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

Friday, March 29, 2013

Aoife Brennan Question and Answer with the Author of Cougar Diaries

iMarch 1 to April 7
Q & A with Aoife Brennan
author of Cougar Diaries

If you are interested in participating in ISSM3 please contact me.

Today I am very happy to present a Question and Answer Session with Aoife Brennan, author of Cougar Diaries.  I recently posted on her very well done short story, "Affairs -1 Marriage- 1" (In my post on the story there is a link where you may read the story).  

Author Data

Aoife Brennan lives in Dublin with her two teenaged sons.  Her first novel, The Cougar Diaries, Part 1 is available as a Kindle Book on Amazon.  Reviewers have called it a literate 50 Shades of Gray.  Part Two and Three will be out shortly.  I hope to read all of them soon.  

Aoife Brennan

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?

I am a little biased here but I love Kevin Barry, William Trevor and Frank O’Connor. All men and all Irish – that probably means something terribly significant (Like I should broaden my reading base). Sometimes you read prose and it acts like short stories, for example Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Each individual chapter could stand alone as a short story. He doesn’t waste any words. It is cut to the bone. I love that style of writing.

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.  Drinking plays a big part in the story of yours i posted on and it was behind the extra-marital affair of the woman-added question-people say if it were not for alcohol Ireland would have a near zero birth rate-does your story back that up?

Lol I think we might as a nation still manage the dance with no pants – even without the benefits of alcoholic libation. However, alcohol definitely lowers inhibitions, and in my short story the unhappy wife literally falls into bed with a friend, a decision she so regrets in the morning.

I don’t think Irish people need alcohol to have sex. If it were such a huge liberator then affairs would be the norm, and despite my story and the moderning of Ireland, I think our ratio (of affairs) would be a little less than other countries, such as our neighbouring UK. However, give us time - the divorce rate in Ireland is rapidly catching up with the rest of the world – now that divorce is finally legal in Ireland (since 1997).

Having said that, alcohol is the elephant in the room in modern Irish society, less for sex, than for a more range of problems from health and obesity through to behaviour and violence. Our culture embraces the pub and the craic, which centres around drinking. There was a bit of scandal recently when county councillors in Kerry wanted to alter the drink driving rules for rural farmers by increasing the level of alcohol allowed. There was some thought behind it – rural farmers do not have access to public transport and for many the pub would be their only form of socialising. But, as was overlooked by the well-meaning but slightly kooky councillors, those same farmers could still go to the pub and drink orange juice instead.
It was also a problem for our country in celebrating our national day. It is possibly the only national day celebrated by so many other cultures and in so many countries – but the emphasis on drink comes at a cost. Our tourism board was valiantly requesting videos around the world to showcase people celebrating St Patricks day – without alcohol.
So, to answer your question – yes alcohol is undoubtedly part of our culture: when we celebrate and we cry, there is alcohol. We drink at weddings and we drink at funerals. And sometimes we say that a good funeral is better than a bad wedding!

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.
The missing father seems to somehow be very big in your work.

Ah,very good question. I have seen both sides of the equation personally. I had a wonderful father who is sadly dead now and my children have an absent father who lives in another country. Am I more informed by my own childhood or by theirs? Perhaps the direct contrast makes me dwell on it even more. I do know that to have the unconditional love of a parent is something no child should lose. I have to say also that I also have a slightly quirky nature when I come to write so I frequently kill off things or poke fun at what I personally hold dear. My writing personality can quite different from my day to day values! I shall look at my male characters with an increasingly critical eye in books two and three.

4. did you experience a period of sexual liberation after your divorce that also stimulated your creativity to write

Aha – that old chestnut!  If I had written a book about a murder, would you have asked had I committed a crime? But, actually you are right – less in the sexual liberation but in the liberation of my soul. I found myself in marriage that was very unhappy and we were just not compatible. I never dreamt I would get divorced but once I took that step, I felt so free. So yes the liberation of freedom stimulated my desire to write – and to write more bravely than I would have before

6.   Did you in anyway use 50 Shades of Gray as a role model for Cougar Diaries?

Absolutely not! My character is the total antithesis of Ana. My character is real, she is in her forties and yes she has sex – but some of it is funny and some of it is disastrous. I did give her some good sex too – I can’t be a meanie author all the time! And I am going to give her a lot more fun in books two and three.

