Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Karen Quinn Q and A Session With the Author of "The Bull" and "After Anna"

March 1 to March 31
A Question and Answer Session 

with Karen Quinn
"After Anna" and "The Bull"

If you would like to participate in ISSM3 in any fashion, please 

I first became acquainted with the work of Karen Quinn when I read her very moving family centered story, "After Anna". Here are my closing words on the story:

 "I simply have to stop talking about the story now.   The ending is amazing powerful, with the power amplified by the narrative mode.   Telling a story through the narrative of a child is far from easy in that it is very hard to enter into the consciousness of a person very young without patronizing them or causing them to lose their uniqueness.  Quinn has totally mastered this challenge.

The ending is terribly sad, heartbreaking because Quinn has done such a wonderful job of making us believe in the family, in their happiness, in the fundamental goodness of the mother and the father".

Author Data

Author Data

Karen Quinn is a playwright and prose writer. She completed her masters in Creative Writing at Queen’s University and is currently writing her first novel. Her play, “The Bull” toured from Belfast to Donegal after favourable reviews. She lives in Donegal (by the beach) with her dogs

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?  

Arthur Conan Doyle, William Trevor, Seamus Heaney, Roald Dahl, Lorrie Moore and Kurt Vonnegut. If I had to choose my top three (which is very difficult!), they would probably be Arthur Conan Doyle, Roald Dahl and Kurt Vonnegut.

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 and Ireland have always been closely associated. The quintessential Irish pub has long been depicted in short stories, novels, plays and even films. I am not about to deny my society’s fondness for alcohol – we are a country renowned for our drinking heritage. Saying that, an outsider shouldn’t define us through how we are described by other nations (and at times, by ourselves!)

We are country that is rich in culture - from drama, music and folklore. As a nation, I find Irish people to be friendly and hardworking. Alcohol is only a small factor of Irishness, one that has become the predominant characteristic of Ireland. By all means, as a reader embrace it, but do not let it be the soul trait of Irish culture.

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.  In your story, "After Anna" there in fact seems no sign of it and the father seems very strong and loving.

This is an interesting observation, especially since one of my plays, The Bull, is centred on a broken family with an absent father.  Nevertheless, Irish writing doesn’t dismiss the father, even if his weakness appears to be a dominant theme. Irish fathers, absent or weak, display a complexity that I greatly appreciate. Generally, they are family men, who are proud and usually display a strong work ethic. This notion of “pride” can be at sometimes to the detriment of his family.

For example, Brian Friel’s Philadelphia Here I Come! focus on the relationship between Gar and his father. A frugal and proud man, he is incapable of interacting with his son, who is only a day away from leaving Ireland for good. This taught relationship is the very essence of the drama, and through the father’s weakness, we witness the downfall of the relationship with his son. What also should be mentioned however, is his father’s strong work ethic and despite in inability to show it, his unquestionable love for his son.

Irish fathers do have a bond with their children, one that I wanted to convey in After Anna. The character is inspired by my late Grandfather, who was faced with tremendous hardships that he overcame for his family. Parental strength can be found in many different forms, it just depends on the reader’s interpretation.

4.  When did you start writing?

When I was fifteen I began to write short stories and poems. Yet it was only until I started university did I begin to take my writing seriously. For the past two years, I have been writing short stories, plays and films, as well as working on my debut Novel, On the Rocks.

5.  If one has 12 hours to see the historic/scenic/ literary highlights of Donegal, what would you suggest?

First of all, come to my home town for a cup of tea! Afterwards, I would suggest visiting the ancient ruins of An Grianan of Aileach as well as Glenveagh National Park. Also, take a walk along the beach at Marble Hill and if you have time, take a boat trip along the Sliabh Lag Cliffs.

6.  I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world 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.

Oh, I would agree! Whether or not it is an active choice or a subconscious one, colder climates do seem to seep through the pages of literature. Think of Frankenstein, for example, where our protagonist hunts the creature through the freezing ice caps of the North Pole.

Irish weather consists of frost, rain and wind. I would say that this weather has as much impact on an Irish writer as it had on Mary Shelly – probably not very much. I would say the reason why colder weather dominates our pages is because it is dramatic. Naturally, it acts a haunting metaphor, a sign of what’s to come.

7.   Who do you regard as the first modern Irish short story writer?   

I would have to say Samuel Beckett. His avant-garde approach to writing has always been a firm favourite of mine.

8.-why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?

