Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Reading Life Best of 30 Under 30 Awards

The Reading Life 30 Under 30 Awards

30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy with a foreword by John Walsh (2012)

Edited by Elizabeth Reapy
Published by Doire Press

My Posts On The Stories

I have now reviewed and posted on all of the short stories in 30 Under 30:  A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy.  

I was tremendously impressed, entertained and often edified by the stories in the collection.   The stories ranged from works very much in the tradition of the Irish story teller, to works on the lives of contemporary young Urban Irish people (all the authors are from Ireland and under 30 years old), to stories of lyrical beauty to works of great biting wit and satire.   I know it is easy to say this but there was not a bad story in the collection.  Many of the stories reflect the current economic plight of Ireland.     Of course I liked some more than others, that does not mean that the ones I prefer are the best, they are just the ones I like best.   

John Walsh in his introduction says he thinks this book may become a collectors item and I agree.   Besides reading lots of good stories and learning of 27 new writers (I had previously read stories by two of the writers and one of the works was an extract so I did not post on it) I think I got a good feel for the state of the contemporary Irish short story.  I think the real lasting import of this book might be that it can be used as kind of study tool.   If one were to follow these 30 writers over the years I think you could gain a very good grasp of how writers develop and of the social and business aspects of the being an Irish writer in the 21st century.  Of these 30 writers I think a good number could develop into major talents, some or maybe most will get involved with families and the careers needed to support them and will become occasional "hobby writers".   Some will stop writing or trying to publish, either from frustration, blockage or boredom.   I think it would be amazing to publish a follow anthology every once and while, actually every year would be nice but I do not know if this is a viable business idea or not, say in five or ten years to see where the writers are doing.   A few will have disappeared from the scene by then, I guess.   Many of the writers see themselves, I think, as primarily poets.   

To the writers the only real suggestion I would give them is to set up a blog or web page where you can be found via a search of your name.  This is not technically hard, if I can do it you can also!.  It is free.   Bottom line, what if someone wants to turn your story into a TV series and they have no way to easily find you!   Include some samples of your work on the web page.  Almost all of the major Irish writers have professionally done web pages.  I would also say read the highest quality literature your can as soon as you can.   You have a heritage like no other place in the world.   I was moved when Reapy said in her closing words that the authors in the collection, she being one of them, know they stand on the shoulders of giants.   I will be reading Irish short stories the rest of my life.  I will also to the extent I can, follow the careers of the writers in this collection.    

Meet the Guest Judges and our Hostess

I decided to enlist the help of three guest judges, two Irish-Americans, both world class short story writers, Flannery O'Connor and F. Scott Fitzgerald.   We will be joined by Barbara Baynton, she was born in New South Wales Australia.  Her parents were both bound Irish emigrants and she went on to become one of Australia's greatest writers, famous for her tales of life in the outback and ended up married to an English Baron.   

"To the 30 Under writers, I am looking
for someone to help me with my autobiography, there
are things  Daddy Sheridan did not know".
Our hostess will be a frequent visitor to my blog, Carmilla.   Carmilla was created by the great Irish writer of Gothic and ghost stories, James Sheridan Le Fanu, in his novel of the same name.   Carmilla was a displaced Irish Catholic Nobel woman driven from her lands by the English.  She was also the first literary lesbian vampire, but she does have an eye for the gentlemen also.   She says what she thinks and does not care too much how anyone reacts to it!   There will also be a few special spot awards as we go along.
I expect Colette to stop by from Paris, I am trying to get Katherine Mansfield to come also.   I anticipate some other special guests from the world of the short story but we will wait until they show up.

My Top Stories

Flannery O'Connor
1.   "April Snow" by Maeve O'Brien-   I was totally stunned by "April Snow" by Maeve O'Brien.   It is a shimmering story with a dark beauty, deeply rooted in Ireland and with a profound sense of the miasma of death that hangs over the landscape.   It fears and repudiates the political killings and the senseless death that political division has brought Ireland, anyone would do that, but in in much deeper vein in celebrates how our reaction to these deaths make us more alive by simply surviving to be a spectator on them.   The first thing that struck me about the story was the elegance and beauty of the prose.  There are many perfect epigraphic sentences in the story with tremendous wisdom in them.  The narrative mode flawlessly melds with the "meaning"  (I really do not like that term but I use it anyway.)   

F. Scott Fitzgerald

2.  "To Chapel Haven" by Neil Burns-  It is the story of a physician who has just returned to England from Canada to attend the funeral of a relative.  While making the passage he reads The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.   While on the long sea voyage Manus has lots of time for reflections on his life.  As I read this I thought he could have been the ship doctor on the Pequod, if there had been one!  He loves Moby Dick, as do I.   He thinks about his home a small town in Quebec and his wife and son.   He begins to reflect on the family he grew up in.   The diction is old fashioned and in the style of an educated man of the times.   We are there as he unites with family members he has not seen in many years.   There is great depth of character and history brought out in just a few pages in this wonderful story.  

