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 15, 2013

Billy O'Callaghan A Q and A Session with the Author of In Exile and In Too Deep

March 1 to March 31
A Question and Answer Session with
Billy O'Callaghan

Billy O'Callaghan, Cork, Ireland is the author of two highly regarded collections of short stories, among many other accomplishments.  I recently read and greatly admired (my post is here) his In Too Deep and other short stories.  I am currently reading his other collection of short stories, In Exile and will post on it soon.  I am very honored that he has agreed to participate in a question and answer session for ISSM3.

Author Data (from his Webpage)

I was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1974, and am the author of two short story collections: ‘In Exile’ (2008) and ‘In Too Deep’ (2009), both published by the Mercier Press.
In 2010, I was the recipient of an Arts Council of Ireland Bursary Award for Literature. My stories have won the 2005 George A. Birmingham Short Story Award, the 2006 Lunch Hour Stories Prize and the 2007 Molly Keane Creative Writing Award, and have been short-listed for many more prizes, including the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Award, the RTE Radio 1 Francis MacManus Short Story Award, the Faulkner/Wisdom Award for the Short Story, the Glimmer Train Open Fiction Award and the Writing Spirit Award. I was also been short-listed in three consecutive years, 2008- 2010, for the RTE Radio 1 P.J. O’Connor Award for Drama.
I am currently at work on my first novel, tentatively entitled ‘Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby,’ and am in the process of compiling a new collection of stories.
Over the past decade, my work has appeared in more than seventy literary journals and magazines around the world, including: Absinthe: New European Writing, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The Bellevue Literary Review, Confrontation, Crannóg, First City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ireland’s Own, the Los Angeles Review, Narrative Magazine, Pearl, Pilvax (Hungary), the Southeast Review, Southword, Underground Voices, Verbal Magazine (Northern Ireland), Versal (Holland), Waccamaw and Yuan Yang: a Journal of Hong Kong and International Writing. New work is forthcoming in the Fiddlehead.

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 adore short stories, and the list of contemporary writers whose work I admire is almost endless. If we take contemporary to mean still in the land of the living, then William Trevor, Alice Munro and Alistair MacLeod are essential reading. Amos Oz, Alasdair Gray, Louise Erdrich, Bobbie Ann Mason and Tobias Wolff have written some great stories, as have the Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom, and the recently deceased Italian, Antonio Tabucchi. Ray Bradbury, who also died not long ago, has long been a touchstone for me, as has the short fiction (and indeed the novels and non-fiction) of V.S. Naipaul. These are all just the tip of the iceberg. There's a wealth of great stuff coming out of Asia, Africa and South America and the Carribbean. One of my deepest pleasures in recent years has been the realisation that great writing is borderless, that it doesn't begin and end with the English-speaking world. We are depriving ourselves terribly if we're not willing to look beyond our comfort zones.
I'm not sure I could even begin to guess the three best ever short story writers, and Chekhov, Maupassant, Joyce, Kafka and Borges would all have a legitimate shout to a place on the list. I've recently been thrilled by a three volume set of Isaac Bashevis Singer's collected stories and last year worked my way through a massive, brilliant volume of Heinrich Boll's stories. But if I had to choose three writers whose short stories have particularly resonated with me, I'd probably go with Hemingway, Updike and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I've been reading them since my teens and find myself returning to them again and again.

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 certainly plays an important role in your stories..

Drinking might feature in some of my stories, though I'm not sure that it plays a particularly important role, at least not directly. Rather, it's generally a symptom of greater, underlying problems. But there's no denying the fact that it is part of the greater Irish consciousness, and so, from a writer's point of view, it would seem wrong to ignore it.
It's part of our celebrations and our wakes, part of a Friday or Saturday night for many, if not most, people. We're even branded with it; Guinness is a recognised name in every corner of the world. And there's surely not a family in Ireland untouched by the negative consequences of alcohol. As to what it says about Irish culture, and about us as a people, I'm not really sure. It's probably too broad a question to properly consider in a space as short as this. In the past, people undoubtedly used drink as a way of coping with the hardness of their daily lives. We have different problems now, but we still need to cope. And there's also an issue of social interaction. We all know hundreds of songs, but most of us only think we can sing after getting a few pints inside us. So maybe it speaks of some innate insecurity, too. Then again, maybe we just like to drink.

