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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alan McMonagle A Question and Answer Session with the Author of Psychotic Episodes

March 1 to April 14
Q & A Session with

Alan McMonagle

Q & A Sessions for ISSM3

Today I am happy to be able to present a Q and A Session with Alan McMonagle, Galway, Ireland, author of a very good collection of short stories set in Ireland,
Psychotic Episodes (My post on the collection is here.)

Author Bio (from his webpage)

Alan McMonagle is a poet, playwright and short fiction writer living in Galway, IrelandHe holds an MA in Writing from National University of Ireland, Galway. He has received awards for his work from the Professional Artists’ Retreat in Yaddo (New York), the Fundación Valparaiso (Spain), the Banff Centre for Creativity (Canada) and the Arts Council of Ireland.
He has published in numerous literary journals. 

Liar Liar, his first collection of stories published byWordsonthestreet appeared in 2008 and was longlisted for the 2009 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The title story from his second collection, Psychotic Episodes, (due from Arlen House in April 2013) was nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize.

You can learn more about his work on his webpage.

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?

Many of the writers I like are dead:

William Saroyan

Isaac Singer

Sergei Dovlatov

Some of the best:

Raymond Carver
James Joyce
Nicolai Gogol

Of course, this changes all the time.

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. There is a lot of drinking in the stories in Psychotic Episodes.

Is there a lot of drinking in Psychotic Episodes? Is there really more drinking in Irish stories? I'm reading a wonderful collection set in Canada at the moment. There's been booze in every story so far. Last week I finished a collection by the Chilean Roberto Bolaño. Lots of booze there. Every great Russian I read seems to know how to make vodka. Alcohol can be tricky. I like drinking and I don't like drinking. It can be fun and it can undo the will like no other substance I've encountered. In Ireland, spending lengthy spells of time indoors is inevitable on account of the weather. 'The Pub' helps facilitate this indoor existence.

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. I claimed it was a dominant element in several of your stories.

If you take the weak/missing 'father' to mean a lack of guidance - spiritual, emotional, political - then yes, it is a big theme, and not confined to my stories or to Ireland. Of course, a writer can only write from the context of his or her own experience, offer his or her own perspective. And experience and perspective is constantly evolving.

4. when did you start writing?

I started when I was seven and wrote pretty much non-stop until I was twelve. Then I stopped for twenty years. I remember the first story I finished - it was titled the ants who grew into giants. I thought the title was so clever (gi-ants). I remember my father counting the number of words in it and then saying, 'there are more words in this than in your mother's dissertation'. I still think of that as a fine compliment.


Do you feel Aosdana is the best use of the Irish governments limited funds to promote the arts or do you think the money could be better spent in another way?

In Ireland, there are plenty of people getting paid obscene amounts of money for doing very little; there are questionable financial systems receiving ridiculous dig-outs - this is the pot of money that could be better spent.

6. Tell us a bit about your thoughts about the Masters Program at NUI Galway please? What do you like best, what could be cut, what improvements could be made?

The best thing is that if you like to flit from one form to another - which I do - then this course is a dream come true. The limitation is that you must drop chosen forms at semester ends, which can be frustrating, especially if you are getting into your stride.

7.  Please tell us a bit about your non-literary or non- academic work experience?

I've been an office boy, a greeting card salesman, a packer, a night watchman in an amusement park. Though you wouldn't think it, I spent two summers working on building sites in London. I've also worked in Sydney.

8. In an over the top World Wide Wrestling Battle Royal between a playwright, a novelist, a poet, and a short story writer who wins and how does it play out?

The short story writer is trying to beat the record for the longest period of time spent on an opening line.
The playwright is dashing frantically about the place in search of a killer stage direction, a lamp that works and an old piece of furniture (a dresser is my guess).
The poet is reclined in a suitably comfortable chair, and is gradually sucking every drop of water in the ocean through a straw.
Meantime, the novelist is nowhere to be seen because he knows that finishing something is the most important thing.

9. (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.

Do you remember what the unicorn says to Alice in Through the Looking Glass? 'If you believe in me I'll believe in you.' I think this is the only answer I can give to a question like this.

10. When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write? As a playwright, do you caste the play at least by types before you write it?

The stories, by and large, come as they are.
I have drafted a full-length piece of theatre with an actress I admire in mind for the only female part. I hope to show it to her very soon.