"Elizabeth,  I would be honored if you would
read my Bush Studies about the early Irish
in The Outback"
3.   "Fleas" by Elizabeth (EM) Reapy- Fleas" by Elizabeth Reapy, the editor of this great collection, lets us see what it like to be a young  Irish immigrant who moved to Australia to get away from a life that got off to a very bad start in Ireland.  The narrator and his mate Shane's life is one long string of heavy drinking binges, short term laboring jobs and transit hotels.  Reapy has a great feel for the experience of the Irish in Australian.   The description of the 12 hour drive across the outback was brilliant.   When I read this I kept in mind that pretty much any part in Ireland is at most four hours from another so this must be overwhelming to the lads.  The remarks of the narrators on Aborigines encapsulate hundreds of years of colonialism into a few words.
4.  "I Found A Poet On The Road" by Lucy Montague Moffett--"I Found A Poet On the Road" is a very interesting and entertaining story told in the first person of a young Irish woman, living in a rural area with her parents.   It is a story about the consequences of lying too much, about the sometimes tedium of small town life, about Ireland's relationship to its vast army of poets, and about mythic encounters that might one day become one of the stories you build your conception of your life from.

5.  "How To Make an Omelette After You Have Eaten Everything" by Michael Shanks - "How To Make An Omelette After You Have Eaten Everything" by Michael Shanks is a completely fascinating work of flash fiction.   Lenin famously said "You cannot make an omelette without cracking a few eggs"   but he never had one like we find in this wonderfully bizarre work of magic realism.   In an effort to "figure it out", and because I liked it a lot, I have read it five times.      The story opens, I think, with a suicide attempt that fails when the rope breaks.  It might be a dream or an hallucination of some kind, the story has a circular structure which lends to that view.    The man after failing at suicide decides to make an omelette (this may also be an extended dream of some sort)   As he cracks the eggs he finds very strange contents.   In one of them he finds a "perfectly miniaturized elephant".     As the contents of each egg was revealed (you need to read this story yourself!) I had a great time pondering what the contents might signify.  I came up with no answers but that is OK as I would not have liked the story nearly as much if I thought I understood it!

The Bram Stoker Award for Scariest Story

Bram Stoker  has given the Scariest Story Award to "Snaggletooth Adams" by Ash Corristine.  It takes place way out in the country somewhere or other.   Snaggletooth Adams, a school age boy, scares everybody that comes into contact with him.   Mothers warn their kids to stay away from him.   The plot action of this marvelously macabre miniature monster story heats up when a truant officer is dumb enough to call on the family to find out why he is not enrolled in school.   I for sure would never have predicted what happens, OK  we know this is a bad idea on the part of the officer.   I really found the the plot action of this story brilliant.  In just a few pages the author  has created a very well developed world whose rules we think we understand even though we don't.

Lord Dunsany's Flash Fiction Award

Lord Dunsany (Edward Puckett, 1878 to 1957) was at one time simultaneously Ireland's chess and pistol champion so I think it is safe to say he was not a man to trifle with.   He also wrote some great very short works of fiction, now called flash fiction, long before it was trendy.    Lord Dunsany knows his stories represent a now left behind, for better or worse, literary mode but he still follows Irish fiction.  (I loved his story "The Kith of Elf Folk" and I do not understand why no one ever talks about it or why it is not in any anthologies of greatest short stories).   He has selected for the Best Flash Fiction award "Last Request" by Bernard O'Rourke.  

Sergio, the central person in the story has worked as a DJ at discos and clubs for thirty years.  Maybe that is too long as he has now started to hear voices telling him what music to play.   All the people, all decades younger than Sergio, want to hear is the latest techno babel and top 40 hits.   The voices are requesting songs that nobody else has ever asked for.   To Sergio, most of the people in the clubs are "self-centered losers".   He wants to play "real music for them, to rise above their mindless drunken frenzy.   He has to play music he disdains in order to keep his job but the voices keep telling him he is better than this.  

To me "The Last Request" is a wonderful story about a man who loves an art form that he feels the young do not appreciate.   It is the cry of devotees to art forms going back many centuries.   It is the story of an aging, maybe an old man, living in the world of  young with no home among them but still not ready to give into entropy.   He sees the dark Gods of art and he seeks out those few who might one day see them also.   I hope the voices continue.

I commend this story totally.   Some might look at Sergio and say "A grown man doing a job of a kid, no wonder he is nuts", OK and I see that but I also see a man in tune with darker magic than that, one listening to the music of the spheres. 