PS I am very thankful to EL James for bringing erotica mainstream. Take a bow Ms James!

7. Tell us a bit about your non literary work experience please

My first job after college was working as a systems analyst. I have worked in a range of different jobs since in sales, marketing and to a lesser extent programming. My idea job is beach bum!

8.    tell us a bit about your education

I read English in university and loved it. I lived in Dublin and had an hours bus ride into college every day so I just devoured novels during the week. I have never minded public transport when armed with a book!

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

We are a nation of one liners – it’s just some people put them together and create books!

10. (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."

Sadly I do not believe in fairies but I know that by even saying that I’ve killed one of them. Terrible

11. 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?

We are shaped by our history and not always in a good way. We have long memories and longer grudges. Conversely, while we may show great enthusiasm in hating our enemy, we will also share a drink with them (ah, the dreaded drink again) and end up slapping their backs at the end of the night.

12. When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write? when you write sex scenes, do you find it arousing at times?

When I write I see what I am writing, like a third eye. I am there and not. But I do not see if as an audience – if I did I might stop and not go on, regardless of the subject matter. Writing is like baring your soul, I don’t really want to see how others see me. It would be too painful

By the same corollary, writing about sex is like disrobing in private. I do not think for moment how others will see it or read it or imagine it. I do not disrobe in public. And yes I am turned on when I write sex scenes, the same way I might cry at a sad point or laugh at a funny moment. I am there and not.

13.  The heroine of Diary of A Cougar seems to have a penis fixation? can you talk about this a bit. In the world of your book is the measure of a romance how many times you have sex in a weekend? Is the measure of a man how many times he can climax in 24 hours?

Does she? I hadn’t noticed. I rather thought she had a rather healthy regard for and interest in the male member. And of course the measure of success of romance or a man is neither the amount of sex nor the number of ejaculations. However, my character is approaching sex again with a new eye, almost as a teenager might. So every moment is counted and remembered. It is like catching your first fish or doing your first bungy jump – everything is exciting and bigger is better!

14. 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?  

I hope not. I would find that tiresome to read about someone like, no more than to meet someone like that. I think it is an overplayed cliché like a latin lover or regimental German.

15. 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 l

I agree to a point. We do like an underdog. We very much play that role in Europe and the world. But ultimately we like to see the underdog winning – now that makes us happy. That is why you have the amazing scenes when the Irish are in the Soccer world cup. We are not meant to do well in soccer and no one really treasures it – unlike the Gaelic sports or Rugby, both of which have strong traditions in Ireland. However, when Jack Charlton brought us to the world cup in ’88 he captured the imagination of the country. Jack’s Army or laterally the Green Army are like a sea of green at all our games, they sing like a people possessed, and they celebrate win lose or draw.

16.   One could say in the world of Cougar Diaries if a woman does not have beautiful breasts and a great body she is of no-value just as man with -quoting-"a flacid penis" is of no-value-where are the ordinary looking people in this world

Absolutely not. There is some talk at the start of this novel about dating again. The main character has not seen another man naked for almost 20 years. When she dated before her marriage, while she had the normal insecurities of youth, she still had her youth! Now, she is in her forties and she feels vulnerable. To take off ones clothing in front of a ‘stranger’ is scary. Age is no protection against these nerves, in fact it only exaggerates them. Age may bring many gifts – wisdom, learning, understanding – but gravity is crueller!

17. 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?

I would suggest it depends on the poet. I like the new breed of performing poet, like Dave Lordan. Actually he is the old/new breed because of course at one time that is how poets delivered their craft – orally.

18. "To creative artists may have fallen the task of explaining what no historian has fully illuminated – the reason why the English came to regard the Irish as inferior and barbarous, on the one hand, and, on the other, poetic and magical."-is this right? Kiberd, Declan (2009-05-04). Inventing Ireland (p. 646).

The Apes and Angels idea. I think when any country is looking to subjugate another, it has to represent the other nation as inferior, otherwise it could not argue it had the right to rule. If you can label a people, then you enforce rule over them with equanimity, this is a given regardless of nationality. However, I think the English were confused when we fought back in literature. If we had been a nation of mechanics or farmers or even sportspeople then we would not have created such a confusion for our rulers. As you mentioned earlier, we have a disproportion number of talented writers beyond our population size. In Ireland there is a book in everyone. In other countries, this does not compare – maybe a pilot or president or a footballer – but in Ireland it is a book and a writer.
So while the English may have used propaganda and stereotypes to label the Irish people, we fought back with words, lot of them!

