Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Moriarty Reader: Preparing for Early Spring ed.Brendan O'Donoghue

A Moriarty Reader is one of those books that can truly be called a treasure. With a beautiful jacket design by Niall McCormack incorporating the painting Early Spring by Guo Xi (c.1020-1090) it looks extra special before you have even opened the first page.
John Moriarty (d.2007) was a poet, mystic, philosopher and original thinker. The Reader reveals his thoughts through his publications; Dreamtime (1994), the Turtle trilogy (1996-1998), Nostos (2001) and What the Curlew Said (2007).
This is an introduction to his writing for those who have not yet read his work, and also new takes on his thinking for those who are familiar with his writing.

After a brief biography there is a note on the selection by the editor, where he explains that it 'does not pretend to provide the definitive guide to Moriarty...[but] to illumine what Heidegger might call a Holzweg ('forestpath/woodpath) within the dense forest of Moriarty's writing'. Well, keenly down that path we will venture.
A foreword by Michael Kearney, founder of the Irish Hospice Movement describes Moriarty as 'one of Ireland's most important thinkers' and that 'to read Moriarty is to make a shamanic be initiated into that other way of seeing'. He recalls buying Dreamtime and standing mesmerised by it outside Hodges Figgis. The impact Moriarty has had on him has caused him to redirect thirty years of medicine 'to best act in service of the earth'. The way Moriarty has affected those who read him is quite
Brendan O'Donoghue as editor, recognises that despite John Moriarty's significance as a writer in Ireland, he has still remained 'a peripheral figure'. Lauded by the likes of Brian Lynch and Paul Durcan, O'Donoghue questions what entitles him to such praise? He identifies it as 'his ability to challenge...habitual modes of Western thought; his act as a cultural shaman...; his innovative philomythical[myth loving] and metanoetic* search for wisdom and truth; and his original interpretation of Christ'. Now if that all doesn't draw you in to want to explore this Reader further I don't know what will!
(*metanoetic can be understood as philosophy that understands the limits of reason and the power of radical evil.)
 John Moriarty
In Dreamtime, Moriarty goes walkabout in the Aboriginal sense into Éire's, Europa's and Ecclesia's Dreamtimes engaging with myths and ideas to re-emerge with a new sense of who we are. In the Turtle trilogy Moriarty tries to 'nurture a new humanity on an Earth newly discovered as Buddha Gaia', goes on a right of passage, breaking free and reinterpreting the origin of the universe and finally explores how nature can be on our side by desisting from subduing and enlisting its help. Nostos is a 'homecoming adventure to who and what he is'. Picking up from here in What the Curlew Said, Moriarty documents his life-story from 1982 to a few months before he died, carrying with it 'profound wonderment'.
Moriarty was and is still a writer who had a profound impact on those who read his work. In this Reader, a new audience will get a chance to experience his insight into the mechanics of our world and his own very unique view of it. I certainly intend to return to this and explore it in greater detail and I imagine it is a book I will return to and bring up in conversation for a very long time.

A Moriarty Reader is published by Lilliput Press.

Bamboo Dreams: An Anthology of Haiku Poetry from Ireland ed. Anatoly Kudryavitsky

Doghouse Books down in Tralee have published  the first ever Irish national anthology of haiku poetry, so if you are a fan, this is the book for you!  The interest in haiku has blossomed recently and an increasing number of Irish writers are appearing in print worldwide. This book contains work by seventy-seven haiku writers.

