Friday, 4 May 2012

Short Stories are fun, I've just realised!

My short story "Waiting" has made the shortlist of the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition. It mightn't get any further than this but I'm celebrating making the final 27 out of thousands of entries!

Friday, 24 February 2012

For German Readers...

If any of you speak German (which, alas, I don't) you may be interested to know that my novel "A Cruel Harvest" was released in Germany this week by Random House/Goldmann, translated by Sonja Hauser. The title is Stürmische Gezeiten, which I understand means "Stormy Tides".

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Chicago Heiress and the Irish Rebel

I spotted an interesting item in the newspapers recently about Lady Lavery, an American-born heiress and leading London hostess of the early 20th century. Lady Lavery was born Hazel Martyn in Chicago in 1886, became the second wife of renowned artist Sir John Lavery and was one of London's brightest society lights, counting amongst her close friends people such as Winston Churchill.

She reached the newspapers (and my attention) this week due to a letter she once wrote about Michael Collins, a letter which is to be sold at auction. Because of the book I'm currently writing, I'm always interested in new material about Michael Collins, so I read more. When Michael Collins, having brought the British military to its knees, travelled to London in 1921 to negotiate a treaty between Ireland and the British government, it seems his path and that of Lady Lavery crossed paths. I had known before, of course, that when Collins went to London, far from seeing him as the cold-blooded terrorist that the government had painted him to be, the society doors of Kensington and Knightsbridge were opened left and right, and indeed it was considered something of a coup for a well-heeled London hostess to boast that the very Michael Collins himself had sipped tea in her own drawing room.

The previously unpublished letter by Lady Lavery speaks of Collins's “dignity, pride, wisdom, a wonderful beauty of character and qualities of statesmanship that only a few had begun to recognise”. Such gushing continues throughout the letter.

I think of Michael Collins, a fellow Corkman, and chuckle at this. A ruthless assassin, the government called him, but when he went to London (against his wishes) London couldn't help but fall in love with him. Now that's the romantic warrior we all like to read about in novels, but of course in this case he was real. And a fellow Corkman, did I already mention? Yes, other Irish people always grumble about the fact that Cork people are always boasting about themselves. And we do. But, look, if those people were from Cork, they'd be boasting too.

Michael Collins died at only 31. Despite having evaded the cream of the British army, the police and the secret service for years, he died at the hands of his own men - men he had probably trained years before. When Collins negotiated a treaty with Britain to bring peace to Ireland, a minority declared him a sell-out, ambushed him in his own Cork and killed him. Wise as always, when Collins had signed the Treaty, he said, 'I have just signed my own death warrant". He certainly had.

Hollywood gave his story a treatment with Liam Neeson and Julia Roberts. I don't think it registered much over in the States. I don't even touch on Collins much in my own novel, simply because I wouldn't be able to do him justice. But he does appear in several scenes, because he's a particular hero of mine. There's a rather beautifully-painted portrait of him hanging in my study. I admire a man who knows when to fight, and when to compromise. That's the stuff of leaders. What a pity we lost him at only 31.

Lady Lavery, it seems, realised that too.

Michael Collins

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Clever Kids

I spent an afternoon in Cork City today with my nine-year-old niece, Niamh, who delightfully announced that she wouldn't be joining her mum and auntie for dress-shopping but would rather go with Uncle Paul and see where he goes. A fun uncle-niece afternoon of bookstores, game-shops and of course the English Market, Cork's very historical and very fascinating  open market (even the Queen loved it).

I was unprepared, however, when I took little Niamh into Waterstones and indulgently told her that she could pick any book she wanted, while I picked one for myself. "Look," I said, "there are lovely pink ones over there, with unicorns on them."

She was unimpressed. She wanted to know where I was going. I explained that I wanted to go to the history section as I was looking for a particular book about World War 1. She trotted along after me and when I found it, she admired the cover and asked what it was about.

"World War One," I began patiently and rather patronisingly, "was a war that took place a long time ago. It happened when..."

"Yes, I know,' she replied easily. 'Did you know that yesterday was Armistice Day, the day World War 1 ended? It ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.'

