Anne Cunningham on Anne Enright

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Anne Enright interviewed by Niall McMonagle

Smock Alley Theatre, Saturday 23rd May

On the day that Ireland voted yes, I found myself wading through the jubilant crowds outside Dublin Castle, trying to weave a path to Smock Alley theatre. It’s tough, attempting to muscle your way through a crowd in full party mode. But I bravely resisted the urge to simply give in and party on down – I had work to do. And I’m so glad I did it.

Listening to Anne Enright wasn’t work at all, as it happened. She is as much of a joy to listen to as she is to read, and has as much presence on the stage as she has on the page. She made us laugh and smirk and remember and try to forget in a short space of time that seemed longer, somehow, as she crammed so much of herself – with rare honesty and integrity – into a mere 90 minutes.

Niall McMonagle, asking her about her new novel The Green Road, wanted to know if this is a Mother Ireland book? (The matriarch of the family in her novel is called Rosaleen.)

“No, I do it for laughs really – to annoy people!” she smiled, adding that her book is about separation and connection and the Big Separation for everyone is surely that of leaving one’s mother. “We leave our mother and return to find the human being” she said.

In that case, was it simply a modern twist on the King Lear story?

“It’s actually through the writing of two books – one on compassion and the other on a kind of female King Lear that this book came about” explained Enright.

Somewhat surprised, her interviewer asked did she not have the ending of those books in mind, how could two books end up becoming one? He quoted John Fowles’ always knowing the end of his novels before he begins (although it’s John Irving who is famous for that quote), and Anne Enright described how she “travels blind” through the writing process. She has a vague idea of shape and plot but says her books are not narrative driven, she doesn’t suffer from “narrative adrenalin” and prefers to think of them as “taking a bath”.

And then the old turkey came out – a mandatory question for women writers, I’ve heard it asked again and again and again: Had she ever considered writing in the opposite gender…yawn…? Really, you gentlemen interviewers, you should know better. Who asks male writers that question?

Ms Enright seemed to consider the question to be as tiresome as any woman would, and since most of the interview was about The Green Road, I could see her oncoming answer like a train down the track at top speed. “Two of the characters in the book are men” she replied.

“I write 3rd person in the past tense, both male and female. It’s not a question of gender at all, it’s a question of character and that character’s place in the story.”

Being a generous-spirited woman, she showed not one teeny sign of being irked, but the annoyance among the females in the audience was palpable. On the very day we voted for equality on an inherently gender-based issue, that such a question could be asked – and not of an MA writing student, but of a Man Booker prize-winning author, a woman whose prose stands alongside the finest living writers… I found it preposterous.

A question from a member of the audience during the Q & A prompted Enright to give us her frank opinion on the “preciousness” of some writers.

“I’m a professor myself”, stated the audience member, “And Virginia Woolf insisted that writers need a room to themselves – a room dedicated only to writing.”

Ms Enright was gracious as always in her response: “If you’re going to be a good writer, then you need to understand that you’ll never make much money. So you need to cut your cloth and get used to living modestly. Good writing is not about having a dedicated writing room. It’s about the page. It is always – always – about the words on the page.”

By Anne Cunningham

Alan Walsh on Paul Muldoon

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Paul Muldoon: Rara Avis.

