Interview with Elif Shafak, Irish Times

 

Last month, I had the good fortune to meet with Turkey’s best selling woman author, Elif Shafak in London.  Author of 13 books (9 novels), please see my interview with her in the Irish Times HERE or click on the image below.

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Mare Rubrum: read a free Kindle version this weekend

This weekend you can read one of the stories from my debut collection Ferenji in a free Kindle download from Doire Press.  “Mare Rubrum” tells of a encounter in a post-conflict ghost town on the Red Sea, between two strangers who meet by chance on a beach. The day blazes with an unexpected union, and dusk brings a magic that only the ancient town can lend, but like the country they are both about to leave, with darkness come truths that are better left unsaid.

US:  Amazon.com  /  UK:  Amazon.co.uk  /  France:  Amazon.fr  / Australia: Amazon.com.au

  • MARE RUBRUM

For more about this title, and about the publisher, Doire Press – or to pre-order your copy – click here:  www.DoirePress.com

From the archives: original “Trainspotting” review …

Trawling through my hard drive in search of an errant fiction file, I came across my original “Trainspotting” review, done this month 21 years ago for one or other of the New York publications at the time … 

Currently not so much a film as a phenomenon, “Trainspotting” has been preceded by a blast of mega-hype reaching all the way across the Atlantic. Do you have to see it? Do you really? Well, read on…

Based on the novel by Scottish writer Irvine Welsh (who also wrote “The Acid House”), the book meanders in and around of the lives of the post-punk, no-future generation of unemployed Edinburgh youths enmeshed in heroine addiction, not unlike many in our other favourite post-colonial city, Dublin.

For all the hype, though, it grossed $15 million, more than any other Scottish film. Made by director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew McDonald (who made “Shallow Grave”, released last year), it deals with heroine addiction, AIDS, unemployment and poverty. But it also delivers a full-blast infusion of the lust for life that any gang of twenty-somethings will have in any city.

Taking no prisoners, it’s an honest, brilliant and devastating take on a very real part of urban life, managing to deliver that world faithfully – with all its gallows humor and its highs and lows.

If the book is one of the best ever penned about about heroine addiction, the film follows suit. Because while anybody watching the film will work out that heroine is an evil that consumes its victims continuously and relentlessly, you see that the characters, to put it in their own words, “aren’t stupid” – they do it because of the sheer pleasure. They have fun, they are rebels, they care nothing for the society that has provided them with nothing, they run around committing small-time robberies, organizing scams and petty deals to fund their habits, and they do their drugs. Addiction is set out on the screen with no frills, no excuses. It’s comparable in grit to Gus Van Sant’s “Drugstore Cowboy”, although for sheer scatological detail “Trainspotting” is more harrowing.

Renton, Spud, Sick Boy, Begby and the others know no pain when they are on smack, they have no everyday worries, no bills, no problems, no rent, no emotional hassles – everything in their lives is solved and sugared by this incredible substance. And yet everything in their lives is at the same time reduced to a vile lowest common denominator, as when one squat mate’s baby dies of neglect in its cot, and all the mother can think of doing is banging up another hit of smack. Or when Tommy, the only one in the crowd who remained outside the game, finally joins in and falls faster than any of them.

The controversy surrounding “Trainspotting” in England and Ireland is centred on whether this film “glorifies” drugs. This is fairly typical of the Irish and British authorities, who seem to get more worked up about peripherals than actually getting down and dealing with the everyday challenges of their gang-strangled streets. Recently the Irish government sent 500 of their policemen up to the Northern Ireland border to save the Republic from the illegal crossings of potentially “mad” cows, while journalist Veronica Guerin was gunned to bits in Dublin city by drug lords. With an estimated 10,000 heroine addicts in Dublin alone, how worrying can one film about drugs be?

Take “Trainspotting” as you like. See it to get a bloody hard look at a problem that is widespread in Irish and Scottish society today. See it for its spectacularly stylish cinematic qualities or its fabulous soundtrack. See it for Ewan McGregor’s grin, for Spud’s glasses, for Kelly McDonald’s demented school uniform, see it to have a good laugh – or see it and weep. But see it.

Helena Mulkerns

 

 

New article written for Writing.ie

MAKE THEM VISIBLE - South Sudan image-Web

Kuir Mayem Atem (28), who lives at the Mingkaman refugee camp in South Sudan, as captured by Kieran Doherty for Oxfam

Click here for full Writing.ie article

In anticipation of the upcoming event in which I’ll be participating on Culture Night, 18 September 2015, I’ve written a piece for Writing.ie which discusses the idea of fiction that is inspired by reality, or in this particular case, by a photograph.

