To find out more about Ken Bruen, visit his website, or check out these two interviews:
Tag Archives: Lunchtime Readings
Paul Perry is the author and editor of a number of critically acclaimed books including The Drowning of the Saints, Goldsmith’s Ghost, 108 Moons and The Orchid Keeper. A recipient of the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award for his short story The Judge, which was later collected in The New Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction, Perry’s first book of poetry The Drowning of the Saints was published in 2003 to critical acclaim and was short-listed for the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award for Best First Collection at the Poetry Now Festival in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin. It was subsequently awarded The Listowel Prize for Poetry. He is also the editor of Heartland, an anthology of contemporary writing from Co. Longford, and Goldsmith’s Ghost, a collaborative novel which he devised and to which he also contributed, published by Heartland Press. Paul teaches creative writing for Kingston University, London, and University College Dublin and is Course Director in Poetry for the Faber Academy in Dublin. He will take part in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lunctime Reading series this Friday, 16th March. All welcome!
When did the writing start!? I started writing when I was a child. I had to take extra English classes at school as a 7 year old. I remember the teacher helping me with the spelling of the word ‘breakfast.’ ’Look it’s really two words: break and fast. Anglo saxon. To break your fast.’ That and the German language all around me – it was a German school – was enough to get me hooked on language.
What’s been the greatest obstacle to becoming (and remaining) a poet? Earning a living.
How did you go about getting your poetry published? Sent it out, was rejected, wrote, rewrote, discarded, reimagined it, rewrote it, sent it out again …
How important is it to read your work aloud to an audience? Poetry for me is not the declarative exclamation of social realism – read, read out loud, filmed, whatever, it’s all a performative act, one which acknowledges the human voice, and intimately reveals our humanity to each other. So, yes, it’s important.
Should poets, as Shelley argued, act as ‘unofficial legislators’? No, as Larkin said, this describes better the secret police.
Have you ever published poems which now you wish you hadn’t had published? Yes, but you move on.
You’ve written a fair bit about Longford (i.e. the Irish midlands) – an area that is often neglected in modern Irish literature – was this deliberate or is the rural landscape a more challenging topic than cityscape? Not deliberate no. I found myself after a decade of living in the US – Houston, Chicago, Providence, Miami – returned to Ireland. My first job was Writer in Residence in Longford. I was responding to the two years I lived there over the Camlin river.
You’ve written a collaborative novel: Goldsmith’s Ghost, was this a particularly challenging project, clashing styles, varied tastes, etc? I relish the opportunity to work with others on collaborative projects. I recently edited two collaborative teenage novels for dlr libraries and like Maureen Seaton, I’m interested in the frisson which can result from writing with others. Goldsmiths Ghost was great fun. I can still remember the drives I took with the arts officer to meet and discuss the next chapter with the next writer. It’s a funny novel and I still have a soft spot for it.
What are you writing next? I’ve just finished editing Beyond the Workshop, published by Kingston University press. It’s a book on the evolution and future of the creative writing workshop. More details on my blog.I’m also working on new poems and translations and an experimental prose project.
Any advice for emerging writers? Keep things up in the air.
Paul Murray will read at the Irish Writers’ Centre’s ‘Lunchtime Readings’ series, beginning this Friday, 10th February. He’s the author of two novels: An Evening of Long Goodbyes (Penguin), shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and nominated for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award and Skippy Dies (Hamish Hamilton) - shortlisted for the 2010 Costa Book Awards – and longlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. Skippy Dies has been described as funny, rude, dark, sad, ambitious, imaginative, surreal, briliant. The Guardian praised it for being: ‘so appealing and surprising that the pages pass with ease’, while the Irish Independent dubbed Murray’s characters ‘so three-dimensionally drawn and brought to such vivid life that they may haunt your dreams.’ Here, the author discusses loneliness, capitalism, posh schools, and how becoming a writer is no different to becoming a plumber or pilot or podiatrist:
A novel set in a posh Dublin school is a far cry from the worlds of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown or Dermot Bolger’s Finglas. Did you deliberately choose a radically different social setting with “Skippy Dies?” Or was this a purely instinctive, natural narrative backcloth? Well, I didn’t choose it just to be different. It was a world that I knew very well, which had the added attraction of having been somewhat under-represented in Irish books hitherto. In fact I had the suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that that world, the ‘posh school’ as you call it, and the boring, anonymous suburbs where so many people live now, weren’t seen as being worth writing about. They were seen as being less ‘Irish’, less authentic and therefore less fit subject for literature than more ‘real’ settings like the west of Ireland, for instance. That idea, that some places and some people are more real than others, and that we should all be writing novels about old peasant women scrubbing their butter churns, really bothers me. Maybe the suburbs are less real and less authentic. But the people living there are still people, and their experiences of this unreal world are absolutely real. So I wanted to write about that world I knew so well, and I wanted to write about it via teenagers – they’re the ones who experience suburbia most directly, because they’re stuck there. And again, teenagers seemed to be seen as kind of infra dig in Irish novels, so I wanted to give them their turn.
