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Archive for February, 2011

Anne Robinson, My Life in Books – Disappointing

22/02/2011 38 comments

Anne Robinson hosts My Life in Books. Ten episodes on BBC Two in the run-up to World Book Day.

There is an episode each weekday evening this week at 6.30. I got myself organised for the first of these last evening, with author PD James and (55 years her junior)  radio presenter Richard Bacon. This programme was a disappointment.

The visual backdrop of blown-up texts seemed to me fussy and distracting. Anne Robinson wore her stern, detached, journalistic air – despite advance notice that she would adopt a different persona – when this viewer was looking for some spark of enthusiasm for the books discussed.

The programme seemed unsure and jittery in its format. At first I thought it was intended to be an intimate chat about favourite books between Robinson and her two guests. Then we realized there was an audience from whom we heard an occasional muted laugh and got one shot of the back of their heads. And the use of the occasional video and audio clip was clumsy.

There was little obvious rapport between the two guests and their host. For me, the programme only came to life when PD James spoke of her number one book Pride & Prejudice. ‘Jane Austen’, she said, ‘was the strongest influence on my writing.’

I did come away with two reads that I will follow up: Cyril Hare’s Tragedy at Law which, according to James, shows it’s possible to write well and produce a classic detective story; Richard Bacon persuaded me that David Nicholls’ One Day would be a good Book Club selection.

But I won’t be back in front of the telly this evening.

A Literary Canter Around Achill Island

20/02/2011 Comments off

I was back In Achill recently when the wind roared and the Atlantic churned and the mist hid the outlines of Slievemore.

I did a quick car tour of some literary haunts. Between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries writers and visual artists flocked to Achill, helped by the extension of the railway line to the island by the Midland Great Western Railway company in 1895.

First stop The Deserted Village at the foot of Slievemore in the north of the island. A short distance away is the Heinrich Böll Cottage – now an artist’s residence – where the German Nobel prize-winning author came with his family in the 1950s. He stumbled one day on the Deserted Village ruins, spent five hours there and later wrote the piece ‘Skeleton of a Human Habitation’ in his Irish Journal.

In Dugort, just down the hill from the Heinrich Böll cottage, is Gray’s Guest House that was run by the late and legendary Vi McDowell at the place which was once The Colony – the centre of the Achill Mission on the island from the 1830s. Victorian travellers and writers flocked here in the mid-nineteenth century, including Mrs S C Hall and Harriet Martineau. Gray’s Memorial Hall and St Thomas’ Church, a short distance away, are now the venues for the annual Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend.

The Valley House is in the north-east corner of the island. It was the scene of a vicious crime in October 1894, when the owner Agnes McDonnell was attacked by James Lychehaun who became a notorious fugitive from the law. He was one of the influences on J M Synge in writing The Playboy of the Western World.

On the main spine road through the island are the ruins of Bunnacurry Monastery where a Franciscan monk , Brother Paul Carney, was based for a quarter of a century. His hand-written Lynchehaun Narrative was the basis for James Carney’s book The Playboy & the Yellow Lady, and of the film Love & Rage.

Keel, and the island areas of Pollagh and Gubalennaun, were the places where the painters Paul and Grace Henry spent almost a decade in Achill in the early twentieth-century. Paul had a fascination with writing and much of his autobiography An Irish Portrait (1951) dealt with his time on the island.

Graham Greene and his mistress, Catherine Walston, shared a holiday house in Dooagh in the late 1940s. I understand the 2011 Heinrich Boll Memorial Weekend will focus on Graham Greene’s connections with Achill.

When I drove away across Michael Davitt Bridge on to the mainland it seemed that the mist lifted from the island behind me. I will be back.

(Some great Achill photos on Lucy’s blog here.)

(Trailer for film Love and Rage, which was filmed on location in Achill and is based on the story of James Lynchehaun and the Valley House attack of 1894)

What is Poetry?

18/02/2011 2 comments
 
  

 

http://www.writing.ie/writers-toolbox/writing-better-poetry/getting-started-poetry/131-mary-odonnell-what-is-poetry.html

Mary O’Donnell’s piece from the recently launched Writing.ie provides an insightful perspective from a practitioner into what poetry is and what poetry is not.  

Mary O’Donnell: What Poetry Is

Literary Gems among The Moderns

15/02/2011 4 comments

 

I made it on the very last day. The Moderns – the major exhibition of the Arts in Ireland in the 20th century at Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Arts (IMMA).

It covered modernity in Ireland from the 1900s to the 1970s through the visual arts mainly, but with photographers, film-makers, composers, architects, designers – and writers – all featured in a major interdisciplinary collection.

I was interested in the smattering of exhibits connected to Irish writers and showing the crossover of the literary and the visual arts. These were some of my highlights:

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Film’, written in 1962 and filmed in New York in 1963. It can be viewed here on YouTube.

John Millington Synge’s Photos from Aran, Connemara, Wicklow and Kerry. Synge bought his first camera from a fellow visitor to Aran in 1898 and it became a constant on his travels along with his bicycle.

Jack Yeats’ Book Illustrations.  He and Synge spent a month together in 1905 on a tour of the Congested Districts in the west, Synge writing his series of articles for the Manchester Guardian and Yeats providing the illustrations.

Robert Flaherty’s film documentary Man of Aran (1934)  The work was inspired by Synge and the wheel has come full circle with Martin McDonagh’s drama The Cripple of Inishmaan – currently on tour with Druid Theatre – set against the backdrop of Flaherty’s film.

Paul and Grace Henry Paintings of the West. The couple stayed in Achill for close to a decade and most of Paul’s autobiography An Irish Portrait (1951) centred on the island.

