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    Jude lives in a henhouse with no roof, that he bought for ten million euro, at the height of the Irish property bubble. One day, his mortgage is rated the debt in Europe most likely to default... The political and financial elite of Europe arrive, with a plan: help Jude put a roof on his henhouse, stabilize his debt, and reassure the markets. It all goes horribly wrong.

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    "Like Roddy Doyle in an extremely good mood" - The Washington Post

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« Electric Picnic, Free Sex Chocolate, Jude in London, etc. | Main | Best albums of the noughties? »
Wednesday
Feb102010

The State of Irish Literature 2010

 

To my slight surprise (and immense delight), my story “The Orphan and the Mob” was chosen to represent Ireland in the ambitious new anthology, Best European Fiction 2010 (edited by Aleksandar Hemon, and introduced by Zadie Smith). The book’s publishers, Dalkey Archive Press, recently asked me five polite questions about the state of Irish literature. I replied with an intemperate rant. A slightly updated version follows below…

 

1. Are there any exciting trends, movement, or schools in contemporary Irish fiction? Who do you feel are the overlooked contemporary authors in Ireland who should be more widely read and translated?

 

I haven’t the faintest idea. As is traditional with my people, on achieving the status of Writer, I was strapped to an ass and driven from the City. I’ve lived in Berlin for the past few years. When I was in Ireland, I lived in Galway city, which is on the opposite side of the country to Dublin, where the novelists fester. Galway doesn’t really do literature. And I grew up in Tipperary, in the midlands, where writers were, until recently, killed and eaten. And quite rightly.

 

If there are exciting trends in literary Ireland, the excitement hasn’t made its way to Berlin yet. Anyway, I don’t believe in trends, movements, schools, and the whole German classification mania. That’s all made up after the fact, to help university libraries with their filing.  Each pen is held by a single hand. But for what it’s worth, none of my Irish friends read Irish books any more.

 

Indeed, I hardly read Irish writers any more, I’ve been disappointed so often. I mean, what the FECK are writers in their 20s and 30s doing, copying the very great John McGahern, his style, his subject matter, in the 21st century? To revive a useful old Celtic literary-critical expression: I puke my ring. And the older, more sophisticated Irish writers that want to be Nabokov give me the yellow squirts and a scaldy hole. If there is a movement in Ireland, it is backwards. Novel after novel set in the nineteen seventies, sixties, fifties. Reading award-winning Irish literary  fiction, you wouldn’t know television had been invented. Indeed, they seem apologetic about acknowledging electricity (or “the new Mechanikal Galvinism” as they like to call it.)

 

I do read the odd new, young writer, and it’s usually intensely disappointing. Mostly it’s grittily realistic, slightly depressing descriptions of events that aren’t very interesting. Though, to be fair, sometimes it’s sub-Joycean, slightly depressing descriptions of events that aren’t very interesting. I don’t get the impression many Irish writers have played Grand Theft Auto, or bought an X-Box, or watched Youporn. (And if there is good stuff coming up, for God’s sake someone, contact me, pass it on.) Really, Irish literary writers have become a priestly caste, scribbling by candlelight, cut off from the electric current of the culture. We’ve abolished the Catholic clergy, and replaced them with novelists. They wear black, they preach, they are concerned for our souls. Feck off.

 

But let us accentuate the positive, for the love of the Lord:

 

I do like Kevin Barry. His collection There Are Little Kingdoms had something special about it. Hints of glory ahead. (I gather there will be a novel. I’ll be buying it with cash money.) And from a few years back I loved Mike McCormack’s first book, the story collection Getting it in the Head. I always felt Mike McCormack had the great, demented, Irish small town heavy metal novel in him, he just needed to get it out. Then this week I discovered, from a very reliable source, that he’s finished his next novel, Pilgrim X, and it’s a post-apocalyptic Western set in the west of Ireland. Hurray! Exactly what Irish literature needs right now. I hear there’s a strong Scandinavian death metal vibe off it. This has all the signs of being his major breakthrough, and breakout.

