the world and how Muslim women live there was enlightening.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf.

Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo, and 30 Clouds by George Szirtes and Clarissa Upchurch.

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

The First Bad Man by Miranda July – we need more weird books with unreliable narrators!

Friday, 27 March 2020

SK Grout

SK Grout grew up in Aotearoa / New Zealand, has lived in Germany and now splits her time as best she can between London and Auckland. She is the author of the micro chapbook “to be female is to be interrogated” (2018, the poetry annals). She holds a post-graduate degree in creative writing from City, University of London, is a Feedback Editor for Tinderbox Poetry and a Poetry Editor for honey and lime. Her work also appears in Crannóg, Landfall, trampset, Banshee Lit, Parentheses Journal, Barren Magazine and elsewhere. More information here: https://skgroutpoetry.wixsite.com/poetry

What book(s) are you reading right now?

Having recently attended the Free Verse: Poetry Book Fair in London, I returned home with a (slightly too large) pile and I’m slowly making my way through those pamphlets. From Ignition Press: Mia Kang’s City Poems, Majella Kelly’s Hush and Alycia Pirmohamed’s Hinge. From Sad Press: Nisha Ramayya’s In Me the Juncture. From Bad Betty Press: Gboyega Odubanjo’s While I Yet Live. And from Fly on the Wall Press: Attracta Fahy’s Dinner in the Fields.

Beside my bed, I have a stack of books and I try to read one poem a day from my own lodestone poets; at the moment, it’s collections from Vasko Popa, Ghassan Zaqtan and Gabriel García Lorca (my attempts at reading in both Spanish and English). During my commute I prefer to read non-poetry, so I’m also reading Maxine Hong Kingston’s Women Warrior – one of the books that Ocean Vuong referred to as crucial to him when writing his novel, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”.

The first and last books on your bookcase/shelf

Anyone who knows me would define me as a book-person (am I a hoarder, a librarian, a keen supporter of the arts – the interpretation is up to you.) I like the randomness of this question but, due to my Virgo tendencies, my books are organised into a kind of ordered chaos and variously collected into different combinations around my lounge: novels by location/setting, theory books, pamphlets, anthologies and full-length poetry collections. I’ve decided on the poetry books, which are organised A-Z by author surname:

Fleur Adcock - Split (Blue Diode)
Moikom Zeqo - I Don’t Believe in Ghosts Poems by Moikom Zeqo, translated by Wayne Miller (BOA Editions)

A book that you started but never finished.

James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve started and put down this book a number of times. I know the opening very well (and still can taste my confusion!). I spent an unrequited year trying to make my way through this book many times over as someone I was in love with had written their dissertation on Ulysses. The first time I tried to read this novel was when I was still at school, but perhaps I need time; perhaps some books find their way to us so that the book aligns at the appropriate moment for us – it’s not now, but it will be soon.

Your favourite anthology.

I can’t decide between New European Poets, edited by Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer (Graywolf Press) and Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar (WW Norton and Company). There’s a particular poignancy since 2016 for the first one, and the second one published in 2008 lacks representation of New Zealand poets from the Asian diaspora (there are some amazing ones out there!) but both collections give me the opportunity to read poets’ work that I very rarely find in British bookstores. There are over 2,000 poems across these two anthologies and they both contain such incredible range – this amazing resource and repository of poetic styles provides me with the motivation and inspiration to experiment and develop new ways of thinking about poetry.

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

It’s safe to say that Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem (Graywolf Press US / Faber UK) is top of this list. She is an exceptionally important poet to my own writing. Her New Yorker letter-poetry correspondence with Ada Limón is one of my favourite pieces of collected poetry. She has produced many poems between her first and this second book. I’m so curious to see what this book looks like as well as being impatient to dive into her beautiful and important words! I’m also pretty excited that there will be a UK imprint and I don’t have to pay shipping, lol. A win-win situation.

I also wanted to shout-out to Leila Chatti’s Deluge (Copper Canyon Press). She is another important poet to me whose collection of poems I’m eagerly anticipating. Anyone who watched the Twitter video of her book unwrapping can appreciate the joy of a first book!