The photograph I received was a moving portrait of a South Sudanese refugee taken by conflict and field photographer Kieran Doherty, who was named earlier this year by TIME Magazine as “one of nine Irish photographers to look out for”.

Kuir Mayem Atem, who lives in a shelter in the Mingkaman refugee camp with her husband, their five childen her mother and other siblings, said, “Here we feel safe but it’s tough living like this.”

Since the outbreak of civil war in December 2013, Sudan remains one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. Over 2 million people have fled their homes, of which over half a million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.  To read the article, click here;  for coverage in The Irish Times, click here; information on the event itself, you can read my previous blog post here.

Most of all – don’t forget to donate to Oxfam if you can, to actively support refugees like Kuir.

Shorelines Arts Festival Reading

I’m really looking forward to reading this Friday, 15th September, at the Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna, Galway, a wonderful long weekend of the Arts on the shores of historic Lough Derg.
 


With 2017 being the 10th anniversary of the festival the line up is really impressive this year, with musicians, artists and writers like Mikel Murfi, Julie Feeney, Mike McCormack, Martin Malone, Joanie Madden & Cherish the Ladies, Sahoko Blake and Jack O’Rourke to name but a few, on the programme
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The festival will be opened by Vinnie Browne of Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway on Thursday at 7pm and end on Sunday evening.  I’ll be booking into what looks like a lovely place to stay:  Portumna House on Friday, to read at lunchtime, but plan to make a weekend of it.  
 
Particularly looking forward to seeing Cherish The Ladies, and catching up with the wonderful Joanie Madden, a friend from the days I lived in New York.  Joanie’s father, Joe was an All-Ireland Champion accordion player who hailed from Portumna himself, so that’s a gig not to miss.  
 
There is a spectacular art exhibition at the formidable, now restored Irish Workhouse Centre and a pop-up museum on the theme of “Lace”. There are short and feature films, plays, workshops, children’s events.  But don’t just trust me, download the brochure here yourself and see the full programme.  
 
But if you want to hear some good stories and poems, of course – I want to invite you to join fellow Doire Press author  Martin Malone and myself, along with Kerry poet Simon O’Faoláin, for the lunchtime reading on Friday at 1:30pm in Hayes’ pub – all three for a fiver, plus songs and sandwiches!  Click on the image below for details.  
 

For Mother’s Day: from “Motherland”

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In 1998, I was invited to contribute to an anthology of writings about mothers and daughters, edited by Caledonia Kearns and published by William Morrow, New York.

It was a stunning collection of reflections from a writers ranging from Margaret Sanger to Susan Minot and more, and I saw it as an amazing opportunity to interview my mother and ask her a lot of questions I’d always wanted to ask, and so when she visited New York that Spring, where I was living at the time, we sat over several hours and she talked about growing up in Ireland during the war, the fifties, having kids and being an artist.

In honour of Helen Quinn Mulkerns this mother’s day, I’d like to post it now – with illustrations.  Click on the image or here to download the full PDF.

She has her own website at:  www.helenmulkerns.com, if you’d like to see more of her art work.

Meantime,
Happy Mother’s day, Mam!

Literature and more at Listowel

Dennis Lehane interviewed by Jim Carroll at Listowel Writers' Week

Dennis Lehane interviewed by Jim Carroll at Listowel Writers’ Week

Going to Listowel Writers’ Week has been on the wish list for years. Like seeing Paris before you die, it’s a given that if you’re interested in literature or arts festivals, or both, at some point you’ve got to treat yourself to a trip into the green lushness of Kerry in early summer to one of the longest standing festivals in the country: Listowel.

Some people say once you go, you’ll be back every year: Irish Arts stalwart Seamus Hosey, for example, was celebrating his 40th Anniversary at the festival this 2105.  My own reason mostly had to do with the fact that the festival had co-sponsored a week’s wonderful stay at the Cill Rialaig Artists’ Retreat Centre near Ballinskelligs – and it was at that retreat that I largely finalised the first draft of my short story collection, Waiting for the Rain. My ambition was to read a something from that collection somehow, somewhere – at Listowel Writers’ week this year.

Happily, friend and author Susan Lanigan had also decided to travel down, and so with Susan in the driver’s seat for the road trip, we braved busy Bank Holiday weekend traffic and I read through the event’s schedule.

The programme for 2015 was a broad-reaching offering that hosted not only readings and interviews, but live theatre and valuable writing workshops in almost every aspect of literature, given by top novelists , short story writers, poets and dramatists.  There were also musican and drama performances.