The anthology has an excellent introduction by Anatoly Kudryavitsky, the editor of Shamrock Haiku Journal, where he discusses the development of haiku in Ireland from an unsuspecting Patrick Kavanagh around 1965-67 and Juanita Casey, a travelling woman in 1968. The first collection by an Irish poet was Michael Hartnett's Inchicore Haiku in 1985. The Internet has been instrumental in creative exchange, namely Shiku Internet Haiku Salon which was popular in the late nineties and World Kigo Database. The first Irish haiku magazine Haiku Spirit ran from 1995-2000 founded by James Norton. In more recent years there was online magazine Lishanu ( and Shamrock ( which is the international online magazine of the Irish Haiku Society since 2007. There are two associations of English language haijins (haiku poets) in Ireland; Haiku Ireland ( and the Irish Haiku Society ( who conduct workshops. I include all this information because I found it very interesting, like a secret society nobody knows about!
Kudravitsky acknowledges that there is a 'celtic' haiku style. Many of the haiku in this anthology, as with the traditional Japanese haiku, have nature as a theme. I have pulled out certain verses that I particularly liked, some of them are a complete haiku in its three lines, others are selected verses from a longer haiku.
This verse from Sharon Burrell could only be an image from Dublin; "chilly morning - / geese in formation/ over the Dart line" and this philosophical verse from Juanita Casey; "why rage if the roof/ has holes?/ heaven is roof enough". I particularly liked this complete haiku from Michael Coady; "ravens from the height/ throw shapes above the belfry - / deep-croak  rituals". With that "deep-croak" in the last line you can hear the voice of the crow, and it is explained that throw shapes: dance (Hiberno-Engl.
Patrick Deeley perfectly records an event any cat-owner will recognise; "dead thrush on the doorstep/ the cat's way/ to my heart" while Gabriel Fitzmaurice captures life from death in his three line haiku; "a rotting tree stump/ in the middle of the woods/mushrooms with new life". In Maeve O'Sullivan's verse I can see the colours ; "Basque flower market/ an orange hibiscus/ trumpets its presence" and Thomas Powell captures a everyday joyful sight with new eyes; "communal bath/ in the blocked guttering/ a row of sparrows".
I liked the enigmatic words of Isabelle Prondzynski; "fog in the city - / now I cannot see/ those I do not know" and the hopelessness in the words of Eileen Sheehan; "home village/ nowhere to visit/ but the graveyard".
  editor Anatoly Kudryavitsky
I really enjoyed this anthology. The very refined discipline required to write haiku make their soundbites all the more intense. I hope that this particularly specialised style of poetry writing continues to gather strength in Ireland because from this collection it is obvious that there are a lot of talented haiku writers around.

Published by Doghouse Books.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Kick Against The Pricks: The Autobiography by David Norris

Senator David Norris, independent member of Seanad Éireann, presidential candidate, Joycean scholar and defender of human rights. This is the David Norris that we know, his public roles, but there is a lot more to the man and what made him and even those who think they know a lot more about him will find information of great interest in this book.
The epigraphs explain the title. From The Bible, Act 26:4, 'Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against pricks', from Euripedes' The Bacchae, 'Being enraged I would kick against the pricks' and Plautus, 'If you strike against the pricks with your fists you hurt your hands more than the pricks.' Followed by the meaning of the word, 'Prick - a kind of sharpened goad used to prod oxen...from ancient times a source of metaphor...' and used by David Norris 'in full consciousness of its double entendre as a metaphor' for his 'lifelong struggle against the establishment.'

The chapter titles are literary and joyful in themselves; 'My Family and Other Animals', 'Borstal Boy' and 'The Only Gay in the Village' being just three examples. The humorous 'Warning to Readers' to consume the material whole as 'unauthorised toxic bundles of selected quotations may appear in the media' (should steer you away from this review!!) gives us an early insight into David Norris's sense of humour, with a warning to 'be especially cautious of sensational headlines'.
Before starting in to this book, I will say that the photographs are fabulous and tell a story all on their own. From the earliest photos of his maternal grandparents in Co.Laois and his uncle Dick, a colonel and chaplain to the Royal family seen with the young Queen Elizabeth and also Queen Mary, through so many life events to a final most majestic portrait of David Norris at his home in North Great Georges Street.
For David Norris, this book, as he states in the prologue, is an apologia in the classical sense, an explanation to be considered by the civilised reader. With a comment on his Christmas post-presidential campaign and the gutter press of Rupert Murdoch, he realised there was always resurrection.

Born to older parents (father forty-nine and mother forty-three) after ten childless years of marriage, his brother John then four years later David. Having lived and worked in the Congo as Chief Engineer for Lever Brothers a return to Dublin was decided on; first his mother and the two small boys alone, in early 1945 during the war as his father still worked abroad. He saw his father just three more times in the next four years for four- or six-week breaks as he died in Africa of a coronary at fifty-six.
With little family for the majority of his life, he says 'I've always loved the idea of a family, and throughout my life have always tried to assemble the elements of it.'
With reminiscences of school there are the agonies of homesickness of an eight-year-old boarder in a male version of St Trinian's with an absent-minded eccentric headmaster and teachers keen with the cane. Traumatised, he often ran away.
His life is one of the fullest I have come across and he seems to have met every dignitary going. The campaigning that he is well known for is covered with interesting stories. With a closing chapter entitled 'Laughter and Love of Friends', amongst his contemplations on belief, mortality and health, he recalls an emergency hospital visit where halfway to the ambulance he returned for an armful of books. Amongst the crowd gathered a lad called, 'Fair play to ya, Norris, ye're the only man in Dublin who'd be at death's door and he'd be going back for his bukes!' Concluding that he has had a marvelous life and that like Edith Piaf he regrets nothing, he offers some obituary notes and tombstone engavings. All are worthy, but I would plump for the quote from your man above.

