Sunny Afternoon

Four weeks will see rock legend Ray Davies taking to the stage at the National Concert Hall, where he will sit down in conversation with Joseph O’Connor and discuss his new book, Americana: the Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff. Hop over here if you want to buy tickets or get more information. As we count down to the event every week we are bringing you a classic hit from The Kinks. Today’s offering is “Sunny Afternoon.” Enjoy!!!

Frank Delaney fans, rejoice!


Photograph by Jerry Bauer

Photograph by Jerry Bauer

Described by NPR as “the most eloquent man in the world,” writer and broadcaster Frank Delaney has interviewed more than 3500 of the world’s most important writers over three decades, but it’s now his turn to be interviewed by Lynne Nolan for the Dublin Writers Festival.

Frank Delaney has clinched top prizes across a variety of formats, judged literary prizes including the Booker and created passionate documentaries on many subjects including George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and James Joyce. Re:Joyce, his weekly podcast series, has made Joyce’s Ulysses accessible to readers across the globe, as it deconstructs, examines and illuminatesthe mighty novel line-by-line. On New Year’s Day, 2014, it registered its millionth download and currently downloads at the rate of approx. 1200 per day.

Born and raised in Tipperary, Connecticut-based Delaney spent more than 25 years in England before moving to the US in 2002, where his first ‘American’ book, Ireland, became a New York Times Bestseller. His work includes the recent trilogy, Venetia Kelly’s Travelling ShowThe Matchmaker of Kenmare, and The Last Storyteller, as well as the novels Tipperary and Shannon.Since 2006, he has published five ‘Novels of Ireland,’ all addressing, decade by decade, the 20th century history of his homeland.


With the Storytellers project on the internet, you offer a series of short stories produced as e-books called with introductions preceding each story, leading the reader to understand the history and craft behind the creation of myth.What inspired you to take this approach?

Among the many great remarks that writers have made about writing, one that stays high in my mind came from Vladimir Nabokov. “The writer,” he said – and he meant, principally I think, the novelist -  is three things: a Magician; a Storyteller; a Teacher.We’re entitled as readers to take “Storyteller” as a given. “Magician” becomes the obvious aspiration, but writerly ambition embodies dangers – your reputation shouldn’t be any of your business: your job is to do excellent work. While letting readers decide which of Nabokov’s trio they find in my books, I’m happy to settle for the “Teacher” slot. Thus, the Storyteller series, conceived as an experiment to test this new e-book delivery system, gave me a good opportunity to, as it were, teach without teaching.

After writing your first piece, a novella named ‘My Dark Rosaleen’, you followed it up at the rate of a novel almost every year. What got you hooked?

In a word, storytelling. Since childhood I’ve wanted to be a novelist – so that I could tell stories! I’ve always relished the power of the tale, how it grabs us and then absorbs us, and casts a spell over us, and teaches us. Stories in all forms – anecdotes, joke-stories, shaggy dog stories, story poems, narrative paintings, narrative poems – I’m a sucker for them all, and have always been. Then I found that I was having an exciting (if slightly alarming) number of ideas for novels, stories, plays, films – every one a story told one way and another. So – “only connect the passion with the prose and both shall be exalted” and even though E.M. Forster also said, “Oh, dear me, yes, the novel tells a story” (or words to that effect) he himself was no mean storyteller. I used to get so alarmed at writers and critics who dismissed novels as “storytelling” and then, when I relaxed, I saw that (a) those who dismissed narrative weren’t themselves very good at it; and (b) most of our greatest literature is narrative.

What have you been working on recently?

I’ve just delivered to my agent a new novel, The Holy Wolf. It’s set in Ireland in 1872, and in the 6th century; it’s centered on a boy’s school (with the ruined abbey nearby) where a wolf has been attacking the students. Except that there hadn’t been wolves in Ireland for more than a hundred years.

What are your three favourite books by Irish writers, and why?

On another day, at another time, this list would change, according to mood, sunshine and general atmosphere. It would, however, have one constant, Ulysses, for about 260,000 reasons (that’s the number of words in the novel). Number two would probably be How the Irish Saved Civilisation by the Irish-American writer, Thomas Cahill, a short and brilliant tour d’horizon of our brilliant past and its contribution to the world.  If that’s disallowed on the grounds of birthplace I’d opt for Dr. Joe Lee’s Ireland 1912-1985, the best of our history books. And then I’d add all the collected short stories of William Trevor. Tomorrow, though, that list will change – except for Joyce.

