Ferenji Cover and Launch Date

ferenji-thumbnailHere it is, my debut short fiction collection: Ferenji and other stories, published by Doire Press of Galway. Official publication date: 1st November, 2016.  But don’t miss the launch a little ahead of that on Thursday evening, 27 October at the Irish Writers’ Centre.

Ferenji is a themed collection of short stories set in Africa and Afghanistan, with six main characters mainly based in conflict or post-conflict zones.  It’s the fruit of meeting John Walsh and Lisa Frank of Doire Press, whose literary publishing house has been building up a rich reputation for publishing excellent new work from writers and poets for almost a decade now.

Doire’s first title was a debut poetry collection from Miceál Kearney titled Inheritance which won the North Beach Poetry Nights’ Grand Slam Prize. Their second was a short story collection by Susan Millar duMars, Lights in the Distance.  With the metamorphosis of the world of publishing from the category of innovative Arts champion to often corporate multi-national, Doire returns to the essential, the classic prototype of a quality literary pubishing house.

From years of being put off because all publishers wanted to know about was “my novel,” which I simply never wrote, Doire didn’t pester me for a novel.  They accepted that I write and love to write short stories. Currently, more than ever, it is a format that is favoured as a result of post-modern distraction and endless busy-ness. People like short stories because they are stories with characters and meaning and they are short.

My stories, in fairness, have been published fairly steadily down the years in anthologies, newspapers and magazines in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia and even Croatia.  My first, published by Cíarán Carty, was shortlisted for an Irish Hennessy Award and my debut in an anthology (Ireland in Exile by Dermot Bolger, New Island) was praised at the time and followed by about two dozen more published in other anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Another was nominated for the American Pushcart Prize, and a Manhattan dancer even created a contemporary dance piece inspired by it.

But the great novel eluded me.  Mostly, when I’d get through six chapters, I’d suddenly see a fantastic short story in the middle and open a new document to write that instead of knuckling down and starting Chapter 7.   But that’s the way, and I am so very happy to have met John Walsh and Lisa Frank, who also like short stories, and who liked mine enough to publish them.

Please join me on 27 October for the launch of my book at the Irish Writers’ Centre, and if you can’t – check out DoirePress.com and pick one up there!

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In Paris for WexFour eLaunch!

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It was wonderful to be able to travel to Paris last week for the WexFour event at Le Centre Culturel Irlandais, where, following a special staged reading of the four one-act plays, the WexFour eBook from 451 Editions was officially launched.

The crew from The Wexford Arts Centre did an amazing job to a full house, and for a full account of the event, please click here for the article in The Irish Times, or click on the image above.  Below, you can see some photos from the trip. Click on the first pic to set the gallery rolling.

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“Memory and Desire” launched in Dublin

Val Mulkerns reads from her new book, "Memory and Desire".

Val Mulkerns reads from her new book, “Memory and Desire”.

Hard to believe that Val Mulkerns published her first novel in 1951. For this writer, in any case, as the niece in the background struggling with a first tome, she is an inspiration:  this is her tenth, sixty-five years later.

In between came two more novels, three short story collections, two children’s books and many thousands of words of journalistic work, as she became a columnist for a national newspaper in the seventies.

Standing at the podium in The Irish Writers’ Centre on Thursday night, she read an extract from the first story in the collection, “Special Category”, inspired by her father, Jimmy Mulkerns, who had been imprisoned in Frongoch prison camp (via Knutsford Jail) in 1916 following his participation in the Battle of the Four Courts.

As the kick-start to Memory and Desire” it certainly pulls the reader in.  Stories then follow in chronological fashion, actually drawing a rough line through most of Ireland in the twentieth century – from the birth of the nation through its massive changes in the sixties and seventies and then into the late eighties: an Ireland struggling between the disillusion of recession and emergence into a post-colonial identity.  The final, also the title story, has been described by Colm Tóibín as, “one of the finest short stories to have been published in Ireland for many years.”

Mem-Des-end-email imageWhile Val Mulkerns already has another book on the way – a memoir – it’s a great treat to see this new selection of her short stories available this year ahead of it:  for me, it was a wonderful re-introduction to her work, especially the short stories for which she is so renowned, and as it turns out, in my own case, put them between new covers with 451 Editions so that they can be read by others.  With its beautiful cover painting by Louise Newman, the book strikes a pose in bookshops, and presents a recurring theme in the collection: the sea.

The launch of “Memory and Desire”, which included fellow authors, literary friends and family as well as others drawn by the new title, was a splendid success.  Professor Ronan Conroy gave the best of introductions:  smart, witty and full of warmth, and the reading was delivered by the author herself with perfect pitch and timing, drawing in the audience until they hung on every word.