This is a really interesting autobiography. It is one of Dublin of the 50s, a young boy and man's experience of growing up without a father in genteel poverty developing into one determined to make the world a fairer place. It encompasses so many subjects and his detailed account of the 2011 Presidential election is his opportunity to tell his side of the story. A great book whether you are a fan of David Norris or not, he's just had a really fascinating life.
Published by Transworld Ireland

Isn't It Well For Ye? The Book of Irish Mammies by Colm O'Regan

Colm O'Regan is a stand-up comedian, columnist and broadcaster and the concept for this book started out as a Twitter account @irishmammies, which had thousands of followers after just a few months, now 50,000. Published by Transworld Ireland and billed as 'an exploration of the phenomenon of the Irish Mammy', this is going to be a very popular stocking filler this Christmas for all those mammies out there.

With a good old rubber water bottle on the cover and comedy in the first page, a cave painting of a hot press and the Ogham script translated as 'A grand bit of drying out', you can quickly see where this book is going. The Irish language is cited as 'ideal for no-nonsense dismissals of messers and wasters' and The Constitution of the House is very funny opening with 'Article I: While you're under this roof...'
There's the 'war on damp', the weather (of course) and the inevitable cough-bottle along with the top five reminiscable diseases, 'Will I ever forget that winter? All three of you had the croup.' The points chatter comes with a Mammy-designed leaving cert exam paper and don't forget the all important messages, 'They're gone very dear in there altogether.'
They're all in here, but I won't quote any more for fear of giving the fun away. It'll be a 'grand bit of fun for them' on Christmas day. Now whether the mammy's will see the humour only you can judge that yourself but you will certainly be having a good ole giggle yourself!

Mammies brain, 'Location of my glasses' at the front, 'WHO DIED' taking up a good part in the middle, 'Airing clothes' and 'General Worrying' at the back.

Published by Transworld Ireland

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

Donal Ryan has just won Best Newcomer in the Bord Gais Irish Book Awards, and reading this novel you can soon see why. The Spinning Heart, published by Lilliput Press, is just about as contemporary as they come. Set in small town Ireland after the financial collapse we hear how it has affected the town as each character tells their tale.

Donal Ryan is originally from a village in North Tipperary and now lives in Limerick. His language for each character is spot-on; they each have their own clear identities from their vocal idiosyncrasies. The author's ear for phrases and accents makes the characters truly genuine.
As each character tells their tale, the story develops as we gain more information from different points of view. Bobby is a foreman, now out of work as Pokey, the gone-bust building contractor, has escaped abroad. Josie is Pokey's father, ashamed of his son's actions but still having to live within the community. Lily is the town 'bike' with five children by different fathers and her looks gone. Then there is Vasya, the Russian builder who understands little English but has certain phrases "that served me well for a while: off the books, under the table, on the queue tee." Réatín lives on a ghost estate with one other resident.
There are twenty one chapters here that each further the story and fill the gaps as told by another character in the town. Hearing the tale develop from so many voices, so many versions of the truth, is a very effective techniques as it builds up the complete picture. What starts out with the tragedy of many towns in the post-Celtic Tiger collapse turns much darker, and contemplative.
There is a certain ring of Auster's New York Trilogy about the novel, the same tale being told from different voices and maybe even a parallel with Pat McCabe small-town darkness in Butcher Boy.
This is a grim but true record of what has happened to Ireland, we can all see it all around us, but Ryan has captured it creatively in a dark tale, and it is one that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it.
Jacket Design by Graham  Thew

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Border Lines by John Walsh

John Walsh is a publisher and poet (three collections) born in Derry now living in Connemara and this book, Border Lines,  is his first foray into short story writing. There are sixteen stories in the collection set in Ireland, Greece, Germany and Spain with several linking characters. With a dedication to his partner Lisa, who co-wrote one of the stories, in the form of a poem, we enter into the collection.