 

For me, the only writer to grab the Celtic Tiger by the tail and pull hard while the tiger roared was Ross O’Carroll Kelly, the pseudonym of Paul Howard. And that was a newspaper column. (Collected every year into a new book – read them all if you want to understand Ireland’s rise and fall. No other writer caught it while it happened. The best, funniest, and most historically important run of Irish satirical journalism since Myles na gCopaleen.)

 

The Irish writer that most excited me recently was Diarmuid O’Brien, and he writes unproduced television scripts. Very funny, very Irish, on the edge of the surreal, a nice mixture of  WB Yeats and UK sitcoms. Padraig Kenny is another very funny, passionate, interesting guy trying to do interesting things with TV and radio scripts. (He has already managed to turn his Twitter rants into an artform.) Tommy Tiernan is Ireland’s most philosophical voice, but he has chosen stand-up comedy as his way of delivering his philosophical prose. Tiernan has read everything by Beckett, and everything by Lenny Bruce, and combined them. On the right night you will end up on the floor weeping tears of laughter and recognition as he takes Ireland apart. I remember reading Graham Linehan when he was only 17 and writing for Hot Press, and thinking, this guy is the funniest writer in Ireland. Of course, he got no recognition or encouragement in Ireland, so he went to London and co-wrote Father Ted, and Black Books, and now writes The I.T. Crowd. (Two days ago, as I write this, he won the British Comedy Award for writers.) The guy’s a genius, but he’s been working out of London, with UK broadcasters, since his early 20s, so he has no reason to address Ireland. (We had other geniuses, a decade or two back, but we didn't want them either. Cathal Coughlan tried to tell us who we were, spewing poetic vinegar with Microdisney, then sulphuric poetry with Fatima Mansions, but we didn't want to listen. Don't get me started on Cathal Coughlan, I'll cry.)

 

But then, why would our funniest, most original voices want to join a pompous, priestly, provincial literary community?  I’m pretty sure the best of the new, young Irish writers are writing for film, TV or computer games. Of course, anyone decent then has to go to England to get anything made. Another problem with Ireland is that its national broadcaster makes civil service television. Raidió Teilifís Éireann have never made a good comedy, they hardly ever make decent drama, and they treat writers like shit. Any work that has to go through an official Irish institution is slowly castrated by committee. All of those things are set up wrong. Our national theatre, The Abbey, is a weird, dysfunctional machine for setting fire to money. There is an almost total disconnect between the plays the Abbey puts on and the nation they are supposed to represent. (It does put on work by good playwrights: but with a thirty year delay.) Its most recent director, Fiach Mac Conghail, is doing his darndest, but turning round around The Abbey is like trying to do a wheelie in an Airbus full of American tourists. As an Irish playwright, you’ve a far better chance of getting your first play put on by the Royal Court in London than by any theatre in Dublin. Culturally, Ireland is a failed state. The fact is disguised because the UK and the USA have taken up the slack, and given our artists an outlet. But Ireland herself has, for example, never made a television program that anyone outside Ireland would want to watch. Given the quality of our writers, and the size of the global English-language TV audience, this is an immense national disgrace. (Just to repeat, everyone involved in Father Ted was Irish - but it was made by the British broadcaster Channel 4.) I know and like many of the individuals who work in RTÉ, but it is institutionally incapable of using the talents of its people, and it is institutionally incapable of change. Its news and sports coverage are excellent, the rest of it should be shut down. At the moment it’s a machine for wrecking talent, and the talented people inside it would be much happier under almost any other system.

