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.
City of Books is funded by the Arts Council and supported by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and the Museum of Literature Ireland, MOLI.
Produced and presented by Martina Devlin. Music by Daragh Dukes.
City of Books is produced and presented by Martina Devlin.
They are available on the usual platforms including Apple and Spotify.