The old story about a teenage Paul Muldoon sending his novice poems to Seamus Heaney didn’t run the way people like to tell it. The story goes he posted them to his hero, asking what, if anything, could be done to improve them and the older poet replied very simply; nothing. What Heaney had actually said was that he couldn’t tell Muldoon anything he wouldn’t find out for himself. Rara Avis, was what his teacher, Jerry Hicks, called him when first introducing him to Heaney and it was the older poet that caught him his first break, recommending him to Charles Monteith at Faber poetry and helping him right along to publication while still a student.
The poem Cuthbert and the Otters, from Muldoon’s latest collection features the line everyone hooked themselves onto at the 2013 Durham book festival only a few weeks after Heaney’s funeral:
“I cannot thole the thought of Seamus Heaney dead.”
And it’s very hard to think of Muldoon without half a mind to his fellow Ulsterman. While it might seem to many that Muldoon fell under the master’s influence early on, turning his head from the showboating of poets like Eliot, clashing high and low brow in a single line, to writing about his country and the life around him, Muldoon is more inclined to see influence as a shared thing and has suggested he might have had some impact on Heaney’s work too. It’s hardly impossible. The two are so entwined in popular perception many read Muldoon’s poem Madoc: A Mystery, which tells of Southey and Coleridge trying to set up a Pantisocracy in North America, as a metaphor for the two Ulster poets setting course for major positions in American academia. If he did turn his head it wasn’t all the way. Muldoon has always been a verbal trickster, always mixed and matched meter and tone, and copying his poems into Word has always left the white page awash in wiggly red underlines. He writes in Villanelles, the more complex double sestinas, Persian ghazals and Pantoums. He sets up a neat little acrostic in the poem Capercaillies that reads “Is this a New Yorker Poem or what.” (turned out it wasn’t, they refused it) and shifts gear from sardonic to pathos and back within a line.
Stunt Reading could be the key to it all. It’s a way of reading a poem Muldoon introduced to students during his Oxford lectures. An awareness of what he called cryptocurrents, secret meanings, in-jokes and, like jazz, the notes you don’t hear. Yeats, Tsvetaeva, Hughes, Frost and many others effectively have their poetry rewritten through gamifying the close-reading process into a free-association sport. Like the best of Muldoon’s work, it’s unserious and scholarly, fun but maddeningly intricate and at the same time revealing moments only the highest poetry can aspire to.

By Alan Walsh

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Caelen Dwane on Jon Ronson

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“I’m a humourist journalist out of my depth” – Jon Ronson – O’Reilly Theatre – 19th May 2015

Firstly, sincere apologies to those sitting around me yesterday evening in the O’Reilly Hall for the wild scribbling of notes that took place, as almost everything said throughout the event seemed comment worthy on this post today; and yet, I haven’t even touched on half of it in what follows. Anton Savage introduced Jon Ronson as “one of those rare finds – a very funny and captivating author, who is as captivating verbally as he is in text.” I can now wholeheartedly agree with this.

Jon Ronson walked out on stage to say how pleased he was to be standing on the stage of the theatre bequeathed by Tony O’Reilly. He had previously been chased from a Bilderberg meeting where Tony O’Reilly was in attendance, but now he was standing on his stage. Remembering his call to the British Embassy in the city as he ran to escape at the time, he explained to the woman on the end of the phone that he was a ‘humourist journalist out of his depth’. When she called him back to confirm that she had checked and that there were no reports of anyone following him, she supposed that it was good news if you knew you were being followed as they are probably just trying to intimidate you. If you were actually being followed, you wouldn’t know – Ronson’s thought on this was what if he was exactly the right kind of anxious and paranoid person to know exactly when he was being followed by the ‘henchmen of the shadowy police of the world.’

To me, this was the biggest surprise in seeing Jon Ronson for the first time, I found him to be of a somewhat nervous disposition. That is not to say that he is not a confident person by any stretch, surely confidence is a given in a person who infiltrates secret meetings of shady organisations, ventures UFO hunting with pop stars, addresses the wealthy and powerful in society as psychopaths, and beyond. However, he himself said that he is a hugely anxious person, particularly in regards to his wife and child. Yet, this anxiety in his persona, was not something I expected from what I did know of him. In saying that, I found that it added to his charm and is perhaps why he does manage to spy on secret meetings, go on bizarre adventures with pop stars, and address psychopaths without inciting their ire.

I imagine a lot of people are most familiar with Jon Ronson, as I was, from his books The Psychopath Test and The Men Who Stare at Goats, and as a journalist published in The Guardian. Ronson said that writing The Psychopath Test made him a certified ‘psychopath spotter’. In becoming so, it also made him a bit of a psychopath about shoving people into a psychopath box based on the outer most parts of them. He stated that journalism is the quest to define people by their outer most aspects, essentially labelling people. In America, children as young as 1 or 2 are being labelled as bi-polar for their unruly behaviour and being put on medication from that young age. While we all agreed that this seems absurd and a bad thing, Ronson claims that this is what we are all now doing on social media – labelling people, and attacking or shaming them accordingly. On Twitter, we are convinced that ‘some bad phraseology in a tweet is a clue to this person’s true and inherent evil’. This is the idea behind Ronson’s new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In the book, he explores the shaming culture on social media. We now find ourselves in a world where the ordinary people have a voice, and a powerful voice at that, and where it now appears that in the social media realm, a day without shaming has become a wasted day.