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Niamh Boyce

Niamh Boyce was awarded New Irish Writer of The Year 2012 for her poetry. Her bestselling debut The Herbalist was an Irish Book Award Winner, and nominated for an IMPAC. Her latest book, Her Kind, was based on the Kilkenny Witchcraft Trial and nominated for the EU Prize for Literature.
Twitter: @NiamhBoyce Blog: https://niamhboyce.blogspot.com/

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’m reading a short story collection, Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Makintosh - I love the voice of this book - it’s fresh, irreverent, funny and tender. A linked collection, it mixes fact and fiction, which is something that has always attracted me. I weave fact and fiction in my own novels. These stories feel like reimagined auto-biography, which is something I’m exploring in some linked short stories I’m working on at the moment. I’m also reading Cuckoo Song by Frances Harding - I love her imagination, her vivid writing style,  and her storytelling, which is out of this world. I’m also reading the latest issue of The Moth, a literary magazine like no other - this latest edition has interviews with Fiona Benson and Sharon Olds. I’m also dipping in and out of Aphrodite's Pen by Stella Fosse, about writing the erotic experiences of older women. Watch this space!   

A book you loved reading at a child.

I have an old Everyman edition of The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.  It is cloth covered and illustrated and I loved to read it. The novella is as simple as a fairytale, and so lucidly told. A Kindle could never compete with how it feels to hold that small book. And how it will feel to read it to my one day grandchildren. 

Your favourite anthology.

It has to be Bloodaxe Press’s Allelujah for 50 Foot Women - a collection of poetry about women’s relationship with their bodies. It’s edited by The Raving Beauties. My poem - The Beast is Dead, Long Live the Beast, in it - so that adds to the thrill, but it’s a wonderfully powerful collection.  

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

Doireann Ni Ghriofa’s Ghost in the Throat promises to be a thrill -  I hear it's a combination of  essay and autofiction, and tells the stories of  two women, a 17th century and contemporary one. Doireann is a brilliant and original writer, her poetry often seems soaked in ancient blood, and yet rises new… I’m also looking forward to Liz Nugent’s Our Little Cruelties; Liz does great villains!  As You Were by Elaine Feeney is another novel I can't wait for. I read all types of books - and often wish book shops were arranged like libraries, with books are categorised alphabetically, rather by ‘genres’ such as crime, literary and YA. I don't want to be catered to, I want to be surprised. 

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

Yes, I just loved Pond by Claire-Louise Bennet, it’s a stunning work, more a collection of linked stories than a novel. I’m always recommending it. It’s an interior and scalpel clear depiction of what it is to exist. It’s free from any contrivance of plot, or so it feels to me. I constantly swing, as a reader and writer, to being in love with, and then wanting a break from, ‘Story’. I often adore books that seem the opposite of each other - the so-called ‘plot driven’ versus ‘character driven’. It’s probably a false dichotomy. At the root of every good book is voice, a convincing, compelling and original voice.   

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Elizabeth McGeown

Elizabeth McGeown has been published in Banshee and Abridged. She is the All-Ulster slam champion, has competed in the All-Ireland Poetry Slam four times, and represented NI at the 2019 Hammer & Tongue UK Slam Finals in the Royal Albert Hall. She received funding from Arts Council of Northern Ireland and The National Lottery to work on her first full-length spoken word show.  Twitter: @candyseyes  Facebook: Elizabeth McGeown Writes Speaks Sings

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I used to always only read one book at a time because I felt each book deserved my full attention and didn't want to water down the experience, but that changed recently with the introduction of poetry into my life (as some poetry books actually suit dipping in and out rather than reading cover to cover) and a new job where we're allowed to read at quiet moments. Therefore, my current 'work read' is Wild Swans by Jung Chang which I've had in the house for over three years but was always daunted by, as it's around 700 pages and I was worried the 'living history' aspect would be too dry for me. I'm used to reading fiction. 