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To kick off the festival, Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín presided over a launch evening that included the presentation of literary awards to the tune of a €35,000 prize fund.

This year, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of Year Award was won by Eoin MacNamee for Blue is the Night and The Pigott Poetry Prize was won by Paul Muldoon for One Thousand Things Worth Knowing.

Dennis Lehane provided a welcome, high-octane shot of Irish American wit and wisdom on Friday night during his interview with Jim Carroll, something I really miss from my New York days.  What I really wanted to ask him was, “who gave Seán Penn the line about Barry’s Tea in Mystic River,” but I tackled him instead on a reference he had made to the stereotyped image of Ireland as a nation in the U.S. instead.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 17.15.50Recognising the refreshing influence of the “New Irish” that invaded in the late eighties in early nineties, and the fusion of old and new Irish American culture that resulted on both sides, Lehane succinctly let us in on the fact that for bog standard middle America, we are still living with the Leprechauns. Sigh …

Lehane’s new book,  World Gone By, is set in Cuba during WW2 and sounds like classic Lehane:  bloody, complex, with gang rivalries and personal conflicts at its heart.

No stranger to cutting edge television crime drama (e.g. The Wire), Lehane’s latest project is a very amazing sounding adaptation of Love Hate for the U.S. market:  this time it’s set in Hawaii.  Can you see Nidge with a tan and mirror shades?

The charm of Listowel as a festival quickly becomes evident:  with everything very immediately available from the nucleus of the town square (theatre in the old church in the centre, events/hanging out at the Listowel Arms Hotel, etc) it’s got a very snug feel.  You’ll see backpackers and old timers side by side in the street, as well as the writers and performers that are part of the programme. The range of events are attended by discerning audiences that provide the speakers with usually cogent and interesting questions.

Patrick Cockburn speaking at Listowel Writers Week 2015Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 17.34.22There was so much going on, it was hard to get to see everything, but I really enjoyed the lecture by seasoned war journalist Patrick Cockburn.  Originally from Cork and currently Middle East Correspondent with The Independent, he spoke of life under Islamic State, where currently citizens living under their regime are being controlled literally in all aspects of their lives, from women being forced to marry ISIS soldiers to even the very rules of children’s games.

Describing how the tightly-knit, highly organised power of ISIS overcame a dysfunctional State in Iraq and a weakened State in Syria, his first-hand accounts were bone chilling.  More can be read in his many books, the latest of which being The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution from Verso Books

Mindshift Event Listowel - Valerie Bistany Director of the IrishThe Irish Writers’ Centre has been broadening its parameters of late, and one of the more interesting discussions was one called Mindshift: Introduction to the Business of Being a Writer event on Saturday, supported by WORDS Ireland.   Moderated by Valerie Bistany (Director of the Irish Writers’ Centre), the panel, comprised of Noelle Campbell Sharpe (of Cill Rialaig Artists’ Retreat), Audrey Keane (of the Arts Council of Ireland), Kate Kennelly (Arts Officer, Kerry Co Council) and Noel O’Regan (former Kerry County Council Writer-in-Residence), discussed the more practical aspects of being a writer, with specific reference to funding and marketing.

So far, so good – but what about my quest to read at Listowel Writer’s Week, after all?  As it turns out, on both Friday and Saturday night, The New Writers’ Salon, curated by Kerry Co Council’s former Writer in Residence, Noel O’Regan, provided the very opportunity.

Taking place at the excellent Scribes’ Café, owned and run by the very hospitable Mr Namir Karim from Iraq, the event presented readings from a line up of invited emerging writers: Sally Rooney, Michael Naghten Shanks, Hugh Fulham-McQuillan, Roisin Kelly followed an open mic session, which on Saturday night –  among others – featured slam poetry from Stephen Murphy, a passionate reading from White Feathers by author Susan Lanigan, and yes – a brief section from Waiting for the Rain by yours truly. And that was a very long sentence. Time perhaps to wrap it up.

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The New Writers’ Salon at Scribes’ Café, hosted by Noel O’Regan (second from left), and performance poet Stephen Murphy, Listowel Writers’ Week 2015

The festival had other charms, of course, some being the sheer fun of meeting up with old friends often long after the events of the day were done, in one of the town’s worthy watering holes, or in the beautiful and old-worldly elegance of the Listowel Arms Hotel.   The seisúin on Saturday night is famous, and suffice to say that while you will have the honour of hearing some classic Sean Nós renditions, there is also a splendid tradition of rude ditties and sung or recited verses full of political satire and humour.  For a gallery of photos of the event, click here and for more details at the festival’s own website, click to:   www.writersweek.ie