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 saw this in several of your stories including "More than One Way to Skin a Cat" and "An Immigrant's Christmas".

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it's THE dominant theme of modern Irish literature, but it's certainly one of them. I think, in previous generations, certainly for those ruled by the Church, family lines were more clearly defined. Men went out to work, women stayed at home and reared the children. It was a hard existence for everyone. At the end of week of hard physical labour, it was generally considered that the men were entitled to their time in the pub.
One of the reasons it might be a major theme in modern Irish literature is that a lot of what we'd consider modern tends to focus on a period when a considerable change was taking place. The gulf between generations during say, the 1960s, was probably more significant and dramatic than that which had been seen previously, and so the fractures came under the microscope. John McGahern's writing illuminates this point better than most.
Additionally, there were places, particularly in the west of Ireland, where work was scarce and men had no choice but to make their way across to England. They'd slave away on the building sites and send home what money they could to feed their families.
By the mid-1990s, with the boom of the Celtic Tiger, we were in the midst of other changes. The family unit, which had for so long been held sacrosanct  often at gunpoint, began to come apart. Immigrants started to arrive here, mainly from Eastern Europe, and having a child out of wedlock became less of an atrocity, less of a mortal sin. So while fatherless children may not yet be the norm, they are certainly a fast-growing feature of society. So, it is a theme that writers will likely continue to explore for many years to come.

4.  When did you start writing?

I dabbled with it throughout my teens and started to get serious about it probably in my mid twenties. I was always a voracious reader, but I came from a very ordinary background. Writers to me were like people from a different planet. I'd read about people like Steinbeck and Hemingway, and never believed I could become a real writer. Even their names sounded exotic, slightly unreal. Up until the late 1980s, Cork – or at least the corner of Cork I knew – was a very insular place. 
I am very much self-taught. I skipped the college route, but read everything I could get my hands on and developed a discipline where I'd write every day, without fail, without excuse. I was lucky that I managed to get a story published quite early on, in a widely read Cork Christmas paper called The Holly Bough. That was in 1999, I think, and the encouragement I took from that was enormous. A lot of rejection followed, of course, before my collection, 'In Exile' was published in 2008, but there were enough bright moments along the way to keep me moving forward.

5.  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.

First of all, I'm not sure it is disproportionate, if you think about it. When speaking of the tropics, we'd be covering a great many third world countries, with high illiteracy rates. Having said that, some of the world's greatest living writers emerged from that area, Naipaul in Trinidad, Derek Walcott in St. Lucia, Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe in Nigeria, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o in Kenya. And if you want to expand the limits and talk about warm versus cold climates, you are opening the conversation up to the Mediterranean and Iberian writers.
The Irish weather probably does shape the literary output of its writers, in the same way that the landscape and the baggage of the country's mythology does, in the same way that the writer's background does. Writers, poets, artists absorb their surround, I suppose. Everything goes into the mix and informs whatever emerges.

6. A character in an Ali Smith short story, asks in a conversation on the merits of short stories versus novels ""Is the short story a goddess and nymph and is the novel an old whore?"    Does this make a bit of sense to you?

I suppose she gets away with it by having a character say it for her! If she is saying that a short story is one thing and a novel something else entirely then yes, I agree.
It's a view held by many that short stories are inferior to novels, and for no better reason than they are short. No one says that poems are inferior to novels. I don't give this too much thought, to be honest. A great story is a great story. It doesn't have to go beyond that. Hemingway's 'A Big, Two-Hearted River' is a great story. Joyce's 'The Dead', Faulkner's 'A Rose For Emily', Gogol's 'The Overcoat', Paul Bowles' 'A Distant Episode', are all great stories, perfect as they are. Why should they be longer than they need to be?

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

Depending on our definition of the term, Modern... Joyce, I suppose, in that he changed the rules of the game.

