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Doolin Short Story Competition – Third Prize: Valerie Sirr – Pete

doolinPete

He was beginning to notice a lot. Every light-reflecting surface in the hostel’s kitchen glared at him. The kettle accused him. The four cooker rings accused him. The shiny linoleum floor accused him. Get your own place. Why are you always here?

Viv, his care worker, flicked the switch on the boiling kettle lowering its rumbles to a hiss. Viv came twice a week to see that he went to work. He looked at her feet in her flat-heeled shoes planted on the black-and-white squares of the lino. He was often surprised by the presence of others – their weight, their outline, how firmly they were moored in the world. Nothing would pull Viv’s legs from under her. Viv knew where she stood.

He looked at his own white shins jutting out from trouser legs too short for his gangly limbs. ‘I’m a scarecrow.’

Viv laughed. She was all teeth and wrinkles. ‘You’re Pete,’ she said, handing him a mug of milky tea. ‘Pete Roberts.’

He gave her a blank look. She placed her hand on his shoulder. ‘Have you taken your pills today?’

He flinched. Then he nodded at her.

He covered his eyes with his hand to hide the vision of his morning capsules bleeding purple dye into the toilet bowl, same as every morning this week. Then he looked down at her hand resting squarely on his shoulder as if it were a part of some alien creature. He wondered why people were always touching each other. He stirred his tea. Viv always nagged about pills but he knew better than Viv.

She removed her hand. He watched it move across the broad expanse of her skirted hip as she turned back to the counter. He looked at the glossy skin on her solid calves. Black women had softer skin. The guys at work told him that. He liked the look of women’s skin. He liked everything about women. There were women in the supermarket, women in the street; women in cars. Sometimes they stood near him in a crowded tube. He would shrink from their touch but would be spellbound by a cluster of freckles, a single flyaway hair on a cheek, a tongue licking a lip. He would try to keep his eyes on the map of the underground, but he couldn’t. His eyes would fix on an earlobe, a smooth neck, a pillowy cleavage, until its owner moved away.

pill2

He kept his head up as he walked down Pepys Road trailing one hand across the park railings. It was his fifth day without pills. The world was taking on a new resonance, vibrating like a film with the sound turned up. Frame by frame, he saw every branch of every tree, heard parting words in doorways, felt moved by the captured light. Everything was part of everything else. The wind, daylight, voices, his own edges thinning as though he no longer had a skin. There was a girl approaching; raincoat plastered against thighs. He flashed a smile at her startled face.

He walked on, smiling. He had graduated from Unit six of the Bethlem Royal to his own bunk bed at the hostel, and a job two mornings a week, and soon he would have a girlfriend. A car pulled up at the kerb. A woman got in, kissed the driver’s cheek, then they pulled away. He felt a rush of joy. He didn’t need drugs. He was sure of it. It was ages since that time in the hospital. Noises hurting his eardrums. The never ending table tennis in the common room, pock! pock!, the bedlam of TVs and stereos, pock! pock!, slamming doors and shouts, pock! pock!, the thundering of the tea trolley, pock! pock!, and Wednesdays in a tiny white room, where he sat in front of a psychiatrist, who sat in front of a wall-chart, which seemed to frame his head. He used to stare at the image on the wall, the fleshless head in coloured sections: cell,

brain, blood, bone, the white paper of the chart shining through the gaps between them.

‘Is that an actual person?’ he asked the psychiatrist once.

- Am I an actual person?

But he was sorted now. He had a job to go to. Pete, Pete, Pete. He shook his

head. It emptied for a moment then the voices returned.

pill2

The van waited for him outside New Cross station, its hazard lights flashing warnings at him. He decoded its white letters ‘SNUGFIT DOORS & WINDOWS’ against their flaky blue background. He approached and glimpsed Ray the driver then the squatting figures of Frank and Eddie through the open mouth of the side door. He climbed in, concentrating on Viv’s Tasks For Today. Smile and say hello. It was important to practice for tonight. He hunkered down among the huge rolls of fibreglass padding.

‘Hello Frank. Hello Eddie,’ he said, focusing on one of Frank’s Doc Martens and stretching his lips into a smile.

Eddie nudged him with his foot. ‘Shut the door, Pete.’

‘Right mates. Peckham today,’ Ray shouted over his shoulder and started up the engine.

He watched Eddie offer a rolled cigarette to Frank. Frank took it between thumb and finger and sucked in deep. ‘Just what the doctor ordered.’

He saw Frank’s head jerk in his direction. ‘A bit radio rental.’ Frank winked at

Eddie.

He looked away from them, his eyes irresistibly drawn to the congealed paint splashes on the van’s floor: a woman’s face in profile, a woman’s hair, flowing. Silhouettes jumped out at him then retreated. The world was coming at him in fugitive

shapes. Outlines formed on the misted van windows and in the exhaled jet-trails from

Frank and Eddie’s nostrils. He shut his eyes.

He practised listening to Frank and Eddie. Listen actively. Frank and Eddie knew about things.

They knew about women and football and politics. He looked at Eddie. Eye contact. ‘I’m meeting my girlfriend later.’ He jumped. His own voice felt sudden and loud.

‘In your dreams, mate,’ Eddie said, laughing.

He thought it was definite. But when he was sure about something he would begin to see it in a way that made it something else, then something else altogether, then his first thought would vanish before he could get hold of it again. It was his thinking disorder, his ‘cognitive dysfunction’ Viv called it. Organise your thoughts. Football, he thought. Favourite teams. Contribute your ideas. He looked in Eddie’s direction. ‘Arsenal played good last night.’ He got ready to say it again.

Eddie snorted. ‘Arsenal! Crowd of old women could beat Arsenal!’

A girl on a red mountain bike followed the van. She was close to the back window now and he could see the sheen of her wet cheeks. Her fringe was dripping rain and she was blinking. ‘She’s not old,’ he said. ‘She’s nice.’ He imagined she was a girl in a club and he was snogging her as if he enjoyed it like the guy in Eastenders. The van pulled away again.

He forced himself to look at Eddie. ‘Manchester United are definitely good.’

Eddie wasn’t looking at him. He was saying something about blind old women now and Frank was laughing.

He laughed too to show that he got the joke. He visualised last night’s sports page in the Evening Standard. Wing-backs, four-four-two, flat-back-four, sweepers. He tried to grab unto the words but they were leaking through the gaps in Pete’s brain. He hated Pete. ‘Outside-left,’ he muttered, ‘forward-centre, four-back-flats.’

He felt his brainwaves taking up the rhythm of the music from the van radio. Totten-ham, West-ham, Chel-sea, Ar-se-nal, he mouthed silently.

Pill3

They dropped him back at New Cross station at lunchtime.

He stood by the entrance trying to make eye contact with passers-by.

He squinted through windscreens at drivers heading east for Lewisham. He would tell Viv about his morning. How he had practiced all his social skills and how Frank and Eddie had let him seal up cracks with strips of draught excluder, Eddie measuring it out for him, Frank’s drill drowning the voices in Pete’s head that said Pete, Pete, Pete.

He saw Viv approaching and raised his right arm carefully. ‘That was a good wave wasn’t it?’ he said when Viv was in front him.

‘That’s right, Pete.’ Viv reached up and took his arm down. ‘Not so stiff though, okay?’

He gave a solemn nod and walked down the noisy street along with Viv, remembering to keep his head up. He looked back at the station. ‘Let’s go to Ted Baker. I want to get trousers in Ted Baker.’

