Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eleanor Hooker A Question and Answer Session with the author of "The Shadow Owner's Companion"


March 1 to March 31
A Reading Life Special Event

North Tipperary



I first became acquainted with the work of Eleanor Hooker during Irish Short Story Month last year when I was priledged to be allowed to read a wonderful not yet published short story, "The Shadow Owner's Companion".  (You can read my post on it here.)

 Reading "The Shadow Owner's Companion" by Eleanor Hooker was such a rewarding experience that I have now read it five times.   The story really has everything! It is hilarious, wise, has great insight into family dynamics, it has ghosts and violence and characters you will love.  I think it could be the basis for a very good TV series and I would buy any novel written by the author.    It is set in rural Ireland in a run down house where young Lizzie, her parents, and for a while,  her grandfather live.   I was totally hooked by the opening paragraph of this perfect story.

I feel very privileged that the author has given me the honor of being the first one to publish "The Shadow Owner's Companion" which you can read here.

I will be publishing a second work, a flash fiction by Eleanor Hooker shortly.  



Biographical Details




Eleanor Hooker lives in North Tipperary, Ireland.  Her debut collection of poetry The Shadow Owner's Companion was published by Dedalus Press, February 1 2012.  She has a BA (Hons. 1st) from the Open University, an MA (Hons.) in Cultural History from the University of Northumbria, and an MPhil in Creative Writing (Distinction) from Trinity College, Dublin. She was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series in 2011. Her poetry has been published in journals in Ireland, the UK and in Germany. She is a founding member, Vice-Chairperson and PRO for the Dromineer Literary Festival. She is a helm and Press Officer for the Lough Derg RNLI Lifeboat. She began her career as a nurse and midwife.



Poetry

  • Published in Ireland in the following journals: The Irish Times newspaper, The Stinging FlyThe SHOpCrannogLeave Us Some Unreality: New Writing from the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College Dublin, WordlegsPoets Meet Painters 2011WOW! Anthology 2011switch 2013 (Feb 2013, poem commissioned for the brochure of the International Film Exhibition), and broadcast on RTE Radio.
  • Published in the UK in Agenda (poems and an essay on John Hewitt) and in the new International poetry journal POEM: International English Language Quarterly, THE CONNECTED POET, Vol 1, Number 1, January 2013.
  • Published in Germany in newleaf 28: FICTION AND POETRY
  • Poems accepted for publication in 2013 will appear Poetry Ireland Review and Southword
  • One of 111 published writers selected to Read for the World at the Irish Writers' Centre in June 2012. We set a new Guinness World Record. 




Short Stories

  • In 2011 she was a winner in the Frank X Buckley Flash Short Story competition at the Irish Writers' Centre for her flash short storyDreamless, was joint second prize winner in the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story competition for her short story The Shadow Owner's Companion.
  • December 2012 a winner in the ten word short story competition held by @shortstoryday.
  • In 2009/10 she was short listed for the International Fish Short Story Competition.



1.      Who are some of the contemporary short story writers you admire? If you had to say, who do you regard as the three best ever short story writers? 

Gosh there are lots. I greatly admire the short stories by these contemporary writers Claire Keegan, Colum McCann, Carys Davies, Alice Munro, Vaneesa Gebbie, Carlo Gebler, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Sean O'Brien, EM Reapy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ann Enright, John MacKenna, Kevin Barry, Valerie Sirr, Mary Costello and Catherine Finn (a classmate from my MPhil in Creative Writing at TCD), I could go on, but these are writers to whom I return.
Best ever short story writers would have to include Anton Chekov, Flannery O'Connor, James Joyce, William Trevor  and...and...John Cheever, Daphne Du Maurier, Margaret Atwood, Edna O'Brien, John McGahern and...and...


2.      I have read lots of Indian and American short stories in addition to Irish, and alcohol plays a much bigger part in the Irish stories. How should an outsider take this and what does it say about Irish culture?


I think it reflects a concern with the Irish drinking culture and our unhealthy relationship with alcohol.  This apprehension might soak itself into writing, but does not, I think, saturate it.  The issue is a sociological thesis in itself.  A reductive correlation between alcohol and Irish Culture only reinforces a negative stereotype, and our culture is richer and more complex than that.



3.      Declan Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing father?  Do you think he is right and how does this, if it does, reveal itself in your work?  How do you see the father’s (in your story ‘The Shadow Owner's Companion’) preoccupation with digging holes as related to this?

Hmnn, this brings to mind that awful adage ‘the son of an Irish Mother’, which suggests that Irish mothers, whilst appearing to spoil their sons, are in fact emasculating them. 

Is this not too sweeping a generalization?

The Grandfather in my story tells Lizzie that the reason her father is digging holes to ‘find the truth of himself’. His digging holes is a metaphor, a father’s route to recovery following a breakdown.  It is more to do with mental illness rather than weakness or absence.


4.      When did you start writing?

I can remember, from the age of seven, after our evening meal, I would go and stand beside my Dad and tell or even sing a story.  I loved the reaction I got, that I could make everyone laugh. 
With the exception of a dear, kind teacher, Mrs. Kingston, Primary School knocked the stuffing out of me. I hated every single, solitary, wooden-desked, caned moment of that oppressive world.
Writing the stories down, that started much, much later.




5.      I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of literature of the world, that is regarded as great, is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics. How big a factor do you think the Irish weather is in shaping the literary output of its writers? I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on a tropical island, for example.