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

Yes, it's curious. Storytelling is of course part of the culture. Everyone you meet on the street or in the pub has a story, and they rarely require much encouragement to start talking. I do think that there has long been a certain reverence for words in this country (though this may be finally fading out now, even as more and more people are turning their hand to writing). Even though many of us can no longer speak or understand Irish to any kind of fluent level, I wonder if there's not some kind of in-built tuning fork that allows the Irish writer to put a particular softness into an English sentence.

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."   

I do believe, yes. For the first seven or so years of my life, we lived with my grandmother, who filled my head with stories of fairies, ghosts and the Banshee. Listening to her, absorbing her tales, was in many ways my formative education. I have no doubt that she herself believed, and I've visited numerous fairy forts and spoken to many people over the years who have seen peculiar things. If I told you that I heard the Banshee one night, would you believe me? 
Prior to electrification, and before traffic began to gridlock our roads, the atmosphere of the country was probably more conducive to belief. On dark nights, sitting around the fire, listening to the sound of the wind in the chimney and in the trees, people's senses would have been heightened, old instincts awakened. Nowadays, unless you are out in the country, you never get more than a half-darkness, and silence has become a thing of the past. If a fairy or leprechaun was to put in an appearance, I'm not sure that they'd even be noticed.

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?

It has impacted on the psyche of the country. My whole life, I have been fascinated by such remains, and I think until recent years people have been generally respectful of them. They exist and must mean something, and they put us side by side with the ancient. But then the Celtic Tiger came in, the motorway was put through the Tara valley, and even though there are preservation laws on many of the ring forts and standing stones around the country, property developers happily bulldozed them and took the slap-on-the-wrist fines, knowing the move to be a profitable one. And once these relics are gone, they're lost forever. 
Really, though, we know very little about what they are or the people who raised them. The entire notion of Ireland that we hold is largely mythical. Even our post-Famine history has been spun out of almost all recognition. Orwell hit the nail on the head, really: "He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past."

11.   When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write?

Never. When I start a new story I rarely know what I want to say. I have a vague sense of what I am doing, and I like to have a feeling for the characters, but that is all. It's very haphazard. I write until its shape emerges, and then I rework it over and over until I am happy with it, or as happy as I can be. All of which can take a long time. I refuse to imagine at any point that the story will be published, that anyone will ever see it. This way I am free to explore anything I want, without inhibition. This is the only way I can function. I am always surprised when I hear writers saying that they write with an audience, or even a single reader, in mind.

12.  How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche?  

The Famine left a deep scar. In recent years, largely because of the boom, it has lessened in importance, but there are reminders still, ruined villages, in certain parts of the country. And of course, in historical terms, it is very recent. Most people in their thirties will find, if they have a mind to look, that the grandparents of their grandparents were born during or before the Famine. So it's within five generations of us. Also, outside of the main cities, most houses lacked electricity and running water until the 1960s, and a sense of the impoverishment lingered. The fact that it wasn't actually a famine at all but a potato blight (the British were still exporting livestock during the height of the devastation) makes it all the more terrible. It decimated the country, with between a million and one and a half million dead and the same number again forced to emigrate. Genocide does not seem like too exaggerated a word. How could that not leave a mark on the psyche?

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 and short stories?

I've certainly known a few 'stage Irishmen' over the years. They exist, but I'm not sure they are as one-dimensional as they might seem. The writer has to be looking at what lurks beneath the surface, what makes them the men they are. That's where the stories lie.

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

That's an interesting quote. I wonder if it has something to do with the expectations of the colonialist mind as opposed to those of the conquered?

But defeat has long been considered an essential building block of character, and it is the ability to take the beatings but to keep coming back, never giving up that earns true glory. Giving one's life for a cause is the ultimate act of heroism, even when the cause is futile. This is a common thread throughout human history, from the Greek epics, with Hector finally mastering his fear to remain outside the gates of Troy, armed only with a sword, to face the rampant Achilles, through the story of Jesus' crucifixion, through the Alamo (not all American heroes were victors), when Travis, Bowie and Davy Crockett stood with 200 men in the face of certain defeat against the full might of Santa Anna's Mexican army, and right up to our own Rising in 1916. Such defeats inspire, and they are obvious fodder for literature, certainly for mythology.In Ireland we are probably more intimately acquainted with defeat than most, so it seems natural that it would insinuate our writing.