Colette's Favorite

Colette (1873 to 1954) is the author of many wonderful short stories.   Lots of them center on troubled, on the edge relationships.   After reading through the collection she has selected as her favorite story  Caught" by Ciara Gillan is a very interesting  story about what takes place when a man looks out of his apartment window and sees a stalker about to attack his wife.   It is a brilliant story about the emotions of the couple, complicated by their degenerating relationship.   We also see how the man's rescue of his wife produces atavistic emotions.  The woman will not allow him to have a sense of pride in his accomplishments as she thinks this event may somehow give him the upper hand in their relationship.

"Caught" is an exciting story that brings out many of the elements in the marriage of the couple.
I look forward to reading more of the work of Gillan in the future.

James Stephens Award

James Stephens (1882 to 1950-author of Irish Fairy Tales) wrote many wonderful stories steeped in the folk lore of west Ireland.   He feels the story that makes best use of this tradition without being bound by it is 

"The Magpie" by James O'Sullivan is a tremendously fun story with a touch of magic realism.   It brought to my mind the stories of James Stephens and Seamas O'Kelly.   O'Sullivan's story resonates more than the other stories do in ancient Irish folkways.   The Magpie, a bird widely distributed in Ireland, the Uk, and Europe,  has many ancient associations.   Seeing a lone magpie is said to be bad luck unless one greets the magpie by saying some thing like "How is are your wife and family, Mr Magpie?"   If a magpie looks you directly in the eye it means he does not intend you harm and is inviting conversation.   According to an old English folk tale, when Jesus was crucified all the birds wept for him but the magpie who mocked him and ever since then the magpie has been cursed as a causer of bad luck.  

"The Magpie" is also old fashioned in its narrative mode as it is a story told by the narrator.   The narrator's father is from Indonesia and his mother is from Dingle, Ireland.  People call him "a Paki", an ill-mannered slang term for someone from Pakistan.   The family has moved around a lot because of the nature of the father's work, a high end occupation of some sort.   He likes living around educated people because they do not call him a "Paki" all that much.   One day at school the physical education teacher asks him if plays hurling    He tells the teacher he would rather enroll in an art class and the teacher says any proper manly lad does hurling.  The suggestion is that you don't hurl then, to quote the story, you are a "faggot".  I admit I laughed to think "hurl" in American English slang means to throw up after heavy drinking.

The narrator is sitting on a bench at his school doing som art work when he looks over his shoulder and sees a solitary magpie.  The magpie starts talking to him.  He tells the man it is OK to sketch him.   The man and the magpie then begin to engage in conversation.   I really liked the conversation, it was totally brilliant and the magpie, "Sorrow" was his name, really did sound wise, if very cynical.  The man knows he may be hallucinating but the bird convinces him he is not.

This was a really great story, totally fun to read and the remarks of the magpie were just tremendously sharp.

The James Sheridan Le Fanu Award

James Sheridan Le Fanu, creator of our hostess Carmilla and possibly the greatest ever writer of ghost and horror stories that deal with the history of Ireland has made a great pick for his award, "The Wanderer" by Noel O'Regan.

Hospitality to wandering strangers in need is a part of the Irish character, especially in the West.   Wandering strangers play an important part in Irish literature from the characters in Waiting on Godot   on down.   In the dialogues of Plato some of the deepest thoughts are expressed by The Stranger, who appears only in two dialogues but both are just before Socrates is going to die.   Strangers are important figures in world literature.   One of the reasons is they are blank canvases that we can paint as we like.   "The Wanderer" is a dark story in this tradition.   This story creates a great atmosphere of fear without us really knowing why.  I do not think it is is right to tell the plot as it is so exciting.  I will say that I do not know whose fate I should be in fear for, was it the woman who invited the wanderer into her house or was it the wanderer who loves the road more than anything else.

There is a lot in this story.   It is in away a story that arises from the famine or at least a story of a once destroyed culture where traditions do not matter a lot any more, or at least not the new traditions.

"The Wanderer" is a very creative, exciting story.  I hope to post on a collection of Noel O'Regan's short stories one day.     

The end of the first ever Reading Life Award ceremony is now over.  Maybe Carmilla and I were the only ones in attendance, and I think she fell asleep at midpoint.   I really liked this anthology.  I know there was a lot of work went into it.   I could see future historians of the Irish short story seeing it as a great resource one day.   

To all the authors in the collection, I will follow your careers to the extent I can from so far away.  I wish you all great success and I hope to review further works by everyone in this collection.

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

Great post & I hope at least some of the writers, visit take heed of your words, then comment & that the publisher/ a publisher follows up your repeat anthology idea.

valerie sirr said...

Such a distinguished panel of judges! I admired many of the same stories in '30 under 30' :)