With your podcast series Re:Joyce, you’ve made James Joyce’s Ulysses accessible to people across the globe. How big an undertaking has that project been for you and did you expect it to be as popular as it has been?

It’s a bigger undertaking than most people could imagine – but I did go into it with my eyes open. It requires significant work almost every day because I produce, essentially, a mini-essay every week that would, if written, amount to somewhere between 1200 and 1500 words, and they have to be based on interrogation of the text and the researches necessary to support that effort. The researches are multiple and multi-faceted, but a total delight. And no, I did not expect one million downloads and a further 110,000 in the first months of this year – and I did not expect listeners as far flung as the 20,000 in Australia, the thousands and thousands up and down the wetsern seaboard of North America, the sole listener in Uzbekhistan, the couple in Algeria – and so on. Nor did I expect the height of the learning curve: doing what I do to make this podcast every week has become an academy.

When did you first read Ulysses, and what appealed to you about it, do you have a favourite scene or episode?

Like many people of my generation I had always had a troubled relationship with Joyce – principally because we were told with such vehemence not to read him. And then we couldn’t acquire his books when we went looking. In fact I found my first copy on the 16 Bus in Dublin – an American tourist had left it behind in a brown paper bag. (I wonder if it’s accurate that the novel was never banned in Ireland – no need to, it’s alleged, because no bookseller would stock it.) I read it and read it, and had the usual difficulties that others report, but I kept returning to it and found that it came alive when I read it aloud. Then, in 1981, the centenary of Joyce’s birth loomed. I was working at the BBC in London and it seemed apparent that I would be asked to make radio and television programmes about him. So I went to the novel again with a more determined will, and I loved it and loved it – so much that my own first book, published in 1981,was James Joyce’s Odyssey –a Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses which, to my astonishment, became a bestseller in Britain and the U.S. As to favorite scenes – today it’s the National Library conversation; tomorrow it may be the Ormond Hotel; or the cabman’s shelter; or Mr. Deasy’s school; or Davy Byrne’s. And so on.

Of the documentaries you’ve made about great writers, which did you most enjoy working on?

How can I choose? Joyce, obviously; and a long radio documentary about Yeats; a documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Erskine Childers and The Riddle of the Sands (it won an award which is probably why I’m so fond of it); Norman Mailer for his 60th birthday; the New England poet, Robert Frost; Henry James; Robert Louis Stevenson (I’ve just put up as an e-book Jim Hawkins and the Curse of Treasure Island, my faithful sequel to Treasure Island); Oscar Wilde (multiple broadcasts); a long radio documentary on George Bernard Shaw;  television programmes on Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Jane Austen – I’ve always deliberately gone for the widest possible “brow” because I have such a suspicion of snobbery, especially the literary kind, and I’ve always had the best time working in this arena.

What words of wisdom would you offer to up-and-coming writers?

Oh, hell! Who should advise anybody? Yet, in a collegial spirit, for three years on the Internet I tweeted a Writing Tip every day (#ByTheWord) which attracted so wide a following (and still does) that I may make a book of them. Therefore the best way that I can answer your question is to give you the first ten of them – and remember on Twitter they have to make not more than 140 characters;

Always finish your work session in the middle of a sentence.

Make drawings or little effigies of your main characters.

Establish on a separate page your story’s calendar.

Give your readers what they expect but not in the way they expect it.

Would you recognize your main characters if you saw them on the street?

Never begin successive sentences with the same word – unless for tension and style.

Most plots are: Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy wins girl back.

Avoid the verb “to be”: it does nothing.

Do an adjective count at the end of each session and halve the number.

Use little description of your characters – let the reader do it.

And if after that you still want to write – then you’re probably a natural and you’ll have a rich time!

To learn more about Frank Delaney and his work you can visit his website or find him on Twitter.

Who is Michael Pennington?

questionMichael Pennington is a man of many talents: a potter, an actor, and a writer but is perhaps best known as a stand-up comedian. In 1996 the then unknown Pennington appeared as a contestant on the ITV game show Win, Lose or Draw and mentioned that he was a stand-up comedian. He also mentioned the stage name he performed under, a name that would soon propel Pennington to fame: Johnny Vegas.

