Artist Robert Ballagh talks about why Samuel Beckett thought he kept him waiting for breakfast, how his postage stamp design infuriated Northern Irish political leader the Rev Ian Paisley, befriending Nobel scientist James Watson and getting on the wrong side of Britain’s Prince Philip. He also discusses his autobiography A Reluctant Memoir, published by Head of Zeus. Later in the episode, writer Mary Costello takes a tour of the iconic James Joyce Tower in Dublin where Joyce set the opening chapter of his masterpiece Ulysses. During her walkabout in the 200-year-old building, she explains why she is drawn back again and again to Joyce’s work and why her latest novel The River Capture is inspired by him.
Episode 2 Life Lessons with Marian Keyes. Marian Keyes international bestseller talks about everything from why she believes in supporting other women, to why bulimia is possibly the cruellest addiction. Marian also talks about her latest novel Grown Ups.
Author Carlo Gébler talks about The Country Girls Trilogy, written by his mother Edna O’Brien, which was the 2019 Dublin One City One Book choice. He also speaks about children feeling powerless in an adult world, and shares some life lessons from 30 years spent teaching in prisons.
Author and journalist Sinéad Crowley speaks about the Dublin One City One Book initiative, reveals some of her favourite choices over the years, and also talks about her Detective Claire Boyle crime series.
Marita Conlon-McKenna is the much-loved author of many books for children and adults. They include her children’s classic about Ireland’s Great Famine, Under The Hawthorn Tree. She talks here about the magic of storytelling, why famine stories continue to grip us and the powerful use of the child’s voice in Tatty – the 2020 Dublin One City One Book choice.
Joanna Trollope has a string of international bestsellers to her name, from Marrying the Mistress and A Village Affair to An Unsuitable Match and The Rector’s Wife. In this wide-ranging interview, she discusses the ‘three F’s’ which have interested her for decades: fiction, family and feminism. Elsewhere in the episode, Apeirogon author Colum McCann pays tribute to the poet Eavan Boland, who died recently.
The brutal murder of five members of one family in 19th Ireland, and the trial which followed it, are the subject of Professor Margaret Kelleher’s book – discussed in our latest City of Books podcast. The episode was recorded before the Covid 19 restrictions in the historic Green Street courthouse in Dublin, scene of the trial. Professor Kelleher of UCD is joined by President of the High Court Mr Justice Peter Kelly.
Martina Devlin chats to multi-award-winning writer Colum McCann about his book, Apeirogon, Elsewhere in the interview, Colum admits he can’t write poetry but is drawn to it, talks about writers he has known including Frank McCourt, and describes how it felt to sit in the classroom as a teacher read aloud from one of his father’s children’s books about a young soccer star called Georgie Goode – modelled on George Best.
In this episode Martina Devlin chats to best selling author Liz Nugent about coping with pain stemming from a childhood brain haemorrhage and overcoming challenges large and small – such as typing all her work one handed: “Shakespeare wrote all his plays one-handed with a feather,” she says.
Richard Ford is listing his failures. He wanted to be a lawyer in the US Marines. That didn’t work out. He wanted to be “a lawyer, period”. That didn’t work out. He became a writer – that certainly counts as a success for the Pulitzer Prize winner. Ford, whose forebears emigrated to the US from Co Cavan, has written eight novels, a memoir about his parents and four short story collections. Books includes Canada and The Sportswriter. In addition, he has shared his insights as writer in residence at Trinity College Dublin.
Lemn Sissay shoots from the hip and speaks from the heart in this interview about mother and baby homes, the Black Lives Matter campaign and his experience in the British care system. “My name was changed, I was treated as property,” the poet and playwright Lemn tells City of Books presenter Martina Devlin. Lemn was born in a mother and baby home in England to an Ethiopian mother, fostered out and returned to care at the age of 12 – as he tells in his powerful memoir My Name Is Why. But poetry gave him a sense of belonging in a world he couldn’t fathom.
Ireland’s man in Washington, Ambassador Daniel Mulhall, talks us through the rhyme and reason of poetry – and how literature can act as a cultural bridge. He practises what he preaches by tweeting daily poems. Also in this episode, Professor Chris Morash of Trinity College Dublin discusses who’s in the shakeup for a valued and valuable award: the International Dublin Literary Award Award worth €100,000.