One the stories in his new book and a large part of the discussion last night, centred on a tweet by Justine Sacco. If you haven’t heard of Justine Sacco and the frenzy that ensued a tweet sent before she boarded a flight to South Africa, then I’d advise having a Google on that. I hadn’t heard of any of it, but now that I have, I will be forever aware of the potential of Twitter to ruin lives. In his own words, Jon Ronson said he saw that tweet that night and thought with delight ‘Great. Someone is f***ed!’ We all agreed with him that on a visceral level, what she tweeted is abhorrent; however, even then, he thought it was clearly someone mocking privilege by highlighting privilege – which turned out to be the case. Yet, with only 170 Twitter followers, Justine Sacco became the worldwide number one trending item on twitter and a victim of attack on all kinds of fronts. Justine had, in the eyes of the Twittersphere, misused her privilege – but, in truth, she was just a small PR person tweeting in the hope of amusing people that she couldn’t see. It snowballed from there, and everyone jumped on her misfortune. Not just the trolls, and there were lots of trolls, but nice normal people – people like us. The Gawker writer who picked up her tweet and started the attack against her said the way it all unfolded was “delicious”; asked how he thought she was after, he said he thought she was fine. The reality for her was that she lost a job she loved, suffered anxiety, depression, and was left afraid and ashamed. Plenty of other examples of similar and worse situations were covered last night and are detailed in the book. Ronson said of his new book, ‘it is not a polemic, it’s more like a horror story of getting to feel what these people felt.’

Savage posed a great question in comparing it to a modern day witch hunt in a new medium. Ronson agreed that it wasn’t unlike a witch hunt, in that it is impossible to defend yourself. Anything you could say in your defence is just more evidence to their case against you. It has been highlighted as ‘performance piety’, where people surround themselves on social media with people who are in line with their views or the views they want to be seen as theirs, and if something steps outside of that remit then we scream them down. Ronson quite sharply pointed out that this is the opposite of democracy. Savage highlighted that the book ends on an inadvertently capitalist note. That money is being made by this public shaming. Ronson laughed saying that Google has the corporate motto ‘Don’t be evil’, yet, every time something is searched, Google makes 38 cent. Justine Sacco was Googled a handful of times in one day prior to the infamous tweet – afterwards, during the period that followed, she was Googled over 1,220,000 times. It was “us” that did the shaming, Ronson determined that we were just like unpaid Google interns.

On the flip side, for all the bad Twitter stories, he did have a very touching story to share about his former bandmate Frank Sidebottom. Ronson co-wrote the screenplay of the film ‘Frank’ starring Michael Fassbender; and it was loosely based on his time in Frank’s band from 1987-1990. Frank was known for wearing a big fake head. About 15 years later Frank called to say he was staging a comeback and would Ronson write it up. However, Chris “Frank” Sievey died penniless and was going to be buried in a pauper’s grave. Ronson sent out a single tweet and following that one tweet over £20,000 was raised, which Ronson noted was more than enough to ‘bury him, exhume him and bury him again.’ So, surely the world of social media is not inherently evil.

The questions from the audience were some interesting takes on this. On being asked if he thought there was an era of anarchy in the internet – cybercrime, social media shaming and the like; and whether he thought government regulation would be a good thing? Ronson replied that the only people that could be regulated against really were the trolls, and not us “normal people”. Human beings are dimensional and complicated, and this isn’t always demonstrated, or may not even be demonstrable, through social media. Ronson explained that throughout history whenever powerless people become empowered it takes a while to figure out how to use the power judiciously. He favours humans over ideology every time, and while the latter may currently be winning out, he believes in human beings.