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A Palm Tree Christmas – Sinead O’Connor in LA, 1990

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Pic: John Francis Bourke

As first published in Hot Press magazine, Dec 1990:

In the wake of Prince’s death, publications have been quoting Sinead on the subject of Prince – a story which broke after I interviewed her for Hot Press one Christmas long ago.  I wanted to re-post the interview here in its entirety, since Sinead had so much more to say when we spoke in December, 1990.

* * * * * * * * * *

Due to overcrowding in JFK and strong headwinds, the plane is late touching down in LAX. Although the inevitable tinselly Christmas decorations are in evidence all over, it hardly feels like Yuletide to photographer John Francis Bourke and me. In New York we shivered in the icy winds belting down Broadway as we waited for a cab, here we roll down the car windows and laugh at the palm trees. Bikers zoom along in open jackets, helmetless. At the “Cat and Fiddle” on Sunset, people are eating at tables outside on the patio. In December.

The splendid, glittering tackiness of the West Coast boulevards at night is countered the following day by a pristine, cloudless sky and unusually hot sunshine, which scalds into the hotel bedroom where we’ve scheduled an interview with America’s favourite diva, Sinead O’Connor. Or just “Sinead”, as they’ve taken to calling her. Americans have even finally succeeded in pronouncing it properly, a sure sign of acceptance. LA Weekly has a centerfold spread advertizing “RED, HOT AND BLUE” that lists the performers on the album: “U2, Sinead O’Connor, David Byrne” etc. Sinead is at the very top of the list, as she has been on most lists in the U.S. for most of this year. Until the January release of “Nothing Compares 2U”, she was respected high-cult Princess, the prized choice of the connoisseur. With the subsequent smash hit of the single, video and album “I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got” she went straight up there alongside Madonna and Whitney, outclassing and outselling both.

Having decided against something brashly rock’n’roll like the Sunset Marquis, the small Ermitage Hotel tucked in behind Sunset Boulevard is perfectly anonymous and very friendly. Maria at the reception desk smiles without fuss as Sinead comes in, and apart from one man who nearly drops on the spot when he runs almost straight into Sinead in the elevator, all is comfortably low key. By 9:00 am, we’re camped out on the bed, Sinead, Ciara and Hot Press – fuelled with Cappuccinos and toast. We chat a bit, an amusing starting point being the discussion of the fact that it’s still very much taboo for women to curse in America – a habit Irish and particularly Dublin women are addicted to. Sinead seems in fine form, having passed her driving test the day before and in the process of buying a car so she’ll be able, finally to drive around her newly adopted city. (more…)

The Lost Weekend: St Patrick’s Day 1991, New York City

5th avenue and Empire State building by night under the rain, New York

St. Patrick’s Day is often regarded with a deal of scorn by the New Irish in this city, for the obvious reasons. It’s an occasion when the Irish American “Leprechauns and shillelaghs” brigade become rampant, and full grown people stagger around with shamrocks falling out of kelly green hats that say “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”. That St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday this year was a bonus – no work the next day – but the fact that The Pogues would be playing the Palladium on Friday and highjacking ‘Saturday Night Live’ the following night made it even better. We wanted The Pogues for St. Paddy’s for years (they kill all known Leprechauns dead) and this year we got them.

Between the Academy Awards and The Boys From The County Hell, the celebrations started early on in the week, and continued throughout, kicking off with a riotous star-studded hooley at the Irish Consulate honoring Celluloid Men of the Week, Sheridan and Pearson of “My Left Foot”. The Musical Men Of The Week made their first appearance en masse at a launch held for the author T.J. English to celebrate the publication of his new book, “The Westies”.

Here The Pogues jam with New York band, “Morning Star” and mingle with Gerard Conlon and Paul Hill of the Guildford Four (Conlon having recently testified in U.S. Congress on the plight of the Birmingham Six), Nicky Kelly and various elements from the Irish American Hierarchy.

Later Terry Woods turned up at the second launch of the evening, in the Rodeo Bar on Third Avenue where Pat Kilbride celebrated the release of his new album “More Rock and Roses” on Flying Fish Records. Originally from Kildare, Kilbride swopped continents about two years ago after much success in Europe, and has since been a regular on the music scene here. He has recently assembled “The Kips Bay Ceili Band, which features some of the most talented musicians on the East Coast, like Eileen Ivers on electric fiddle, Joanie Madden on flute, John Whelan (uileann pipes) and Jerry O’Sullivan (accordian). Their rowdy polished blend of trad rock and folk was delivered in a spectacular performance that continued into the early hours.

On Friday, too, which suddenly became “St. Patrick’s Eve, you could step out with The New Irish of an “upwardly mobile” persuasion in the Roseland Ballroom, at what has become known as the Yuppie Ball. (Officially: “The Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Charity Ball”.) The carefully exclusive affair is run by a young, first generation “all-graduate” Ball Committee who aspire to the kind of heights described by organiser Daniel O’Leary in The Irish Times recently: “most of us are on an upward spiral in our careers. This is where we can take our place among the best”. Right, Daniel.