They passed a building site and he was distracted by the sight of a man high up above them in the box of a crane. He’s on his own up there, he thought. Toblerone, out on its own, a jingle from the van radio sounded loudly in his head. He heard Viv saying something about budgets as she led him into the charity shop. He saw the name over the door and was distracted again. It reminded him of a word from one of Eddie’s jokes. A word that rhymed with Oxfam. ‘Jam,’ he said. He wasn’t sure whether he had spoken. Sometimes his thoughts were echoes, sometimes his words were thoughts and he was surprised to hear them repeated. He stood in front of the counter. ‘Eddie said to put jam on my shoes and invite my trousers down to tea,’ he said to the man at the till.pill4

In the toilets of the Coburn Arms, he checked the buttons on the fly of his new jeans. He missed the small screech of a zipper pulled firmly into place. He washed his hands then stood in front of the condom machine staring hard at the bright yellow sticker in case it had a message for him. The red letters snapped into focus: Release-any-jammed-coins-using-reject-knob. He pressed the knob three times then he shrugged and walked away. Back in the lounge, semi-circles of people were collecting by the bar. A queue waited to be served from steaming dishes behind a glass counter. He stood beside Viv.

Viv handed him his well-thumbed brochure. He stood staring into the distance. He turned it in his fingers. Viv ordered him an orange juice. The woman beside her took a sip from her drink and left a crimson lip-print on the glass. Viv moved and stole his view of her. A large woman sat in one of the chairs lining the room, flicking lint from her skirt. Bleep-bleep, bleep-bleep, he followed the sound of the cash register to decipher its signal. On another chair a man sat in a solemn trance, fractured occasionally by a smile.

He tried to smile too.

The slam of the till drawer made him jump. He held the brochure in front of his face. The letters were hopping on the page but he knew the words by heart.

‘Club-night-at-the-Coburn-Arms-the-comfortable-surroundings-of-the-

upstairs-lounge-bar-with-leather-covered-armchairs-make-it-very-easy-to-get-to-

know-people.’

He murmured this to himself, keeping his eyes on the illustration of the lounge bar. It looked real. Organise your thoughts, a voice told him.

He felt Viv touch him on the arm then she turned to speak to the barman. Leather covered girls. A girl stood by the food bar. Her face curved against the collar of her jacket. Her skin shone as if there was a light behind it. She smiled at her friend. Her face lit brighter when she smiled. Her friend had mousey hair and a hard, shut-in face. Her hostile glances met his stares in mid-air making him blink and lose focus. The bright-faced girl had a lot of sounds in her voice – sometimes light, sometimes low, sometimes like chocolate. She smiled. Smile and say hello. He saw himself chatting her up like on Eastenders.

‘Alright, Pete?’ Viv spoke to someone.

He tried to stop thinking. Sometimes Viv saw his thoughts.

Viv moved away and he watched her disappear through a doorway nearby. There was a tiny silhouette of a crinoline lady on the door, like the ladies on the covers of Viv’s Mills & Boons. She grew as the door swung shut, slowly, as if she was coming towards him. A man came out of the Gents and the door swished closed along with the door of the Ladies. Two small figures danced on the doors, swinging through gaps of bright light: a crinoline lady twirling, in a swish of billowing skirts; a silhouette man, advancing, coat tails buoyant on a current of air. Romance. Happy endings. Viv’s stories.

The girl was definitely smiling. The air between them was sparking with smiles.

He put his glass on the bar and approached the girl and her friend. His vision was playing tricks with him. They were nearer to him than he thought. ‘I’m not

drunk,’ he told them, ‘I don’t drink.’

They were tall and thin and almost touching him. Now they were small and fat and far away. He heard voices again. Red letter day. Listen actively.

The girls turned their heads away from him. Reject knob. He could not hear what they were saying. ‘You don’t look real!’ he said loudly. ‘Do I look real?’ He saw that they couldn’t hear him either, and he stopped. He wasn’t sure if he was speaking or thinking.

He bent closer until his face was inches from the girl’s. ‘Sometimes I see things. Do you ever see things?’

The girl wasn’t smiling anymore. She was moving away with her friend who was dragging her by the arm. A circle of people opened for them then the circle closed again. She was unreachable now, like his own self.

He saw the barman approaching. His stomach tightened and the tightness gripped his entire frame. He navigated his way unsteadily through the lounge, the faces of the guests looming like faces behind magnifying glass.

Inside the Gents he swung on the door of a cubicle. One by one, the voices shouted at him until they were all clamouring at once.

He turned on all the taps. He pressed down the stoppers. He leaned against the washroom wall watching the sheeting water, his back against the cool tiles, his outstretched right hand periodically pressing the steel disc of the hand-dryer.

He kept his left hand over his eyes and hummed loudly to the drone of the machine, drowning the voices in white noise.

He stayed like that without moving, losing all sense of time.

pill4

Occasionally, the bright mouth of the Exit swung open, slipping shadowy figures

towards him from the murmuring crowd outside.

When two of the figures advanced, a half-voluntary movement allowed him to peer through his fingers. He was surprised by the man standing in front of him and by the smell of Viv’s flowery perfume.

His brain, empty of thoughts, registered the rough feel of a blanket against the back of his neck and something sharp pricking his arm.

The familiar cadence of Viv’s voice made him want to sleep. The man’s hoarse voice answered her. Their sentences made no sense. He watched them peel his wet shirt from his arms. He felt a second prick in his arm.

He watched the man replacing items in the open metal box: syringes, needles, several phials.

Viv showed him a piece of crumpled paper before folding it carefully into his jeans’ pocket. The girl’s number! He tried to locate his voice.

Viv reached up and fixed the blanket around his shoulders. He felt its settling weight gathering him in, locating him. He saw his reflection in the mirror, outlined by the grey blanket, standing out against the white tiles, the white tiles standing out against him. He felt the weight of Viv’s hand on his arm, and he felt his own weight against the wall.

He walked outside with Viv. He felt the floor through his soggy trainers. It was dark out at the bar. He blinked to adjust his eyes to the shadowy figures – yawning, stretching; searching for coats. Viv went to get her coat.

He pressed his fingers against his pocket. He reached inside. There was no paper. Fluorescent lights flashed on overhead. He searched his pocket again. It was empty.

He sank into a torn seat near the door.

He stared at the dull yellow paint curling from the walls. He saw the cheap poster advertising the evening’s menu Sellotaped to the door. The shifting of crates behind the bar battered down the silence in his head.

He covered his ears with his hands. He stared at the faded red swirls of the carpet.

Viv’s solid feet swam into focus. He slumped against the stained leatherette. ‘Viv.’

She put her hand on his shoulder. He gripped it.

He held on tight. His voice shook. ‘Viv, I’m Pete.’ he said.

val***********************************************************************

Valerie Sirr won third prize in the inaugural Doolin Short Story Competition in association with the Irish Writers’ Centre. She has published short fiction and flash fiction in Ireland, UK, US, Australia & Asia. Publications include The Irish Times, The Sunday Tribune, The New Writer, The Stinging Fly, The Wisconsin Review. Some poems are forthcoming in anthologies from Revival Press, Ireland. Awards include 2007 Hennessy New Irish Writer Award, two Arts Council of Ireland bursaries and other national and international literature prizes most recently a flash fiction award (2011) from The New Writer Magazine (UK), judged by British poet and writer Catherine Smith. Valerie’s flash fiction appears on the National Flash Fiction 2012 (UK) website. She holds an M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. She teaches creative writing and blogs on writing: www.valeriesirr.wordpress.com.