19. 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.

Well, to be honest, I can’t answer this because I would like to hear what they would like. I am not sure that a separate status would be beneficial – or that it would not be. I genuinely do not know. I think in today’s world homogenisation will do the trick regardless. We have Irish teenagers sounding more like kids from Dawson Creek than the previous generation. Maybe we should all seek special status before we end up being subsumed into one global culture!

20.  gettiing rude now-is any of this autobiographical-if one of your sons became as a adult a serial seducer would you applaud him

The Cougar Diaries is autobiographical in the sense that I, as the author, have drawn on my own experiences and then put them through the fiction mill. It is fiction however. I am still waiting to meet ‘Chris Sex God’ lol

I don’t think I have any serial seducers in my novel. On a separate note, I think the term seducer is very emotive. It implies that the one person is being used by the other, especially when the term serial is used to describe the noun. I do not like people using one another.  If, on the other hand, my son had multiple consenting sexual partners then I would have no problem (except that he uses a condom).

21.   do you have more women or men readers or same

Definitely more women, A male friend read the book and complained he had to wait until chapter six to get a boner!  What I like about my book, and so too do my readers, is that it has plot, lots of it. The sex is important, but it is a sub plot to the overall story. I believe people would still read my novel if I stripped out all the sex scenes.

22. there is a lot of oral sex in your novel-do you see the performance of oral sex by a woman as one of domination of the woman or is it one in which she is a sexual tool for the man

Absolutely not. I think oral sex by both genders is an important part of love making and sex. However, I have described some behaviour which is very predominant in modern porn. I am not condoning it nor am I blaming it – it exists. Generation Y (the men in my novel) have largely had their defacto sex education through porn which generates certain behavioural patterns, and I have described some of those. The difference is my character has the ability to reject or accept these behaviours.

23. If you were to be given the option of living anywhere besides Ireland where would you live?

In a sunny place please. When my children are reared I hope to move abroad and spend half my year in the warmth and then return home for six months. Heaven!

24. If you could time travel for 30 days (and be rich and safe) where would you go and why?

Back to King Arthur and the Knights of the round table. That would be very exciting I reckon. I’ve been looking for my knight in shining armour for some time now… maybe if I went back in time I might find him!

25. Have you attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please?

No, I have not. Sadly. I think it might be intimidating.

26. Flash Fiction-how driven is the popularity of this form by social media like Twitter and its word limits? Do you see twitter as somehow leading to playwrights keeping conversations shorter than in years past?

Maybe twitter has had an impact. There are so many words in this world, 140 characters is a blessing at times.

27. How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?

I suspect very little. We don’t eat much fish either, unless you count frozen fish fingers. Funny that!

28.  When you are outside of Ireland, besides friends and family, what do you miss the most?  What are you glad to be away from?

The greenness. It is hard to say just how green Ireland is. I know it’s from the rain and our lack of urban development, but still it is so green.

I don’t miss the rain.

29. Quick Pick Questions
a. sex in a back alley with a handsome dangerous stranger or a dirty weekend with a 70 year old billionaire in his Mayfair Mansion?

The first please

b. dogs or cats


c.  best city to inspire a writer-London or Dublin


d.  favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner?


e. RTE or BBC


30. OK let us close out on this note-what is your reaction these lines from a famous Irish poet?

I was born to the stink of whiskey and failure

And the scattered corpse of the real.

This is my childhood and country:

The cynical knowing smile

Plastered onto ignorance

Ideals untarnished and deadly

Because never translated to action

And everywhere

The sick glorification of failure.

Our white marble statues were draped in purple

The bars of the prison were born in our eyes

And if reality ever existed

It was a rotten tooth

That couldn't be removed.
Michael O'Loughlin

How depressing. If I have bars, then I look out with hope. If I am in the gutter, then I am gazing at the stars. I wouldn’t swap my eyes with his, nor his teeth by the sound of things!

Thank you

My thanks to Aoife Brennan for her very open and insightful answers. I know sometimes in my questions it may seem I am over the border of being rude. What I am trying to do is to bring out interesting, real responses that may at times push the responder a bit.

Mel u

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