By Caelen Dwane

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Rebecca Treacy on Sepideh Jodeyri

Sepideh Jodeyri

When Sepideh Jodeyri attended a Q&A before a screening of Blue is the Warmest Colour, the conversation was dominated by discussion of her life and works in her home country of Iran. It also centred around her feelings about being exiled in Prague because of her professional life. A poet, translator, literary critic and journalist, among other things, Jodeyri has faced many problems since she decided to translate Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Colour into Persian. She made the decision to do so in an attempt to educate Iranian people about LGBT people and show them how to behave in reaction to those “who are unlike” the dominant culture sanctioned by the Iranian government.

It is clear that living in exile is painful for Jodeyri. She told the audience that she dreams of Iran every night and wakes up each morning saddened to find that she is not at home. This life has been made necessary for her as she’s viewed as a supporter of homosexuality and someone who promotes it, a fact she finds amusing since it’s ‘impossible to promote homosexuality’. The reason for this smearing of Jodeyri’s name is because of her choice to translate Blue is the Warmest Colour. It has led to what she describes as her ‘pen being banned’, with the Ministry of Intelligence banning not only her own poetry and writing but also banning her name. This means that anything mentioning Jodeyri such as interviews or articles tend to be banned alongside her work.

The film version of Blue is the Warmest Colour has had worldwide acclaim, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2012 and performing well internationally. Jodeyri’s love remains with the original graphic novel and she proclaims herself as a fan of Julie Maroh’s work, declaring her enthusiasm for Maroh having sent her the newest edition to her repertoire of work. This remains her view despite the impact it’s had on her life. Jodeyri cannot go back to Iran after leaving of her own decision to keep her son safe and protect her family. Her friends have been interrogated for being connected to her and all have warned her to stay away from Iran as her leaving drew attention to her as a target. That means she hasn’t been able to see her family or friends since she left Iran a little over four years ago.

Before she left, it was clear that her translation of Blue is the Warmest Colour made life for herself and those she interacted with unsafe. She has said previously “I’ve been declared persona non grata in my own country”. Her publisher was threatened with having his license revoked for publishing her poetry, although he is still working as a publisher now and publishing other banned authors. Each text published in Iran needs to be licensed by the Minister for Culture and it took only two weeks after Jodeyri’s licensed book of poetry was banned. Additionally, the man who rented out a hall in Tehran for the launch of her poetry book And Etc was fired from his job and the event was cancelled. It’s clear that interacting with banned authors can cause many problems for those who take the risk.

Sepideh Jodeyri is trying to combat all of this. She has released a new book of poetry called And Emptiness is Flowing Under My Skin this year, all of which was written while in exile. It is banned in Iran as all of her poetry is seen to promote homosexuality, despite the fact that Jodeyri is a married heterosexual woman who doesn’t write about same-sex relationship in her own work. She has made the book free as an eBook to an Iranian citizen living inside Iran and dedicated the collection to all of the Iranian people living in exile around the world.

Sepideh Jodeyri’s life is a harsh reminder that in many places around the world freedom of expression is limited and the rights of LGBT are essentially non-existent. The Q&A was left with the idea that we’re lucky to live in Ireland where there is an upcoming referendum, and for the most part LGBT people are safe to live in this country, not having to fear that they will have to flee the country simply because of their existence as a person who is not heterosexual.

By Rebecca Treacy
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Gruff Rhys in Whelans

Saturday was the first day of the festival and a gloriously, sunny first day at that. Despite the sunshine, there was an eager queue waiting outside Whelans, all happy to leave the balmy evening and go into the dark bar for Gruff Rhys’ talk about his new project American Interior.

