Friday, July 31, 2009

The lost week

Back on the air! It's been a hectic week, featuring family and more birthday celebrations and musical evenings and island trips and sandcastles and sunshiney lunches and seals and great children with sweet temperaments and soaring imaginations and a boatus trippus interruptus (sigh)...

And one late night limoncello :-)

So to begin photos, here's some glimpses of the epic concert that was U2 360° in Croke Park on Monday night:

Fantastic evening: wild technology, emotional performances, and a carnivale atmosphere :-)

Bank holiday coming up in Ireland. Have a great weekend folks.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Birthday Bliss

Aaaah, treaty breakfast, candles, sparkles, tripping through gardens, fairy play complete with fairy wings, popcorn and laughter and singing and meeting old friends and scrumptious food and conversation from one end of the day to the other.

Oh - and limoncello. In dinky limoncello glasses.

Seriously, does life get better?

And now to head to Dublin to see U2 tonight - whooo hoooooo!!!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Friday feeling

Maybe it's because family are visiting, but there's a certain Friday feeling in the air today :-)

So, at last week's reading in the Irish Writers' Centre, my personal highlight was a love poem read by Richard Halperin: he had planned a series of poems for the reading, and suddenly broke off to share 'Presence'*, quoting an opinion that it was impossible to write a modern love poem, and begging to differ:


When I shut my eyes I see you
When I close my ears I hear you
When I miss a train you’re on it
When I catch my breath you are it
When I’m asked my name and go blank
I say yours

by Richard W. Halperin

Sigh... just love it; the room seemed to draw a collective breath of wonder in the aftermath. And that evening, the conversation kept swirling back to the poem, and it lingered in my mind, so I brazenly asked for a copy. Turns out, it's Richard's personal favourite, of all his own work. Happy sigh.

And speaking of modern love, this link was tweeted by Jonathan Carroll this morning. I suspect it's impossible to see such carefree-ness on such a day of love and not to break into a wide beaming smile :-)

*'Presence' appears in THE SHOp: A Magazine of Poetry, No.27, p.23 (Schull, Co. Cork: Summer 2008).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Slice 'n dice

Today has been a day of editing: the aim was to reduce a short story by a quarter of its length. I find the process interesting; as I started, I remembered a James Cameron interview, where he said that the easiest way to cut back was to remove an entire sub-plot (but for those who endured the Abyss vs Abyss Director's Cut trauma, you'll know how much a little sub-plot can add to a film).

Anyhoo, in short story terms, the initial work is with a hatchet. Hack away at a paragraph, letting one phrase or sentence survive that will hopefully suggest the whole. And after a few rounds with a machete, the remainder is roughly pushed around. Then it's firmed up, and then it's whittled (think of that guy from The Wire, working on miniature doll furniture whenever someone wasn't being nail-gunned). The changes become teeny-tiny, and eventually I read through once without making any change at all.

Then I walk away (today, it was to the Popcorn Maker) and take a break (today, featuring a crosaire crossword). And then re-read the story afresh. If it still holds, it's probably done.

Satisfaction :-)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Holiday Day

Well, the day has been a smorgasbord of treaty things from start to finish: morning birthday party (for my sister's twins), pirate playground (for all), lovely drive, miniature railway heaven and home again.

Little glass o'red on the go now. Think I have enough left in me to take in a movie. While eating a cupcake. Just maybe...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Monday

Gorgeous sunshiney day here. Have family travelling en route today, two of whom are celebrating their birthdays, so life has been about general prep & the procurement of treaty things :-)

The last few days have been a whirlwind: apart from the usual weekend festivities, I went to the medieval fair (should that be fayre?) over in Barryscourt Castle. Although getting to play with armour & weapons was cool, my highlight was the falconry area, featuring kestrels and owls and all manner of gorgeous talon-ed creatures. (I deliberately shunned the memory of Updike's Gertrude and Claudius, with its description of how birds of prey were trained in the old days. Shudder shudder.)

But before Barryscourt, there was Dublin, which was also whirlwind-ey and filled with highlights. Thursday night's reading at the Irish Writers' Centre went well: throroughly enjoyable evening, with a great turn-out, and a lovely mix of styles, subjects, deliveries. [Note to self: must track down that fab love poem that Richard W. Halperin tangented off to share with us. A gem.] Thanks to the Stinging Fly team for their organisation and gracious hosting.

Gracious host... not a term to be applied to Darth Vader, as beautifully imagined by Eddie Izzard, and represented through the medium of lego :-)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Story time

Sunshiney, windy day. Plotting my scanty time in Dublin this week. And there's nothing like a deadline to encourage some heartless editing. Unless the word infuses the whole story with meaning, it is outta here!