I stopped in mid-sentence, just as I was puffing myself up for one of my best old-wise-uncle lectures.

A nine-year-old girl knows about World War 1? What's this world coming to, when smug, well-educated chaps like me can't even have the pleasure of knowing better than a child?

Clever kids.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Old-School Folk Work it Best

I had the pleasure of watching my father-in-law's acting debut tonight, in a premiere screening of  a short film by LomornaFilms. My father-in-law, Jack, is a very old-school Corkman who would normally dismiss such nonsense with an irritated flick of his hand and a few colourful words. Yet his naturally engaging character always gets him stuck in the middle of unexpected things, the latest being a role in a film production by a company which has won awards from Cannes to Chicago.

So there was a big glitzy party tonight for the film's first showing, and I have to say it was an hilarious script. The whole showing was a triumph. Jack posed with all the cast afterwards, cameras flashing left and right, him cursing at the lights, and the rest of us applauding in hero-worship.

My dad-in-law. Movie star:)

Good luck to Americans trying to understand Cork accents!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Whupped by the Welsh Dragon

It's a long flight from New Zealand back to Ireland. Dreams of a nation shattered.

But we'll get on with it.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Rubbing the Car for Goodbye

Earlier today I watched a dvd which my mother gave me, an hour or so of footage which a distant relative from England (long deceased now) had recorded during a holiday to Ireland in the 60s. Old himself at the time of shooting, he nevertheless brought along his wife, his sisters, brothers, and various other hobbling tag-alongs to Ireland so that they might tour the island from which their forebears had sprouted them.

I never knew these people (long before my time, you understand) but one of the places they shot footage in was Skeheenarinky in County Tipperary and around the beautiful slopes of the Galtee Mountains, where my own kin had their foot on the land in the good old days. Like most folk, I'm used to seeing my mother in old black and white photos, even in colour as she got older. However, it was both intriguing and amusing to see her strutting about in colour footage, as a bizarrely-dressed teenager, smiling shyly at the camera before running away to hide. My grandmother too, in an apron and a very sensible tweed dress, actually looking young, as she shooed her younger offspring about the yard, before she, too, smiled shyly at the camera and then ran away to hide.

The most emotional part, however, was seeing my great-grandmother (Bridget Fitzgerald). I'd only ever seen her in old photos, so to see her in animated form was the most extraordinary thing ever. She was born in the 1880s into dour, direst mountain poverty, and yet lived to a very advanced age, but alas she died just before I could meet her. My mother had been pregnant with me at the time, but shortly before my birth Bridget was badly burnt when her clothes caught fire while she was trying to light a candle over the hearth. She died a week later. I was born three weeks later. She knew I was on the way, however, and my mother has always been glad of that.

I'd been told throughout my childhood by my mother about this wonderful, kind-hearted woman, but it was hard to relate to very old, grainy photographs. So to see her today - walking about and smiling - was tremendous and very moving. There was a scene recorded where she was saying goodbye to her brother as he sat inside his car, waiting to drive back to Wales, and her eyes were filled with tears. She rubbed the car and blessed it and bowed her head and whispered prayers. A very sad goodbye. And, as it turned out, their last goodbye to each other. They died only a few months apart, at opposite sides of the Irish Sea.

It's rather humbling for me, the great-grandson she looked forward to seeing, but never saw, to be writing about her in the year 2011, describing that sad scene as she said goodbye to her brother and his car. She didn't realise she was on camera at the time. If I met her now, I'd probably want to take her picture. What would she do? Yeah, like her daughter and grand-daughter, she'd probably smile shyly at the camera before running away to hide. Her daughter, my grandmother, has since passed away also. My mother talks about them a lot, so when the footage was found and then transferred to dvd, there was tremendous excitement. The past came back to life, all those generations, even if just for an hour. Magical.

Perhaps in future I'll rub my own car in the mornings and cast a knowing glance up to the sky. Hmm. Neighbours would probably start looking out and asking questions. Okay, better not.

Galtee Mountains, Tipperary