 

The only area where Irish writing is thriving in Ireland itself is on the internet, because it’s a direct connection, writer-to-reader. Blogs captured, and capture, Ireland in a way literature  no longer does. Sweary Lady was brilliant (on her Arse End of Ireland blog), right through the Celtic Tiger years. Kav wrote the great Kav’s Blog. (Sweary and Kav both moved on to the Coddle Pot group blog…) And the quality, and quantity, of the swearing was and is very high on the Irish blogs, with guys like Twenty Major. The Irish swear better than almost anyone else on earth, bar maybe the Spanish and a couple of countries in Africa. That’s another area where I think recent Irish literary writers  – with the honourable exception of Roddy Doyle - have failed us badly. Ireland’s great lost playwright, Kevin McGee, was a master of the kind of swearing that had you desperately poking your inner ear with a biro to try and remove the images from your head. However, he was let down by professional theatre, moved into writing television soap operas (and translating the classics), and seems to have abandoned the stage. Who will swear for us now? Who will let rip the savage, guttural, primal utterance – half Yeats poem, half Guinness fart – required, DEMANDED, by the current state of Ireland? {EDIT: Probably Kevin Barry. Since this was first written, his apocalyptic story Fjord of Killary has appeared in the New Yorker, gracing its fragrant pages with North Galway lines as pinpoint accurate as these: 

“Fuckers are washin’ diesel up there again,” John Murphy said. “The Hourigans? Of course, they’d a father a diesel-washer before ’em, didn’t they? Cunts to a man.”

“Cunts,” Bill Knott confirmed.}


But I am biased, unstable, bitter, twisted, and living abroad, so don’t rely on my judgement. I’m sure there’s millions of brilliant writers in Ireland, I’m just mysteriously missing them every time I go there and look. In fact, aware of this, I outsourced the search to Twitter and asked who were the overlooked or neglected Irish writers that I’d missed. Here were the suggestions I got back, to balance my bile:

 

John MacKenna, Tomas O'Crohan, Mark O' Rowe (playwright and screenwriter), Antonia Logue, Sean O'Reilly, Vincent Woods (for “At the Black Pig's Dyke, the most underappreciated Irish play in the past 20 years.”), Gavin Duff, John Moriarty, Mike McCormack.

 

In an enjoyable and robust Twitter debate, Rosita Boland of the Irish Times took issue with the idea that O’Rowe, McCormack or O’Reilly were overlooked. This is a fair point, as all three do get excellent coverage in the Irish Times and on RTÉ, and O’Rowe has a powerful, thoughtful patron in Michael Colgan of the Gate Theatre.

 

Others on Twitter (some of them from lands far from Ireland) suggested Philip O Ceallaigh, Ken Bruen, and Dermot Healy, but it’s hard to think of these excellent, award-winning and acclaimed writers as being “overlooked” in any meaningful way.

 

As for Irish language writers – I’m not qualified to judge. They could all be geniuses for all I know.

 

 

2. Who are the contemporary European writers from other countries that are writing compelling fiction?

 

I’d only be bullshitting you if I tried to answer that question. My pitiful French, street-German, bar-Spanish and school-Irish are not remotely good enough to make literary judgements. I can barely mangle my way through comics in any of them. So, for me, all of European mainland literature is at the mercy of the quality of its translators, which makes me reluctant to judge. For all I know, I should be praising the translator, not the original writer. If you read my first book in Swedish, you would think I was a genius. If you read my first book in German, you would think I was a fool. So it goes. In fact, I strongly suspect that the Swedish translator of my first novel is a better writer than me, and wrote a better book. Molle Kanmert’s emails asking me questions were far funnier than mine, and the Swedish version outsold every other version. Someone sign her up for a novel…

 

3. Do you want your work to be translated? Why or why not?


Of course I do. I want readers. I want to be understood, I want to be misunderstood, I want to get into fights, I want to swim in the Dead Sea, I want to die in my swimsuit, I want to visit Siberia (but leave again), I want to butt in on your national conversation, drink your national drink, shoot and stuff your national bird, eat your national icecream, kiss your poets and pat your dogs and weep at the airport as we hug each other and exchange email addresses and our respective national varieties of flu.

 

4. Are there enough publishing outlets in Ireland for contemporary fiction? Is there a market for literary fiction in Ireland?