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Nelipot Poets: Vote Now

nelipot

 

Earlier in the week we got poets to submit poems made up out of five of ten words we plucked from our heads and our dictionaries.  The results were ridiculous, wonderful, and in a few cases, deranged. It makes the choice really hard. But now we are shifting the responsibility onto you.

Please vote for your favourite by replying to this thread (please include your name – votes from anon will not be accepted). We will also accept votes via twitter which are posted to @irishwritersctr and end with the hashtag #Nelipots

We have left the poets names off to poems and would ask the writers not to post which poems belong to them publicly. Keep it fun and fair! Voting ends on Thursday at 6pm.

 

Entry One:

The Nelipot’s last cut

 

After drinking turmeric from the chipped

spout of a pink teapot, waves of collywobbles

caused her to retch a string of bile-coated grawlix,

startling giraffes necking amongst mimosa leaves

on the adjacent page. They all became trapped

in the first issue’s title story when the comic folded.

 

An unpublished second edition starred a surgeon

spilling six pounds of spawn and fourteen frogs

from her opened stomach, onto the theatre’s floor

while chanting batrachophagous to the nurse.

Then dancing across the room, wearing a look

of relish as jellied pearls oozed between his toes.

 

Today, giraffes chew on acacia leaves and our dog

licks my husband’s feet as I stare into the pond.

 

 

Entry Two:

Imprints

 

The war starts; we go nelipot, the gang of us,

walking in a field of falling sun,

dodging cattle, tracking muck.

 

The pond is full of them, and there’s a dare –

I’m white-mailed into trying batrachophagous,

put my foot down. Two slots, two bruises; just a lick.

 

Then we play doctors; one’s a surgeon, plucking hairs.

I kick the collywobbles, surviving jibes,

think pink fairy buns, the teapot waiting.

 

When I hold them back, the tears,

they know I’ve won.

 

 

Entry Three

The Bad-tempered Anti-subculture Giraffe

 

“Get some shoes buddy!”

 

The giraffe sneers at the grazing nelipot,

bothering no one on principle

(except some trees not know for their tactility).

 

Giraffe licks turmeric from a teapot and heaves,

(he thought it was Horlicks, his favourite tipple),

growling grawlix. Beeps.

 

The surgeon will have to be called

to extricate the collywobbles

from his large intestines.

 

(Not much he can do about giraffe’s bad-temper.)

 

“Shower of wasters! The batrachophagous French

only eat the legs!”

Pink with rage he beeps, beeps, plops.

“Grawlix, grawlix Hippies.”

He has some neck.

 

 

Entry Four

Nelipots – A Life Explained.

 

What on earth, you may ask, is a Nelipot?

I Google searched, for this task, here’s what I got:

 

It’s one who goes, for many days, on the trot,

With nothing on their feet, No not a jot.

No lacing shoes, or heavy boots, in a knot

Feet stay pink and bare, in cold weather, and in hot

No fear of sloshing hot water in teapots.

No worries of rocks, dog poop, or foul rot.

Only a hardy soul would give this life a shot.

No collywobbles, he’s as Brave as a Scot.

Licks his wounds, carries on, curses a lot.

 

 

Entry Five

The Oxpecker*

 

I was the Oxpecker to your Giraffe

used my licks to swallow your ticks

For ten years long, we lived on pink gins

a cacophony of sweets and sins.

 

Used my licks to swallow your ticks

my belly grew big and bold till

your cacophony of sweets and sins

made the acacia leaves lose their hold

 

My belly grew big and bold

with turmeric, you wanted me exotic, more erotic

but the acacia leaves lost their hold

The teapot turned cold

 

With turmeric you wanted me exotic, more erotic

Put me out off my misery, I said

The butterflies inside have grown old.

Return me to my song in the wild.

 

Put me out off my misery I said

Return me to my song of the wild

I was the Oxpecker to your Giraffe.

 

*Oxpecker is a bird that cleans parasites from large mammals i.e. the giraffe

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Win a Place on a Poetry Workshop with Leanne O’Sullivan

Poetry Competition for Nelipots Who Feast on Frogs.

kermit

Just for fun we’re having an impromptu poetry competition!

Below is a list of 10 words, use a minimum of 5 of them in a poem and send it to submissions@writerscentre.ie by 1pm on Monday. We’ll choose a 3 – 5 of our favourites and put them up for public vote on the blog on Monday night. Voting will close on Thursday, the 7th of March. Poems should not exceed 20 lines.

The winner will receive a place on the Poetry Workshop with Leanne O’Sullivan on the 9th of March.

 

nelipot

batrachophagous

surgeon

collywobbles
grawlix
giraffe
turmeric
pink
teapot
licks
If this all sounds like too much work but you’d love to attend a class with the wonderfully talented Leanne O’Sullivan do check out our website and book yourself a space on the course.

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That storytelling instinct

We’re chuffed to have Keith Ridgway read at the Centre on Friday 9th November at 1.05pm, as part of the Lunchtime Readings series. His most recent novel, Hawthorn & Child, published by Granta has been met with huge acclaim. His novella, Horses, was published by Faber & Faber in 1997, and was followed in 1998 by the novel The Long Falling (which was awarded both the Prix femina étranger and Prix du premier roman étranger in France). He won the Rooney Prize for Irish literature in 2001 for his short story collection Standard Time. His novel The Parts followed in 2005, and Animals in 2007. His stories have appeared in various anthologies and periodicals in Ireland, Britain and the United States, including The New YorkerDublin ReviewZoetrope, and Granta. Here, IWC intern Ferdia Lennon interviews Keith about storytelling, subversion, and preposterous thrillers.

The protagonists of Hawthorne and Child are detectives, yet it is far from being a traditional crime novel. Was subverting readers’ expectations part of what attracted you to these characters? Well, it was more the other way around. I was attracted to detectives because they are involved in a formal way in what I wanted to write about – our desire and our instinct to shape random events and experiences into narratives that make sense. That’s what policemen do. It’s what we all do, to some extent. I didn’t set out to subvert a traditional crime novel. But you become aware in the writing that having policemen on the page sets the reader up in a certain way. And I played with that, a little.

A chapter from Hawthorne and Child appeared as a stand-alone story entitled ‘Goo Book’ in the New Yorker, and you have described the novel as having a deliberately fragmented structure. Was Hawthorne and Child initially planned as a novel, or did you first envisage it as a short story collection? It was always a novel. But it was always, in my mind, very fragmented. In fact originally it was far more fragmented than it is now. I wanted dozens of tiny bits and pieces. As it is that instinct that I spoke about – that annoying story-telling instinct – came on pretty strong, and there was this tension between coherence and fragmentation in the writing of it. But it’s very much a novel. In the sense that there is no other name for it. It’s certainly not a short story collection.

Previously, you have cited Roberto Bolaño as a major influence. What other writers have been important, both in terms of inspiring you to write, and, then later, in your development? As a reader, I love Bolaño. As a writer, I’m very wary of him. I hope in many ways that he is not an influence, though our thoughts sometimes align. He is of course a sort of inspiration in terms of his ambition for his writing and his fearlessness. There are a lot of writers who I think of in a similar way – from Beckett to Gombrowicz, to Dennis Cooper, Gary Indiana, Flannery O’Connor, Dermot Healy, Cesare Pavese, José Saramago, Muriel Spark. I mean, there are dozens.

