Irish Short Story Month Year III
March 1 to March 31
A Question and Answer Session with
"The Penny Dreadful could be the next Paris Review or Grata" -William Wall, author of This is the Country, short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2005
Literary Journals are a very important in distributing short stories to readers and supporting the careers of writers. Today I am very happy to feature a Q and A Session with John Keating, co-founder of The Penny Dreadful. Based in Cork, Ireland the first issue included an interview with Roddy Doyle. It is a print journal though some of their content can be read on their webpage. The name, "Penny Dreadful" comes from a slang expression used in the 19th century to refer to journals (sold for a penny) that specialized in lurid serial fictions. (They also maintain an interesting tumbir webpage.) The Irish Examiner has a very interesting article on The Penny Dreadful
John Keating is co-editor of The Penny Dreadful, a literary journal. He graduated from University College Cork with a degree in English Literature and Latin. After graduating, he lived in Japan and Spain. He has had work published in The Shop, Wordlegs and Literary Orphans. He will soon be taking part in TO, INK, an international handwritten journal.
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?
Some contemporary writers I admire - many but I’ll say Nick Parker and D.W. Wilson, both of whom I was lucky enough to hear read at last year's Cork International Short Story Festival. The three best short story writer's ever? That's a difficult one to answer. I'll give you three who I can't read without experiencing an uncontrollable urge to write; Salinger, Chekhov and William Trevor. Maybe not an original list but there you go.
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?
Alcohol plays a huge part in people's lives here. It's only natural that it comes through in the stories. Luckily for us, the rest of the world finds our alcoholism charming.
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? It seems present in several of your stories.
I can't argue with Declan Kiberd. We're certainly losing father figures very quickly in this country- the Church, God, the Property Developer. Not particularly grieving any of them myself but I guess it leaves a vacuum. In my own stories I write about these older males, I'm not really sure why. It could be because I'm young and just realising that my hairline isn't quite where it used to be. I'm writing about myself as the bitter old man I'm sure to become. Could male pattern baldness be responsible for the dominant themes in Irish literature?
4. How do you view Aosdána? Is it a great aid to the arts in Ireland or does it perpetuate closed elitism?
I've had no contact with Aosdána as an organisation but two of it's members, Theo Dorgan and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, were featured in our first issue and they were both extremely supportive.
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.
Sun, sea, little umbrellas in coconut shells- who could read The Brothers Karamazov in those conditions never mind write it? As far as the climate in Ireland is concerned, it's flat, grey and depressing most of the time. The perfect weather for retreating into a book or your own head. That sounds flippant but I'm serious. I lived in Barcelona for six months where the sun was shining, the beach was just down the road and the beer was cheap. It was horrible.
6. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportionate to their population number of great writers?
I was reading a short story recently and in it the author describes people as "oozing existence", a kind of desperation for our uniqueness to be recognized. I think the Irish ooze existence. It's not just an Irish thing, it's a pandemic across the West. It surfaces in a lot of peculiar ways here, good and bad. Our fondness for talking and drinking and all of that. And also, I think, in this drive to create.
7. Tell us a bit about The Penny Dreadful, the Cork based literary journal you edit.
what do you like best about editing a literary journal?
I started The Penny Dreadful with my friend and co-editor, Marc O'Connell, back in 2011. It was just a photocopied and stapled booklet of stories and poetry, most of which we wrote ourselves anonymously and left around cafes. In 2012, Amadeus Helnwein and Leyla Bulmer joined us as Assistant Editor and Graphic Designer respectively. We hatched a conspiracy to take over the world then, of which the new revamped magazine was the first step. We launched issue 1 in December featuring writers such as Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Theo Dorgan, Roddy Doyle, John W.Sexton and William Wall, as well as writers from the US and the UK.
There are two parts of the editorial process I really love. The first is when you find something really surprising in the pile of submissions. Something you know is special and has to get in. The other is receiving the freshly printed magazines back from the printer and seeing all our hard work pay off. Everything in between is a blur of coffee, tears and hair loss.
8. What did you miss most about Ireland when you lived in Japan? What were you glad to be away from.
Apart from the family and friends, I missed how easy it is to talk to people here. I don't buy into the whole friendliness of the Irish thing, but we definitely don't put up the same walls as other cultures do. I mean it's not unusual to strike up a conversation with a stranger here. It may not be a pleasant conversation but you can do it and people won't think you're a serial killer. In its negative form this was also the thing I was glad to be away from. It's this oozing of existence I was on about earlier.
9. I am very into Japanese fiction and I was wondering if you were into it?
I like Soseki and Akutagawa, especially Akutagawa's stories about Christian converts in Nagasaki. Haruki Murakami leaves me a little cold.
10. Do you prefer e-reading or traditional books?
I do a lot of my reading on the bus or when I'm hanging around waiting for something. If I'm reading an old classic like War and Peace, it makes more sense for me to read it on the Kindle than giving myself a hernia. Having said that, if I'm buying a book I buy the print version.
11. If you could time travel for 30 days (and be rich and safe) where would you go and why?
I would travel back to ancient Ireland and drop an illuminated Kindle into a bog. Just to see what historians make of the whole thing when I come back.
12. Best Literary Festival you have so far attended?
The Cork International Short Story Festival.
End of Q and A
My great thanks to John Keating for taking the time to respond to my questions. I am looking forward to seeing The Penny Dreadful develop into a very important literary journal. They are already well on their way.