Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fourth Annual Féile na bhFlaitheartach to take place on Inis Mór this weekend

As an admirer of Liam O'Flaherty's writings and as a committee member of the Liam and Tom O'Flaherty Society, I am delighted to announce that the fourth Féile na bhFlaitheartach takes place on Inis Mór this weekend. See below for the full programme and please consider joining us for another memorable weekend of readings, music, drama, good chat, craic and debate. Note that the ferry departs at 10:30am each morning. 

I've been sharing information and articles about the Féile over the past few weeks on other social media and hope to write a future blog post about O'Flaherty's writings. If you haven't already done so, this is the year to read his novel, Insurrection, which was first published in 1950. This gripping work of fiction focuses on Connemara man, Bartly Madden, who returns from England to Dublin at the outset of Easter Week 1916 and gradually finds himself caught up in the Rising. 

Rossaveal at 10:30am.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Coming soon….Featured Writer of the Month

Starting in September I will be inviting one writer to do a short interview with me each month about their writing practice and current projects. I’m delighted to announce that the inaugural author to feature will be Galway-based poet, short story, and young adult fiction writer, Geraldine Mills. Geraldine recently completed Gold, published by Little Island, and we will be chatting about the inspiration behind the book as well as plenty of other things. So watch this space. 

In the meantime, there are some excellent writers reading their work at Over the Edge tomorrow night including Niamh Boyce, William Wall, Susan Millar DuMars and Paul Duffy (Over the Edge New Writer of the Year, 2015). Get along to The Kitchen at The Museum at 8pm for an unmissable event!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Paying my respects to Anita Brookner - a truly gifted author

I’ve always enjoyed reading about female outsiders on the periphery of society, often set apart by the impulse to question.  The novels of Anita Brookner and Jean Rhys formed a considerable backdrop to the world of my twenties so I was shocked and saddened to learn yesterday, on Facebook, of the death of one of my all-time favourite writers: Anita Brookner. She passed away last week on 10 March and, as the mother of a seven-week old infant, I admit I am slightly out-of-touch these days, so I was late in learning the news.

Anita Brookner (1928-2016)

My first introduction to Brookner’s universe occurred during my teens, in the town library of Carrick-on-Shannon, where I grew up. I chanced upon Providence (1982) on a shelf, opened a random page and was instantly hooked.  Some years later, in 1996, I wrote my MA thesis on Brookner at NUI Galway (then UCG), focusing on Romanticism and Existentialism in her novels and refuting claims, mostly made by male critics, that she wrote ‘romantic novels’ (Bayles dismissed Hotel du Lac (1993) as ‘Harlequin Romance for Highbrows’). Anita Brookner never complied with the conventions of the popular romance, such as fantasy resolution through fusion and marriage. I believe her work is intimately involved, however, with the modes of Romanticism which is characterized, instead, by fragmentation, and also with Existentialism, where separateness and alienation are central to her ‘poetics of loss’. In fact, a typical Brookner ending, with its raised expectations and ironic reversal, approximates more towards ‘anti-romance’. Many of her heroines are prompted, by the stark anti-romanticism of their realities, to re-evaluate expectations of people and the world around them. Often, they may start out looking to literary paradigms to answer their questions about life, then they gradually arrive at new insights about themselves and their environments. So, while 'happy endings' are scarce in her work, Brookner’s protagonists often move beyond delusion to a greater understanding; they are empowered to strive for authenticity in their lives.

Throughout her career, Brookner has been unflinchingly courageous in tackling tricky subjects without whitewashing the grittiness. She herself once wrote in the Times Literary Supplement ‘…there is a truth even more terrible than [we] suppose and it was discovered by certain members of the Romantic generation. The truth is this: reason does not work any better than myth.” Her novels are interested in subjectivity as it is constituted socially, culturally and psychologically. They offer us worlds where diverse themes are explored, such as family relationships, female friendships, bonds between men and women, power struggles, bonds of religion and bonds between life and the aesthetic realm. A joy to read on a linguistic level, as they are so elegantly crafted, they are also refreshingly honest; she does not shirk from the big themes of love, sex, isolation and loneliness, gender, ageing, myth vs ‘reality’ in an absurd universe. Brookner’s hesitancy to inscribe redemption can be taken as a counter-statement – one which exposes the repressive effects of romantic myth in Western culture and highlights how it can so easily worm its way into our lives. In an interview for The Paris Review in 1987 the novelist herself stated: “The true Romantic novel is about delayed happiness, and the pilgrimage you go through to reach that happiness.”