You have published novels, short stories and one novella. Do you have a preference for any particular form? No, not really. I just write, and things tend to find their own length. I am increasingly ambivalent about the divisions between these forms. I dislike a short story that is very like a short story, or a novel that it very much a novel. I say dislike, I mean I suppose that it gets boring, now.

You teach Creative Writing, do you find teaching writing has affected the way you approach your own work? I don’t teach creative writing. I don’t know what that is. I teach fiction writing. And no, it hasn’t affected the way I approach my own work.

Your short story The Spectacular looks at the plight of a struggling literary writer who attempts to write a commercial novel about a terrorist attack on the Olympics. Have you ever, in darker moments, been tempted to do the same? For example Sixty Shades of Grey? Well, not the Fifty Shades stuff. But I like preposterous thrillers and well crafted crime-books. It takes a huge amount of skill to do that sort of thing well, and is embarrassing in the extreme when done badly – especially by writers who think they can do it as a sideline. The writer in The Spectacular is one such – he’s lowering himself to writing a thriller. And you see that attitude in quite a few “literary” writers. It’s not one I share. I try to learn what I can from genre writers, and I try to apply it. And in most of my books there have been elements of genre. The Long Falling is a murder story. Horses is a small-town whodunnit. The Parts involves prostitution and kidnap and conspiracy theories. Animals bumps up against terrorism. So I’ve been writing half-genre novels my entire career. It’s just that nobody really noticed until I wrote one involving a couple of detectives.

What are you currently reading? Denis Johnson’s Tree Of Smoke, very slowly; Anthony Burgess’s Napoleon Symphony; and some science stuff from Lawrence Krauss and Douglas Hofstadter.

Are you working on anything at the moment? Yes.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Read more. Write more. But mostly, live more. Live an interesting life. Never settle. And always be ready to kill, and get out of town.

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Fiction, IWC, Lunchtime Readings, Readings, writing

Deadline Approaching for the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair

The Irish Writers’ Centre has begun counting down the days to the deadline of its esteemed Novel Fair. The deadline for the competition this year is on October 17th and the Novel Fair itself will take place on February 16th, 2013.

With just a few weeks left to enter, the terrific news of book acquisitions from last year’s winners is flooding in. Finalists from 2011, Niamh Boyce, Janet Cameron and Kevin Curran are three of our success stories.

Earlier in the year, Niamh Boyce sold her novel The  Herbalist to Penguin Ireland and more recently Janet Cameron‘s book, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, was snatched up by Hachette. As well as this, Liberties Press have laid claim to Kevin Curran‘s novel, Beatsploitation. With nine of the authors signed up with literary agents and many in talks with publishers, we eagerly anticipate more book deals before the end of the year.

The Novel Fair was introduced last year with the aim of introducing, in person, up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents who, in turn, have the chance to liaise with an eclectic bunch of talented, new authors. It gives promising, first-time novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas, bring characters to life and place their synopsis directly into the hands of the people they want to see it most.

Some changes have been made to last year’s set up, which include reducing the number of finalists to ten so that the novelists will benefit from more quality time with the publishers. To fully prepare them for the day the finalists also win a place on the seminar ‘How To Pitch Your Novel.’ 

This year, a brand new judging panel will be asked to select a shortlist of ten successful entries, presented to them anonymously. There is no limitation on style, genre, or target market and with a new set of eyes umpiring, writers who’ve submitted before shouldn’t hesitate in submitting again. The only requirement is that the authors mustn’t have published a novel before.

Publishers who have already confirmed attendance at this year’s Fair include Liberties Press, Penguin Ireland, Picador, New Island, Transworld Ireland, The Feldstein Agency, The Book Bureau, Marianne Gunn O’Connor Literary Agency, Jonathan Williams Literary Agency, The Lisa Richards Agency, and Lilliput Press. Each writer in attendance will have a stand at the Fair with copies of the synopsis, the finished novel itself and biographical material.

To enter send two copies of the opening chapters of your novel (max 10,000 words) along with three copies of a synopsis and a completed entry form, which can be downloaded from our website or collected from the C entre.  The Novel Fair Competition costs €40 to enter (€35 for members of the Irish Writers’ Centre). To find out more about the Novel Fair Competition, check out www.writerscentre.ie/novelfair, or email novelfair@writerscentre.ie. If you already know everything you need to know and would like to enter, click here.

 

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Emma Leavy on her love of lists

Emma Leavy is an Intern at the Irish Writers’ Centre this summer. She is a rising senior at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC where she majors in Culture and Politics. Emma fell in love with Ireland as a study abroad student at UCD this past fall. She is delighted to be back for the summer as a part of the IWC team. In her free time, she dabbles in short stories and spends inordinate amounts of time poking around used book stores.

As a lover of words, I am fascinated by lists. I find them inexplicably comforting: lists of the top ten liveliest pubs in Dublin, lists of books that will change my life, lists of the most gruesome serial killers to roam the streets of Edinburgh. I take a sick delight in to-do lists, scribbled on loose leaf with little boxes I can check off. The anticipation of checking off one of those tiny boxes is enough to get me through a first draft or a sinkful of dishes. Some of my very favourite writing exercises involve lists. For example, I find it helpful to list the contents of my characters’ nightstand drawer or CDs which line their shelves. Lists like these help me grasp onto the shadowy details of the characters lurking in the crevices of my brain, transforming them into a living and breathing imaginary friends. This bizarre interest of mine bubbled to the surface whilst looking for online resources for writers. The internet is chock full of lists. So my fellow neurotic writers, I present to you a LIST of the top lists for writers on the internet:

12 Essential TED Talks for Writers

I have a confession: I love trashy television. I find the antics of reality television stars incredibly therapeutic. My life seems instantly normal and organized in comparison. TED Talks are the perfect antidote to the delights of reality TV. It’s a non-for-profit organization which holds conferences where people from all walks of life give fantastic talks on their passions. These informative and moving talks are then uploaded on their free website. Here’s a list of the best TED talks for writers.

1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list

This list of 1000 novels both terrifies and delights me. The folks at The Guardian really know their stuff and the list contains both well-known literary classics and a few mysterious gems. I intend to post this on my desk and tick off my reads one by one.

The 18 Most Popular Articles on Writing of 2011

A direct channel into some great and varied advice for writers. There’s a bit of business sense and some solid words of wisdom on the nuts and bolts of writing. Your writing will thank you for poking around this website.

Best Creative Writing Exercises

An entertaining and useful list of writing exercises. Some of them are silly, but all will make you smile. Some might even make you write. My favourite? “Open the dictionary to a random page. Find a word that you do not know how to define. Write an imaginary definition for it. Repeat.”

Top Tens

This is a list lover’s wet dream: over 400 “Top Ten” Lists of Books. Searching for the top ten bedtime stories, the best tales of Americans in Europe, or the ten best deranged characters? Look no further! Some author has contemplate the same bizarre theme and made a list for The Guardian.

Thirty-Three Twitter Feeds to Follow

Twitter is a virtual treasure mine of literary advice, suggestions and ideas. If you’re having trouble sorting through the endless amount of feeds, this list will give you a sold starting point.

