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Right Sentence: A New Year Resolution

30/12/2010 3 comments

Only a day to go  and I will start over. Another year. Another set of writing resolutions: nonfiction manuscript to finish; dig through more research; get back to writing morning pages.

But an image has dogged me. A child in ringlets scraping a nib across a school copybook in a first attempt at joined up writing. Every letter, every word, every sentence laboriously built.

And I know that this should be my writing resolution: to craft and shape each sentence and make it as crisp and pure and strong as I possibly can.

Hemingway favoured short minimalist sentences with vigorous verbs. You can read about his 5 tips for writing well here.

Janet Fitch says Write the Sentence, not just the story: ‘try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences’.

So this is my simple writing resolution. To go and craft the best sentences I can.  Easier said than done, you might say. Maybe you have advice on how to make great sentences?

Photo credit.

Christmas Stories

26/12/2010 Comments off

The Anti-Room.

Nuala Ni Chonchuir reminisces about past Christmases below.  Read other Christmas Stories from the Anti-Room bloggers here.

NUALA NÍ CHONCHÚIR

I love Christmas. We didn’t have Santa Claus in our house – he didn’t give us presents, our parents did. I’m not sure why that was but I presume it was to do with my parents being very Catholic. Anyway, our Christmases were magical – I loved the ritual of the candle in the window on Christmas Eve; the baby Jesus going into the crib on the morning of the 25th; the enormous dinner; all the goodies; and, best of all, Coca Cola in glass bottles – the glamour! We also had (still have) a tradition that I haven’t seen in other’s homes of having a baby doll in a basket under the tree as Jesus in the manger.

Once baby Jesus is in the crib, you know it’s Christmas…

For years our presents weren’t wrapped then my eldest sister took on the work of Christmas and made it even more magical – beautifully wrapped pressies that went under the tree (tantalisingly) on Christmas Eve. With everyone home (9 of us), boxes of Lemon’s Santy sweets being passed around and Willy Wonka on the TV, life didn’t get any better.

My second eldest sister died on 23rd December nine years ago. That has made Christmas very bitter-sweet for our family but we are still a gang of Christmas nuts. Hearing carols she liked, particularly the old-fashioned ones like Gaudete or Silent Night in Irish, makes me well up in the days leading to Christmas. But once the day itself has arrived, I feel fine. I like nothing more than spending the day at home with my own kids and my husband, staying nicely tipsy for the day and eating half a ton of Roses. Bliss.

Nollaig shona to all the Anti-Room readers.

Have a rest Santa!

24/12/2010 4 comments

Happy Christmas one and all.

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Ooze of Light from Sun and Moon

21/12/2010 Comments off

This morning I watched online as crowds at Newgrange gathered to experience the coincidence of a winter solstice and lunar eclipse only to be disappointed when snow clouds prevented the blended light of sun and moon from seeping though the passage tomb.

Out the window a blackbird chases a robin from the bread I’ve left under the plane tree that looks famished in its peeling bark. The temperature is -10C. What’s happening to the weather?

I read Gerry Dawe’s poem ‘Solstice’, composed for the winter birth of his daughter:

‘I see the ice outside fall / and imagined the fires burning / on the Hill of Tara ring …’

A year flickers to a close. To-morrow the days will start to lengthen once more. On the brink of another beginning.

The 10 Best Books of 2010 – New York Times List

14/12/2010 2 comments

The 10 Best Books of 2010 – NYTimes.com.

I was happy to see my favorite book of 2010, Emma Donoghue’s Room, included in the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2010 listed below.

William Trevor’s Selected Stories is there too.

Here is the New York Times list:

FREEDOM
By Jonathan Franzen.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.
 

The author of “The Corrections” is back, not quite a decade later, with an even richer and deeper work — a vividly realized narrative set during the Bush years, when the creedal legacy of “personal liberties” assumed new and sometimes ominous proportions. Franzen captures this through the tribulations of a Midwestern family, the ­Berglunds, whose successes, failures and appetite for self-invention reflect the larger story of millennial America.

THE NEW YORKER STORIES
By Ann Beattie.
Scribner, $30.

As these 48 stories published in The New Yorker from 1974 through 2006 demonstrate, Beattie, even as she chronicled and satirized her post-1960s generation, also became its defining voice. She punctures her characters’ pretensions and jadedness with an economy and effortless dialogue that writers have been trying to emulate for three decades, though few, if any, have matched her seamless combination of biting wit and mordant humor, precise irony and consummate cool.

ROOM
By Emma Donoghue.
Little, Brown & Company, $24.99.

Donoghue has created one of the pure triumphs of recent fiction: an ebullient child narrator, held captive with his mother in an 11-by-11-foot room, through whom we encounter the blurry, often complicated space between closeness and autonomy. In a narrative at once delicate and vigorous — rich in psychological, sociological and political meaning — Donoghue reveals how joy and terror often dwell side by side.

SELECTED STORIES
By William Trevor.
Viking, $35.

Gathering work from Trevor’s previous four collections, this volume shows why his deceptively spare fiction has haunted and moved readers for generations. Set mainly in Ireland and England, Trevor’s tales are eloquent even in their silences, documenting the way the present is consumed by the past, the way ancient patterns shape the future. Neither modernist nor antique, his stories are timeless.