Writer Emma Donoghue tells City of Books how she wrote an Oscar-nominated script working with director Lenny Abrahamson on Room. She also talks about her latest novel The Pull of the Stars set during the 1918 flu pandemic – with parallels that sound a familiar note today.
Writer Eoin McNamee blurs fact and fiction to produce art, whether exploring the activities of secret intelligence agencies or speculating on why Princess Diana died in a high speed car accident. His 17 novels are gritty and poetic – beautifully written noir – and have earned him a Booker nomination. But they sometimes attract criticism for being near the knuckle, although he sees that as their function, he tells podcast host Martina Devlin. He also writes episodes for Valhalla, the Vikings spinoff for Netflix. His most recent novel, The Vogue, is set in Northern Ireland where a corpse is dug up, and other secrets uncovered along with it. “Writing should be transgressive,” he says.
In her first podcast interview since winning the An Post Irish Book of the Year award for 2020, Doireann Ní Ghríofa describes how she shares her life with a famous 18th century widow – Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. When she began the literary detective work that resulted in A Ghost in the Throat, Doireann began to feel a strong sense of Eibhlín Dubh’s presence.Her book is an original and compelling work which pays tribute to a passionate love affair that ended in tragedy. It traces the life of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, an Irish noblewoman and poet – composer of Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire or The Lament For Art O’Leary, which she recited over her husband’s dead body. Composed in Irish and translated later into English, it outlines how she eloped with a dashing cavalryman, murdered in 1773 by a tyrannical landowner. Doireann tells the City of Books podcast that she was quite a lonesome child and young mother but since becoming immersed in the story “I haven’t felt so lonesome – I have the sense that she’s with me”
Louis de Bernières may be known worldwide as the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – but at nineteen, teaching in Colombia, he was known for something else. Dancing like a chicken.
He talks to City of Books about how “we raised a lot of dust, raised a lot of fun” during that life-changing period in South America. It taught him to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who influenced his work.
“I don’t know if Ireland is the same any more,” says Booker Prize winner and former Laureate for Irish Fiction Anne Enright.
Previously hidden things have become “knowable, newly sayable” in the last 30 years and this has contributed to an altered Ireland.
“That process by which things become known has been one of the great engines of my own writing over the last three decades” and has been “creatively fruitful,” says Anne, whose latest novel is Actress. Among other themes, the book deals with Hollywood’s casting couch regime and chimes with the Me Too movement.
Poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin talks about a time when books were banned in Ireland. And how her mother, distinguished children’s writer Eilís Dillon, had a cupboard of them which she handed out to the family. “It was, of course, nonsensical that they were banned,” says Eiléan. “You had to go out and get them quickly when they were first published.” Eiléan was recently named winner of China’s prestigious 1573 International Poetry Award.
“The number 63 has come up for me time and time again in very strange ways,” says writer Louise O’Neill. “I have put it in each of my books.” One of her favourite reads is Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes, which Louise read in St John o’ Gods while suffering from anorexia: “It was such an important book for me in terms of understanding my behaviour, in particular the addictive element.” Her latest novel, for which she won the crime fiction trophy at the 2020 Irish Book Awards, is After the Silence published by Quercus.
“As someone prone to get lost in the darker currents of my own head I’ve found it healthier to get lost in a book,” says Danielle McLaughlin. She speaks candidly about feelings of anxiety and how immersing herself in reading and writing is a positive way to deal with them. Danielle switched from law – where she had her own successful legal practice – to fiction after falling ill. As she recovered, she started writing. It led to the acclaimed short story collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets, and now her debut novel The Art of Falling, published by John Murray, which deals with art and infidelity.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Neil Jordan runs parallel careers as a director and novelist, and his latest book is his most cinematic yet.
It’s an historical novel, The Ballad of Lord Edward and Citizen Small, about the true-life friendship between aristocrat turned revolutionary Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the runaway American slave who saved his life. “I don’t know how I would have lived if I didn’t make movies and I also don’t know how I would have lived if I didn’t write books,” says Neil. Films feel like short stories to him, and he never stops writing – short stories, novels and film scripts. He says: “When I started directing movies I felt I was in a world of Neanderthals. I felt I had suddenly strayed into this world of these blundering dinosaurs. The Ballad of Lord Edward and Citizen Small by Neil Jordan is published by Lilliput Press.