The Joy of Lists

A wonderful mediation on lists in literature and why we enjoy them. I would love to have lunch with the author, Arthur Krystal. I have a feeling we would have a lot to talk about. Favourite line: ‘Isn’t every list in reality a ceremonial flourish against amnesia and chaos?’

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Just. Keep. Going.

The sun poured through the Georgian windows of the Irish Writers’ Centre for the duration of the Publishing Day event last Saturday. The room was buzzing with anticipation as people chatted with their neighbours. Jack Gilligan, the recently appointed Chairman of the Centre, kicked off proceedings with fire safety announcements. He apologised that unfortunately perfectly formed novels wouldn’t be dropped from the roof in the event of an emergency. I think there were one or two sighs of disappointment.  Do it because you love it and because you have to do it

Ciara Doorley, Editorial Director of Hacette Ireland, was the first speaker. She dove right into the nuts and bolts of the industry. Giving us guidelines for putting together a gleaming shiny submission, sure to catch someone’s attention. She really stressed the importance of being concise and professional in both the cover letter and the synopsis and for the writing itself to be as fine-tuned as possible before submission. Once you’ve submitted, she said, the key thing is to keep writing. Do it because you love it and because you have to do it. However, it could take months to hear back and it’s important to take the pressure off both yourself and the book while you wait. So learn the art of patience.

Ciara was the first but not the last to mention Stephen King’s book On Writing as a great book to check out for writers at all stages. And of course do I even need to name the other book that got more than a few mentions? Yes it’s a current trend, which of course publishers are aware of, but no she’s not an over-night success. Erika Leonard (E.L. James) had previously e-published other work. Another shining example of the ten year over-night success.

Gareth Cuddy, CEO of ePub Direct, gave an over view of the, blink and you miss it, ever-changing epublising industry. On average people with e-readers read at least a third more books than their 3D book counterparts simply due to ease of access. He ran through a couple of requirements for epublishing yourself. The technical things like formatting and where you can get it done. Who the major players are in the industry at the moment; Koby, Kindle, Direct Publishing and he spoke briefly about the constant battles (for battles read: hard-core litigation) between the traditional publishing work and the e-publishing world.

He showed a video, much to the amusement of the group, of a toddler playing with an iPad. The child successfully navigated her way around it; passwords, opening and closing of files, zooming into pictures, etc. Then the iPad was taken away and replaced with a magazine. The child repeatedly tried to expand the pictures in print without success. She got frustrated and tested her finger on her little chubby leg just to make sure it was working properly. Once she realised her finger, was in fact, working properly she gave up on the magazine. Gareth said that the child would forever more think that the magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work. Can evolution even keep up with that?

Then it was a quick breather for lunch and a chance to soak up some of the sun. Sitting across the road in Garden of Remembrance I thought about the little girl in the video and what would be lost if that was to become the reality for the children to come. What if browsing through an actual library or book shop was lost forever? What if we didn’t know what books smelled like? Or how it felt to flip over the feather thin pages of a dictionary? How can the ‘consumption of ebooks’ ever equal that?

Cliona Lewis opened the second half of the day. As Publicity Director for Penguin Ireland she knows a thing or two about what it takes to get out there and get noticed. Of course social media now plays a crucial role but traditional media, especially radio, inIrelandis still the winner. We are after all the biggest consumers of radio in Europe. She spoke about how important it was to be able to sell yourself and how gruelling a book tour can be. She said it was hotel to hotel, flight to flight. But even with that dampener put on our fire I don’t think any dreams were crushed in the room with that realisation. For the unpublished this still has a silver lining.

Emma Walsh took the podium next and spoke about the difference between the “art of writing and the business of publishing” and how important it was to not only to be able to tell them apart but to be well versed in the later. Browse your local bookstore to see what people are buying, keep an eye on blogs and websites, the Guardian in particular, so that you’re up to date with trends and industry gossip. And network, network, network. Along with Ciara she highlighted the importance of a professional, well edited and spell-checked submission. And more importantly not to lose heart, ‘if something doesn’t work try something else.’

There was no denying that most of the speakers did at some point express their dismay at the current upheaval in the publishing world. But any qualms were quietened with a belief that in the long run it’ll be positive for the industry and good work always gets through.

After yet another caffeine jolt and the aforementioned networking Arlene Hunt couldn’t have been a better end to the day. Herself and her husband took the proverbial bull by the horns and set up their own publishing house, Portnoy Publishing. Alongside this she also happens to be a best-selling author with no less than seven novels to her name.  And with the rights of one just sold in Germany she is on the up and ever up.

Determination, determination and some more determination along with never giving up and a drop of luck were her wise words. She too had been rejected at the beginning but she just kept going. Writing every day is crucial. And always with an eye to finishing the first draft and not getting bogged down in edits of early chapters before the thing is even finished. How can you know what is wrong with it when it’s not even finished? And then you must edit to the point where you don’t care about the characters anymore. That means there is nothing else to change and you’re ready to put it out there.

At the end of the day my head was fried, yes, but, I left with a renewed sense of conviction. Just. Keep. Going. Was the message that was received load and clear over the day. If the journey was easy it wouldn’t be worth it.

BIG THANKS to Niamh MacAlister who attended the Publishing Day & reviewed it for us! Niamh completed a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews, Scotland with the assistance of The Arts Council of Ireland, An Chomhairle Ealaíon.  She was selected as a ‘New and Emerging Poet’ for the 2010 Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and also for the Lonely Voice Short Story Series. She has had prose published in 3009 and poetry in The Stinging Fly, Raft, The Moth and Washington Square Review. She will complete a residency in Cill Rialaig in 2012. 

 

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Julia O’Mahony: awake for 28 hours

by Julia O’Mahony from Totally Dublin

Charged with attending the duration of the twenty-eight hour Read for the World Guinness World Record Attempt for ‘The Most Authors Reading Consecutively from their Books’, I was feeling quietly confident about my chances of staying awake for the entirety of proceedings. My optimism was, in this respect, perhaps a little misplaced, but my excitement about the event itself was, I would discover, entirely justified. I had been to the Irish Writers’ Centre earlier in the week, to meet with the organisers and their enthusiasm had been contagious. I got up bright and early on Friday, and after stopping for supplies, legged it up to Parnell Square. The centre was buzzing, and I got cosy in a seat that, though I didn’t know it yet, would be responsible for a really impressive bout of pins and needles in the early hours of the next morning.

And suddenly we were off! Larger-than-life David Norris, fit to burst with Bloomsday excitement, kicked off proceedings and when we had a chat, his declaration that I ‘was far too nice to be a journalist’ did at least have me in high spirits – the charmer. Next up, John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and former student of Norris’s, as it happens, really got down to the literary stuff, reading an excerpt of terse dialogue from his new novel, The Absolutist. That morning we sped through multiple Irish childhoods, flirted with punk rock and the Celtic Tiger, slipped in and out of geriatric wards and spent quite a while reflecting on dreams of a dinosaur. Each reader spoke for fifteen minutes, and we were flying through at quite a pace. At half twelve, I tucked into my Caesar salad, and was surprised to discover just how noisy a lettuce cruncher I was. I munched on self-consciously, particularly enjoying Iggy McGovern’s Proverbs for a Computer Age (beware of geeks bearing .gifs, etc) and spluttered croutons everywhere accordingly. Later, Mia Gallagher put on a superb show, with a brilliant dramatic reading from her novel Hellfire.

