Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I feel as if I’ve talked about nothing else for the last fortnight, my family glazes over when I mention the words ‘ghost signs’. But tomorrow night is book launch night! So here goes.

We’ll be in Dubray Books in Grafton Street, the brilliant photographer Lynn Nalty and myself, cracking the metaphorical bottle of champers over the book, and possibly a literal one later. The launch is at 6.30, so if you’re trudging home from work about then and it’s a cold, damp night, drop in to the warmth of Dubray where you’ll be made welcome.

The book is available all over the place! Hurrah.

Ghost Signs of Dublin – Dubray
Ghost Signs of Dublin – Easons
Ghost Signs of Dublin – Amazon
Ghost Signs of Dublin – Kennys (Galway)
Ghost Signs of Dublin – O’Mahonys (Limerick)


launch invitation


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Call for submissions for the Bram Stoker Festival 2014. Get a move on though, closing date is 18th July and the festival itself is in October.

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The last eleven books I have read are from the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore. My thirteen-year-old son offered to lend me the first one, The Recruit, and I read the next one, and the next one, in a haze of criminal gangs, drug deals, relentless beatings up, early morning training in the dojo, minuscule listening devices, slave trading, bleeding edge surveillance technology, slobbery kissing, teenage sexual yearnings, teenage sex, preteen drunkenness, the attempted rape of a twelve-year-old girl, care homes, sexism, murders, a topless women contest, eco-terrorism, child trafficking, religious cults, prison life and animal cruelty.

The books are good, action-packed, well-plotted, rapid reads, with some strong characters who develop throughout the series, and it’s a compelling series, which is something child readers usually enjoy. On the downside, not all the characters are exactly leaping off the page, and the emotional elements of the various romances which stud the books are too weightless to be believable. After eleven books I still don’t really care for the hero, James. And it’s not just that he’s a bit of an eejit, which is fine, but more that I don’t mind if he gets dumped, kisses other girls when he has a girlfriend elsewhere, damages his kneecaps or is sent to Coventry by the entire campus – I’m in no way invested in his successes and failures.

But who cares what I think? Eleven- to fifteen-year-olds are gobbling up the CHERUB books (and the related Henderson’s Boys series) at the moment. Muchamore knows his audience and he’s able to give them what they want. Some parents have been less impressed, though, and individual reviews on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com are laced with outrage that adult themes are dealt with in books aimed at young teenagers (and Muchamore himself has said he’s met nine- and ten-year-olds who have enjoyed the books). The author states that:

“…controversial subjects such as drug abuse, human slavery, brainwashing etc are depicted in the books. Although individual characters may espouse this behavior in specific scenes, the overall message of the story is always that these forms of behavior are completely unacceptable.”

The sex in the books, for example, is not described in any detail, which would have been a disappointment to me at thirteen. At that age I had definitely cracked the spines of more than one Jackie Collins; I was fourteen when Jilly Cooper’s Riders came out and was passed around school faster than a spare packet of crisps. If anyone had tried to prevent me from reading the books I’d have been boiling with rage and utterly unconcerned about breaking a ban.

Maybe I’d feel differently if it were, say, my nine-year-old reading the books, but I don’t feel any need to censor the CHERUB books, (though I do believe in being aware of what’s being read),  and it doesn’t even seem necessary for Robert Muchamore to say that the books give the message that these behaviours are unacceptable. Do we need books to give us moral messages? Are we wilfully blind to the language and themes that our children come across every day at school? As parents are we overly jumpy about what our precious cherubs read, or are we so slavishly grateful that they are reading at all that we’d pass them a Brett Easton Ellis when we’d finished with it?

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Symposium at the Royal Irish Academy, Friday 7th October 2011.

Teaching and Learning Creative WritingSqueeze a whole day’s discussion into a blog post? Eek, not me. I hope someone else will take on that task (someone will be blogging it for the Stinging Fly, I believe). I’ve just plucked out a few points of discussion – I’m still digesting everything I heard.

1Gerald Dawe pointed out that the practice of writing is making the work, thinking about what you’re doing and then challenging yourself, or being challenged by others, to do it better. And this is the case whatever environment – academic, community workshop, garden shed – you’re working in.

2. Mary O’Donnell talked about distinguishing sincerity from truth. She reminds her students that a literal retelling may be sincere, but may not add up to a poetic truth. She described a workshop occurrence we’ve all observed, where a writer has written about a trauma of some kind, and on reading the piece aloud, dissolves into tears (I’m sorry to say, I’ve been that sobber). Other members of the workshop see this emotion and attach its weight to the poem or piece. But great emotion does not on its own make great art.

3. “Writing is not decanting of personality. The truth, on the page, need not have been lived. It is, instead, all that can be envisioned.” Louise Glück

4. The importance of developing the habit of patience.

5. Paul Perry is currently editing Beyond the Workshop. He pointed out that even if the title of the book suggests that the workshop has outlived its usefulness, the workshop is an ever-changing space, a model in flux. He outlined several rules of thumb:

  • Assume a learner stance – anticipate that your thinking will be altered in every class by the students.
  • Foster co-participation, not just by leaving silences for students to fill with responses, but by giving them clear points of entry.
  • Give students decision-making power.
  • Design major process-based assignments (such as writers’ journals, not for assessment) as well as product-focused ones.
  • Emphasise descriptive feedback, spotting patterns and philosophical themes.

