Sunday, June 27, 2010

Liffey Sound

I had a great time yakking my head off to Niamh - fair play to her and Liffey Sound for inviting me round to tea and allowing me to bring some poetry to air there.

The theme of the show was A Woman's View and it is now available to DL, thanks to the wonder of Niamh. Fastest hour I've ever had, even as we were keeping half eye on the England v Germany match.

Take a look on the side bar too, there are so many different writers to choose from to listen to, such as David Mohan, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Maeve O'Sullivan and Kate Dempsey - even the bould Peter Goulding (who is busy writing World Cup poems - as you read!) to pick just a few. The shows last an hour long, but be warned, it's a quick hour!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Is that the time already?

In response to a previous commenter (yes, you Dick! :) )Body and Soul was fabulous - the weather and the craic there too. I met a good few musicians, and not a few poets either. We Divas rocked the kasbah of course, even managing to sell copies of Poetry Divas 2 (or Divas in Blue, as it may well become known), the new pamphlet released by the Divas Collective. We're planning an even bigger version for the Electric Picnic, but more of that later.

Tomorrow I'm on Sunday Scrapbook, Liffey Sound 96.4FM with Niamh Bagnell from 4pm to 5pm. It is possible to listen live on the web - I hope. If you get lost, try the ordinary website: Liffey Sound . I will be reading the, by now, infamous 'boob' poem on the programme, so there's an excuse to escape the droning vuvuzela on the footy for a wee while! Ahem.

I have so much teaching work on at the moment it's really not funny, but I am looking forward to July immensely - I have a nice, chunky review to write on Wes Davis' Anthology of Irish Poetry, which had an 'interesting' review in the Irish Times today. I must save my own myriad thoughts for the review, which will appear on Eyewear in July... but the IT review has already been garnering attention on FB today, and not just because of the feckin'size of it. God help the students it may be aimed at (take that one whatever way you want), is all I can say. It is massive. And has shamrocks all over it. Hmm.

The only worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Think Wilde might've said that. Right?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shh, Don't Tell Anyone

But the Poetry Divas are all set to ride again. . . there is a really special boutique festival this weekend at Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath.

Those lovely people from Body & Soul at Electric Picnic have organised a discrete summer solstice celebration - and the weather forecast is set to be an absolute cracker! In case you don't know what I'm on about, Body & Soul at EP was the really chilled out area with small tents and teepees and lots of like-minded relaxed dudes 'n dudettes with great attitudes, lovely mugs of tea and the occasional freebird hairstyles.

But don't let on - right..? We wouldn't want too many people there...

Now, I am off to think about my outfit, nails and other sundry things that Divas must do - oh yes, and some poems too... think I'll bring me boob poem to this one for an outing... always goes down well... :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Books beget more books

At least books always seem to do so in my case. There I am, on Friday, in Dublin's Chapter's bookshop on Parnell Street, as part of the audience, to help welcome Salmon Poetry's Prophesying the Past by Noel King into the world, and I just can't help myself: arriving early, picking and sifting from the poetry bookshelves.

What do I find? Michael Donaghy's Collected, as well as The Shape of the Dance. Oh joy! I spent all yesterday (Saturday) and today devouring them. God Donaghy was so good (!) - in prose as well as poetry - and I did like him before in poetry, but now I am totally besotted (!) and I have a much better understanding of all the varying schools of poetry (and what nonsense it all is) as well a good overview of why form is a good tool to have in the poetry kitbag. Lucky those who attended his classes in London back in the day. . .

I also found Material by Ros Barber on the bookshelves (alas the last copy), and have been dipping in and out of this extraordinary book. The title poem is practically faultless and there are so many gems in it that it will take some unpacking. Somehow I also came home with Peter Porter's Afterburner as well...

Back to Prophesying the Past, though. I confess to having more than a passing interest in this one: I've proofed it and read the poems many times, and Noel King is also editor of Doghouse who published me back in 2007. It was a real delight to hear the poems given voice and for us to finally see this long-awaited book delivered. Noel reads in the Poetry Cafe in London with Eileen Sheehan on Wednesday 16th June at 7.30pm.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Magpie Has Landed...

... in Dundalk. It's a great pleasure today, to welcome Elizabeth Baines' Flying With Magpies tour to sunny Dundalk on the east coast of Ireland, with her new novel, Too Many Magpies.

I devoured this book in one sitting: I am a quick reader, but when a book grabs one's attention the way that Too Many Magpies does, I find it extremely hard to put it down.This book was amazing for its exploration of that disturbing sense of guilt that women experience as parents and the build-up of worry and tension in the novel just kept on ratchetting up. I thought TMM was very well written and I loved the opacity of the language; everything adding to that sense of heightened awareness. Anyhow, on we go with Elizabeth's visit.