11. 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? Are some of your characters in this mode? In "The Spanish Arch Whores" we have two lads out on the town in a perhaps drugged state looking for prostitutes. In "Bloomsday Bus Driver" the bus driver takes a break to have sex with a street walker. related question (Alan, just ignore this if rude), why so many hookers in contemporary Irish short stories?

You see, the streetwalker angle (in 'Bus Driver') is your interpretation, and this is a valid interpretation. Someone else, however, may have a completely take on the scene you are referring to. Likewise for the two lads in 'Spanish Arch Whores'. I fully agree that they are on a quest. But as to what it is they are actually looking for, I can't honestly say. (Plus, I don't want to give the story away!)
As for the 'stage Irishman' you refer to, this is a label and I am not interested in labels.

12. 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

Yeats is writing at a certain time in history and to an extent from his own perspective and experience. Today, we are a hundred years on and there are other influences. The wonderful thing about writing is that you have an infinity of choice. This can also be a nuisance. For me, writing is something intrinsic. Heroes and villains exist everywhere at all times. They exist inside the same person.  

13- people say Shakespeare killed off the english stage as no one could follow him-did Beckett do something similar?

No. Beckett is an inspiration. Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

14. 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 think all that good writing can do is bear witness - as soon as you start trying to force things creativity suffers.

15. "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).

Good writing should help melt away barriers between people, dissolve labels - not merely explain their existence.

16. 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.

I think 'equal' rights is a better way of putting it than 'special' rights. And, just as with any other community, members within this community should also have ('granted' is murky) equal rights.

17. Tell us a bit about what you most miss about Ireland when you are out of the country, besides friends or family-what are you glad to be away from?

I don't miss a thing when I am out of the country. Though I do enjoy 'the return'.

18. I will be in Galway in May with my brother-best book store?
best literary reading event?
best traditional full fry breakfast?
best place for a fairly priced pint? . best fish and chips?

best place to feel I am where the great of Irish lit have been?

Kennys and Charlie Byrnes for books.

McDonaghs for Fish and Chips, but if it is busy go to Kettle around the corner and strike up a conversation with the staff member from Pakistan - he is hilarious.

Go to McCambridges for breakfast, and for lunch, and for dinner. They also have a wine cave. Go to Naughtons if it's black beer you're after.

If it's a literary event you want come for the last week in April and catch the Cuirt Festival of Literature.

19. Do you prefer e reading or traditional books?

I like collecting books.
Also, I'm an aural learner so I keep an iPod full of spoken word.

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

Buenos Aires.

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

I would love to have been with Achilles et al inside the Wooden Horse. Or taking that walk through the dusty street with Claudia Cardinale at the beginning of Once Upon a Time in the West.

22. 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?

I don't think the forms you refer to are driven in any way by social media. Look at the work of Eduardo Galeano, Richard Brautigan, Jamaica far as 'flash fiction' - as you term it - goes, writers like these are the inspiration. Not Twitter.

23. Quick Pick Questions
a. John Synge or Beckett-?
b. Cats or dogs?
c. Galway or Dublin-which city is best for neophyte writers?
d. BBC or RTE?
e. days or nights?

It's the wrong question.

Synge AND Beckett
Days AND Nights

and so on...

24. Savage Poets, William Butler Yeats, Lord Dunsany, Lady Gregory-Posers or genuine revolutionaries?

Padraig Pearse is the person I think you're looking for here...

25. 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

This is hard-hitting, edgy stuff and it is relevant and true and valid.

Straightaway it sends me to the wonderful McNeice poem Thalassa

Run out the boat, my broken comrades;
Let the old seaweed crack, the surge
Burgeon oblivious of the last
Embarkation of feckless men,
Let every adverse force converge-
Here we must needs embark again.

Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades;
Let each horizon tilt and lurch –
You know the worst: your wills are fickle,
Your values blurred, your hearts impure
And your past life a ruined church –
But let your poison be your cure.

Put out to sea, ignoble comrades,
Whose record shall be noble yet;
Butting through scarps of moving marble
The narwhal dares us to be free;
By a high star our course is set,
Our end is Life. Put out to sea.

Thalassa is the Greek word for Sea.
That line at the end of the second stanza 'let your poison be your cure' captures quite a lot...

PS: In Michael's poem, I would have tried not to repeat the word failure (!)

I am very grateful to Alan McMonagle for providing us with such interesting and well considered responses. I hope to follow his career as best I can from so far away.

Mel u

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