6. Why should writing necessarily be a creative endeavour that happens in isolation? No-one queries whether students of music or drama should work in groups.

7. From a workshop, teachers, facilitators, students should all find their own “desire paths”, in Gaston Bachelard’s expression.

8. Sinead Morrissey spoke about teaching a particular poetry class. An early session deals with found poems (and she gives as examples work by Colette Bryce, Paul Farley, Kei Miller, Michael Longley and Ciaran Carson) and requires the students to find and shape their own poems and think about the transformative nature of context. This steers the students away from the domain of their own subjective feelings.

9. Nessa O’Mahony spoke about teaching on the National Learning Network’s Fresh Start programme which aims to get people back into the workforce. She described how students reconnected with important parts of themselves through the rediscovery of memories and the harnessing of life-writing techniques. In this field, changes can be small and can be a long time in the making.

10. Yvonne Cullen said concentration is the key, narrowing the flow, disciplining oneself. She said that after twenty years she still has the energy she had when she started, and this is necessary if you are to make every workshop count. You have to be present in the workshop, engaged with the work, giving it for those couple of hours the concentration you give your own.

11. John Kenny spoke about learning by osmosis: reading, talking, thinking and being critical.

12. James Ryan described a particular Craft and Composition class he teaches at UCD. He echoed what Mary O’Donnell had said about holding a mirror up to life – with particular reference to dialogue, actual transcribed dialogue can sound stilted and unbelievable. Writing dialogue is not imitative, it’s your own construction. He teaches a class on speech attribution, using The Dark, The Stranger’s Child and Let the Great World Spin.

13. Mary Morrissy described the teacher’s role in workshops outside the academy as helping students to

  • find a route to the subconscious
  • abolish self-consciousness
  • loosen tied tongues
  • develop the habit of writing.
    She acknowledged the difficulty of assessing and grading creative work, and pointed out that often it’s an instinctive reaction to a piece of work, a reaction which obviously lacks the academic rigour of the grading of a literature thesis.

Sadly I couldn’t stay for the hour-long moderated discussion with the audience that followed the speakers’ main contributions – but I gather an active debate got underway, and I’m sorry to have missed it. More later. And thanks to organiser Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and the Royal Irish Academy.

Reading List:

The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing  by Mark McGurl
(due out shortly in paperback so if you’re saving your pennies, wait for November)

and two responses to the book:

Elif Batuman ‘Get a Real Degree‘, London Review of Books

Louis Menand ‘Show or Tell‘, The New Yorker

Louise Glück, ‘Against Sincerity’, Proofs & Theories

The Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880

NOTE: There’s something wrong with WordPress today which is not allowing me to make links or include images  – I’ll come back and edit later and see if I can fix it all up.

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Poet Helena Nolan has won this year’s Patrick Kavanagh Award for an unpublished poetry collection. Great news for Helena, who was last year’s runner-up with Kissing the Ceiling. She’s won this year with The Bone House, and accepted the award in Inniskeen on Friday night. The organisers brought things forward by a couple of months this year to avoid the snow and ice that made getting home from last year’s ceremony a bit hairy.

Previous Patrick Kavanagh Award winners have been Celia de Freine, Paul Durcan, Peter Sirr, Sinead Morrissey – a solid company. I’d love to see a collection of Helena’s in print – I’m hoping this is what 2012 will bring.

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Seapoint Literary Suppers

I loved hearing Yvonne Cassidy read from her book The Other Boy(and give us a preview of her new one to come out this summer) at Seapoint the other evening. The literary supper is a lovely idea – sit where you like, eating good food and chatting, and have your supper punctuated by readings. I went with a couple of friends but had a stranger (lovely, interesting, chatty) on one side – I’d thought the communal table aspect of it would have my teeth itching all night but actually it was great to have one’s attention – what? – turned forcibly would be putting it too strongly, but perhaps encouraged outward. Sometimes I forget how refreshing it can be to meet new people.

Coming up in March and April there will be suppers with Aifric Campbell, Alex Barclay and Joseph O’Connor (though I believe there’s a waiting list for that one, which has had to be rescheduled from this month), so if Monkstown is a reasonable distance from you, stick it in the diary. Your dinnertime chat doesn’t have to be terrifically literary and book-analysing, if that’s not your thing, but you do get the opportunity to chat to the writers, if that is your thing.

The food was great. A glass of wine is included in the e28 per head.

And if you’re lovely, interesting and chatty, come and sit beside me.

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Best of Beryl

The Booker Prize Foundation has just created a special prize for Beryl Bainbridge, known as “The Booker Bridesmaid” because she was shortlisted five times but never won. The public can vote for which one of the five shortlisted novels will win the Man Booker Best of Beryl prize.

What do you think? Cast your vote.

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