 

Well, we have the usual situation that arises when you share a language with a larger neighbour. A perverse, S&M relationship. You fight your oppressor & occupier for 800 years, get your freedom, then immediately ask  them for a publishing deal. Just as Bosnian writers seek Croatian publishers, Irish writers seek English publishers. Of course, English publishers seek Irish writers, so it’s a healthy, wholesome S&M relationship. 80% of Irish novels come out of London publishing houses. There’s always a slight tension in that relationship, of course, because some of your jokes and references won’t be understood by your publisher. But London publishers are very good at making sure that doesn’t become a problem, and that the integrity of the work is protected. They have to navigate the same issues with Welsh and Scottish and Indian and Australian novelists, so it’s not a big deal. There are a lot of small, very noble but very undercapitalised Irish publishers, but they have great difficulty hanging on to their writers if a UK publisher offers a decent advance. Or any advance at all.

 

We don’t really have a problem with lack of recognition, lack of outlets. The best Irish writers get recognised, usually in London first, after which the Irish literary establishment falls into line.  Ireland very, very seldom discovers its own writers first. Roddy Doyle had to take out a bank loan to publish the Commitments in Ireland. After which, he was picked up by an English publisher.

 

That has an interesting effect, though. Knowing that you are addressing sixteen UK readers for every one Irish reader, in a very mild way your book goes into translation in your head, as you write it. Most Irish writers will deny this, but I think it’s true. Of course I was born in London to emigrant Irish parents, so I feel equally at home, or not at home, in both places.

 

 

5. Given a choice, would you prefer a faithful, literal translation of your work or an interpretive re-imagining of it? Why?

 

An interpretive re-imaging, definitely. I don’t think a “faithful, literal” translation of my work – of any work - is even possible. If a translation were to be literal, it wouldn’t be faithful, and vice versa. Any decent writer is playing with nuances, rhythms, echoes, soundstuff that will evaporate in any literal translation. I like a lot of layers. Puns, resonances, double-meanings, Tipperaryisms, things my mum says at Christmas. Often the point of the sentence hasn’t anything to do with its literal meaning at all.

 

I use deliberately “wrong”, literal translations of phrases from the Irish language sometimes myself, because they sound fecking great in English. Friends of my dad would still say “I walked several strong miles”, and that is straight out of the Irish.

 

The Jude books are deliberately written in a stilted, old-fashioned, formal English, of the type spoken in Ireland a century ago. It’s the first-generation English of speakers who learnt English in school, from books, because their parents spoke Irish at home. For me this is a very rich form of English, because you can let the underlying Irish thoughts, structured in Irish grammar, burst through now and again. There is always a nice tension in the speech, as though Jude is walking on linguistic stilts, and has to be careful. He is trying to be terribly precise with a language he doesn’t really control or own.

 

Sometimes the games I play with the various versions of English are fairly explicit, as in the case of this head injury in Jude in London:

 

           “Their noble Tipperary speech reminded me of my mental catastrophe. I looked up from my book, and took the opportunity to experiment with my deformity: I spoke a Catholic thought, and it came out Church of England: I praised a fine All-Ireland semi-final performance by the Tipperary Under-21 hurlers against Kilkenny; and from my mouth came alien speech of an F.A. Cup semi-final replay at Villa Park.

           Sweet Mother of Jesus, I thought, astonished, and

           “Queen of Heaven!” I said.

           Christ on a bicycle, I thought.

           “Good Lord!”

           Holy fuck.

           “Blessed Union!”


           I gave up the attempt to accurately express myself, and returned to my book.”

 

 

I must be a real bastard for translators, because increasingly I like to back-engineer scenes so that a crucial line of narrative, thrown up by the action, is also a line of poetry by Yeats, or a line of dialogue is also a line of Joyce, or Kafka, or is made out of Radiohead song titles. They can be tricky to spot - most of my native-English readers miss most of them. And I also use the misunderstandings and gaps between American English and English English and Irish English to generate jokes and misunderstandings, and moments of unease.

