Birthday wishes to author Val Mulkerns – my favourite Irish lady of twentieth century letters, 90 years today: pictured here last week, on a morning walk near her home. Starting out in the literary world as Associate Editor working with Seán O’Faoláin in The Bell, she has published five novels, three collections of short stories, two children’s books and many published essays and critical writings. The third edition of Val’s 1984 novel The Summerhouse was published last year, and a new edition of her 1986 novel, Very Like A Whale follows this Spring. For more see: www.valmulkerns.com
THE SAN FRANCISCO BOOK FESTIVAL turns out to be exactly what it’s billed as: a “celebration of books”. Leave your cares, your TV, your Internet (although it does rear its ugly head) and your sense of time behind you,and head into an arguably dying realm. After all, the Japanese have already invented the slim, compact, CD ROM book-reading device which you hold in your hand and press a tiny panel to turn the “pages”.
For all that, books, their creators and their enthusiasts appear strangely healthy this weekend, by the end of which strong backs are necessary to cart away compulsive print purchases, many signed by the gang of authors who have descended on the town for the event. Over the weekend, you could attend readings by American book heroes as diverse as Amy Tan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tobias Wolff, Joy Harjo or Alice Walker, with visits by writers from China, India and Peru.
The Pads, of course, are no exception. Not to be completely out done by the mucho-sexy Frankfurt extravaganza, San Francisco this year featured a strong Irish – Indeed Celtic – presence, with writers travelling from the auld sod and around the US to participate in a special panel entitled “The Wild Colonials: The Writing Irish Abroad”. (more…)
My great news this week is that the literary publishing house based in Galway, Doire Press, is to publish my first collection of short stories, Ferenji, in 2016.
DOIRE PRESS was founded in 2007 in Connemara by Lisa Frank and John Walsh, also both writers, who seek to publish new and emerging writers who give voice to what it means to be Irish in a changing Ireland.
Since then Doire Press has continued to blossom, publishing writers as diverse as Susan Millar DuMars, Miceál Kearney, Aileen Armstrong, Celeste Augé, Jim Mullarkey and Madeleine D’Arcy, whose collection Waiting for the Bullet won the Edge Hill Readers’ prize; and poets Kimberly Campanello, Kevin O’Shea, Paul O’Reilly, Susan Lindsay, Jo Hemmant, Dimitra Xidous and Adam White, whose book, Accurate Measurements was the only Irish publication to be shortlised for the prestigious Forward Prize in 2013.
Their anthologies include 30 under 30, chosen as a Top Ten Title of 2012 by Joseph O’Connor in The Irish Times, and Galway Stories, a collection of short stories set in neighbourhoods throughout the city and county of Galway by many of Ireland’s top writers, including Kevin Barry, Mary Costello, Mike McCormack, Nuala Ní Chonchuír, Olaf Tyaransen and Julian Gough.
I first met John and Lisa in December of 2013, when I was assigned to write a review for Hot Press of Eamon Carr’s first published play, Deirdre Unforgiven: A Journal of Sorrows (you can read that review here, BTW).
Eamonn’s book was beautifully produced, and featured a compelling cover with ink line drawing by John Devlin. The play itself is a fascinating exploration of the old Deirdre of the Sorrows legend. Since original drama is rarely given such handsome treatment, I looked up the Doire Press website and found more excellent new Irish writing there.
While – like every other contemporary writer of short stories and poetry – I had initially toyed with the idea of self-publishing, I made a submission of my work to Doire Press the following year when their annual open call for submissions came out, and while my 2014 proposal – a collection of stories on the theme of Irish emigrants abroad – wasn’t selected, my 2015 one – short stories set among peacekeepers, aid workers and press working in conflict and post-conflict zones – was. Happily, it will now be published as one of their 2016 titles.
The other titles writers to be published in the coming year by Doire Press are:
I’m very proud to be part of this great group of artists, and look forward to working with John and Lisa at Doire Press in 2016 for my debut collection of short stories, Ferenji.
So, now – back to the writing, but more anon!
He pulls me out of the cabin near the beach, and tells me the tide is alive. He says that out in the blue night a million tiny vessels are flowing along the current off to somewhere else, and he wants us to go with them. I say no. The hut near the beach is all we have, where we can rest in relative safety, considering the times.
from Famine Fever, a short story
In November 1995, prompted by a significant historical anniversary, I wrote a short fiction piece on a big emotional issue: the Great Famine. This morning, I woke up and realised that this year was another anniversary, albeit not one people have tended to note. I’ve decided to re-post Famine Fever before the year is out, considering the times.