The Guardian flatteringly described the book as a ‘hilarious satire on modern Ireland‘? Did you set out with that intention? Was this a work principally of satire? I’m not really that comfortable with tags like comedy or satire or whatever, like your book can only be one thing. I wanted to tell the story of these characters as faithfully and honestly as I could. There’s a lot of humour, because most of the characters are teenagers and they act in quite an unguarded and extreme way, but it’s mostly realistic and I’m not setting them up to be laughed at. The word ‘satire’ to me conjures up images of the author mocking the foibles of humanity from some great height – everyone’s a grotesque, and their entire world is revealed to be fundamentally deluded and ridiculous. I didn’t have any interest in writing a book like that. That said, setting the book in this school was a useful way of looking at bigger changes that were happening in the country – because these were the most privileged children of the people who were reaping the benefits of the economic boom. They were handed this new world that generation had created, so they were at the coal-face of that new morality and that new attitude to money and materialism.
Although a comic novel there’s a darkness beneath it especially with menacing figures like Carl, how much of this came from your own experience of school days and the adolescent ‘jungle’? I went to secondary school in the 1990s, which though it wasn’t that long ago chronologically feels, from this vantage, almost prehistoric. So many interesting things have happened since then – the internet, the war on terror, mobile phones, X-Factor – and I wanted to write about those things. For all their supposed privilege, I think in some ways the kids in Skippy have a harder time than my generation did. Their world is so much more mediated, the forces of capitalism have a much tighter stranglehold on them so they have even more impossible expectations to try and fail to live up to. Compared to now, my time in school was quite benign. Certainly, it was a jungle, and there were large, terrifying creatures with BO lurking around every corner. But if you were fast, you could outrun them. How can you outrun Facebook?
Ruprecht concludes that our universe is built out of loneliness. Amid all the comic episodes and teeny angst there is this philosophical undercurrent via string theory, etc. Is this a central theme in your work, the loneliness, not only of teenagers, but man in general? Ruprecht comes to this conclusion shortly after Skippy’s death, when he’s hit rock bottom. The book doesn’t leave him there though. To say the universe is empty, that man is alone-in some ways those are quite self-aggrandising, egoistic notions. They ignore the infinite ways that we’re tied to each other, and they ignore the duties that we have to take care of each other. That seemed like a much more interesting idea to explore than this romantic-melancholic of loneliness, which perpetuates this fantasy of uniqueness, that no one has suffered quite like you have, and that your aloneness is somehow qualitatively superior to everyone else’s. Not to be glib but people in a famine don’t spend much time talking about man’s fundamental loneliness.
Lastly, any advice for aspiring writers!? Becoming a writer is no different to becoming a plumber or pilot or podiatrist. There’s no magical secret. You just have to work really hard. For me, regularity is really important – a set routine. Writing a novel is like running a marathon. It takes a long time, and although you’ll have your moments of grace and exaltation, inevitably some of that time it will feel like a pure slog. It will feel tedious and dull, and you’ll feel disillusioned, and the temptation will arise to give up or set it aside and work on something else. At times like those, the routine may be what carries you through – you keep going simply because that’s what you’re used to. And pretty soon you’ll find yourself re-engaging and getting excited again. But to finish a novel, you need the bloody-mindedness to persevere with it even when you’ve forgotten why.