 

 

A single English word sings in many voices, and I like to set off a couple of them, and make my words sing harmonies with themselves, or beat each other up. I doubt if anyone but me gets the half of it, but I think readers find pleasure in it anyway. I remember a woman on a blog quoting her favourite piece of my writing. She said she couldn’t put her finger on why she liked it so much. Well, I could. It was the end of a chapter, and I’d written it in iambic pentameter. Because it was laid out like prose, she hadn’t consciously registered the formal rhythm, the internal rhymes. But subconsciously, she got it...

 

That makes me sound too much of a word wizard – I should also say that most of my sentences are extremely straightforward attempts to get a character through a door in such a way that the reader understands it without having to read it twice, and I don’t always even succeed at that.

 

 

{EDIT: OK, I'm getting Repetitive Strain Injury from putting in links to all these bastards, enough for tonight. Hope you enjoyed it, if you got this far. I'll link a few more lads tomorrow. Your comments are very welcome.}



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Reader Comments (36)

Barry's Party at Helen’s should be pasted to the jacks walls in the Blue Note for the spectacle of seeing thirtysomethings in floods of piss and floods of tears at the same time.
I love this by the way.
February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllan Cavanagh
Colm Keegan may not have an xbox, but he does seem to have a PS3 and a view of celtic tiger fallout that's far more west dublin than south; http://www.theblogsthejob.blogspot.com/
February 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpj nolan
Thanks for linking to that Kevin Barry story - I laughed very loudly at the first line of dialogue and the slow collapse into despair and ambiguous redemption walks that very fine line between truthful and magical in a way I haven't seen since I first read The Butcher Boy years ago.
February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
Like your point on the swearing Julian. : )

Ina
February 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIna
Thanks Allan...

And thanks for the link, PJ...

Very welcome, Paul.

You wouldn't approve of swearing now, would you Ina? I'm shocked.

Oh, and can I say thanks to everyone who has responded on Twitter? Too many retweets and comments to thank everyone individually, but they are all much appreciated.
February 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterJulian Gough
Hi.

1. I was going to suggest Kevin Barry but then you did so I'm going to suggest me. I'm really good. As good as Colm. And I'm English living in Ireland so does that count as Irish literature? Check out (some of) the stories in the Sunday Tribune. They are mostly set in this millenium. I don't have a Wii but I have a Nokia. I can't stand ROK.

2. Don't you read any British fiction?

4. I've been told some of my stories are too Irish for the British and too British for the Irish. I need a publisher on the Isle of Man
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmerging Writer
Mike's story, 'The Terms', was the first brilliant story I read (I only discovered short stories last Tuesday, literature in general the week before). As an (assistant) editor of a literary journal, I long for such submissions - the antidote to the densely-plotted, slow burning sagas. (That said, give me Trevor's shorts (almost) any day.) But generally I would love to see more risk taken, less derivation - writing that grabs my throat, or balls, and doesn't let go, ever. (As a point of interest, I'd guess of the 600 submissions in the last reading period, 300 were from US, 200 from Ireland. We get an awful lot of Glimmer Train-esque stories, which is not really our aesthetic.)