The one thing about The Pogues, however, is that you don’t have to wear a tuxedo. At the packed gig, T-shirts saying “Italia 1990” are popular, as is the chic, skinny white torso favoured by young Irishmen. Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 01.03.35Kicking off early, the first band, “Black47”, a new combo headed by Wexford musician Larry Kirwan provided a suitably post modern Irish intro. The band, comprised of Kirwan, Chris Byrne on uileann pipes, with an extended line up of African percussion, trombone and tin whistle among other sounds, has an eclectic blend of trad and rock with Latin and even Hip hop flavors. Their original material recently provided music for the off Broadway theatre hit, “Away Alone”, and their final song, “Paddy’s Got a Brand New Reel”, from the play’s soundtrack, brought the audience up to the right pitch of high doh to welcome The Pogues onstage with a deafening roar that was surpassed only seconds later as the Great McGowan balanced a ball on his forehead, tossed it up over the stage and then caught it, before belting into the first track.

And they’re off. The punters as well as The Pogues. My dastardly plan – since I refuse to be anywhere but right in front of the stage at a Pogue’s gig (otherwise it’s cheating) – is to grab hold of some huge young man whose knightly valour will generally save me from being crushed to bits and then, to use a slightly outmoded phrase, pogo for my life. The band are in flying form, their musicianship grows more excellent each year, and their style is expanding. Nothing too polished, mind (nothing featuring the distinctive McGowan vocal could sound too polished), retaining all the rage of Celtic soul gone wild, and yet belting out jazz (“Gridlock”) and pure pop (“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah,” etc) as easily as old favorites like “Streams of Whiskey” and “Irish Rover”. “Streets of Sorrow” is dedicated to The Guildford Four and Nicky Kelly (looking on from backstage) and in the middle, a genius stroke with the lighting has spots-turned searchlights crawling all over the crowd full blast like prison yard security lamps. “It’s about time the Birmingham Six were released” spits Shane.

McGowanGod knows how many passionate Irish accents are singing along to the Phil Chevron’s pertinent “Thousands Are Sailing”, hands in the air, celebrating the land that made them refugees, reluctantly or not. Destined to become a classic. As usual “Dirty Auld Town” is sung as loudly by the audience as by the band, and even has a couple of girls beside me in tears. Back then to “Cotton Fields” and “Fiesta!” madness, and Connor O’Mahoney (sans Happens!) nearly gets lost to the world as he discovers that the dancefloor is a steep three foot drop below the rest of the ground level, and that once you’re down in the crush of dancers, it’s almost impossible to get out.

After the end of the fouth encore (no, I don’t remember what it was, but it was brilliant), The Pogues are gone, the floor of the Palladium is littered with green scraps, spilled beer and one forlorn, crumpled white shirt. People are being kicked out by the management to clear the place for the club’s late night attraction: Lambada dancing (much to Spider Stacey’s amusement). The official post gig bash took place in Ron Wood’s nightclub, but the unfortunate choice of a heavy metal live band led many to head elsewhere, including The Pogues. This happened again the following night when Sean Penn, Debra Winger, Rob Lowe and Michael Douglas among others turn up to to lig at Wood’s, only to find a mysterious and contrary absence of most Pogues!

The following morning, the official St. Patrick’s Day began with orgy-style “breakfasts” in most of the Irish bars on Third Avenue. The hair of the dog was never so sweet. And this was your day if you ever harboured the pervy desire to get an eyeful of either Miss Ireland, Maureen O’Hara or New York’s dreaded Cardinal O’Connor (who, last week, in a startlingly original revelation, pronounced that “Rock’n’Roll is the Devil’s music”).

After the usual parade madness, you could get drunk with many more drunks on almost any block on any street in any section of Manhattan, where all drinking establishments have mysteriously acquired barmen called “Paddy” for the day. Then again, you might consider getting drunk. Or you could just forget consideration and get drunk anyway.

In the East Village’s Cave Canem, Wexford musician Pearse Turner gave an as-ever brilliant performance around 7:30 pm. Despite a venue which was a little too small to hold the kind of crowd Turner draws at any gig these days, he put over a great set, which included a spectacular cymbal clashing solo during “Mayhem” and involved Pearse climbing all over the pristine white linen covered tables of the cafe, much to the delight of the punters.