I'm about halfway through at the moment and this tale of three generations of Chinese women has already touched on foot-binding, the practice of concubines and their place in the hierarchy of Chinese society, remarriage outside the accepted social structure and I've reached the 1960s section which is focusing on Red China and Mao's seemingly arbitrary rules trapping his citizens in cycles of famine, paranoia, spying on each other and almost laughable propaganda in order to keep his position as the Chairman of the Communist Party.

At home I've just borrowed Solar Bones from the library, as I hear it's a well-respected recent Irish novel but haven't started it yet. Poetry-wise I might start Ilya Kaminsky's Deaf Republic soon.

A book you loved reading as a child.

Haha all of them! I went to the library once a week and although I could only get three books out at a time on my card, when I wanted more my parents let me use the spare spaces on their cards. If we're talking about formative childhood which to me is 10 and under I read a lot of Enid Blyton, Roald DahlThe Chalet School series and owned a lot of these so reread them many times. I was really interested in the seesaw nature of female friendships so ones that stand out in my memory for rereading would be White Boots by Noel Streatfeild which I think appealed to me for the competitive aspect (the details of skating competitions) and the rags-to-riches element where Harriet - undernourished because of poverty and recovering from a long illness - is told by her Doctor to take up ice skating. She meets Laila at the rink and soon is invited into Lalla's world of private tutors, new clothes, skating competitions and satisfying meals. But then Harriet starts to thrive and jealousy rears its head... Also The Fiend Next Door series, Hating Alison Ashley by Robin KleinHeidi by Johanna Spyri... Only now realising the similarities!

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

Probably the first history book I really engaged with was Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, which I read in university as part of a module on The American West. It covers mostly the late 19th century (with some backstory) and the gradual reduction of Native American territory because of Manifest Destiny, leading to various bloody battles and the setting up of reservations. It's not an easy read, detailing the gradual erasure of tribes, language, land by 'legal' methods and in light of the actions of today's American Government is something I would recommend everyone read. I've given it as a gift to a few friends, mostly male, now I think of it.

I recently read Constellations: Reflections From Life by Sinéad Gleeson and if I had more money, I'm sure I would gift it to a few people so consider this my recommendation! Beautifully written account of a woman and her physical body in Ireland throughout a life taking in illness, recovery, wellness and the significant moments in-between.

A book you have read more than once.

I'm very much a re-reader, or I used to be before life got in the way and the internet destroyed my attention span! I used to read Stephen King's The Stand (about a plague that wipes out 99% of the human race) every time I had the flu. Maybe I should read it again, it probably has a chilling resonance in light of the Coronavirus scare... I love re-reading long books. I've read Gone With The Wind many times and would like to re-read Stephen King's IT when I have time, it's one of the most accurate depictions of childhood I've read along with To Kill a Mockingbird. All of the above (except Mockingbird) are around 1000 pages and have strong elements of characterisation and world-building. Killing the majority of the human race and recreating society from scratch? That's world-building!

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

So many! I've found a few books that are really well-known in America have barely scratched the surface here. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (for older teens) and The Girl with the Silver Eyes (pre-teens) by Willo Davis Roberts are school staples with my US friends but very few people here seem to have heard of them. They deal with themes of bullying, isolation and being different and I would recommend them to adults as well as the age groups mentioned above. For adults I would also recommend The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin which again, seems to suffer from not being well-known here. I was bought Book 1 in the series as a gift by an American friend and it's a fantastic century-sweeping post-apocalyptic supernatural horror. Don't like zombies or vampires? Imagine if they were combined!

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Lauren Scharhag

Lauren Scharhag is the author of thirteen books, including Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press) and Languages, First and Last (Cyberwit Press). Her work has appeared in over 100 literary venues around the world. Recent honors include the Seamus Burns Creative Writing Prize and two Best of the Net nominations. She lives in Kansas City, MO. To learn more about her work, visit: www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading Serena, a novel by Ron Rash. It’s set in North Carolina in 1929. It’s about a pair of robber barons that happen to be husband and wife. It’s interesting to read about business in America during that time period, given our current concerns about income inequality and corporate abuse, both of their workers and of the world’s natural resources. It’s also incredibly well-written. 