15.   Does Cork get the literary respect it deserves or it is in the shadows of Dublin and Galway?

I'd argue that Cork punches well above its weight in literary terms, and I don't think it needs worry about the shadows of Galway and Dublin. I'm not really one who gets involved with organisations, preferring more of an isolated existence, but that's just my nature. And for those who are after such a sense of community there is a thriving scene down here, with the Munster Literature Centre, the Triskel Arts Centre, Tigh Fili and O Bheal. All are extremely welcoming and encouraging. And as regards literary heritage, this is a city (and county) that has produced writers like Daniel Corkery, Canon Sheehan, Lennox Robinson, Frank O'Connor, Sean O'Faolain, William Trevor and many other major figures, so we have no reason to feel inferior (in this, at least) to any city either in Ireland or the world.

16.  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?

Poets, like all artists, need to be true to themselves. There is a place for everything, whether it is politically engaged writing, which tries to light a fire in the reader, or work that simply by its beauty enriches the reader. A poet, or any writer, can only work to the best of their ability and then hope that it in some way resonates with the public. But at a time when there are more people than ever writing in Ireland, one of the big problems seems to be finding readers.

17.  "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).

Again, I don't know if this is right. But if there is truth in the statement then maybe it is because to conquer a race it is necessary to diminish them, lessen their worth. Stereotypes play up to this. If you accept them as real people then what, as the colonizer, does it make you? Vladimir Nabokov's novel, 'Lolita' brilliantly depicts how a man who has committed horrific crimes justifies his own behaviour in order to be able to live with himself. It is much easier to live with yourself for having plundered, slaughtered and suppressed a cartoon than to have to consider the consequences your actions have had on real living, breathing people.
One advantage creative artists clearly have over the historian is the opportunity to develop and emphasise character beyond mere facts and statistics.

18.     Do you think Irish Travelers should be granted the status of a distinct ethnic group and be given special rights to make up for past mistreatment?  are the Travelers 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 don't think that they should be given special rights, I think that they should be given equal rights, and treated the same as everyone else. What group, ethnically diverse or otherwise, can ask for anything more than that? They should be entitled to the same respects, benefits and privileges as all citizens, but they must then also be accountable for their actions. There is certainly a good deal of discrimmination still against the Traveling community in Ireland, but they themselves need to bear some responisibility.
To say that the Travelers are to the Irish what the Irish were once to the English doesn't feel correct either, and probably plays up to a lot of stereotypes. I know a number of people, some elderly now, who went to England, made a life for themselves and were easily accepted.

19.  Does being an Irish writer give you additional status or cache when submitting work out of the country?

I'd say not, and I don't see why it would. I don't think that it has ever brought me a single publication. It's only the stories themselves that matter.

20.  In the title story, "In Too Deep", why did you bring in two priests?  I admit I do not quite understand the role of the first priest in the story-can you expand a bit.  At first I assumed the priest was  considered possibly a child molester but I am not sure of that-do you might clarifying this for me a bit?

It's the older priest, Fr. Larkin, who stands accused, who has been questioned by the authorities. I wanted the details to be vague in keeping with the idea that these were things people didn't talk about. 
Fr. James, the story's main character, is clearly in torment, though whether he has been actively involved in something, whether it is guilt by association or whether his conscience is bothered by having turned a blind eye to whatever has gone on, is really for the reader to decide. He himself knows, of course, but I didn't want him laying out the facts. How do people deal with the terrible things they do? Is it that they justify their actions to themselves or is it that they try not to focus on the details? I wanted his actions and his behaviour to provide the clues, without offering any concrete answers.