My two favourite collections of late: Barry's 'There are...' and Philip Ó Ceallaigh's 'Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse'.
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Vowler
<a href="http://www.cathalcoughlan.com/projects/#fmh">Cathal Coughlan</a> is still about: Flannery's Mounted Head was a terrific theatre-video thing. Stirring rant, though I feel slightly aggrieved on behalf of Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh.
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLindo
There's a strange feeling in my spine at present, like I want to agree and still rip your head off whilst kissing it furiously. If I read one more "and she hefted the blah didi blah end of the trowel toward the blah blah soft moist earth" rubbish from a "young" Irish writer, I'll stick it up my arse and call it cabbage. But was this not Tuam's "young" Murphy complaint back in the sixties; that he wanted to write anything "as long as it wasn't set in a fucking kitchen"? I can admire Toibin like I'd admire an Amsterdam special - technically proficient but leaves me feeling cold and hopeless. I had hopes for MacLiam Wilson, but he seems to have disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Kevin Barry is a hope. The academics, with their constant McGahern symposiums and appreciations of Brian Friel, are just agents of stagnation. I suppose they have to be in order to get their articles into the bigger journals. Joyce is great; I love Joyce. I hear he died though. Good god I'm just rambling, but thanks for the truthiness.
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian
What about Kevin Power, the author of 'Bad Day in Blackrock'?
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRose
I love you just for the first sentence of your answer to question 2. And just out of badness, I'll add this: try to imagine an English writer answering the same question like that, ie honestly. Would not happen.
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Hughes
When my betrothed directed me this way, saying you'd written a post criticising certain aspects of Irish literature I was all set to be outraged, as i'm generally inclined to think that we punch well above our weight in terms of the amount of good writers the country produces. But your points are measured and seem quite valid. I wondered if one of the McGahern copycats you refer to is Claire Keegan? I read her short story collection 'Walk the Blue Fields' and liked it very much, but I've never actually read a McGahern book so I wouldn't know if her style is as derivative of his as some have suggested. Claire Kilroy is another very talented writer, but not necessarily very zeitgeisty either. And I only bought Kevin Barry's 'There Are Little Kingdoms' the other day but I've loved the couple of stories i've read so far, and was glad you gave him a favourable mention. I'd also go along with Rose's recommendation of Kevin Power.
In terms of established writers I find it hard to be too alarmed by a literary scene by a literary scene that boasts Patrick McCabe, John Banville, William Trevor, Anne Enright, Colm Toibín, Colum McCann and Roddy Doyle. This last gentleman recently set up a writing centre for school students (http://fightingwords.ie) where I've been volunteering. It's exciting to see the imagination and way with words that kids still have, and some of that should be made visible to the public in May when an anthology of work by transition year students will be published by Stinging Fly Press. I just hope that it sells a few copies.
And that's the concern for me, Ireland is producing plenty of talented writers still, but the appetite for the printed word really does appear to be waning. I was about to say that we need our own version of JK Rowling, Dan Brown or Stieg Larsson just to stimulate the public's interest in irish fiction again. Then I realised that we've already had one, and her name is Cecelia Ahern. It's disappointing, to say the least.
In terms of TV, you're pretty much bang on the money about RTÉ, though I do get the vague notion that things might be imroving. In the last couple of years they've produced shows like 'Love is the Drug' and 'Pure Mule', which are are almost companions to Kevin Barry's stuff in terms of their examination of small town Ireland and well worth checking out if you haven't already.
Your point about a lot of the most exciting stuff coming from the internet now is also true, so allow me to conclude by adding a couple of links to some bloggers whose style I really like:

http://emesq.com
http://annierhiannon.blogspot.com
http://spanishexposition.blogspot.com (my fiancée, but I loved her writing before I ever met her, so I don't feel like a spa for recommending her)
http://betedejour.blogspot.com/ (not Irish, but when it comes to the internet that's neither here nor there, really)

Right, essay over, thanks.
February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew
I kind of agree, and kind of disagree. But I think it's a damned fine conversation to be having one way or another.

I (mis?)remember Martin Amis saying once that he wrote novels to make sense of the world. A damned fine way to write. I think of Primo Levi, and The Drowned and The Saved, and I see something similar, but more, an honest interrogation skewered by moments of truth, chiseled bitterly, or awkwardly, or painfully, or with the sheer shock of total honesty from acts of honest or confessional or interrogated living. Writing about souls. And being concerned about them - in whatver sense you mean that word.....

I look at Jack Kerouac and Ian McEwan, and see something of the same optic, one which is in love with and looking at the world -Kerouac simultaneously depicting the crumb on the plate, the plate on the table, the table in the house, and the house in the world (McClellan Holmes on Kerouac), and McEwan wrapping up the dangerous world of cause, consequence, and pin wriggling characters caught in the car crash of time and space and choice and all the present past futures that whizz round our wired minds in the moments of making ourselves, and the consequences of unkown choices thrusting you into a newly made and awkward world.....fuckin hell. Cunts is writin about souls again. Jubilant ones. Nervous ones. Broken ones, and transcendental ones.