A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD
By Jennifer Egan.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95.

Time is the “goon squad” in this virtuosic rock ’n’ roll novel about a cynical record producer and the people who intersect his world. Ranging across some 40 years and inhabiting 13 different characters, each with his own story and perspective, Egan makes these disparate parts cohere into an artful whole, irradiated by a Proustian feel for loss, regret and the ravages of love.

Nonfiction

APOLLO’S ANGELS: A History of Ballet
By Jennifer Homans.
Random House, $35.

Here is the only truly definitive history of classical ballet. Spanning more than four centuries, from the French Renaissance to American and Soviet stages during the cold war, Homans shows how the art has been central to the social and cultural identity of nations. She meticulously reconstructs entire eras, describing the evolution of ballet technique while coaxing long-lost dances back to life. And she raises a crucial question: In the 21st century, can ballet survive?

CLEOPATRA: A Life
By Stacy Schiff.
Little, Brown & Company, $29.99.

With her signature blend of wit, intelligence and superb prose, Schiff strips away 2,000 years of prejudices and propaganda in her elegant reimagining of the Egyptian queen who, even in her own day, was mythologized and misrepresented.

THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer
By Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Scribner, $30.

Mukherjee’s magisterial “biography” of the most dreaded of modern afflictions. He excavates the deep history of the “war” on cancer, weaving haunting tales of his own clinical experience with sharp sketches of the sometimes heroic, sometimes misguided scientists who have preceded him in the fight.

FINISHING THE HAT: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, ­Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes
By Stephen Sondheim.
Alfred A. Knopf, $39.95.

The theater’s pre-eminent living songwriter offers a master class in how to write a musical, covering some of the greatest shows, from “West Side Story”  to “Sweeney Todd.” Sondheim’s analysis of his and others’ lyrics is insightful and candid, and his anecdotes are telling and often very funny.

THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson.
Random House, $30.

Wilkerson, a former national correspondent for The Times, has written a masterly and engrossing account of the Great Migration, in which six million African-Americans abandoned the South between 1915 and 1970. The book centers on the journeys of three black migrants, each representing a different decade and a different destination.

When Construction Cranes get Christmas Lights

11/12/2010 1 comment

 

In Mark O’Rowe’s feverish 2007 drama, Terminus, there is an image of a man dangling from one of the multitude of construction cranes on the Dublin skyline.  The crane became an icon of construction-fuelled Celtic Tiger Ireland.

The post below conjures the nostalgic image of Christmas festive lights on a construction crane smiling warmly down on those below.

Would that this image was a warm and reassuring one for those on this island.

1000 Awesome Things | A time-ticking countdown of 1000 awesome things.

  

When construction cranes get Christmas lights on them

They’re not selling anything.

Nope, Christmas lights on construction cranes just smile down on the city and cover us all in a warm and festive light. Flickering in the sky, flashing way up high, they hug us all together in a friendly yellow glow.

On top of that, it’s sort of fun thinking about how they got there too. Doesn’t it seem kind of dangerous? It’s like someone risked their lives just putting up lights for the people.

I’d like these books for Christmas (if I didn’t have them already)

04/12/2010 5 comments

This is my half-dozen list of  books from Ireland or by Irish writers that I think would make great Christmas gifts.  And not a whiff of misery writing about the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger or the sorry IMF/ECB bailout.

Emma Donoghue’s Room  was my book of the year before it won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year prize.  Asked at the awards ceremony why she thought the book had such an impact Emma said, ‘I think it touches on the universal theme of a young person discovering there’s more to life their own little world.’  That little world of Jack and Ma incarcerated in a room is richly imagined and conveyed with humour and freshness through the voice of the child narrator.

I was at the launch of Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain at the Abbey Theatre in September where the poet roamed over and back between old poems and new. This is his twelfth collection. John Banville said: ‘Human Chain marks many deaths but all the markings are a celebration of what was lived.’

The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story is edited by Anne Enright. How on earth did she make her selection from a century of Irish short story writing? ‘I wanted to put together a book that was varied and good to read, with a strong eye to the contemporary,’ she said.  It is a delight to have O Faolain and O’Connor, Mary Lavin and Maeve Brennan, Kevin Barry, Claire Keegan and many others in one volume.

A legendary Irish text-book has been reprinted. Soundings, a poetry anthology edited by Gus Martin will evoke mixed emotions if you sat your Leaving Cert between 1969 and 2000. Joseph O’Connor describes it well:  ‘Amid the ink-stains of our adolescence, the shocking sweetness of first kisses, the pimples and growth-spurts and uncertainties and aches, it saw to it that poetry would find a way of seeding itself.’

The Thank You Book is edited by Roisin Ingle and is a fund-raising initiative of the Irish Hospice Foundation. The book will be largely written by you as you fill the pages with your gratitude lists in these dismal times.

There’s a personal bias in my last selection, Michael Viney’s Wild Mayo. It is my native county but the places are familiar to many through Michael’s weekly column in the Irish Times. Described as ‘a poem to a place’, it captures a county’s natural history and evokes a wild landscape of peatlands and islands and rocky shores illustrated with sumptuous photos.

(If you are looking for other Irish book ideas, Publishing Ireland have a list of 25 to choose from here.)

Any suggestions? Of Irish books as Christmas gifts? Would love to hear.

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