21.  Do you prefer e reading or traditional books?

Traditional. I don't own a kindle. I know that it's the content that matters but I have a paper fetish. I am happy in the company of a book, I love the weight and feel and smell of them. For years, everywhere I went, I carried a book on me. But I keep hearing that e-readers are the future. I held out against mobile phones for a long time, too. A lot of important older work is either exorbitantly priced or long out of print in paperback but can be found on kindle for a pittance. I recently found this to be the case when I went looking for Mommsen's five-volume History of Rome and some of Henryk Sienkiewicz's novels. If kindle becomes the only viable option for accessing such work (they are even becoming difficult to find in libraries now) then I suppose it's only a matter of time before I am forced to give in. But I'll hold out for as long as I can.

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

I love to travel and there are many countries in which I'd happily live. There were parts of America that I liked, parts of France and Spain. Maybe if I was to choose somewhere I've never been I'd quite fancy somewhere like the Polynesian islands, Tahiti or one of the Marquesas islands, though with that choice I know I'd be largely chasing myth. And reading Paul Theroux's essays that record his travels and travails from that part of the world somewhat shattered my illusions.

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

Oh, so many places. Since you're guaranteeing my safety, imagine being around in southern France 80,000 years ago when the Neanderthal and Homosapien came face to face. I've always had an interest in antiquity and the ancient world, so I'd like to visit the great early civilizations at the height of their glory. Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome. I'd like to stand on some cliff and watch the 1200 Greek ships set sail for Troy. And I'd like to visit the Holy Land during the time of Jesus, just to answer a few questions for myself, and Tara, for a glimpse of what life was like in ancient Ireland. Also, I'd love to walk into a town like Tombstone, to see what the Wild West was really like. Or the Beatles at the Cavern club, Dylan in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village. And maybe I'd keep a day or two free to skip ahead into the future as well.

24.  Can you tell us a bit about your in process novel, Good Bye My Coney Island Baby?

    I won't say much about it because I find that, for me anyway, once an idea hits the air it loses a lot of its spark. Talking about something that is not yet finished only damages it.
    What I will say is that a few years back I wrote a story of the same name, about a man and a woman, both middle-aged and married to other people, who have been meeting in Coney Island, once a month for more than two decades, to carry on an affair. I liked the story, and published it, and it will be included, in slightly modified form, in my next collection, still tentatively entitled 'The Things We Lose, the Things We Leave Behind', to be published this coming September by New Island Press.
    Usually, when I finish a story, after a fair bit of rewriting, it is out of my system. But months after I finished this one I found myself thinking a lot about the story's two main characters. Out of curiousity, I began to consider other aspects of their lives, and gradually it began to take its own shape. It still is, as a matter of fact. I finished it about a year and a half ago and put it aside to concentrate on assembling the stories for my new collection, but I've now decided that I want to rework the ending.
    One thing I've learned is that stories, whether short or long, need time to evolve and emerge. I'd love to be a writer like Georges Simenon who could sit down and write a novel in a week and have it be something always at least good and quite often bordering on great. But I rarely know where I'm going and have to get there inch by inch. I am determined to finish the novel this year, though.

25. Have you attended creative writing work shops and if you have share your experiences a bit please. Have you taught them?
I've taught a few classes at a basic level over the past couple of years but, on the whole, I'm not a big fan of workshops. But every writer is different. Some writers thrive in the workshop scene but I need solitude, I need to figure things out on my own. During the writing process, I don't really want other people's opinions. As far as classes are concerned, I'm not sure they can give you anything more than the basics (though they can be useful for that). The only way to develop your writing is to read a lot and write a lot. There are no shortcuts and nobody can do the work for you.

26.   Best Literary Festival you have so far attended?

The Cork International Short Story Festival has a very homely and intimate atmosphere, the kind of festival at which you really get to know people. I read a couple of years back at the Word Festival in Aberdeen, and it was a wonderful experience, lovely people, a nice city and crowds with a real interest in literature. It's the enthusiasm of people that make festivals special, I think.

27.   Flash Fiction-how driven is the popularity of this form by social media like Twitter and its word limits?

I don't know if Twitter has played a part in the rise of flash fiction. I'm not really a big fan of the form. When it's done well it can be brilliant, but too much of the stuff I've read feels unfinished or gimmicky. I don't mean to tar all flash fiction with the one brush but a lot of it seems as if the writer hasn't - or couldn't be bothered to – take the time to develop the idea to its fullest potential. I've mentioned already that I feel stories should be as long (or short) as they need to be, but I wonder if the maximum word count of 500 or 1000 words is just too restrictive.