John Banville, who has killed off his own Benjamin Black pen name, is disturbed by explicit depictions of violence in popular culture. He warns that people are constantly bombarded with graphic images. “There has to be more violence, more shock, more terror,” says the Booker Prize-winner, wondering where it will all end. His latest novel Snow, published by Faber and Faber, is set in an Irish Big House in the 1950s and opens with the corpse of a priest found in the library.
“One of the brilliant things about books is that you can buy a book by the very best writers and if it still costs a tenner – it doesn’t cost any more than bad writing,” says Rónán Hession. He’s author of the 2021 One Dublin One Book choice Leonard and Hungry Paul. It’s a quirky, thoughtful novel which makes the case for kindness – and he says he’s been on the receiving end of this quality throughout his life.
At the age of 20, three months after meeting James Joyce, Nora Barnacle left everything she knew behind to share the adventure of a lifetime with him. She was a maid in a Dublin hotel when they met, and he was a clever and ambitious young man who wanted to be a writer. In 1904, they shipped out for mainland Europe, at times living a hand-to-mouth existence, at other times eating in the best restaurants. But through it all, Nora stuck by Joyce, who made her his muse and immortalised her as Molly Bloom in Ulysses. Nuala O’Connor, who brings Nora vividly to life in her novel of the same name, discusses the famous literary couple. Nora: A Love Story of Nora Barnacle and James Joyce by Nuala O’Connor is published by New Island:
A new collection of essays which reflect on the perils and compulsions of authorship, the vagaries of success and failure – and what counts as either. Twenty-one contributors tell it like it really was. All of them came of age when equality legislation was being enacted in Ireland – often due to their activism. Look! It’s A Woman Writer is edited by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and published by Arlen House. More information here: http://arlenhouse.blogspot.com
From social change to gender change – all bases are covered in this wide-ranging conversation with one of Ireland’s most sparkling writers.Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies trilogy is a memorable take on a seamy slice of life. The latest and third novel is its riotous conclusion, The Rules of Revelation. More here on her novel: https://www.lisamcinerney.com
Violet Gibson, an Irishwoman who attempted to shoot Italy’s fascist leader Mussolini, is one among a host of fascinating characters in Evelyn Conlon’s new short story collection, Moving About The Place. In 1926, she fired on ‘Il Duce’ as he walked among the crowd in a piazza in Rome. Her bullet skimmed his nose. The crowd attacked the would-be assassin, but the police intervened. Violet was committed to an asylum and never released – the same institution where Lucia Joyce spent more than thirty years.
A delicate, rare bloom which is “like the blood diamonds of the flower world” and fetches millions of euro is the subject of poet Paul Perry’s first solo novel. The Garden centres on an orchid farm in Florida, where the owner is desperate to revive his fortunes by growing the highly-prized ghost orchid. But to find one of the orchids, he needs the help of the local Seminole tribe living on a nearby reservation.Paul, who worked on an orchid farm in Florida for three years in the 1990s, says: “An underbelly and black economy has grown up, so you have poachers and a whole other economy parallel to the legitimate ones.”
Playwright Rosaleen McDonagh talks about her activism, disability campaigning, journey through adult education which led to a Phd, and weaving together elements of Traveller culture and settled culture, forging an identity from them.
She tells her powerful story in a collection of essays, Unsettled, dedicated to her family. And she speaks with pride about the current generation of articulate, engaged, ambitious Travellers.
Michael Collins is the most famous casualty of the Irish Civil War but there is a lot of “what-if-ery”about him, says Ireland’s best-known historian.
“Some “very fanciful” claims are about the kind of leader he would have become if he had survived, according to Diarmaid Ferriter. He says: “We have to be careful of investing too much in the idea of the lost leader because Collins shared many of the limitations and the prejudices, as well as the considerable abilities, of his generation.” Professor Ferriter notes that Michael Collins was “a serious celebrity” at the time of his death in 1922. He dismisses conspiracy theories about his shooting at Béal na Bláth in Co Cork as “far-fetched”.
“I had to create her out of nothing,” says JR Thorp of her debut novel Learwife, which explores the untold story of King Lear’s wife, written out of literary history.
The idea first occurred to Thorp at the age of eleven when she read Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger. “There’s a girl in that with a complicated relationship with her parents who says as an offhand line, ‘I wonder why Goneril and Regan were like that? What it was like for them growing up?’ It’s just a thought that’s mentioned and then discarded but it stayed with me.”