'A Day Like Today' tells of a young nephew with his rather irresponsible uncle Roy, his mother's younger brother. The uncle's venture into the world beyond is followed; "You have to cut the apron strings some day, Neph" he tells him. 'The Trumpet in the Tower' follows a meeting on a bus to Derry with a jazz trumpeter, and his plans to go to London.
As the stories go on, the book begins to reveal themes; leaving for bigger things, escaping the small town or even Dublin for the wider world. Also music is a constant presence as a back drop to the stories, something that is obviously important to the author. Many of his stories have a twist in the tail and a tragic ending.
Walsh is not afraid to visit the seamier side of life head on, and we see this in 'A Different Story' and 'You're Never Alone'. The politics of the North rear their head and the impact of the Troubles are seen in 'Border Lines' with overt political comment in 'Hawk'. A lot of Walsh's characters seem to be on the outside of society, loners or even, to be cruel, 'losers'. His characters do not have easy lives.
Walsh is primarily a poet, but there is no flowery language here. He is direct and tells the story as it is with straight uncomplicated dialogue, sometimes even making the reader slightly uncomfortable with his directness.  I like this alertness about his writing, sometimes taking us unawares.
The consistent characters; Ian, Sandra, Ellen, Uncle Roy and the nephew serve to tie the whole collection into an enigmatic puzzle as the reader starts to make connections between stories and try to place their movements in time.

I left this collection with an interest in the characters and I look forward to seeing where Walsh goes in developing this side of his writing.
Border Lines is published by Doire Press

2012 Winners in Bord Gais Irish Book Awards

A couple of days late but so pleased for the winners and also all the great publicity for our great Irish publishers. The shortlists were excellent this year, hopefully inspiring readers to go out and discover new authors and of course we are all delighted for the winners.

Eason Novel of the Year : John Banville - Ancient Light (Viking [Penguin Group])

Astray Emma Donoghue
Dark Lies the Island Kevin Barry
The Light of Amsterdam David Park
Where Have You Been Joseph O'Connor
Hawthorn and Child Keith Ridgeway

RTÉ Radio 1's John Murray Show Listeners' Choice Award : Just Mary by Mary O'Rourke (Gill and Macmillan)

Run Fat Bitch Run Ruth Field
Bring Up The Bodies Hilary Mantel
The Paris Wife Paula McLain
All In My Head: The Autobiography Lar Corbett

Ireland AM Crime Fiction of the Year: Broken Harbour by Tana French (Hachette Books Ireland)

Vengeance Benjamin Black
The Istanbul Puzzle Laurence O'Bryan
Too Close for Comfort Niamh O'Connor
Red Ribbons Louise Phillips
Slaughter's Hound Declan Burke

Avonmore Cookbook of the Year  Eat Like an Italian by Catherine Fulvio (Gill&Macmillan)

Cake Rachel Allen
Kitchen Hero: Great Food for Less Donal Skehan
The MacNean Restaurant Cookbook Neven Maguire
Domini at Home Domini Kemp
Irish Countrywoman's Association Cookbook Irish Countrywoman's Association

Argosy Non-Fiction Book of the Year  Country Girl by Edna O'Brien (Faber&Faber)

The Good Room David McWilliams
A Kick Against the Pricks: The Autobiography David Morris
Everybody Matters Mary Robinson
Just Mary Mary O'Rourke
Atlas of the Great Irish Famine Crowley, Smyth and Murphy

Eason Popular Fiction Book of the Year  A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy (Orion)

This Child of Mine Sinead Moriarty
The Mystery of Mercy Close Marian Keyes
The House on Willow Street Cathy Kelly
One Hundred Names Cecelia Ahern

Lifestyle Sports Sports Book of the Year My Olympic Dream by Katie Taylor (Simon and Schuster)

My Journey Jim Stynes
Cliffs Of Insanity: A Winter On Ireland's Big Waves Keith Duggan
The Bull John Hayes
Memory Man Jimmy Magee
The Great and the Good John Giles

Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (Doubleday Ireland/Lilliput)

The China Factory Mary Costello
The Crocodile By The Door Selina Guinness
Tyringham Park Rosemary McLoughlin
This Is How It Ends Kathleen McMahon
We Have A Good Time....Don't We? Maeve Higgins