Elinor Wiltshire’s Photo of Patrick Kavanagh picking potatoes in Inishkeen in 1963.

Pity the exhibition is over. Another visit, I feel, would have revealed many more gems. And I loved this TV commercial for the exhibition:-

  

 

Happy Valentine

13/02/2011 Comments off

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Dublin Doubles – A Book Club Take on Neil Jordan’s Mistaken

10/02/2011 Comments off

Neil Jordan’s new novel Mistaken is about two Dubliners, Kevin and Gerard, who spend their lives being mistaken for one another.  A mix of thriller and gothic genres, it is Neil Jordan’s first novel in six years. You can see Neil Jordan talk about his work on TV3 here.

All the Kyleglass Book Worms agree that the book gives a rich, immediate and evocative picture of Dublin in the sixties, seventies and eighties: Woolworth’s, Bewley’s, the Wellington Monument, Burgh Quay Irish Press offices and the real-life figure of David Marcus.

All agree that the Neil Jordan’s writing is crisp and direct with a strong visual eye – a skill inherited from his painter mother, he says. One sees the screen writer at work, every word selected with precision.

One of us has read an interview Neil Jordan gave to the The Telegraph where he talks about the two Niel Jordans: the writer and the film maker. ‘This mildly schizophrenic feeling triggered the idea for this novel.’

Some of us think that the book sags a bit in the middle; others that the narrator device of addressing Emily as ‘you’ is confusing in parts; that the Bram Stoker thread seems contrived; that the Manhattan gothic strand is over the top; that it is pretentious to be dragging Joyce into the story as if it is a modern-day Ulysses.

A ‘Small Talk’ interview Jordan gave to the Financial Times was intriguing. Asked what his current favourite word was, he replied, ‘Dinnsheanchas. An Irish word meaning “the lore of place.”‘ What comes across in Mistaken is Neil Jordan’s deep and abiding immersion in his Dublin places.

After all that, I can say that this ode to Dublin, Jordan’s place, with its stories, its lore and its literary ghosts, was not a bad January read. That’s the consensus from the Kyleglass Book Worms.

A Nostalgic Goodbye to Waterstones, Dawson Street

06/02/2011 3 comments

Goodbye, Waterstones, Dawson Street branch « The Anti-Room.

Antonia Hart’s piece on The Anti-Room Blog about Waterstones of Dawson Street, which closes its doors today for the last time, expresses the feelings of many. I will miss the browsing, followed by musing in the Reader’s Cafe and then more browsing. A perfect spot for literary rejuvenation is now no more.

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Fifty jobs have just gone in Waterstones, between the Dawson Street and Jervis Street branches, and at the risk of sounding rather E.J. Thribbish, I’d like to mark the passing of the Dawson Street one in particular.

When I were a lass, it was a large Laura Ashley shop which occupied that Dawson Street premises, with a huge and beautiful central staircase and a railed gallery stuffed with bolts of green and white cotton prints and rolls of impossibly smart striped wallpaper (look, it was the early eighties). I’m fairly sure that before Laura Ashley it was the old Dublin furniture firm Anderson, Stanford and Ridgeway – at any rate, in the mid eighties Waterstones opened there, bringing a touch of glamour to Dublin’s bookshop selection, which up to that point had been dominated by Hodges Figgis, Fred Hanna and Easons, and supplemented by a solid lineup of secondhand and antiquarian shops, like Duffy’s, George Webb on the quays, and the dusty wooden stairs of Greene’s where endless Everyman editions of nineteenth century classics rubbed shoulders with geometry sets and rubber dinosaurs.

Waterstones brought a clean, modern shop layout that was unlike anything I knew in the city centre then, its restrained W branding a hymn to the serif typefaces in which its books were set.  And despite its being part of a chain (nul points for romance) and a British one at that (just nul points), Waterstones in Dawson Street always felt like a Dublin shop. The staff, an unfailingly civil bunch of low-voiced smilers, knew their books and made their customers feel that their query was an important one. Even today, I heard one of them giving his full and thoughtful attention  to an elderly lady about buying a book in French for her fifteen-year-old granddaughter, when with only three days of work left he could have been forgiven for drinking blood cocktails under the stairs.

I had fifty-odd euro saved up on my loyalty card, so I went in today to spend it and say goodbye to the shop, which is trading until Sunday, and when I’d paid for my books, the staff member who completed the transaction for me popped a red-foiled chocolate egg (of creamy, luxurious quality) into the paper bag along with the books.

“Just to say thanks for your loyalty,” she said, on behalf of the chain which had just made her redundant.

Someone had brought in scones from Kehoe’s – that cafe in Trinity Street which sells rock-bun sized scones injected with raspberries – and everyone was to get one when it was their turn for a break. The shelves were as well stocked as ever – apart from the cardboard Jo Nesbo stand – and the usual three-for-two selections were on offer, along with the current BOGOF on children’s picture books. It was easy enough to get my spend up to fifty euro.

Jervis Street was a difficult shop to be in, too many funny angles and a downstairs that was hardly there. But I’ll miss Dawson Street’s Irish history and biography section, their ordinary biography section, the children’s area, the substantial fiction selection, even that unappetising little loo in the most awkward corner of the shop. No, now I’m getting sentimental, I won’t miss that. I was reeled in, as intended, by the staff’s handwritten notes of recommendation, stayed loyal with my card, did a good chunk of my Christmas and birthday shopping there over the last twenty-four years. It was a meeting place, too, in the style of Clery’s clock, but with more to do while you wait. I’ve kissed and been kissed in that tiny lift.

I took it for granted, and from Sunday it won’t be there any more. I hope all the staff members find new jobs soon, and that someone interesting takes over the premises.

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