Elizabeth Baines was born in South Wales and lives in Manchester. She is a prizewinning author of prose fiction and plays for radio and stage. Too Many Magpies was published by Salt in 2009. Previously Salt published her collection of short stories, (2007) which was pronounced ‘a stunning debut collection’ (The Short Review). In October 2010 Salt will reissue her first, acclaimed novel Balancing on the Edge of the WorldThe Birth Machine. She is also a performer and has been a teacher.

About the book: How do we safeguard our children in a changing and dangerous world? And what if the greatest danger is from ourselves? A young mother fearful for her children’s safety falls under the spell of a charismatic but sinister stranger. A novel about our hidden desires and the scientific and magical modes of thinking which have got us to where we are now.

  • Elizabeth, you write your main characters very strongly, and the issues and themes that are raised are those that affect women in particular. I enjoyed particularly the voice, that to me was the main strength of the novel; the voice of this woman. How hard is it to articulate a character like the narrator in Too Many Magpies?

Well, to me voice is all-important - to my mind, it's HOW a novel or story is told that is its real essence, and which carries its real meaning. I really can't begin writing until I hear the narrative voice. Sometimes that happens quickly and sometimes it doesn't, I find: you can have the theme and the story and even the characters, but you still can't hear the voice in which the story will be told - whether it's the voice of one of the characters, or of a separate narrator etc, and how precisely that voice sounds. I don't really find that I can do much actively to make this happen: basically I find it's a question of waiting to hear it, and if it doesn't come quickly, you just need to let the novel/story grow in your head. In fact, the voice of Too Many Magpies came to me very quickly right from the start (along with the first sentence that just dropped into my head): that of the main character, a woman trapped in a crisis and fearful for her children. Once the voice comes, I find, you're away, and it feels more like listening than thinking or working anything out. So all in all I found the voice of this particular novel very easy to achieve and as a result I wrote it very quickly. As I say, though, it's not always like that!

  • Although the woman is having an affair, I still found I had good sympathy with her. Again this is a real strength of the character’s complexity – how much thought do you give to the development of a character: their flaws, their foibles, their strengths?

Again, once I heard this woman's voice, I had her whole person, so I didn't put a lot of conscious thought into developing a profile of her. I know some writers draw up character profiles with backstories etc but I think I'd find that process distracting and defocussing from the bit of a character's story I'm writing and indeed distancing from characters themselves. As with acting (which I also do sometimes) I need to inhabit the story and the characters rather than stand back from them in the way that I think (though I may be wrong) 'profiling' or 'developing' them would require. You know the actor's saying that if you get the right shoes on you know exactly how your character will behave? Well, that's how I feel about voice: once I've got the right voice I feel I know as much as I need to about the character(s) for the story I'm telling, and with a first-person voice like this one I'm right inside the character's head. I know that in reality it's the converse of this last that's true: the characters are actually inside my head, they are constructs of my imagination, and merely aspects of the story I've made up! But for me it's more a question of daydreaming them than thinking them out. And once you're in that state of 'being inside a character's head' (and as long as there's no overall authorial irony, which there isn't in this novel) you're no longer judging him or her, and so the reader, one hopes, is less likely to judge him/her and more likely to identify. I suppose I must say that I did identify with this particular character in some of the more objective, non-writerly ways - which must have helped! - as naturally I drew on some of my own experience of having children, and, more specifically, the thing that happens to her elder child also happened to mine.

  • I found a magical realism element to the novel: sometimes I felt that the setting was real, sometimes I felt that there was a slippage between a created reality and a second created universe (that may be because I was ill whilst reading, admittedly). This added a real sense of urgency to the novel's progress; I wondered how this atmosphere came about?

I'd say this comes from the narrator's psychology and situation. Her problem is precisely how to view the world and how to work out which is the reality, the empirical world of facts her husband works in, or a world of charms and spells and luck and intuition represented by her lover. And she is indeed slipping from one to the other world as she turns emotionally from one to the other of the two men. And there's another level she slips towards, away from them both: the uncertainty which neither world view properly acknowledges.

Thank you Elizabeth for such an interesting insight into this intriguing novel. For those who want to follow this interview up, you can read about Too Many Magpies on the Salt website; you can watch Elizabeth talking about her novel; and you can hear Elizabeth's podcasts too.

Next week, the Flying With Magpies tour lands at Vanessa Gebbie's Blog, and the last date of the tour is at Eco Libris. All thanks to Elizabeth and the Salt publishing crew.