His new autobiography, Becoming Johnny Vegas, tracks his life and assumption of the Vegas character as an alter ego, the two personas sharing one body in a symbiotic or parasitic relationship. Pennington describes the Vegas persona as “my best friend and my worst enemy, my nemesis and my deliverer, the one person who stuck up for me when everyone else had quietly written me off.” Johnny Vegas then is not simply an assumed name but an almost distinct personality with whom Pennington shares a complex and contradictory relationship.

As Johnny Vegas he has enjoyed enormous success over the years. He has been a popular panelist on many shows including Shooting Stars, Have I Got News For You and Q.I. to name but a few. On radio he has co-written the series Night Class, directed by the legendary Dirk Maggs. In 2012 he starred in the BBC Radio 4 drama adaptation, The Diary of a Nobody, as the titular nobody, Mr. Charles Pooter, infusing the self deluded character with a real sense of humanity and dignity. On our TV screens he has played some fantastic characters in a range of shows: from Black Books to Bleak House to a delightful turn as the ‘Artful Codger’ in The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff. (and that’s only the ‘B’s!) He also played ‘Moz’ on the BBC 3 series Ideal for six years from 2005 until 2011, and more recently has been seen as ‘Crunchie Haystacks’ in Chris O’Dowd’s fabulous Moone Boy.

On Sunday, May 25th, you have the chance to see him not as Johnny Vegas but rather as Michael Pennington, when he takes centre stage at the National Concert Hall to talk about his life and his new book, Becoming Johnny Vegas. Learn about the man behind the flash stage persona. For example did you know that he once trained to be a priest? Or that his wife is an Irish writer and producer who has worked with Podge and Rodge, Dustin the Turkey and penned Mr. Tayto’s ‘autobiography’, The man in the Jacket? Or that he is an accomplished potter, with his work sitting in a collection at the Victoria and Albert museum? Don’t miss out on what will surely prove to be an entertaining and thought-provoking evening with a man who has led a fascinating life, further details can be found here.



Arne Dahl on success and social media

In this short interview Arne Dahl talks about his work and the huge acclaim it has achieved internationally. He also addresses the impact that social media has had on the role of a writer and how it has changed the dynamic between writer and reader.

Arne Dahl will be appearing at two events at this year’s festival. On the afternoon of Sunday, May 18th, you can find him on stage at Smock Allley Theatre. Tickets for this event are priced at €10/€8. Then the following evening he will be joining Sinead Crowley and Brian McGilloway in the Central Library to discuss the dark arts of the crime thriller. This is a free event and no booking is required.

To get the full lowdown on all of this year’s festival you can view the full programme now.

Free Family Friendly Fun

The Story BirdToday we highlight some exciting free events for children and kids of all ages that will be on offer at this year’s Dublin Writers Festival.

In honour of the Gruffalo’s 15th Birthday the Gutter Bookshop will host a special celebration on Saturday, May 17th, chock full of activities and stories and all sorts of fun jam-packed into one hour. The fun starts at 11am and would suit kids between 1-5 years old who must be accompanied by an adult.

The gutter Bookshop will also be playing host to a number of special storytimes with readings from fantastic picture books for young children. Again all children should be accompanied by an adult. Storytime will take place between 11am-11.45am on Sunday, May 18th, Saturday, May 24th, and Sunday, May 25th.

Have you ever seen those old Godzilla movies, the ones where it’s a guy in a Godzilla costume stomping around a cardboard Tokyo? Sure looks like fun, eh? Well on Sunday, May 25th, at Meeting House Square in Templebar, you can help build a mini Dublin! Giant cardboard structures of all your favourite places. Let your imagination run free and unleash your inner superhero. Fun for kids of all ages. This event is free but booking is required.

Those are just some of our exciting events. This year there are over a dozen events aimed at children, some are free and others range in price from €3 to €5 per person. For the full list of events please visit our event listings page, there you’ll find information on Skulduggery Pleasant, Alan Nolan’s comic strip workshop, The Diary of Dennis the Menace and much, much more.


Interview with Nuala Ní Chonchúir

CLOSET COVER 91KBNuala Ní Chonchúir has a new novel: The Closet of Savage Mementos. There’s an early buzz about this novel and her next, Miss Emily, already signed with Penguin in the US.  Nuala took time out from preparations for her launch to answer a few questions put to her by Lia Mills.