The weather certainly provides a staple for small talk, but it’s hard to imagine that the weather here shapes the literary output of writers, there may be an association, but doesn’t mean there’s causation.


6.      How is Lizzie doing?   Will we be able to read more about her soon?

I occasionally write ‘episodes’, chapters, but because of how her story ends, these are flashbacks (in flash fiction).  One of these episodes, entitles Dreamless was a winner in the Frank X Buckley flash short story competition at the Irish Writers’ Centre in November 2011.

A friend of mine, a local writer Marjorie Quarton says I should write Lizzie’s story as a novel.


7.      Why have the Irish produced such a disproportionate to their population number of great writers?

Perhaps it’s to do with the tradition of the Seanchaí, the storyteller.
Curious too, I think, that for many of our great writers, it took exile from the island and recognition by others, before their greatness was appreciated at home.





8.      Do you think the very large amount of remains from neolithic periods (the highest in the world) in Ireland has shaped in the literature and psyche of the country?

I think we are careless of our ancient heritage and artifacts, we don’t preserve them in the same way other countries do. 



9.      How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche?

My Grandfather told me stories his Grandfather had told him about the famine, it’s something we all learn about and know the horrors of, and when ‘Blight warnings’ are broadcast on local radio, there is an echo.  I read Walter Macken’s books as a teenager and they left a huge impression.
There comes a time, however, when we have to look at the pitiful and catastrophic state of Ireland’s affairs now, and appoint responsibility, home grown and blighted, for the mess the we are in, as we face another exodus of the young and the able from this island.


10.  Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers?


Yes. Poetry matters, and though it might have a small readership, and a percentage of those attending poetry readings are other poets, I am certain that poets have a social role to play in Ireland, yes, absolutely.  I couldn't imagine an Ireland without poetry.

I don’t think content or subject matter should be dictated to from any quarter, or      censure given for not being (considered) sufficiently political, or in the now. 
For me, the most effective poems, social, political or otherwise, are those which are  almost a whisper, that require you to lean in and listen, and which succeed in making  the mundane and the forgotten, extraordinary, surprising. 
Having said that, there are wonderful poets who are self consciously political and who manage to get their message across without the inclination to have it writ large, without beating the reader about the head with a truncheon. 




11.  Do you think Irish Travellers should be granted the status of a distinct ethnic group and be given special rights to make up for past mistreatment? Are the Travellers to the Irish what the Irish were once to the English?  I became interested in this question partially through reading the short stories of Desmond Hogan.

Democracy succeeds when it protects the rights and the dignity of all minorities groups in society.



12.  The literary productivity of Galway is incredible. What is there about Galway's social climate that produces this?

There is a tremendous energy in Galway, enthusiastic writers, teachers and facilitators who work tirelessly, tirelessly, for the arts. 

That energy and enthusiasm is true too for the arts in Cork, Limerick, here in Tipperary, Clare, Donegal, Wexford, Kilkenny, Waterford, Kerry, Sligo and of course Dublin (I’m sure I’ll get into trouble for forgetting a county!!).



13.  Do you prefer e-reading or traditional books?

I use my e-reader travelling, a painless way to carry lots of books.  I listen to audio books in the car too.

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14.  The Aran Islands - must see authentic experience or just for the tourists?

I love the Aran Islands and am quite happy to be a tourist in my own country.  One word of advice, bring a torch, the dark there is a living creature that expands and contracts as it breaths, it makes walking home at night the one of the greatest challenges of your life!


15.  You have been involved with the management of literary festivals-what are the most important elements of a successful event?

To give care and attention to every single person who comes to the festival, artist and audience alike, to make the experience something special, intimate.  That is philosophy upon which we have built our reputation at the Dromineer Literary Festival, and the overwhelming feedback we have received, is that we have been successful in that objective. 

To know the work of the writers/poets invited.

To love being involved, that enthusiasm is contagious.

 To have fun.

16.  Flash Fiction - how driven is the popularity of this form by social media like Twitter and its word limits?

I think Flash fiction is given a hard time, it is insanely difficult to create a convincing, effective story within the word limit, but successful stories leave their wonder for a long time after reading.
Yes, perhaps the word limit of Twitter does contribute to the popularity of Flash Fiction. The Poet George Szirtes is a master at micro-fiction on Twitter.



17.   There are fewer outlets in the print media for book reviews, many newspapers world wide no longer have the Sunday supplements in which books were once reviewed.    Does this leave a gap into which book bloggers could or should step?


 As well as the national papers, many literary journals here have dedicated sections for reviews.  The job/role of the reviewer should not be underestimated or be taken on by the dilettante.

The author and reviewer Carlo Gebler taught my class at Trinity College, Dublin. He gave wise advice the do’s and don’ts of reviewing.  A couple of points struck me, pitfalls to avoid, and which I think some inexperienced reviewers are guilty of, these are: not to use the review as an opportunity to show off, to be clever, to talk endlessly about oneself, to use the review as a career opportunity and to, in effect, fail to review the work under consideration.

End of Q and A

I offer my great thanks to Eleanor Hooker for her very interesting and illuminating responses to my questions.  I strongly urge you to read the two short stories she has allowed me to publish.

Mel u

2 comments:

valerie sirr said...

Great interview with Eleanor, thanks to you both. I love Lizzie's voice in 'The Shadow Owner's Companion' and want to read more of her story.

emhooker said...

Thank you again Mel, and Valerie for your kind words, great encouragement!