Throughout the day, it was great to see so many of the speakers hanging about to hear each other read, and there was a really pervasive sense of both camaraderie, and general jollity that lasted the duration of the 28 hours. They came to support one another, but also no doubt to listen to writers whose work they hadn’t encountered before. At sevenish, my housemate rolled up, with some tasty treats to keep me fortified, just in time to hear Pádraig J Daly’s recitation of poems, from his collection Afterlife. She popped off before the next reader, and I was pretty content until about half twelve, when I decided to do a quick circuit of Parnell Square, for sanity’s sake, with a second bout of visitors, who had popped in for a few readings. They suggested a pint, but I declined, knowing that a drink would hardly be likely to stave off closing eyelids in the coming hours.

We returned to the Writer’s Centre for one-ish, and. I was welcomed back by a member of staff, who threatened to tie me down in the room in which I was supposed to be listening for the remainder of my sentence. He was joking, I think, but caffeine does strange things to people, and not taking any chances, I scurried back upstairs, all ears once again. The wise people at the Irish Writer’s Centre had thought the timetable through, so throughout, the speakers alternated between poetry and prose, and there was no early – morning lull in subject matter. Indeed, it was at this point that things started to get really interesting, as the younger writers took to the podium for the night-shift. It was pretty upbeat, and I particularly enjoyed a natty comparison drawn between the courtship rituals of African Elephants and Dubliners drawn by Ross Hattaway. Then up stepped the monikered Winston Smith, to read from his book Generation F. He did tell me his real name, and I felt pretty cool to be privy to more than just his 1984 alias. However, in the days since the event, I have slept so deeply that I’m lucky to remember my own name, and hardly surprised that his top secret one has slipped through the net. His recital was hilarious, and just what we needed; it detailed his time working in social care in England; the numerous lines of red tape that he had had to wade through, and the range of eccentric characters that he was trying to help on the other side of it – the kids. When I spoke to him after, he told me that he still finds it bizarre that people are so amused by the whole series of events. It was just his life, he told me, rather modestly, though his reading was so well delivered, with faultless comic timing, that it’s hard to believe that he hadn’t at least got used to the books warm reception by now.

Sarah Clancy stepped up to read with a keen sense of fun, and pithy poems to match. Thanks for Nothing, Hippies has achieved widespread acclaim, and Clancy skipped through it eloquently, and had everyone chuckling. Then, after a pretty chilling retelling of Into the Grey by the author Celine Kiernan, it was time for a break from all the literary business, and so I slipped downstairs.

Twenty-eight hours is not really all that long a time to be awake for, I had thought to myself in the days prior to Read for the World. I knew that I’d lasted far longer than that before. What I hadn’t anticipated was the languor that set in after being read to for so long. My Mum used to read to me at bedtime as a treat when I was little, and it seems that it’s still as soporific as ever. I’d heard at least sixty-five speakers, and forgotten what it was to have feeling in my backside. I thought I’d nip downstairs, get a coffee and chat to some of the IWC staff for a while, and return refreshed, and ready to listen, to the room where the action was. I was a fool.

For a start, it was really nice downstairs. The staff were friendly, funny, and all genuinely excited about the event, but not so consumed by it that they weren’t willing to admit that they too, were absolutely pooped.  It was nice and light and airy downstairs, I could be noisy, and do a few star jumps to get the blood circulating in my limbs again, and I hung out with them for longer than planned. When I made my way back upstairs, it was even tougher than before I’d left. The room was warmer, and darker, and I had a few snoozing accomplices in the back row who were tempting me to follow their lead. I though about throwing in the towel, and counted how long I had left. Ten hours.

At half past five, something had to be done, and so I went for a quick jog along O’Connell Street. Hardly a gym bunny myself, I must admit that if that last sentence appeared effortless, it was in fact an elaborate deception. Quick and jog, in combination with my own levels of personal fitness, might be described as something of an oxymoron. Naturally, in keeping with this sudden lifestyle overhaul I went to the liberty of buying a McDonalds. Unfortunately, at 6am, McDonalds do not stock their usual meaty treats but instead, have a range of creepy egg-in-bread produce. Who knew! My Mcmuffin was an abomination, though the hash brown that is surely meant to serve as some sort of aperitif was satisfyingly delicious.

Back to the Reading Room, and things were getting tense. I was sat next to a man who had arrived at about midnight, and by half six, the strain was beginning to show. The pair of us were pulling off some pretty impressive impressions of nodding dogs as we fought sleep, and his eventual descent into sleep was my cue. If I was ever to stay awake for the Heaneys and Roddy Doyle, I’d have to catch just one or two cheeky z’s. I perhaps could have planned it better than to have fallen asleep on the organiser and founder of the Irish Writers Centre himself, Jack Harte, who’s comfy arm unwittingly volunteered itself as a pillow, but he didn’t seem to take my fifteen minute snooze too personally. I hope the particular speaker whom I chose to nap through understood my plight.

At eight o’clock, and feeling comparatively well rested, I noticed that the room had begun to fill up again. Were these hardcore Heaney fans? In fact, I think that it was people just strolling in and out, perhaps before tasty brunches. However, from nine, I was pretty sure that the cavalry assembled had turned out to see Seamus. His wife Marie read first, from her retelling of Irish legends – Over Nine Waves. And then, the man himself, introducing himself to the packed room as “the husband of the previous reader.” It won’t surprise you to know that he, like many of the other poets over the course of the event, knew his work by heart. Ninety-six readers had gone before Seamus, all of them thoroughly enjoyable, some certainly with the promise of being as poignant. And yet as he read his poem ‘Postscript’ the whole audience was on edge, particularly for the last few lines:

“As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways,

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”

Perhaps it was simply that so many of the audience clearly already had a fondness for Heaney’s poetry, but the audience was absolutely rapt. Then, off he slipped back to Sandymount, his departure as understated as his arrival (despite the flock of fans that traipsed after him). It was good to see that the room didn’t empty completely after Heaney – and there was a large audience for the remainder of the day. The penultimate reader and old-time favourite Roddy Doyle had everyone in stitches and was followed by Jack Harte, founder of the Irish Writers’ Centre, and organiser of the event, who spoke last. After reading one of his short stories, he thanked all the participants and organisers for their hard work, and then that was that! Twenty-eight hours since David Norris’s upbeat entrée, and the record had been broken. Everyone was delighted, and there was much running around and back-slapping done by all.

So, anything gained? By Saturday afternoon, when my friends joined me for a pub lunch before long-awaited nap time, I was sleep-deprived and delirious, but essentially feeling pretty jammy. I’d made a few pals, listened to Seamus Heaney read, chuckled at Roddy Doyle, and got chummy with David Norris. Yet easily the most important thing that I took from the experience was not, in fact, renewed confidence in my power to stay awake (if anything quite the reverse), but instead a genuine appreciation for the work of the Irish Writers’ Centre. There is so much going on – aimed not just at writers, but at readers also. I have every intention of becoming a member, and would definitely recommend that you pop along to the centre, or to one of their events, even if its duration is significantly less than twenty-eight hours.

©totallydublin.ie


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Eddie Linden: poetry and reminiscence

An interview with John Kearns, 19th April 2012.