I’m also reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. It’s about Hmong immigrants in California, escaping the war in Laos. I knew next to nothing about Laos or Hmong culture, but a month or two back, I happened to catch an exhibit of Hmong textile art, and one of the lecturers recommended this book. Their spiritual traditions are fascinating, and this book focuses on the clash between eastern and western medicine. Both my parents are first-generation Americans, so I am always interested to read immigrant stories. 

A book you loved reading at a child.

There were so many. In grade school, I loved anything by Mary Downing Hahn. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but her books, and she herself, sealed the deal. She was a guest speaker at my school when I was 11 and I remember how awed I was, meeting this living, breathing person who wrote stories for a living. Even then, I liked that she wrote in multiple genres—historical fiction, horror, thrillers, realism. My favourites by her were Wait Till Helen Comes, The Jellyfish Season, The Doll in the Garden and Daphne’s Book. She’s in her 80s now and still going strong. I’d love to see some of her work adapted into film.

A book you have read more than once.

I consider re-reading books a vice of mine. When I love a book, I will revisit it over and over. I have to force myself to stop, otherwise I would never read anything new. I think I’ve read Lolita and Watership Down the most, at least thirty times each, maybe more. Truly. I re-read them both for the same reason. They’re so beautifully written. I love to just savour the language of them. I’m a firm subscriber to the idea, “Always be a poet, even in prose.”

Your favourite anthology.

I love The Best Horror of the Year, compiled by Ellen Datlow. Anything Datlow compiles, really. She really knows the best genre works out there. 

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

One of my all-time favourite books is The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham. I know Maugham was very successful in his day, but I feel like he’s fading into obscurity, which is a shame. When I mention his works to people, most have never heard of him. The Moon in Sixpence is based on the life of the painter Paul Gaugin, and a statement on the transformative power of art. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Mark Antony Owen

Syllabic poet Mark Antony Owen writes exclusively in nine original forms – sometimes, with variations. His work centres on that world where the rural bleeds into the suburban: a world he calls ‘subrural’. Based in East Hampshire, Mark is the author of digital-only poetry project Subruria, as well as the founder, editor, designer, sound engineer and publisher of iamb. Website: markanthonyowen.com Twitter: @MarkAntonyOwen  @Subruria  @iambapoet

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

I will forever recommend Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. A truly transformative novel for me, and the one book I always credit as the reason I became a writer.

A book that you started but never finished

Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson by G I Gurdjieff. Every bit as complicated a read as the book itself warns it will be at the start. Similarly (though no warning is signalled): A Treatise on Cosmic Fire by Alice A Bailey. What can I say? I read – or tried to read – a lot of metaphysics in my twenties.

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

Whatever Claire Askew’s second collection of poetry will be titled! Can’t wait to lay hands (and eyes) on this. Especially as her debut, This Changes Things, ranks among my favourite poetry collections of all time.

A book that you feel is underrated and deserves more attention

Antonia White’s Frost in May. The story of a young girl struggling with conversion to Catholicism (based on the author’s own traumatic experiences). Considered a classic among those in the know – although those in the know seem few and far between.

A book with personal resonance

Dickens’ Great Expectations. How I saw myself in the character of Pip. Maybe every kid from humble beginnings needs a hero such as he. Sure, he makes a dick of himself for a while (most young men do). But there is redemption, of a kind. We all need redeeming.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Matthew M C Smith

Matthew M C Smith is a Welsh writer from Swansea. He is published in Icefloe Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, Other Terrain, Back Story, Seventh Quarryand Wellington Street Review. Matthew is the editor of Black Bough Poetry. Twitter: @MatthewMCSmith & @BlackBoughPoems Facebook: MattMCSmith & Black Bough Poetry. His debut collection ‘Origin: 21 Poems’ is available on Amazon.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’m reading Underland by Robert Macfarlane for the second time in preparation to edit the next edition of Black Bough poetry. This is a staggeringly erudite work by the award-winning English writer and Professor, who writes about place, nature, conservation and cultural heritage. He discusses ‘Deep Time’, which is the theme of the next Black Bough edition and something I am exploring in my own writing.