Why are you a writer?

I think it’s a combination of things that melded together and made it inevitable: I’ve always read voraciously (encouraged by bookish parents) and I’ve valued writing since I was a kid (I wrote diaries, poems, stories). I’m introverted, studious and curious, and I like my own company. I’m also control freaky, which means I like being my own boss and I get to control my characters. Writing keeps me sane as well. I often wonder how non-writers cope when life is hard because writing takes me out of myself during tough times and keeps me on an even keel.

In your interview with Edith Pearlman in the current issue of The Stinging Fly (which you guest-edited) you ask about obsession.  It’s a great question, so I’ll put it to you: How do your personal obsessions manifest themselves in your work?

My personal obsessions are all over my work. The things I am most curious about are matters of the body, especially women’s relationships with their bodies and sex as part of that; motherhood (I first became a mother at 23); failing and broken relationships; art – I love visual art of any kind; travel – the huge bonus of being a writer is all the great places I get to visit and I often use them in my fiction afterwards.

A lot of your fiction refers directly or indirectly to the visual arts, and your new novel, The Closet of Savage Mementos is no exception – can you talk about that?  What artists do you love most?

Yes, in the novel the main character’s mother is a taxidermist, her speciality being anthropomorphic pieces. I think, again, this is the influence of my home: my parents are collectors and sellers of antiques and bric-a-brac so our house growing up was jammed with gorgeous art and curios (often sold and/or replaced with no notice). My own home is a replica of theirs: barely an inch of space without a painting or drawing, a cluttered dresser full of china and glass. I even have a taxidermied mouse – a gift to myself when I finished writing The Closet of Savage Mementos. Favourite artists include Frida Kahlo, Micheal O’Farrell, Manet, Pauline Bewick, Marja Van Kampen and Graham Knuttel.

Where did The Closet of Savage Mementos come from?

It’s inspired by events in my own life. Like the main character, Lillis Yourell, I left Ireland in my early twenties and took a job in an arty hotel in the Scottish Highlands. Also like her I had an unplanned pregnancy with a man somewhat older than me (an artist, as it happens). However I made a different choice to Lillis and kept my son. People will have to read the book to see what Lillis does. The novel was a way of exploring what might have happened if I had made different choices.

On a more practical level, I had written ten short stories about Lillis at different points in her life and liked her company. I decided to concentrate on two periods in her life and write a novel about her.

Can you talk about the title?

The title is from the Louise Erdrich poem ‘Advice to Myself’. I am using two lines from the poem as an epigraph to the novel and the title is one of those lines, adapted. Miss Erdrich very graciously allowed me to mangle her line to make my title. I had a working title of Highland but both I, and my editor, felt it was too mundane.

I love the physicality of your writing; you write the physical very well, direct physical experience – of sexuality, of motherhood. Can you talk about that?

It’s something I am interested in – how we perceive and experience the world through our bodies; they are all we have and our mind is connected to them. I don’t believe in glossing over sex in fiction –we do it in real life, so why not do it on the page? I think it’s unfair to cheat the reader of sensory experience. Childbirth too – if that’s what you’re referring to here in the context of the novel – is something I like to write about. It’s profound; it belongs in literature.

You have the eye and ear of a poet; some of your images and the language you use to express them made me put the book down so that I could absorb them before going back to the story.  How do you think your poetry and your fiction interact? 

I think maybe a love of poetry makes you obsessive about language and individual words and that leaks out in the fiction. Edna O’Brien says language is ‘sacred’ to her – I feel like that too. I admire writers who push language quite far – people like Annie Proulx and John Banville. I am also a thesaurus fiend – I use mine every single day.

In your recent review of the interview Edel Coffey did with Emma Donoghue for the Dublin Writers’ Festival you wrote about Emma Donoghue’s historical research and her account of her process of turning it into fiction – but it’s a process you’re familiar with too.  I think the first story of yours I ever read was about a tiny historical Thumbelina figure.  You often plead the cause of historical fiction.  Would you like to say anything about that?

I adore historical fiction and I can’t understand when people are sniffy about it. Well, I guess I can understand…sometimes the language is so false-sounding that it becomes difficult to suspend disbelief. But done well, it’s amazing.