And since there are still people in crisis in our community and very close by, I thought I’d post these too:
So delighted to get up this dark December morning and read the lovely piece today in The Irish Examiner by Sue Leonard, run as part of the “Beginner’s Pluck” column. Sue’s kind words further made my day as she accredited the work with something every writer tries to acheive: Whether she is describing the heartbreak of a family whose child has been damaged by a landmine; the impermanence of love on the field, or an exquisite encounter on a beach at dawn, Mulkerns creates magic. With the verdict concluding that the book is “quite a wonderful collection of linked stories” I’ll be starting the new year on a high tomorrow. It was great to meet with Sue and chat, and you can see more about her on her own website here.
Meanwhile, click here or click on the image below for the article. My favourite line of it quotes me on working for Hot Press Magazine during my rock’n’roll years: “I was hanging around backstage with various bands,” she says.’ Yes indeed – what a job description!
The Irish Independent newspaper asked Irish Writers for their “top book picks” of 2016 for the Christmas Eve issue, and it was great to see Dermot Bolger giving the heads up to Ferenji in his input. Click here or on the image below for details.
He notes: “It is also lovely when a writer whose stories you have read with pleasure for years finally collects them in an overdue debut, and I was very taken with Helena Mulkerns’ Ferenji (Doire Press) where she mines her experiences as someone working in remote, dangerous regions with the United Nations to create short fictions which are finely written and astutely observed, in terms of the human heart and of the physical terrain they skilfully traverse.”
Really looking forward to the “Finding a Voice” special evening on Thurs, 8th December at 18:30, when author, poet and playwright Dermot Bolger hosts an evening of readings and music at The National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, Dublin.
The event celebrates Dermot’s 2016 writer’s residency, a collaborative project set up by the Museum’s 1916 Public Entertainment Programme and Poetry Ireland, which saw a series of events entitled “Finding A Voice” take place throughout the year. Combining workshop, panel discussion, lectures and readings, these afternoons were a pleasure for all – both the writers who read and spoke at them, and the participants – often first time writers – who benefitted from the series.
Elsewhere at the museum, the centenary is celebrated by “Proclaiming a Republic – The 1916 Rising” – a splendid exhibition in the Riding School venue at Collins Barracks – a visit to which would be more than worthwhile on Thursday afternoon, before the reading in .
With this aspect of the 1916-2016 centenary celebrations in mind, Dermot asked me to join in the final event, not only as a writer (I’ll read from my book, “Ferenji“), but also as the Granddaughter of the 1916 rebel Jimmy Mulkerns, who fought at the Four Courts during the Rising, and who then spent eight hard months incarcerated at Frongoch Prison Camp, along with almost 2,000 other Irish rebels.
My grandfather, a fine actor and tenor who had his own touring theatre troupe, was part of the “Amusements Committee” that set up the weekly entertainment evenings in Frongoch camp, along with some of the other prisoners involved in the theatre or the entertainment field of the day, who fought in the rebellion.
At the time, there were at least three theatres in operation in Dublin – the posh new Abbey Theatre, founded by Yeats and Lady Gregory, the more popular Queens Theatre, and several other music hall style venues – including the old Empire Palace Theatre (now The Olympia). It wasn’t surprising that a number of the rebels were also entertainers and actors. To keep up the spirits of the men, they organised a little cabaret/seisúin each Friday evening.Their efforts included the presentation of music, original drama as well as skits and satire.
Jimmy Mulkerns served in the role of Master of Ceremonies and satirical songster at these evenings, earning the nickname “The Rajah of Frongoch” in playful reference to the exotic costumes he would derive from curtains, rags or donations from women of the local Welsh community. The Rajah was the inspiration for my own entertainment evening, The Cáca Milis Cabaret, at which Dermot Bolger has been a much appreciated participant on several occasions.
So this Thursday evening promises to be a lively and enjoyable event, with the participation of those who have attended Dermot’s excellent workshops through the year since March and from literary friends, as well as a few songs to remember those who might have fought in the area in or around what is now the National Museum, Collins Barracks, in 1916.
For more fun stuff, click the links:
With thanks to Matthew Lloyd for the links to his fascinating website on old music halls and theatres: