Dubliners 100

A couple of weeks ago I attended the launch of Thomas Morris’s Dubliners 100 published by Tramp Press. Tramp Press are an independent publishing company set up in Dublin this year by Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen, and their mission is to find brilliant new literary voices to nurture and publish. Dubliners 100 is their second title; the first was Flight, a debut novel by Oona Frawley. Thomas Morris served as editor of this collection and he invited new and established Irish writers to create ‘cover versions’ of their favourite stories from James Joyce’s Dubliners to commemorate the centenary of the original.

The list of contributors to the book is a testament to the fact that Irish fiction is flourishing in recent times. Included are established writers like Patrick McCabe and John Boyne, debut novelists Oona Frawley and Eimear McBride, and some favourites of mine like Peter Murphy, Paul Murray and Donal Ryan.

I had only read the stories in Joyce’s Dubliners a couple of times and so I decided to read Dubliners 100 in a specific way: reading the original Joyce story and reading the Dubliners 100 version immediately afterwards. It’s been a fascinating process as some writers have chosen to reinterpret the original story in a more obvious way, and others barely allude to the Joycean one at all. So far I have loved John Kelly’s version of A Little Cloud, and Eimear McBride’s version of Ivy Day in the Committee Room showcases again her incredible talent for language.

But don’t worry! Knowledge of Joyce isn’t essential and if you haven’t read the original stories in Dubliners you could certainly enjoy Dubliners 100 on its own merits. Plus it’s a great introduction to fifteen wonderful Irish writers. You can buy it in bookshops or direct from Tramp Press via their website.

Life versus fiction

You may remember last week I posted about the stack of books I had received for my birthday and Mad World was amongst them. I started reading it a couple of weeks ago and although it’s very well written and researched, it can get very bogged down in detail as so many biographies tend to, however it’s still an interesting read. Mad World shows how much Waugh used his life at Oxford and his friendship with the aristocratic Lygon family as direct inspiration for Brideshead Revisited, possibly his most famous novel. Sebastian Flyte was based on Hugh Lygon, Anthony Blanche was modelled on Brian Howard, and even the scene where Sebastian vomits into the ground floor rooms of Charles Ryder was a fictionalised version of an episode that happened to Waugh himself at Oxford.

Writers like Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris and Candace Bushnell have more obviously mined their life experience for their writing but using one’s life as a basis for one’s work can be seen throughout literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned was largely inspired by Fitzgerald’s relationship with his wife Zelda. Ulysses is set on 16th June, a significant date in Joyce’s life as it was the date of his first outing with Nora Barnacle, the woman who would become his wife. Siri Hustvedt used New York City club kids and a murder case as an element in her book What I Loved – interesting given that her step-son Daniel Auster had some involvement with the Michael Alig murder case. Arthur Miller used his relationship with Marilyn Monroe as the inspiration for his play After The Fall. There are tons of examples I can think of and I’m sure you can too.

I guess it’s inevitable that a writer looks to their own life for subject matter. Having written two novels, I can say that both have been inspired by my own experience. My first novel is about a singer and I was a singer for many years. My second book’s central theme is about mothers leaving their children, something that has happened throughout the maternal side of my family for generations. However while my life experience has been a jumping off point for my work, that’s as far as it goes.

There is a difference between using one’s life as a “what if” question for a book and using one’s writing as a form of therapy for one’s issues. Margaret Atwood addressed this in the documentary that I posted about last year. She believes that fiction is a craft and one is always trying to improve one’s technique and ability with each book. She does not work out her personal demons through writing as she believes that makes it therapy not creativity. I completely agree with her. Writing at its best has to have a strong element of imagination to make it transcend real life and become something even better.

The Joyces

Two books have been added to my wishlist in recent days; the Gordon Bowker biography of Joyce and Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, a graphic novel about Joyce’s daughter Lucia by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot. While I have read a bit of Joyce (I’ve never finished Ulysses and have never attempted Finnegan’s Wake, but I love Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist) I don’t know much about his life and Bowker’s recent biography seems like a good place to start, as it is supposedly meticulously researched and very well written.

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is another proposition entirely. Less straightforward biography, the graphic novel contrasts two stories, that of Lucia Joyce and that of author Mary Talbot, daughter of Joycean scholar James S. Atherton. Lucia Joyce was an ambitious and obsessive young woman who desperately wanted to be a dancer. In her 20s she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent the majority of her life in psychiatric institutions, thus cutting short any dancing career and also any chance at a romantic relationship.

Both books provide an insight into the greatest name in Irish literature and I’m looking forward to reading them. I’ll hopefully be a bit more educated about Joyce and his life by the time Bloomsday rolls around this year.

Kicking off a week of Halloween related posting…

I’m in a Halloween frame of mind and what better literary accompaniment than Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven read by Christopher Walken (below). It got me thinking about my ideal audio books. I loved Samuel L. Jackson reading Go The Fuck To Sleep, an inspired choice by the publishers! In an ideal world, my perfect collaborations/combinations would be Joanna Lumley reading Love In A Cold Climate, Brendan Gleeson reading Dubliners, Kim Cattrall reading Fear of Flying, and Emma Watson reading I Capture The Castle. Thoughts? Suggestions?

Anyway back to Christopher. Perfuckingfection people. Enjoy.

Bloomsday

As I mentioned in my last post, Bloomsday is on Thursday this week. For those not familiar with it, Bloomsday takes place on the 16th June every year and is a celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is named after the hero of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, and celebrates the day on which the action of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses takes place, 16 June 1904, the day on which Joyce first went out with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

The James Joyce Centre in Dublin has a full programme of events planned for this week and you can book tickets for the events on their site. The James Joyce bus tour happening tomorrow from 10am to 3pm looks very interesting and the stops include Dublin’s old Jewish quarter known as ‘Little Jerusalem’, Rathgar and Rathmines, the Martello Tower, Mr. Deasy’s School at Dalkey, and Sandymount Strand. Tickets cost €30 and include admittance to the Irish Jewish Museum.

On Bloomsday itself Alan Stanford acts as Master of Ceremonies for a gala afternoon of readings and songs at The Bandstand in Stephen’s Green. It’s on from 11am to 2pm and if the weather’s good I’ll definitely be in attendance. There’s also the traditional Bloomsday breakfast in The Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street and lots of walking tours starting at The Joyce Centre at 7 Eccles Street.

Happy early Bloomsday to one and all!

Happy Birthday WB Yeats*

William Butler Yeats (13th June 1865 – 28 January 1939) would have been 146 years old if he were alive today, which would have been a truly remarkable feat even for one of the giants of Irish literature! There are four Irishmen that have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; WB Yeats (1923), George Bernard Shaw (1925), Samuel Beckett (1969) and Seamus Heaney (1995). For a nation of our size I think it’s an impressive number. I’d love to see a woman be the fifth.

The National Library of Ireland is currently exhibiting “Summer’s Wreath”, which is a celebration of William Butler Yeats’ work. I went to see it last week with a friend, but we took far too long over lunch beforehand and so only got about fifteen minutes in before we were told that the Library was closing. It’s an in-depth and fascinating exhibition that demands more time so I think I will revisit it before it closes at the end of June.

The exhibition contains copies of Yeats’ writing, his letters, his spectacles and ring, and even a lock of his hair. There are also films being shown within the exhibition on subjects such as “The Mask: Yeats the public man” and “Players and Painted Stage: Yeats and theatre”. In addition to the exhibition there are readings and lectures happening in the Library throughout the month of June on the subject of Yeats with people including Frank Delaney, Andrea Corr, Liam O’Flynn and Sir Andrew Motion.

*What a great week for Irish literature – WB Yeats’ birthday and Bloomsday within three days of each other.