A book you loved reading at a child. 

As a six-year old, I carried around with me the pocket illustrated classic of Oliver Twist. My mother and aunt were taken aback one day when I started to recite the whole book. I can still see many of the illustrations in my mind. My memory isn’t totally amazing so that book must have made an impression on me.

A book you have read more than once. 

This would have to be Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, which I’ve read at least a dozen times. This, for me, is the most compelling fictional work I’ve ever read, although if you asked me another day I’d probably say Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which I think I’ve read four times. Conrad’s command of the English language (not his first language) puts most of us to shame and the scenes before and in Africa, the building tension, show a writer at the top of their game. I love Apocalypse Now, which is a deeply-moving, disturbing cinematic reinterpretation. Marlon Brando as Kurtz!

Your favourite anthology.

I’m going to say The Lonely Crowd although this is very hard to choose as there are so many. This is a Welsh press that publishes mixed anthologies of poetry and prose. The pieces that are chosen, in my opinion, show really strong literary execution. Imagery, precision and freshness are really evident and you get the impression that the selection and editing is done very carefully. It’s run by John Lavin and I’d urge people to check it out.

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

I’m really looking forward to C. Aloysius Mariotti’s Scream into my Mouth as a Waterfall. I’ve read a PDF of the poetry collection for reviewing, and it’s immediately striking because of the artwork by Mathew Yates and Stuart Buck; the writing by this American writer blew my mind. I want a physical copy in my hands and to go to a café on my own for a couple of hours. The work is out with Rhythm and Bones Press and is edited by Tianna G. Hansen.

Sharon Owens

Sharon Owens studied Illustration at the Belfast School of Art, and after graduation decided to become a painter. Her work has been shortlisted by the Royal Ulster Academy. She also writes Women’s Fiction, and is best known for her debut novel, 'The Tea House On Mulberry Street', which was a global success, selling almost half a million copies, and shortlisted by the Romantic Novelists Association. She is currently working on her eighth novel. Website: www.sharonowens.co.uk Instagram: SharonOwensTea Twitter: SharonOwensTea Etsy: SharonOwensArt
A book you loved as a child?
I loved The Borrowers series by Mary Norton. There were five books in the series, and I still have my original copies. As a child of the Troubles, and of divorced parents, and educated at a time when children were still caned at school, I identified hugely with the Clock family, and their desire to live quietly under the floorboards. The beautiful pen & ink illustrations by Diana Stanley were the reason I went to the Belfast School of Art, when I was twenty. I still get a thrill when I hear Leighton Buzzard mentioned, in any capacity, as I didn’t know back then that it was a real town.
A book you have read more than once?
I re-read a lot of books, mostly my Janet McNeill collection. But I’d have to say Little Deaths by Emma Flint, which is a conjectural thriller. It’s incredibly clever, atmospheric, stylish and tender. I aspire to write a book like this, though I know I never will. I also re-read The Blue Tango by Eoin McNamee. I love reading melancholy books but only ever seem able to write funny, romantic ones.
A book that deserves more attention?
Travelling In A Strange Land by David Park. This novel is just so beautiful. It’s about a father’s love for his family, and the terrible choice he must make, knowing he can never tell his wife about it. I don’t think I’ve ever read such a moving novel about fatherhood, or about being a parent. Or about driving in the snow. I would love to see this novel made into a film. I think it would win every category at the Oscars.
A book you have given as a gift?
Copies of Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine. What can I say? A collection of short stories so well-crafted you can almost hear the characters talking over one another in draughty Belfast houses. A masterpiece, by surely one of the leading literary stars of Northern Ireland. Another writer I aspire to be like one day but know that I never will. Most days I wish I could be paid for reviewing books, so I didn’t have to try to write another one myself.
A book with personal resonance?
The Maiden Dinosaur by Janet McNeill. Sarah Vincent, a 52-year-old spinster schoolteacher in pre-Troubles Belfast is a sort of living fossil. A childhood trauma has left her wary of relationships, and her social circle is confined to the girls she knew at school, now women like herself, trying to cope with the “indignities and absurdities” of middle age. 
I love this novel, now even more than I did when I first discovered it thirty years ago, because now I know that middle age does not bring any satisfactory answers to the great questions of life. How true, how disappointing. Though Sarah does find someone to share her life with, at the end, which is always wonderful, and every time I read it, I feel a physical surge of joy for her. This novel is wonderful about men too, how most men also struggle to find validation in life, and someone to care about them. I think that’s what I will always write about, finding sanctuary and acceptance in a humdrum world.