28.  How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?  in one of your stories a 16 year old girl drowns in the ocean and in another, a priest considers suicide by drowning in the ocean. Does the Ocean in part symbolize death.

The sea is important to me. I feel comfortable when I am within sight of it. Even if I am travelling abroad, a glimpse of the sea thrills me. In Seamus Heaney's poem, 'Lovers of Aran', he asks “Did sea define the land or land the sea?” For generations past, the sea provided sustenance, but often at a high price. So it can symbolise death but also life. For a lot of people, for a long time, it defined the limit of their lives. It's an undeniable part of us.

29.  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?

My own thought on Aosdana is that there has to be a better way of encouraging and promoting the arts. It is elitist by the very fact that it has a limited amount of members and that induction relies wholly on those already 'in the club' proposing new members. Several writers, the likes of Brendan Kenneally, Hugh Leonard and Eavan Boland, have refused membership, and John Banville resigned from Aosdana in 2001 in order to make way for artists who are in greater need of the support, urging others to do the same.
I'm not sure how much the yearly stipend is (something like fifteen or twenty thousand euros, is it? - not a lot to some, perhaps, but a fortune to others) but it is going to too many people who clearly don't need it. Maybe they should bring in a rule that the money will only go to those members who do not earn money from any other source than their writing.

30.  In a biography of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu I am currently reading the author, W. M. McCormack says "Dublin is an old city; its continuity from Danish and Norman settlers is traceable below a more modern architecture. But it has never been essentially an Irish city; when Louis MacNeice called it the ‘Augustan capital of a Gaelic nation’ he was playing with paradox, a favourite weapon of Dublin’s writers. To Swift it was both endearing and damnable; to Yeats it was an ‘unmannerly town’, a place of terrible beauty.

Historically, Dublin probably has suffered something of a separation issue. In the 12th Century, the Normans conquered and fenced off Dublin from the rest of the country. The term 'beyond the Pale' derives from this, 'pale' being the Hebrew word for 'fence', and to stray beyond it meant giving up the safety of the captured land and venturing out into the wilds of Ireland. So, the city has suffered more than its share of Anglification. And maybe that sense of separation has endured.
But less Irish than Galway? I'd say you'd have to define 'Irishness' first. Because the clan system held dominion for so long, Ireland was rarely if ever unified as a nation (at least prior to probably the 1600s). Rather, it was a patchwork of kingdoms. There were of course shared elements, language, aspects of culture and so on, but each area had its own distinctive brand of what we might consider 'Irishness'. I am inclined to believe that this hasn't really changed, and so Galway in the west has its identity, neither less nor greater but different, to that of Dublin in the east.

What is your reaction to this-is Dublin less Irish than Galway?  

31.  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 

Well, he uses failure twice. And it puts me in mind of the Pogues, for some reason. Maybe the rotten tooth. It's a bit bleak, even by my standards, but there are no doubt some, especially those who have suffered the institutions, who can probably relate. So it will be someone's childhood and country. But it wouldn't hurt to let a glimmer of sunlight in. I mean, it does rain a lot here but we get the occasional clear sky too.

End of Q and A

I offer my great thanks to Billy O'Callaghan for these very interesting and illuminating answers.    He has thought very deeply about these questions and I am in his debt for the knowledge he has shared with us.  He loves the short story and it shows in his wonderful works.  I will be an avid follower of his writings from this point forward.

Mel u


valerie sirr said...

Enjoyed Billy's interview. Thanks to you both. Have been keeping an eye on Billy's FB updates 'story of the day' and found some great ones I hadn't read before. 'Read a lot,write a lot' is the best advice. The odd workshop can be helpful to hone skills, but some people get dependent on them

Mel u said...

Valerie-it is people like you and Billy that keep me blogging on-Billy gave us some really great insights

Unknown said...

Very interesting. Especially liked the answer to Q. 17 and the role of creative artist vs. historian. Agreed!