The story I'm working on is set in the Dublin Foundling Hospital, which has been much on my mind of late. And while I'm off doing that, here's a super-short story of mine which is set in the same institution. It was published recently, and is repeated here just for those folk who find links soooooo tiresome :-)

The Bottle

The Foundling Hospital
James’s Street, Dublin, 1792

“I’ll see to them, Brenda. You get the Surgeon his tea.”

The little voices grow fractious all of a sudden. I soon see the cause—a small dead lump in the seventh cot. It always sets a few off. I call John to undress it; the frock will do for another. He carries it out of the Infirmary to the Dead Hole, to the others. They’ll be buried Wednesday, after morning prayers. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I have four of my own at home. I can’t be taking on the world’s troubles.

Years ago, learned men came. They asked about the Surgeon, his blurry eyes, the funny smell of him. They examined our record books and performed calculations: of the last thousand babes through our doors, four had survived. “Hospital indeed,” someone finely-dressed proclaimed. “More like a slaughterhouse.” But the learned men departed, and no more was heard.

It’s true, the babes fade quickly. The older ones, they have more fight in them.

I go to the cabinet with my two pints of water, take down the two heavy glass jars. I mix four spoons of the gooey brown treacle-stuff with two spoons of the black. Just like the Apothecary showed me. My throat gags; I’ve never grown used to such foulness. A thick glob of the black stuff drops on my hand. I catch it quick with a wet rag, scrubbing at it until I’m sure it’s gone.

Then I shake the mixture well, till the darkness has spread through the water. It’s ready. Time for the Bottle.

I limp heavily from cot to cot, turning a blind eye on the filth, the straw swarming with vermin, the raw sores... I pass the Bottle along from child to child, making sure that each downs a good slug. The last cot, I hurry them along: I can hear his echoing footsteps. The Surgeon likes all the medicine to be given out before he does his rounds.

Medicine. That’s what he calls it.

In the years 1791-1796, the Infirmary at the Dublin Foundling Hospital admitted 5216 infants. One child survived.

In 1797, a Committee of the Irish House of Commons was appointed to investigate the Hospital. A graphic report followed, which detailed myriad abuse, including the use of the Bottle. Repeated attempts at reform failed.

The Dublin Foundling Hospital was not closed until 1835.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A picture paints a thousand

Been meandering through more paper art; loving the way different media inspire and effect each other. Really enjoyed Su Blackwell's work:

Words and light interacting in delicate, evocative scenes - who wouldn't be enthralled!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Return to normal?

Back on the air... I think I'm done with death and the research thereof for a while :-)

Super-social weekend, with delightful friends staying, and fab dinners, and fizzy, and birthdays, and sunshiney pints, and cake, and coffee, and buttermilk pancakes, and late pints, and all manner of treaty things. Concerted effort to get back to normal life today.

So, this Thursday I'm doing a reading at the Irish Writers' Centre in Dublin. This afternoon has been about sorting out what and how much to read, and editing away to make sure the prose is buffed and polished...

Actually, technically speaking, the afternoon's been about Thursday's reading and washing floors. Because nothing says regular life like 'I should really clean that up...'

Full details about Thursday's reading:

The Stinging Fly Summer Readings Series

7:00 at the Irish Writers' Centre (19 Parnell Square)

Admission €5, which can be used towards any Stinging Fly publication or subscription

16 July: Readings by Featured Poet Richard Halperin (Summer ’09), Alison MacLeod (Summer ’09), Adam Marek, and 2008 Stinging Fly Prize winner Orlaith O’Sullivan. Musical guest Monica Harkin.

The Stinging Fly has worked since 1997 to publish and promote the best new Irish and international writing. We publish three issues per year, available in February, June and October. The Stinging Fly Press imprint was launched in May 2005 with the publication of our first title, Watermark by Sean O'Reilly. The imprint is dedicated to publishing the very best new fiction, and like the magazine, it is particularly interested in promoting the short story. Publications include Rooney Prize Winner Kevin Barry’s There are Little Kingdoms, as well as two anthologies of short stories, These are Our Lives and Let’s Be Alone Together. The latest publication is Michael J Farrell’s highly praised debut short story collection, Life in the Universe. If you are interested in supporting the magazine, you can become a patron by visiting our website,

About the writers:

Richard W. Halperin lives in Paris. Since 2005, over seventy of his poems have appeared in journals in Ireland, England, and Scotland. He has given readings at Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, Glenstal Abbey and the Live Poets Society (Paris). A first collection, Anniversary, is in the works. Formerly, he headed UNESCO’s teacher education programme.

