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.