It helps that I love research and there is tons of research needed for hist fic. For the Miss Emily book I had to research everything from skinning a hare to gonorrhoea to breastfeeding in the 19th century. Research makes me happy – I love expanding my knowledge and finding titbits that fit brilliantly with the story. I research contemporary stuff too – I like to go to the book’s setting especially so I went back to the village in Scotland where Closet is set (after a 20 year absence) and that was intense, emotional and wonderful. It’s amazing what you remember about a place, and it’s amazing what you can forget.

You’re undergoing a very intense period in terms of your career – this novel, a recent stint as guest editor of the Stinging Fly, a dynamic online presence, forthcoming publication of another novel in America ­– how do you keep your balance? 

Lately I’ve been a bit wobbly. Penguin wanted a revised first draft of Miss Emily by the end of March, right at the same time as I was getting ready to promote The Closet of Savage Mementos. So I had a very intense 6 weeks or so of concentrating very hard on my rewrite but also putting things in place for this novel. Neither thing could be neglected so I worked very long days, developed RSI and generally turned into an exhausted madwoman. The day I subbed the second draft to Penguin, I felt lighter, more myself again. I couldn’t miss a deadline – it is not in my DNA to disobey certain types of rules – but it doesn’t make for stress-free living.

Can you tell us about Miss Emily?

It’s set in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1866, and a little in Dublin and Tipperary, and it concerns Ada Concannon, a 17 year old girl who ends up as maid-of-all-work in the Dickinson house. She and Emily become friendly and then disaster strikes…

It’s a book about friendship and home, and the mistress-servant relationship. And writing too, of course.

What’s your favourite question to ask other writers?

‘Who are your favourite women writers?’ So few mention Irish writers and I find that frustrating. We need to take Irish women’s books by the scruff of the neck and hold them high for all to see. Irish male literary writers have a great international profile, but our women literary writers don’t. It baffles me.

What’s your least favourite question to be asked?

I find the question about what becomes a poem as opposed to a short story as opposed to a novel hard to answer. Inspiration whacks me in the gut and I know as soon as it arrives what form it will take; a shape arrives with the ‘idea’. Having said that, all my work is concerned with the same stuff: sex, the body, women, love (usually broken!), children, motherhood, friendship.

What’s next for you?

I’m teaching a whole lot of workshops at festivals this year – Listowel, Cork Short Story (the novel!), Waterford. I have a couple of reading gigs in Scotland for Closet and some here in Ireland. I love getting out and meeting readers.

And I have the germ of another 19th Century historical novel growing, and another set in the 1960s in New York which has been nagging at me for years. It’s a matter of choosing which project to go with. I don’t see an end to my busy life but that’s OK.

NB: The Closet of Savage Mementos will be launched in the Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar at 6.30 pm on Tuesday 15th April, 2014

BIO: Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin in 1970; she lives in East Galway. Her fourth short story collection Mother America was published by New Island in 2012. A chapbook of flash Of Dublin and Other Fictions was published in the US in late 2013 by Tower Press and Nuala’s second novel The Closet of Savage Mementos appeared April 2014 from New Island. Penguin USA and Penguin Canada will publish Nuala’s third novel, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, in 2015.

You can visit her website or read a great little piece of flash fic that she wrote for this very blog.


I ♥ books

DWF Street BannerLast Thursday the Liquor Rooms served as the elegant and intimate setting for the official launch party of 2014 Dublin Writers Festival. A host of people turned up to get a first look at this year’s line-up, to raise a glass and bid ‘bon chance’ for when it all starts up on May 17th.

On the night a number of people very kindly signed our guest book and left some thoughtful comments. Below are just a small sampling of some of those comments:

“Best of luck for a wonderful festival for 2014.”

“Lovely opening speech from Ray Yeates. Looking forward to a fantastically busy festival!”

“Well done. A really important festival. Good luck.”

“Great line-up this year. Hope to book a group to one of the events – lots to choose from!”

and finally, my favourite, which rather neatly sums up the feeling behind the Dublin Writers Festival

“I  books.”

Remember the festival will run from May 17th until May 25th and you can find the full list of all events on our website. There are over ninety events over the course of the nine days so there is sure to be something for everyone. Don’t miss out on your chance to be part of this year’s story.