The evening began with Tony Clayton-Lea interviewing Rhys about his new multi-platform project; American Interior spans an album, a book, a documentary and an app. It follows the footsteps of famous Welsh man John Evans, a distant relative of Rhys, who went to America in 1790 to find a rumoured tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians. The Welsh Indians were said to be descendants of Prince Madoc who, according to Welsh legend, discovered America in the 12th century, three hundred years before Columbus. Rhys, who was aware of John Evans from his childhood, was asked to write the music for a play marking the 200 years since Evans’ death in 1999. While his music wasn’t used in the play, due to touring commitments and the death of the director, it made him more interested in John Evans’ story. Fifteen years later, on tour across America, he realised he was very close to the journey that Evans had taken but didn’t have time to visit the places and explore the story properly. When he returned to the UK, he asked his record company if his next tour could follow John Evans’ journey and give him time to visit and explore his destinations. Rhys wanted to verify the tall tales that he was told about John Evans as a child, stories that sounded far-fetched but that you accept when you’re young. He wanted to find out what was true and what was myth. The record company granted his request and the tour evolved into a series of musical lectures about Evans’ journey, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation and a three-foot model of Evans, rebuilt in felt. The story of this tour, and Evans’ original quest, are told in the American Interior book and documentary. The songs, however are less didactic and instead try to create the emotion of John Evans’ journey or concentrate on one small detail. Rhys didn’t want the song to just consist of facts.

Rhys also talked the early days of Super Furry Animals; how he met band-mate Bunford for the first time on the roof of a train and how getting signed to Creation Records was like winning the pools. He also talked about a new Super Furry Animals release – a beer called Fuzzy created by the Celt Brewery.

The second half of the evening was a performance of songs and stories from America Interior, complete with projected slides and a special appearance from the felt John Evans. It was a treat to see these songs performed in such an intimate venue and the crowd were captivated. The story of John Evans’ adventures in America was interspersed with songs played on an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a few electronic gadgets. It was a very special way to spend a Saturday night and a great way to get a history lesson!

Dawn O’Porter at the Twisted Pepper

I really enjoyed Dawn O’Porter session at last year’s Dublin Writers Festival. She was in conversation with Roisin Ingle and here to talk about her first book Paper Aeroplanes. She is a very engaging speaker and I was delighted to see her back again, this time interviewed by Anna Carey in the Twisted Pepper as part of Banter. O’Porter is a wonderful interviewee – very open, very funny and very passionate about her books and characters. The crowd at the Twisted Pepper was almost entirely female, lots of well-dressed women in the late twenties and early thirties, queuing politely for the sold out session and many buying the newly released Goose on their way in.

The two books follow the lives of teenage girls Renee and Flo, growing up on the island of Guernsey. O’Porter also grew up in Guernsey which she describes as being trapped on an Continue reading

Anita Shreve Shines at Smock Alley Theatre

Anita ShreveIn the intimate setting of the Smock Alley Theatre, Anita Shreve sat down in conversation with Sinead Gleeson. The writer began proceedings by reading a very brief extract from her new book, The Lives of Stella Bain. As she read aloud her own words we viewed the world through the eyes of the protagonist as she awoke in a field hospital in 1916 France to the realisation that she has no notion of her own identity.
After that tantalising snippet from her new novel, Anita chatted about her past and her work. She shared her memories of her early days as a teacher and her short story writing, her winning of the O. Henry prize in 1976, through to the publication of her first novel, Eden Close. Then we heard of her breakout success with The Pilot’s Wife, which was featured as part of Oprah’s Book Club, and her continued success up until the release of her newest novel, Stella Bain, which went through an incredible 9 drafts and a period locked in a drawer.
There were some standout moments, including an epic Oprah Winfrey impression and an anecdote in which it transpired that Anita only realised her novel, Resistance, had been adapted into a movie when a passing stranger happened to mention watching it on Netflix.
When it came to the Q&A the audience offered up some great questions. Here we learned, amongst other things, that Shreve does not try to imbue any particular ideology into her work and that her focus is on the story. She also revealed that she doesn’t talk about a book while she’s working on it, likening a story to a bottle of soda. She wants to keep all the fizz in the story so keeps the lid on tight until it’s time to drink it.
As the evening drew to a close everyone decamped to The Gutter Bookshop, across the street from Smock Alley Theatre, where the writer met fans and signed copies of her book. And so ended the second and final of our DWF-Off The Page preview events. There are now only 6 weeks left before the festival itself returns on May 17th, with a huge range of events in a host of venues over nine days. Full festival details will be announced very soon so keep an eye here and on the events section our website.

To learn more about Anita Shreve and her novels you can visit her website.