It is some years now since I read her work but, at one point, shortly after I wrote my thesis I was reading her constantly. Then, somewhere along my reading journey, I decided to take a break from her somewhat bleak, yet honest, worldvision and, in particular, from the too neat binary recognizable in some of her female characters: charismatic glamourpuss ('winner') is pitted against the introverted book worm ('loser'). This was one of the very few tics in her corpus that cloyed for me. The rest of the journey was magical and I drank in her prose and stylish syntactical choices, as well as the candour of her psychological insight. For my money, Hotel du Lac was over-hyped and some of her later novels surpassed it, but it has certainly become a deserved classic, and the Booker prize it garnered in 1984 was a rare moment during her long, prolific career, where critics shone a light upon her outstanding talent.

Thinking back to the many quiet moments of reading pleasure she afforded me also carries fond memories of a more carefree time in my life as a postgraduate student in the first flush of love with an ERASMUS exchange student from Belgium. So her passing has opened up more than literary reminiscences and also evoked a happy phase of research, enquiry and personal joy at a formative time in my life. There is much more that could be said about her oeuvre but limitations of time (see reference to new infant above!) and space demand that I keep this post brief and hope to continue the discussion another day. Anita Brookner did not believe in an absolute and, apparently, she chose not to have a funeral. Wherever she is, her literary legacy and the recollection of encountering and relishing her work will continue to occupy a unique place in my heart and mind. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Happy Proclamation Day!

As part of the commemorative events for the one hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising today has been declared Proclamation Day or Lá Fhoróga na SaoirseThe delivery, by the Defence Forces, of the Irish flag and a copy of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to all national schools in the country this year is a tangible and potent reminder of the indelible link between the Easter Rising and the Irish tricolour. Today the national flag is being hoisted on flagpoles at schools and institutions around the country and the Proclamation is being recited. 

In spite of all the furore and divided opinion about the way the Centenary of the Rising is being celebrated, I believe this simple initiative is laudable and means that younger generations will understand the historical context and broader implications of the 1916 insurrection. It is refreshing that we are able to move beyond the taciturnity that earlier generations of Irish people upheld around Irish patriotism and the fight for freedom, mainly for fear of being labelled a sympathiser of violent Republicanism. 

Earlier this morning I attended a special ceremony at my son's school to mark the occasion and was moved to hear the children of sixth class reciting Patrick Pearse's poems, 'The Wayfarer', 'The Mother' and reading the Proclamation in Irish. They also sang Irish songs such as 'Oro se do breath bhaile' and Thomas Davis' 'A Nation Once Again' and the school hall was decked with projects about the key figures in the Rising.

Lets hope the values of cherishing equally all Irish women and Irish men, inscribed in the Proclamation, will be fully realised and marginalised groups such as Travellers won't have to endure continued social and legislative exclusion. 

To read the full programme of national events marking the Centenary click here
The Wayfarer
The beauty of the world hath made me sad,
This beauty that will pass;
Sometimes my heart hath shaken with great joy
To see a leaping squirrel in a tree,
Or a red lady-bird upon a stalk,
Or little rabbits in a field at evening,
Lit by a slanting sun,
Or some green hill where shadows drifted by
Some quiet hill where mountainy man hath sown
And soon would reap; near to the gate of Heaven;
Or children with bare feet upon the sands
Of some ebbed sea, or playing on the streets
Of little towns in Connacht,
Things young and happy.
And then my heart hath told me:
These will pass,
Will pass and change, will die and be no more,
Things bright and green, things young and happy;
And I have gone upon my way
Patrick Pearse

The Mother
I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow - And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.
Patrick Pearse