International Education Services Best Irish Published Book of the Year Atlas of the Great Irish Famine by John Crowley, William J. Smyth and Mike Murphy (Cork University Press)

At War With the Empire Gerry Hunt
And Time Stood Still Alice Walker
Triggs Paul Howard
Tyringham Park Rosemary McLoughlin
Isn't It Well For Ye? The Book Of Irish Mammies Colm O'Regan

Specsavers Children's Book of the Year (Junior) The Moose belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins)

Guess How Much I Love You: Here, There and Everywhere Sam McBratney
Oh No, George! Chris Haughton
Adam's Greatest Inventions Benji Bennett

Specsavers Children's Book of the Year (Senior) Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer (Puffin)

The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Bucket John Boyne
Zom-B Darren Shan
Rebecca's Rules Anna Carey
Leave It To Eva Jodi Curtin
Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom Of The Wicked Derek Landy

Bord Gais Energy Bookshop of the Year: Bridge Street Books, Wicklow Town

Crannóg Bookshop, Cavan Town
O'Mahony's, Limerick
The Reading Room, Carrick-on-Shannon
The Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lilliput Press, Independent Publishers in Dublin 7

I was up at the lovely premises of Lilliput Press today in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Tucked around a corner on Sitric Road, just near Arbour Hill Cemetery, it is a lovely old building with the walls lined with all of their recent publications.

With the kind assistance of Alice Youell and Kitty Lyddon, I left with a good number of review copies that will appear on these pages later on.

I also offer congratulations to Lilliput Press as their author Donal Ryan was announced as Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year at last nights Bord Gáis Irish Book Award Ceremony for his novel The Spinning Heart. A review will follow here very shortly!
Donal Ryan ... The Spinning Heart

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Art of Billy Roche: Wexford as the World ed. Kevin Kerrane

With a great black and white still from The Cavalcaders at The Peacock Theatre Dublin in 1993 with Billy Roche, Barry Barnes, Gary Lydon and Tony Doyle set over a photo of the evening Wexford skyline, this book,published by Carysfort Press, is a treasure trove of one of Ireland's great talents, Billy Roche. He's a musician, he's an actor, a novelist, dramatist and screenwriter. Is there anything the man can't do? His use of Wexford as a microcosm of life is his trademark and the book is chock full of a wide variety of material.

With a working background in his father's pub in Wexford, as a construction hand and a car upholsterer, this early side of Billy Roche's life goes a long way towards explaining what Kevin Kerrane calls his 'easy familiarity with working class characters and settings'. Little known pieces of information are also revealed such as the 1993 BBC adaptation of The Wexford Trilogy with the original stage performers being archived on videotape in London.

The book has three sections; A Storyteller at Work, Overviews and Close-Ups. A Storyteller at Work has a scene from Roche's play A Handful of Stars, a short story A Lucky Escape about Tommy Day, a dance band singer and a 2001 'In Conversation' with playwright Conor McPherson, where Roche reveals that the themes of 'redemption, forgiveness and understanding are prominent' in his work.

There are five overviews the first being from Dominic Dromgole who was artistic director at The Bush Theatre, London and where Roche's work premiered, followed by an essay by Benedict Nightingale, Times theatre critic. Author Colm Toibin commends the living speech of Billy Roche's work, 'There is not a single line in his plays which could not be spoken by real people in a real place.' An overview by Conor McPherson, who also had his work put on at The Bush Theatre is followed by an interview by Patrick Burke,Director of Theatre Studies at St.Patrick's College, Dublin with the great Irish actress Ingrid Craigie who has acted in many of Roche's plays, who sees his work as the new form of tragedy, 'you can be sitting in a car or on a bus and people look ordinary but we've no idea what they're going through.'

There are then eleven close-ups, which are just that, closer looks at the themes present in Roche's work. This is a superbly detailed analysis of Roche's work and also a celebration. It will be of great interest to Roche friends, colleagues and fans as well as his Wexford followers but in a large way as an addition to the reference section for literature and theatre studies students.
I loved this book. My introduction to Billy Roche was relatively recently with a production of The Cavalcaders at The Abbey Theatre in 2007. With the marvelous John Kavanagh playing Josie he absolutely shone and his reappearance at the close in full Elvis sparkle in a window at the back of the stage was just a magical moment in theatre that has stayed with me to this day.