And, as much as I really, really, want to vent that heartfelt rage.......I'd pick different targets.

At it's best, the really truthful writing, those rare earth gems of angry little truths, those moments of pure understanding, those naked lunches served up......With the right writer, time and place are just the stage on which the exploration unfolds. There's no more or less truth in say, the story of Brooklyns tunnel digging sons, or the ghosts rattling around Copernicus's bitter little head, than in Leiths finest confessing their sins. No less truth in the silent tongues of the hundred years dead being voiced - I'm thinking long long way here. The poor fuckers sent out to die have always shared a similar silence, and those sending a similar guilt...

There is only the writer, and their faith with their work. I'd take, and the comparison is unfair, but thats kinda the point, I'd take McGaherns honesty over O'Connors modernity (is he modern?) as a reference point for truth and beauty, and what it means to live. Doesn't mean that you can replicate it though. There's no faith in that.

Having an X-Box - and I do - has fuck all to do with it. GTA's writing is fucking atrocious, the characterisation and plotlines are piss poor, weak and paper fucking thin, and the humour of a good gouranga - killing Elvis'es and chanting cultists is pure and vicious fun - is gone. And the idea that obsessively playing to completion the entire GTA ouevre - I have, did, and am and fucking love it - tells you anything about what you need to know to write the GIN is bollox.

To be that writer, you have to have faith with what you are writing, the ability to contain it's complexity, and the need to burn off all the excess, and bias, and fear and want and unwrap the whatness at it's heart.

Shrugging off any unconsidered inheritances, in terms of style, context, history or voice is part of that. But that's just the beginning.....You can learn from past genius, but you can't replicate it....

I write. I've never had a specifically English audience in mind - though to be fair, I've never had a publishing deal either - and I reckon near four generations of Independence is enough time to lay that particular bitterness to rest. Swedes won't get some of your jokes either, and I'm guessing you won't resent them.....Shit. None of that is meant personally, but isn't that resentment, however mild, a part of some weird knee jerk inherited Irishness - it ain't modernity, except in the dead and dying corners of the country who have been too scared to grow up.....

Let me put it another way, and here's the nub. If you really want to make this point, make it. It's important enough to. But you gotta make it with answers

How about setting a challenge - decide a place, time, and context - skewer it to a modern slant, and pick several random sets of events, things, places to be included - again, skewer them how you like (kinda like a lateral thought exercise, or oblique strategy thing). All have to be included in a short story. Set a word limit, and a date, and run it as a competition.

With your coverage in the Guardian, you can get enough publicity to publish.

Kinda like an open letter, declaring war on literature, where you get to pick the battleground...........
February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeith
Emerging Writer: I do read a fair bit of English fiction, but that rant came in answer to some questions Dalkey Archive had asked me about the state of Irish literature, so I tried to stick to the point… God, the English/Irish thing, very annoying. In many ways a false opposition, as “nations” we’re blurred into each other, but keep trying to define ourselves as whatever the other fellow isn’t. Best of luck on the Isle of Man.

Tom: Good to see you here! Yes, I too mourn the lack of grab in so much short fiction. If nothing much happens, and the emotional temperature is pretty much room temperature… why wouldn’t I just look out the window? Interesting to hear about the number of submissions, and where they come from…

Lindo: Would love to have seen Flannery's Mounted Head, but couldn’t get to Cork. I think I was stoney broke, and stranded in France at the time. Ah, Cathal Coughlan… (Sniffs, quietly. Holds back a tear. Carries on.)


Brian: Big, manly hugs. (Please don’t rip my head off.)

Rose: I‘ll seek it out. Yes, several people have recommended Bad Day in Blackrock… I’d kind of given up on Irish literature around then, and no longer trusted rave reviews in the Irish Times, so I missed it first time round. I’ll spank myself later.

Michael Hughes: Thanks. I blush.