John Moynes

A scriptwriter and comedian by profession John Moynes eventually turned to poetry in an attempt to earn even less money. He is currently worked on a follow up to his debut collection 'Scenes of Moderate Violence' (Unbound, 2019). You can find him on Twitter: @JohnMoynes

What book are you reading right now?

The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF, edited by Mike Ashley. Disappointingly, it doesn't quite work. Grouping science fiction by story subject rather than writing style means you end up with a mish mash of classic SF, through late 20th century dystopia through to contemporary data paranoia. This wouldn't normally be the end of the world, but in this case...

A book you loved reading as a child.

The Lord of the Rings. I read this on a loop from the ages of eleven to fourteen. I loved everything about it. I picked it up again in my late twenties and the love had gone completely. Either I had changed or the book had. Probably I had. People would have said something if a widely read story suddenly remade itself over the course of a decade.

Your favourite anthology.

Poetry in Motion, Alan Bennett. There are many fine anthologies of poetry out there, but how many also include essays by Alan Bennett about the works and their creators? Very few I'd wager. Almost none.

A book you have given as a gift.

Constellation of Genius, Kevin Jackson. A joyful romp through the culture and life of 1922. It's got James Joyce, Louis Armstrong, Alfred Hitchcock and the end of the Ottoman Empire, which is more than enough to keep me entertained.

A book that you started but never finished.

Moby Dick. I've started it three or four times. I have now finished starting it, I won't be going back. People keep telling me that if you stick with it long enough it turns into the Great American Novel, but they're all liars.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Colin Dardis

Colin Dardis is a poet, editor, arts coordinator and creative writing tutor based in Belfast. His work has recently been listed in the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing, Over The Edge New Writer of the Year Award, and Best Reviewer of Literature, Saboteur Awards 2018, as well as being published widely throughout Ireland, the UK and USA. Colin co-runs Poetry NI, a multimedia platform for poets, for which he co-edits FourXFour Poetry Journal, and co-hosts the monthly open mic night, Purely Poetry. His latest collection is The Dogs of Humanity (Fly on the Wall Press, 2019).

What book(s) are you reading right now?
Human Aggression by Anthony Storr, a psychology/psychiatry book from the late sixities that I picked up in a charity shop. My last collection touched upon how people treat each other (often in unsavoury ways), hence the interest. I'm also reading an unproofed manuscript of Linda McKenna's debut poetry collection. It's coming out from Doire Press shortly, and I'm providing a blurb for it.

A book you loved reading at a child.
I loved the Hardy Boys books, a pair of American teenage detectives. I read dozens of them, amazed how the author Franklin W. Dixon could write so many. I honestly felt quite gipped when I found out the name was just a pseudonym for a writing syndicate.

A book you have read more than once.
There are a few: The Gospels of the Holy Bible, Animal Farm, quite a few of Beckett's novels and plays. With there being so much still to read, and new books coming all the time, if something is going to be reread, it has to be outstanding (or really short!).

A book that you started but never finished.
I tried to re-read Virginia Woolf's The Waves recently. I quite enjoyed the narrative structure when I read it as a student originally, but this time round, it was just frustrating after about a dozen pages. It's still on our bookcase, it will be tackled eventually!

A book that you feel deserves more attention.
I just read Dr Becky Smethurst's excellent book Space: 10 Things You Should Know. It's an accesible,  entertaining guide to some of the mind-boggling complexities of the universe. Smethurst's style is light, fun and her passion and enthusiasm is evident on every page.