“Birds sing because they have to – because they must,” says the man who knows more than most about the subject, Professor David Rothenberg, an American musician, philosopher and writer whose books include Why Birds Sing, Nightingales in Berlin and Bug Music.
“Birdsong is the real classic music, this is oldest music we know. It’s been around so much longer than the human species – it’s stood the test of time,” he says.
“It’s in their very nature to need to sing, just like humans need to make music – we just have to do it. It’s part of the very essence of being a bird, of being a human, a humpbacked whale, a cricket or a cicada.”
Everyone is talking about Edel Coffey’s debut novel which deals with Forgotten Baby Syndrome, every exhausted-by-the-juggle parent’s nightmare. Bhttps://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/show/cityofbooks/id/22095464reaking Point tells of a high-powered career woman who accidentally leaves her baby in the car on a boiling hot day – with tragic consequences. Amid the guilt and grief, she is put on trial for manslaughter. Inspired by a true story. For more on Breaking Point: https://vip7.hachette.co.uk/?s=breaking+point+edel+coffey
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” said William Faulkner – and the past is ever-present, but with a twist, in Rosemary Jenkinson’s short story collection Marching Season. The Belfast playwright and short story writer tackles rioting, bonfires to mark the Twelfth of July, TED talks, and one-night-stands and threesomes in her no-holds-barred stories. Here, Rosemary also reflects on the numbing effect of cancel culture and discusses her own experience. Marching Season is published by Arlen House.
Début author Catherine Prasifka’s novel None of This Is Serious deals with the preoccupations of Gen Z, coming of age right now. Despite their shiny new lives, they fear a lifetime of being locked out of home ownership, and worry about whether the planet can survive. Above all, they think long periods interacting with social media platforms is time well-spent.
Sara Baume is unafraid to use her own life in her writing, while insisting on its status as fiction.
She does it again in her new book Seven Steeples, a gentle and thought-provoking novel spanning seven years. It’s about a couple and their two rescue dogs who drop off the radar and live a quiet life doing as little harm to the planet as possible.
As Somerville and Ross they were a dynamic literary partnership. When Ross died, Edith Somerville convinced herself they could continue to collaborate on books – by communicating beyond the grave through spiritualism.
Martina Devlin talks about her novel Edith, set in 1921-22 against a backdrop of civil unrest leading to Irish independence. It follows Edith’s attempts to save both home – Drishane House – and literary career. She is interviewed by fellow novelist Nuala O’Connor.
Edith: A Novel by Martina Devlin is published by The Lilliput Press
Happily ever afters don’t have to involve a fairy tale wedding followed by staying together for the sake of the children, come what may, says début author Cristín Leach. The art critic speaks candidly about her marriage breakdown in her memoir, Negative Space. A text message pinging onto her phone marked the beginning of the end for her relationship.
Cristin also reflects on life and her relarionship to art and writing, and says: “I don’t feel that there’s any one reading for a work of art. Everyone who encounters music, poetry, books, paintings, films brings themselves to it. There’s something shared when we all encounter it.”
Andrew Meehan is nailing his colours to the mast. He writes love stories, he says – although it took him until his third and most recent novel to recognise it. It was only as he was working on his latest novel, Instant Fires, that realisation dawned.
“Halfway through I discovered, ‘Andrew, you write love stories. OK, it took you a while to cop on to the fact it’s what you do’.” Looking back, he understands that all three of his novels are love stories.
“I really don’t like the fact that sometimes I’m referred to as kind of a controversial novelist because I don’t feel that I am,” says John Boyne, whose novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has sold 11 million copies and mounting, and has been reimagined as a film, play, ballet and opera.
The sequel – All The Broken Places – imagines life after the Holocaust for some of the characters in the 2006 novel, which saw life in a concentration camp through the eyes of two small boys.
The Raptures is Jan Carson’s most autobiographical novel, dealing with a child raised in an evangelical Christian community in 1990s Northern Ireland – which mirrors her own background. “There is a lot of me in this book and for that reason it was both very easy to write because I know this world very well, there wasn’t a lot of research to do, but quite difficult to write – to go to the hard places,” Jan tells podcast host Martina Devlin.
City of Books is funded by the Arts Council and supported by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and the Museum of Literature Ireland, MOLI.
City of Books is produced and presented by Martina Devlin.
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