Andrew: Ah yeah, Roddy Doyle is a mighty man. I read a story of his in McSweeney’s a while back about a Polish guy in Dublin, I loved it. He hasn’t become priestly, and doesn’t talk in interviews like a bishop giving confirmation. Fighting Words sounds perfect, exactly the kind of thing the country needs. Oh, I smell fresh blood! Great… I’ll have a poke around those blogs, too, thanks for the links…

Keith: Dang, I was just about to post these replies and go to bed when you turned up! Great comment, containing much meat. Let me chew it over slowly, digest it a little, and respond properly tomorrow...

Thanks to all of you for your comments. Really appreciate you all taking the time to join the conversation...Looking at Ireland lately, I get the feeling she's going to have a breakdown, or a breakthough. I hope the latter. "Let's make this world a better place / If we caaaaaaaaan..."
February 12, 2010 | Registered CommenterJulian Gough
Interesting post, thank you. Twenty Major also wrote two books which I enjoyed much more than the critics suggested I should.
February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Scabbard
A fine rant, sir.

There's a whole host of Irish writers engaging with contemporary Ireland, although given that they write crime fiction, I don't know if you'd want to taint the canon of 'Irish literature' by including them ... Declan Hughes, Tana French, Ken Bruen, Brian McGilloway, Alan Glynn, Gene Kerrigan ... Adrian McKinty is a wonderful writer, although he sets most of his novels outside of Ireland.

For more, see here ... http://crimealwayspays.blogspot.com/

Cheers, Dec
February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeclan Burke
LOVE this post!

Yes, Kevin Barry is a legend - as is Kevin Power (his novel is a Secret History-esque take on the Ross O'Carroll Kelly crowd. AMAZING). I also have fierce love for Claire Kilroy, especially Tenderwire, which is about a young Irish violinist in New York - a distinctly Irish modern woman in a not-very-Irish story. Also, All Names Have Been Changed includes great discussions and viewpoints on Irish literature which you might enjoy.

Andrew mentioned Claire Keegan - she's a bit of a puzzle to me. Her first collection, Antarctica, was brill - contemporary, fiery, chilling, and whole rake of international settings and characters. Whereas Walk the Blue Fields was a headfirst dive into the fifties and sixties - priests, incest, unwashed farmers abound. But WtBF was even more acclaimed than Antarctica. I dunno. See what she does next, I suppose.

P.S. I think I'm from your neck of the woods - I grew up in Moneygall, not too far from Naynagh. :)
February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEimear
Further: subverting the need to Entertain for literary masturbation must stop. NOW. As my mostly non-reading girlfriend always comments when I remind her of all the 'great' readings I've taken her to: That irish guy, who read the story about the orphan and the 'toilet' - now that was funny.
February 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Vowler
okay i'll grant you that this version of a writer bemoaning other writers is slightly more amusing than the usual fare but still only slightly more interesting than a yeast infection. and the parlous state of irish literature? jesus, you should live across the water.

but 'The Irish swear better than almost anyone else on earth, bar maybe the Spanish and a couple of countries in Africa'!!?

shite
February 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterswiss
Oddly enough, I agree with you Dec. And I think Ken Bruen has caught modern Galway better than anyone. So why didn't I mention him, and the other great Irish crime writers?

I'd better explain: that rant came about when Dalkey Archive, a very good but very literary, university-based publisher, asked me a few questions about the state of Irish writing, and about overlooked or neglected writers. They were clearly interested in self-consciously "literary" writers, and my answers were purely addressed to those.

Since the Guardian picked up on my original rant (and then Twitter, and the blogs), it's gone off on a rampage around the internet, and is being read outside the small and impoverished literary ghetto it was originally written for. So, apologies - if I'd known it'd be in the papers I'd have probably written a whole other piece...

If it's any consolation, I am also getting stick for not including chick-lit writers, Young Adult writers, children's books, and memoirs!

I'll cross-post this to your site, if you don't mind, so your readers won't come after me with golf clubs and machetes.

And you lot, if you're into Irish crime, go have a look round Declan's place: http://www.crimealwayspays.blogspot.com/
February 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Gough

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