Saturday, 15 August 2015

Generation by Paula McGrath

Congratulations to my sister, Paula McGrath, on the publication of her debut novel, Generation, published by JM Originals.

I’ve had the privilege of reading raw first drafts of most of these stories some time ago and watched them slowly evolve into the beautiful novel that was launched last week in the Gutter Bookshop in Cow's Lane, Dublin.

Generation is a short novel that contains a huge amount, taking place over eighty years, three continents and three generations.
At its heart is Áine, a recently divorced woman in her thirties who wants some kind of escape from her life in Ireland: from her ex-husband and his pregnant girlfriend, her mundane job and unexciting love life. So she goes to stay for a few weeks on an organic farm near Chicago, with her six-year-old daughter Daisy. The trip doesn't turn out as she imagined it would, and that summer will have unforeseeable consequences for everyone involved.
Ambitious and gripping, Generation moves effortlessly from the smallest of details to the largest of canvases, as the repercussions of the decisions taken by parents play out in the lives of their children for years to come.

This is a book that leaves you reflecting about many of the peripheral characters. I have a soft spot for Carlos, and for Yehudit. And the first chapter about the Irish miner going to Canada still gives me a lump in my throat no matter how many times I read it.

It was exciting to be in Dublin on publication day. We managed to drop into a few bookshops to see if we could spot it in the wild fending for itself. We found it first in Hodges Figgis: Here’s Paula looking slightly embarrassed at the paparazzi who followed her in.

Launched by Lia Mills, who had nothing but nice things to say, and Tom Morris from The Stinging Fly was there to say a few words on behalf of editor Mark Richards.

Lia Mills

And the reviews are coming in and saying all the nicest things. Christina Patterson from The Sunday Times says 'The voices are beautifully woven together, and the prose has a weight and resonance way beyond the book's slender length' and compares the prose to Raymond Carver’s which is something to cut out and pin over the writing desk.

The structure of this novel is what makes it unique in my opinion. Jane Housham of The Guardian sums this up nicely:
'It’s as if McGrath has spun her novel in a centrifuge, separating out the narrative elements and shearing off any remaining scraps of padding. What’s left is a sequence of verbal portraits, a clutch of individuals drawn to America over several decades, some of them Irish like the novelist herself, some from other diasporas. At first these characters seem disparate, unconnected, but gradually threads of attachment are strung between them, ultimately binding them into a coherent whole.'

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman back to back this week.

Mockingbird was a delight to experience again after all these years. Having discovered, and accepted, that Watchman is neither a prequel nor a sequel (It's the first draft of the same novel - a draft that was rejected) I relaxed into Reese Witherspoon's southern accent and tried to enjoy it for what it was.
Watchman is a bit weak on story. I found it preachy and annoying towards the end where the perspicacious author's voice comes through in a sequence of final speeches. The editor, I imagine, might have said: 'You have an interesting subject (black man on trial for rape of white girl in 1930s south) but didn't make enough of it, and an interesting voice (Scout in the flashbacks) and should use those to frame your rewrite.'
In order to mould it into her bestselling classic, Harper Lee cut many irrelevant episodes (including Jean Louise's boring love interest and uninspired coming-of-age anecdotes). She changed the point of view - it was no longer an adult looking back at her childhood, but a story written from the child's point of view. The new version centred around the court case where Atticus is not an anomaly among white men - he does have a black maid and only takes the case because he is asked to. He fights for Tom Robinson even though he knows he will lose. He may not speak down to black people but he does consider himself as a step above.
As a reader it's a mediocre book.
As a writer, it's fascinating how Harper Lee rewrote and turned it around. It's interesting that she kept whole chunks of text (that appear almost word for word in both versions), like the history of the feud between two families, or the history of how the town was founded. She had obviously done the research and wanted to keep the words.
I found an interesting piece by Brilliant Books here:
"We suggest you view this work as an academic insight rather than as a nice summer novel. This situation is comparable to James Joyce's stunning work 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man', and his original draft 'Stephen Hero'. 'Hero' was initially rejected, and Joyce reworked it into the classic 'Portrait'. 'Hero' was eventually released as an academic piece for scholars and fans—not as a new 'Joyce novel'. We would have been delighted to see “Go Set A Watchman” receive a similar fate."

In conclusion, I'm not sorry I spent a week in Alabama with Scout/Jean Louise but I do feel that publishing this book was a huge swindle on the part of the publisher. Large profits were made by misleading the public that this was a prequel/sequel. How many of us purchased Mockingbird for the second time too? I couldn't possibly know what state of mind Harper Lee is currently in, but I know I wouldn't want any of my early drafts to be released like this.

I'm inclined to agree with Salman Rushdie on this:

Salman Rushdie

Don't think I'll be reading Go Set Your Watch or whatever it's called. I have unpublished juvenilia too; would cringe if it got published.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Shortlisted ICB short story competition

Good news from the International Club of Bordeaux: My story 'Well Done' has been shortlisted in their 1st Annual Short Story Competition, judged by Amanda Hodgkinson. And I'm delighted that my fellow Writing Group member, Jane Cooper, is shortlisted too with 'The Competition.' Congratulations to the winners in each category.

Looking forward to reading all the shortlisted stories and the winners in the forthcoming e-book.

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Incubator Journal

My short story 'No Such Thing' appears in Issue 3 (December 2014) of The Incubator, another great literary journal, featuring writing from Northern Ireland and Ireland. Have a browse; the pdf version is free to download. I've enjoyed 'Sparta' by Heather Richardson and look forward to reading the rest when I receive my hard copy.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Crannóg 37

Delighted to see my short story 'Poke' in the autumn 2014 issue of Crannóg Magazine.

Great to read the other stories in this issue. There are some very talented writers out there. My favourite (so far) is 'Tomorrow' by Melissa Goode. Beautiful and intriguing cover image by Isabelle Gaborit.

Monday, 25 August 2014

RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition 2014

Writing news is trickling in at a slower pace these days as I'm sending out fewer stories and trying to concentrate on my next novel.

But one competition I did enter was the RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition 2014 and I was delighted to hear that my story, The Bugaboo, was on the longlist.

I was longlisted in 2013 too and wrote this piece for at the time. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it to Dublin this year but I'm sure the attendees will enjoy the day in Pearse Street Library as much as I did last year.