Eddie Linden became one of the leading figures on the international poetry scene through his journal Aquarius, which ran from 1969 to 2002. While Aquarius was seminal to the development of many poets in the UK, Ireland and internationally, Eddie is also an accomplished poet himself and last year saw the publication of his selected poems A Thorn in the Flesh from Hearing Eye press. We hope you can join us at the Irish Writers’ Centre for an evening of poetry and reminiscences from Eddie and many of his Irish friends on Tuesday April 24th 2012.

JK – Something I wasn’t sure about because there are various accounts, was where you were born – in Coalisland or in Scotland?

EL: I used to assume that it was in Coalisland, but now I believe it was in Scotland– I think my mother had come there. I never knew my real father, he died in south Armagh, but I did meet the family some years ago with Constance[Short]. My father was long dead by that stage. I’d always wanted to meet him and I’d a great dream that one day we’d meet in Cullaville near Crossmaglen in South Armagh where he came from. But it never happened. He never married or acknowledged me. My grandfather’s brother John settled in Dublin and his grandson is a solicitor there. The funny thing was that the street where John Behan [the sculptor and Eddie’s friend] lived in Marino, was the same street as where my great uncle John Glacken lived. John’s mother only lived about four doors away from them. My family are definitely Irish.

JK – And what about yourself – do you feel more Irish or Scottish?

EL – Oh Irish. I’ve always felt more Irish. And I suffered a lot when my foster father inScotlandremarried – he married a very bigoted Orangewoman. She tried to get rid of me and I remember as a boy of 10 being taken to my mother’s house and seeing my mother being insulted: “Take your Fenian bastard back!” It left me with a hatred of racism and sectarianism, particularly in Scotland where it was very bitter, and that comes out a lot in my poetry. I was glad when I came toLondonto get away from all that. That’s when I joined the Communist Party.

JK – I was interested to read about that in Who is Eddie Linden?, but it was the invasion of Hungary in 1956 that dampened your enthusiasm for the party?

EL –Hungarywas one of the things. I never lost contact with the party. In fact one of the last general secretaries, Gordon McClennan, died last year and for the last five years of his life we were in contact regularly. He was a lovely man. His last days were spent helping the pensioners – he was part of the pensioners’ movement.

JK – But in the book, Sebastian Barker writes about the influence of a priest, a Fr Andrew Scott, on you around this time?

EL – Fr Andrew was a Dominican in Scotland. The Dominicans at that time were very progressive. When I went back to the Church it was like going to the Catholic Church from the Communist Church, they were identical. They both were authoritarian. It’s like what I heard recently about priests that have been silenced. One of the great theologians to be silenced by Romewas Hans Küng. And one of the big things that annoy me is the anti-progressive attitude of the Catholic Church to people who are gay.

JK – So tell me how you got into poetry.

EL – Poetry happened to me late. I never thought that I would have a book of poems out. I wasn’t happy with the first book because there were a lot of misprints in it. It had extracts from my diaries – diaries which were eventually lost. They would have been helpful for John Cooney [currently writing Eddie’s biography]. But from 1969 I was dedicated to my magazine Aquarius. I got great help from the late Timothy O’Keefe of the publishers Martin, Brian & O’Keeffe. Brian helped me with the layout and adverts, Tim did reviews for me, Martin helped a great deal too. They didn’t last long, about five years, but they published The Green Fool by Paddy Kavanagh and later on they published his Collected Poems too.

JK – They published Sebastian Barker as well I think?

EL – That was through me, I got them to publish him. At that time the Arts Council were giving grants to publishers. That meant that publishers were able to publish more poems. They started with Sebastian Barker, later they did Shaun Traynor. But they didn’t do much poetry except for Irish poetry like Kavanagh.

JK – What was it that prompted you to start up Aquarius in the first place?

EL – I’d been friendly with John Heath-Stubbs. And I’d started doing readings at the Lamb and Flag and I had people like John reading along with George Barker, Thomas Blackburn and others and the magazine grew out of that. The second magazine was a special Irish issue with a cover by Eamonn O’Doherty and it was edited by Pearse Hutchinson. I never got a grant for that, but later on I did an Irish-Australian issue where the Australian Arts Council helped to pay for the Australian poets and there was an introduction by the late Peter Porter and I did an Irish issue there. I got a lot of help with that through a man I met at the Irish embassy called Con Howard. I started organising readings also at the Irish Club in Eaton Square and that was through him too. He managed to get funds from the Irish government and I was able to bring over Pearse and a number of young poets like Paul Durcan and Eiléan [Ní Chuilleanáin]. Then I published Madge Herron from Donegal, though she had settled in London by that stage. And from then on I was always in contact with Irish poets.

JK – How many special issues of Irish poetry did you do?

EL – I did two issues. If you notice in Eddie’s Own Aquarius Seán Hutton provided a list of all the issues that came out. I did it all on my own. There were no grants when I started, but I got a lot of good will from people. Harold Pinter really set me up when he sent me £100. It’s not true that it was the only magazine where he allowed his poems to be published – people have said that, I did publish him but he was published elsewhere too. He always remained a supporter of Aquarius though.

JK – Thinking of all the poets you’ve published, who do you think you’d be proudest of?

EL – I think I’m very happy to have published people like Matthew Sweeney. Anthony Cronin must have put him in touch with me and he himself was living not far from me in Maida Vale and he had started a broadsheet. He sent a copy of it to Samuel Beckett. Beckett didn’t send a poem, but he sent a donation. I’ve always been proud that I was able to promote the poetry. If I thought a poem was good I would write to the TLS about it.

JK – I’d imagine those years were pretty fractious times in London with the situation in the Poetry Society, Eric Mottram taking over at Poetry Review and so on. 

EL – They were fairly separate. It was around that time that I got fairly involved and became a council member of the Society. I remained so for about thirty years and that was a way of promoting the magazine. I think that Aquarius did its best. I was pleased that I was able to do something like that. I realised that I had reached a new generation and I felt about three years ago that I did my bit. I think the last issue I finished with the help of A.T. Tolley in Canada was a John Heath-Stubbs issue. I got to know Prof Tolley and he got me to do an issue on the poets of the 1940s. I remember getting articles from David Gascoyne, the surrealist poet, who spent most of his early life in Paris and whose biography has just come out by Robert Fraser. I’m halfway through it and it’s a remarkable book that really ought to be read.

JK – Gascoyne’s a writer that doesn’t get as much attention nowadays as maybe he ought to. For a lot of younger poets I think he could be quite inspirational.

EL – He was. The story of David is interesting. A woman came into his life [Judy Lewis] when he was in a mental hospital on the Isle of Wight and she was reading poetry to the patients. And on one occasion she read a particular poem and he came up to her afterwards and said “I wrote that!” She didn’t believe him at first, but it was a salvation for David. He started to write for the TLS after that and he was invited to poetry festivals in Cambridge. At the end of his life he got a medal from the French government for his contribution to literature and he met up with a lot of the old poets that he knew – it was a remarkable thing. He made a wonderful recovery and never looked back. One other person who knew him very well and was important to me too was Elizabeth Smart, Sebastian’s mother, who wrote By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. She was a great inspiration and I used to spend weekends and holidays at her house in the country. I wrote a poem in which I talk about the “The Dell” in Suffolk where she lived.

JK – Somebody who was obviously very important to Aquarius was John Heath-Stubbs. What was he like to work with? It sounds like he was very supportive of you?