Another interesting alternative to the more traditional boozing sessions was to head over to the new Irish cafe on Avenue A, Sin é. Run by Shane Doyle, the cafe opened up a few months ago and quickly gathered an interesting clientele of Irish and East Villagers. The place used to be one of the area’s many art galleries, but now the walls are pastel blankness “so that people will just be able to talk to each other, not be distracted by ever changing exhibits” explains Shane. Music, however, is ever present, varying from Davy Spillane to Sinead O’Connor or The Dixons. In a sort of “coffee house” folk capacity, live music from local performers can be heard on several evenings. This scribe even hijacks a mic to deliver the “Clumsy Cabaret” an East Village Blue Jayzus of sorts most Saturday nights in the company of Elizabeth Logun, Deanna Kirk and Paul Hond.  Sin-é is an easy-going estalishment that over the St. Patrick’s weekend attracts several Pogues, East Village “anti folk” originator Kirk Kelly and a folk outfit from Maine called “The East Coast Rovers”.

Heading on towards midnight, the triumphant height of the festivities was arguably the sight of The Pogues going out nationwide across America on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”. They belted out “White City” and “Free Born Man”, shaking the live studio audience right out of their seats. From the first time they arrived in New York, hailed as Brendan Behan’s bastard sons, whiskey bottle and Player’s non filter in hand, to that day’s half-page article in The New York Times, what they’ve gained in respect here has meant no loss of passion. They successfully conveyed a riveting, rollicking sense of Poguetry at its best, capable playing with just the right hint of debauchery that characterized the holiday. A great wind down to a celebratory week, without a plastic shamrock in sight.

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Helena Mulkerns,
New York, March 1991
Written for
Hot Press Magazine

President Trump: Irish Writers Have Their Say

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This is my contrbution to a piece by Martin Doyle with reactions from Kevin Barry, Mia Gallagher, Joseph O’Connor, Louise O’Neil, Roddy Doyle and more.  For all writers’ contributions, please click this link.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-15-22-26It’s a sort of grief, the process of coming to accept that a misogynistic, racist madman is about to take over the world’s most powerful country.  There are several stages. First, I had a session of black humour banter with a friend on Facebook (denial). Then I exchanged furious emails with a friend who had not voted for Hillary, because she is an “undeniable” crook. I argued that in this case, anybody with half a brain should know that not voting democrat was an undeniable vote for fascism (anger).  Then I got a call from a distraught Muslim friend awaiting a Greencard in the mid-West. Having escaped the horrors of a true police state, she fears she will be  sent home under some Trump deportation programme. I tried to calm her, suggesting his threats are all bluster (bargaining). Then I simply remembered the last time a country in the so-called developed world voted a misogynistic, racist madman into power: 1933. And I succumbed to the final stage, depression.

Because it is entirely possible that like the poet said, things may change utterly – that terrible will become a word abundantly used, but this time beauty will not be part of the brief.  –  Helena Mulkerns 

For more articles like this on IrishTimes online, see Martin Doyle at the Irish Times

HOT PRESS Profile by Anne Sexton

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A piece in Hot Press magazine by Anne Sexton, with photo by Paula Nolan and review by Olaf Tyaransen. Below see an extract from the interview – the rest in Hot Press magazine, available in all Irish newsagents right now!

LIFE DURING WARTIME – INTERVIEW BY ANNE SEXTON 

An arts journalist and performer, Helena Mulkerns lived and worked in Paris and New York before joining the UN as a press officer. 

It was her ten years with UN peacekeeping missions that inspired her collection, Ferenji and other stories. Ferenji means ‘foreigner’ in old Arabic and Persian.  As the name suggests, Mulkerns’ stories centre on the lives of foreign aid workers in various conflict and post-conflict zones. (more…)

Link to vote for “Dogs” as short story of the year

Well, there’s less than a day left now to cast the reader’s votes towards the Bórd Gais Energy Irish Book Awards – voting ends at noon 23 November!!  I’m shortlisted in the “Short Story of the Year” category which is sponsored by the Irish website Writing.ie.   My story is called “Dogs” and it’s from Ferenji, my debut collection of short stories, published by Doire Press of Galway. 

The book was well received and covered in the press, see some of the reviews and features that have appeared in the press about “Ferenji and other stories”  HERE.  

If you’d like to read “Dogs”, it’s right here on the Writing.ie website along with the other great stories  shortlisted.  Then if you’d like to vote for it, just click on the link below and scroll down … 

https://www.irishbookawards.irish

If you haven’t read the book, and would like to, you can order it from most book shops in Ireland, or from Doire Press directly, with free international shipping.  If you’d like to buy it from this website, I’ll send you a signed copy for €16.00 postage included or $20 to the United States.  Just click here.

If you like eBooks, Ferenji and other stories is available on any Amazon website, and many large online book stores, such as Barnes & Noble in the U.S., Indigo Books in Canada, Booktopia in Australia and more:

Thanks so much for reading this, and if you’ve got this far, why not check out the book trailer:                                                                                                             

 

BLUE TARPAULIN – from ‘Ferenji’ by Helena Mulkerns from Cyberscribe on Vimeo

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