Like I said earlier, we are a society rich in culture. We delve into literature because it is an inherent

9.   (Ok this may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe in Fairies?-this quote from Declain Kiberd sort of explains why I am asking this:
" One 1916 veteran recalled, in old age, his youthful conviction that the rebellion would “put an end to the rule of the fairies in Ireland”. In this it was notably unsuccessful: during the 1920s, a young student named Samuel Beckett reported seeing a fairy-man in the New Square of Trinity College Dublin; and two decades later a Galway woman, when asked by an American anthropologist whether she really believed in the “little people”, replied with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there."   

To this playful question I will respond with a playful answer...

J.M Barrie once wrote that if you say “I don’t believe in fairies” a fairy somewhere falls down dead.

So I won’t say it, just in case.

10.  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?

This is quite the question! I would say that it has effected how people view Ireland, which in turn may shape how it is depicted in literature. I have always found the Ireland’s ruins fascinating. They have a magic to them. I actually wrote a play set in the ruins of the Old Priory, Rathmullan. History itself is an extraordinary story!

11.   Your bio data indicates you have a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from Queen's University in Belfast.  Assuming you took post graduate courses in the short story, what writers were used as exemplars or studied?

Fundamentally I focused on scriptwriting, however I was a keen short story writer and novelist Ian Samson very kindly agreed to let me take extra prose classes.
We were given a wonderful booklet filled to the brim with eclectic short story writers, such as Hwang Sun-won, Ernest Hemmingway, Seamus Heaney, Roald Dahl, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name but a few.

12.  How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche?   Donegal has 40 percent of the population now as it had in 1840.

In many ways, the tragedy that happened back in the 1840s has almost become a scary story. There is a certain detachment there – modern Irish people know about it, but it doesn’t make us thankful for every bag of potatoes we buy in the shop. There is a detachment there. I think it goes back to the idea of history being a story in itself – the older the event, the further it departs from reality.

13.  Does the character of the "stage Irishman" live on still in the heavy drinking, violent, on the dole characters one finds in many contemporary Irish novels?

The Stage Irishman is a victim of our present economy. This makes him a current issue - his plight can be read in the newspapers every day. Therefore, he’ll continue to live in the pages of Irish fiction  - for many years to come

14.  Per my research Donegal has one of the highest concentration of Irish speakers in the country, did you take classes in Irish in college or speak it at home?

Irish is very popular in the Gaeltacht regions of Donegal. I learnt how to speak the language in school, but I haven’t had a decent conversation in Irish for over four years. My friends used to go to the Gaeltacht summer school, and each year they would return with a “Fáinne” -  a small ring pin badge worn to show fluency in the Irish language. They would pin them on their school jumpers. I always wanted one. So I bought a gold harp and pinned it proudly on mine. I may not speak Irish, but I am Irish – that’s what that harp was to me. Take that little gold ring!  

15. When you drive form Dublin to Donegal do you cut through Northern Ireland?   

No, I usually travel the Donegal via Monaghan. There is a fantastic new motorway that has made travelling from Donegal to Dublin very pleasant. Sometimes I travel via Belfast to visit family and friends though. Belfast is my second home!

16. Based on my limited knowledge, Donegal was once a place of real danger and violence, how much does this linger on in the psyches of the residents

Honestly, I have only ever known Donegal as my home – the place that I feel truly safe. Historically, Donegal may have been associated with violence, but this isn’t reflected in the attitudes of its inhabitants today. We’re a friendly bunch, really!

17. Greatest Donegal born writer?  Patrick McGabe, Brian Friel?  have you ever been to the Parick McCabe Literary school.

I have always respected the work Patrick MacGill. Children of the Dead End is a powerful novel written by a fine writer.

Saying that... I have never attended the Patrick MacGill summer school (I’m almost ashamed to say)! I am planning to attend this year – I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of the 2013 programme.   

18. best place to stop for a meal?   

I love a little restaurant called The Yellow Pepper, for the name alone.

19. Dunsany Castle-over priced or must see or who cares ?

I have never been, although I googled it and it looks lovely in the mist.  I would say go.

20.   Your bio data indicates you have a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from Queen's University in Belfast.  Assuming you took post graduate courses in the short story, what writers were used as exemplars or studied?
Fundamentally I focused on script writing, however I was a keen short story writer and novelist Ian Samson very kindly agreed to let me take extra prose classes.

We were given a lovely book filled to the brim with short stories. Roald Dahl, Charles Bukowski, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Tao Lin and Kurt Vonnegut to name but a few. 

End of Q and A

I offer my gratitude to Karen Quinn for participating in this year's Q and A Session for Irish Short Story Month Year III. I hope she will return next year. I look forward to one day posting on a collection of her short stories

Mel u

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