EL – Oh he was. At one stage he was annoyed when I published Blake Morrison, who became a really good friend, because he was very anti-The Movement. In the new edition of Agenda there’s an article about John when he was at Oxford with a man called Michael Meyer and they brought out an anthology of poetry at that time and they left out Larkin and Kingsley Amis. John always regretted he didn’t put Larkin in, although I don’t think they cared much for each other. Larkin included John in the last thing he edited though and John. His publisher was OUP and he did a translation of the Italian poet Leopardi and I believe it was a really good edition. He never did a lot of translation, but on that occasion he did it really well. And then the OUP dropped him and he was taken up by Michael Schmidt in Carcanet through Charles Sisson. From then on, John was published by them, though he never really did as well as he should. He did get reviewed in the TLS – whenever I brought out special issues I always got reviews in the TLS.

JK – I suppose a work like Artorius might be a bit intimidating for some readers.

EL – I think he spent 10 years thinking out that poem and it was published eventually by Enitharmon. He hated Alvarez – also part of the Movement – and Alvarez left him out of his anthology. I don’t think even Ian Hamilton cared much for the kind of poetry John was writing. He didn’t belong to any group. He was always regarded as a Neo-Romantic, but he didn’t like that. But check out that article in Agenda about the dispute between the Movement people and John’s generation.

JK – What about another poet loosely associated with the Movement, Elizabeth Jennings?

EL – Yes I did get her to do readings. She was a very nervous sort of person, spent a lot of her life living in rooms at Oxford. She was very eccentric. It was the same with Madge Herron. Madge used to think in Irish and could be difficult, but was a great poet. She had started her career in the Abbey Theatre and she sent her poetry to W.B. Yeats, who encouraged her. She became more eccentric when she moved to London though.

JK – Were there any other Irish poets who stick in your mind.

EL – Well Seamus [Heaney] started publishing in Aquarius and I was very pleased to have published him and other northern poets like Paul Muldoon, from Tyrone where my family are from. I published Paul when was just starting to get publishe by Faber. There are so many others that I can’t think of them all.

JK – Thank you. 

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Poet Geraldine Mitchell at IWC

Geraldine Mitchell is reading this Friday as part of the Lunchtime Reading series at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Friday, March 2nd at 1.05pm. The Lunchtime Readings run (on Fridays) throughout February and March in the Irish Writers’ Centre and are organised in association with Poetry Ireland. The readings will be alternating between prose and poetry, offering audiences the chance to experience a wide-range of literary talent. Here’s an interview printed in the Mayo News with Geraldine (written by Áine Ryan).

 

THE difference between the view from the rock of Gibraltar and from the remote, windswept landscape of Devlin, near Louisburgh is patently dramatic. The Mediterranean and the Atlantic create very distinctive colours and moods with the elemental power of their seasonal and whimsical brushstrokes. Poet, Geraldine Mitchell has an intimate knowledge of these natural tableaux. Her poetic interpretations and musings in her recently launched book, ‘World Without Maps’, are more nuanced. They microscopically unfurl ‘the layered scents’ of her sensitive observations.

 

Geraldine Mitchell was born in affluent Dublin 2 to a Presbyterian father and a Methodist mother. While she attended Primary school in Dublin, her parents packed her off to a boarding school in Scotland when she was just 12 years old ‘because they felt there wasn’t a good enough Protestant school in Ireland’. “I think temperamentally boarding school didn’t suit me. I was very independent and for example refused to go to church. I’m not sure now if I totally challenged the poor principal, at the time it didn’t feel like that. Eventually, I got a room in the attic – my own little garret – and had a special regime.”

 

For over a decade, Geraldine has lived on the edge of the ocean near Killeen. In an earlier life she reported on the killing of the Gibraltar Three – Mairéad Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann. These IRA activists were shot by British SAS soldiers on March 6, 1988, accused of plotting to bomb a military ceremony. At the time, Mitchell had tentatively launched her brief career as a freelance journalist. “The Irish Times sent over their journalist Andy Pollak but he didn’t have Spanish, so I did all the interviews. I remember skipping past all the police at Malaga police headquarters and going up to the top of the old building to talk to the police officer who had leaked the story to the Press. He was no longer in charge of the case”.

 

“Andy Pollak taught me a lot about the complexities of the Republican movement. I had left Ireland when I was 20. Andy helped me get behind the facile interpretations of what was happening in the north.” Geraldine, who had worked as an English teacher in France for some years, moved to Spain with her two children, then aged eleven and eight, in 1982. Her marriage to a French man subsequently ended in 1984. “I had always loved writing and then I discovered the Spanish language, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I began to find teaching a little predictable, so I started freelancing, doing a bit for the Sunday Tribune and The Irish Times. It wasn’t easy.” It was sometime during 1985 or 1986 that Spanish teaching colleagues suggested that Geraldine organise a holiday in Ireland, somewhere in the west and – ‘in pure serendipity’ – she rented a house owned by well-known authors Michael and Ethna Viney, right across from her present home in Devlin.

 

“I totally fell in love with the place, and because my marriage had ended, I felt I needed a fixed point in my life and that I needed to reconnect with Ireland.” So, Geraldine let it be known to locals that she was on the look-out to purchase a house. “The following winter the house I now own came up for sale. I bought it, sight-unseen. It was a great adventure for the kids and myself and for the ensuing years we came every August for the entire month.” Finding the home of her dreams was not the only serendipitous twist in her life. While living in London for a time, Geraldine met her second husband, Neil Middleton – a publisher and later a writer for NGOs through connections with the (resourceful!) Vineys. In 1992 the couple moved to her native Dublin for a time where she wrote her two Children’s books, and a biography of Muriel Gahan, founder of The Country Shop and champion of rural Irish women. Some years later, shocking news of a breast cancer diagnosis ‘catapulted’ the decision to move full-time to the west, Geraldine explains. Resilient as always, when she recovered, she was soon involved with the Louisburgh Community Project as a volunteer and when a job came up later she worked as a Development Worker from 2001 until 2007.

 

“While working for the project, we set up a writing group and invited Jean Tuomey to facilitate the group. She has a great gift of bringing the best out in people. I wasn’t at all convinced about writing groups, but I decided to sit in on it. Jean puts you in touch with your subconscious, because that’s where poetry comes from.” The first poem Mitchell had published was in the Cork journal, The SHOp, in 2006. Two years later – having made her application while on a Mayo County Council bursary at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig – she won the prestigious Patrick Kavanagh Award. She couldn’t believe it! “People think I write poetry because I live in a beautiful place. But I don’t write about the beauty of the place; but because of its beauty I can find the space to listen to myself. It also affords me the space and time to read a lot.”
“In a funny way, poetry is a way of thinking and seeing. When you look at a landscape the normal way, you look at it is horizontally; poetry makes you look at it vertically, to go down into yourself … “In poetry you want to touch people in a way that they come away from the poem with a new feeling. It is such a shame people are put off by the word poetry, just like they are by classical music. Poetry is a way of understanding, a way of life.” World Without Maps by Geraldine Mitchell is published by Arlen House.

 

Ultrasound
Deep in the pockets of my memory
are coins rubbed smooth from fingering,
stories I have hoarded, guarded
from the corruption of sharing.
The night we spent in the one-room house
in Kabylia, after broad beans and buttermilk
from a single dish.
You in the big bed with him.
The honour.
Me and his wife on the floor.
How in the night she wrapped her arms around me,
and from behind the fortress of her belly
her child tapped messages on my back.
– Geraldine Mitchell

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