When did you start writing?
I wrote a poem when I was 10, I remember it because it was in Irish. I spent a spell in Dublin in the early 1970s and drank in McDaids and Grogans, friends of Behan, Myles and Kavanagh were still around then and one of them suggested I write stories after a night of storytelling at some party. I had heard old storytellers tell tales in our pub, and must have picked up something from them. It took me a long time to get my first short story 'right'. Around the same time I stopped drinking and concentrated on writing. My first story was published in Criterion 85, a UC Galway literary journal which also included work by Seamus Heaney and John McGahern.
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.
When I'm in Ireland, I work better if the weather is bad. I sort of hibernate until I finish a story and actually welcome wind and rain because it keeps me indoors. I don't know if it's the same for other Irish writers. I find it easier to write in Ireland than California, where I spend part of the year.
Why have the Irish produced such a disproportionate to their population number of great writers?
I think the Irish are natural storytellers, it's in our culture, in our DNA. Plus I think we have a lot of heart and empathy for the human condition. That's expressed through our arts.
(Ok this may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe in Fairies?-this quote from Declan 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."
I tend to agree with the Galway woman. Some years ago I was interviewing the last Irish speaker in Doolin, County Clare. It was a few days after Christmas, there was no electricity in the cottage and we sat by an open turf fire. Fairies came up in our conversation and the man said of course he believed in them. In fact, a group of them had passed by his cottage that very day, he saw them go by in a sí gaoth (shee gwee) or fairy wind. He didn't have the courage to speak with them and ask them where they were going. As he was telling me this, 2 butterflies appeared out of the darkness and flitted in front of the fire. I was astonished to see butterflies in the middle of an Irish winter. 'There's two more of them,” my informant said in Irish and I nodded. There was nothing to say.
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?
They have definitely shaped our psyche and therefore influenced the literature in some way.
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?
Yes, I believe that guy is still alive, but will die young.
14. William Butler Yeats said in "The Literary Movement"-- "“The popular poetry of England celebrates her victories, but the popular poetry of Ireland remembers only defeats and defeated persons.” I see a similarity of this to the heroes of the Philippines. American heroes were all victors, they won wars and achieved independence. The national heroes of the Philippines were almost all ultimately failures, most executed by the Spanish or American rulers. How do you think the fact Yeats is alluding too, assuming you agree, has shaped Irish literature?
Learning Irish history at school, I kept hoping with every new page that we'd be victorious. We never really were. We lost battles, lost wars and many of our heroes were executed or transported to Australia or jailed. I think this has shaped our personality and psyche and ultimately shapes our literature. In my own work, heroes and heroines are often ordinary people, my characters wouldn't do Rambo very well.
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 was born and raised in a pub and so seeing people drinking was part of everyday life for me. That time, the pub was the hub of Irish social life and played a significant role in Irish communities. It's only natural that alcohol features prominently in our stories. I think every story in my collection The West has drink in it. The Irish love to celebrate, down pints, dance and be merry. For millennia, alcohol was our social flux...and often we drank too much of it. I did myself, at any rate. We were a nation who drowned her sorrows in alcohol and baptised her babies in it. To a good extent, these days are over. I think outsiders will see more drinking in our literature than in our real lives. As regards what it says about our culture: alcohol has played it's part but I hope we're moving on and becoming more aware of the dangers of the demon drink.
Where is the best place in Galway and Dublin to get a real Irish breakfast? Fish and Chips and Irish Stew?
Fish and Chips in Galway — McDonaghs on Quay Street.
The Aran Islands - must see authentic experience or just for the tourists?
Authentic, especially Inis Mean and Inisheer.
What do you miss most when you are not in Ireland? what are you glad to be away from?
Most of all I miss family and friends, the culture and the bonhomie. Also the land itself, which I find very healing and nurturing.
I'm glad to be away from the Irish winters.
Lots of writers and readers see the growth of ereaders as the sign of the decline in the quality of readers-you are considered a pioneer in digital publishing-how do you respond to people who might see you as turning against the book?
I don't see ereaders as the death knell for the book. I prefer to read a physical book than an electronic one. I came to digital publishing from desktop publishing. Nowadays, I publish digitally first, then in traditional print, so I'm not 'turning against' the book. I use digital publishing because it gets my work into the public arena quickly and it's a way for me to build up readership.
I give my greatest thanks for providing us with such interesting answers. I again repeat my thanks for his wonderful support for Irish Short Story Week Year III.
Eddie Stack has received several accolades for his fiction, including an American Small Press of the Year Award, and a Top 100 Irish American Award. Recognized as an outstanding short story writer, he is the author of four books —The West; Out of the Blue; HEADS and Simple Twist of Fate.
His work has appeared in literary reviews and anthologies worldwide, including Fiction, Confrontation, Whispers & Shouts, Southwords and Criterion; State of the Art: Stories from New Irish Writers; Irish Christmas Stories, The Clare Anthology and Fiction in the Classroom.
A natural storyteller, Eddie has recorded spoken word versions of his work, with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. In 2010, he integrated spoken word and printed work with art, music and song to produce an iPhone app of The West; this was the first iPhone app of Irish fiction
I again give my greatest thanks to Eddie Stack for his tremendous support for Irish Short Story Week Year III.