Alison MacLeod has published two novels, The Changeling (1996) The Wave Theory of Angels(2005). Her short stories collection, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction, was published in 2007. In 2008 she was the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Olive Cook Award for Short Fiction. She is Professor of Contemporary Fiction at the University of Chichester and teaches on the MA programme in Creative Writing. (

Adam Marek’s short story collection, Instruction manual for swallowing, was published by Comma Press in 2007, and was described in The Guardian as a 'transgressive thrill to read' and The Independent as showing a 'genuine unsettling talent'. His stories have also appeared in Prospect magazine and in anthologies including When it changed, Parenthesis and The new uncanny from Comma Press, two Bridport Prize collections and the British Council’s New Writing 15. He is working on his first novel.

Orlaith O’Sullivan was named as the winner of the Stinging Fly Prize for 2008 for ‘A Tall Tale’ which appeared in Issue 10 Volume Two (Summer 2008) of the magazine. She is an award-winning writer with a PhD in Renaissance literature. She has recently relocated from Madeira to West Cork, where she is working on the thriller Mortal Treasures. (

Music by:

Monica Harkin and piano player Michael Allen have been playing together since late 2007. Earlier this year they recorded some songs with doublebass player Ciaran Broughan and the latest recruits are Aaron on drums, Dave on the guitar and Oisín on the viola. (

New Writers...New Writing

Monday, July 6, 2009

Going off air...

Next couple of days will be all a bunch of travel & family things, so will be off all the regular kinds of air.

Back soon :-)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Death and Mousse

Tum de dum... so the nice folk at the Oxford Text Archive released a little batch of medieval texts for me to download (many of the archived texts are freely available, but some are restricted for... I don't know, those with a licence to research). Anyhoo, I spent this morning reading versions of 'The Debate between the Body and the Soul' (sticking with the death theme today). It's a Ronseal poem; does exactly what it says on the tin. A body is dying, its soul appears, and there's a last minute what-on-earth-were-you-thinking conversation.

And then to the Ars Moriendi, the Art of Dying Well. And of all the medieval treatises you may find yourself perusing, this is the genre with the best how-to images.

But that was then. At present, I and my kitchen are flecked with ras-a-bee and white chocolate mousse. The vast majority of said mousse remains in the mixing bowl, but there's some cleaning to be done!

Have a scrumptious weekend :-)
PS - Probably shouldn't have mentioned mousse. For those friends travelling down, who may be fostering expectations: there will be no mousse on arrival. Mousse distribution is imminent. Sorrr-eeeeee...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Macabre rosebuds

Roaming far and wide in terms of background research today, from the Theatre of Blood to Seneca and back to Medieval drama.

So, medieval folk have a great tradition of death, from the magnificent Hell Mouths of the mystery plays, to the ghoulish danse macabre and the carpe diem lyric tradition (Dead Poets' focused on the gathering-ye-rosebuds rather than the decomposing aspect); they like to keep the notion of physical decay & the afterlife close. And while immersed in medieval things, I gazed at Bosch's 'Death and the Miser' for some time.

Fantastic painting; for me, the creepiest part is that oh-so-curious demon peering down from over his bed (you can click to enlarge).

In other news, I had a delightful lunch out (testing out purveyors of scrumptious smoothies); now it's back to death for me :-)
Blurb on 'Death and the Miser' from
The naked and dying man has been a man of power: at the bed's foot, but sundered now by a low wall, lies his armour. His riches have come through combat; the sick man has fought for his wealth and stored it close to him. He appears twice, the second time in full health, soberly dressed because he hoards his gold, dense with satisfaction as he adds another coin. Demons lurk all around, death puts a leering head around the door (notice the sick man's surprise: death is never expected), and the final battle begins. It is one he must wage without his armour. Behind him, even now proffering gold, lurks a demon. Above the bed, expectant and interested, peers yet another demon. The outcome of the story is left undecided. We hope desperately that the miser will relinquish empty possessiveness and accept the truth of death.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reading at the IWC

Writing news (I know, it's been all hush-hush of late): I'll be reading in Dublin at the Irish Writers' Centre on Thursday 16 July. It's part of the Stinging Fly Summer Readings Series; full (or at least more festively plump) details are over at my main site.

I haven't decided what to read yet...

And in other news, here's a proper glimpse of how sunshiney Shakespeare was on Saturday. We few, we happy few :-)

Rehearsals this evening, probably of the drizzley variety.