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

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ferdia Lennon A Q and A Session with the author of "The Revolutionary and Synge" and other stories

March 1 to April 7

Ferdia Lennon

ISSM3 is now extended until April 7. There are a lot of exciting things in the works. Your participation is welcome. E-Mail me if you are interested or have any questions, please.

I first became acquainted with the work of Ferdia Lennon while reading and posting on all of the short stories in the anthology 30 Under 30: Thirty Short Stories by Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy and published by Doire Press. (I strongly endorse this book to anyone with any interest in the contemporary short story.) His story "The Revolutionary and John Synge" was the first story I read in the collection. (My post on this story is here.) I told myself if I liked it I would read and post on the other 29 stories in the collection. I really liked his story and I felt in the two friends arguing over whether or not Galway or Dublin was the "real" Ireland that I could see John Synge somehow in the background smiling. Recently I read two more of his short stories and greatly enjoyed them. (My post on these two stories is here and in this post you will find links to the stories.)

Author Bio.

Ferdia Lennon is from Dublin. He recently returned from Paris, where he co-wrote the comedy sketch show Fifth Wall which played at the Petit Théâtre du Bonheur, Montmartre. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as SouthwordThe Galway Ropes Anthology and Wordlegs 30 under 30. In 2012 he was shortlisted for the Sean O' Faolain Short Story Competition.   

He is a graduate of History and Classical studies from University College Dublin and the University of Amsterdam. Since graduating he has lived in Granada Spain, London and is currently based in Paris.

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?

There are lots, but Alice Munro and William Trevor stand out in my mind.
In terms of my all-time favourite short story writers it would have to be Chekhov, Salinger and Joyce. Joyce and Salinger wrote relatively few short stories, but what they did write are, for me, perfect.

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.  

Well, as you can imagine it says that alcohol is an important part of Irish culture. I think the country’s literature inevitably expresses this.

Better city for the new writer-Dublin, Paris, London and why?

I don’t really know much about the literary scene in London, though I’m sure it’s good. Paris and Dublin are excellent. Both cities have a host of great writers who lived and produced some of their best work there.  That’s inspiring.  Also they both have a vibrant spoken word culture. Still, I’m in Dublin now so I’ll say Dublin.

In an over the ropes battle royal of 19th century novelists, who wins-the English, the Russians or the French?

I’ve read that Tolstoy was an excellent wrestler, but still it’s very difficult to decide. Where does the battle take place? Why are they fighting? All these factors are important………..The Russians.  Always the Russians.

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

I believe it’s cultural. Oral storytelling has been a historically important part of Irish life for centuries. Perhaps this tradition translated into literary skill.  Along with this there is the fact that now in Ireland, from a young age at school, you are exposed to great writers who were born and lived in the same country as you. This is inspiring and it also creates a sense that writing is an important and worthwhile endeavour.    

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

Not at the outset. For me writing is instinctual, at least in the first draft. I may have a sense of a character and a situation, but at the beginning I am simply trying to find out more. It’s about discovery and that’s exciting. I would never start by trying to write for a specific audience because that would mean putting certain demands on the story before it even exists − if that makes sense. The first draft is about finding out what it is I want to say and redrafting is about deciding how best to say it − how best to communicate with the reader. So when editing, yes, I would have an audience in mind, but only then.

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? 

 Well “stage Irishman” implies an inherent cliché, whereas it’s certainly possible to have a heavy drinking, violent character who is believable, well rounded and necessary to a given story.  Drinking is undeniably a significant part of Irish culture and some of the country’s literature is bound to express that.

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?

It’s difficult to quantify but it’s definitely there: the glorious defeat. You see it more clearly in sport. A perfect example is last year when Ireland lost 4-0 to Spain and the stadium was filled with thousands of Irish people ecstatically singing The Fields of Athenry − which is a Famine song. I think you could probably argue that our history has given Irish people an above average sympathy for the aesthetic of failure and that this is likely to have trickled into our literary output.

When people write about the lives of poets they always speak of how troubled and tortured they were-imagine the American poet Hart Crane (or anybody else you want). If instead of dying, young and beautiful, in his thirties by jumping from a cruise liner, he had lived to his seventies, joined his rich father in the candy business and died fat and asleep in his chair would he still be considered a poet of worth? 

The important thing is the work. In the long term mediocre poetry or prose is forgotten regardless of how tortured its creator was.  

What aspects of history most interest you?

For me history is a dialogue about the past: a dialogue of competing stories and interpretations. I’m interested in it for the same reason I’m interested in literature. I love stories.

Do  you prefer e-reading or traditional books?

Traditional books. The texture, the smell. I doubt there are many writers who prefer e-books.

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

6th century BC Greece. I feel I could have made a competent Pre- Socratic philosopher.

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 know about Twitter but it’s certainly true that Flash Fiction is uniquely suited to internet reading. As a form it’s short enough to weather the slings and arrows of You Tube and Facebook. To the question of whether some playwrights will begin shortening their dialogues as a result of Twitter, I sincerely doubt it. And I sincerely hope not.

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

The weather and the weather. This is actually true. When I’m living in Dublin, the rain can be monotonous and downright enraging, but on my few forays into hotter climates I’ve inevitably found myself pining for grey clouds and the smell of wet grass.


I give my great thanks to Ferdia Lennon to take the time to provide us with such interesting and well considered answers to my questions.

I will follow his career as best I can from the other side of the world and hope, if not sooner, to catch up with him during ISSM4 which hopefully will begin March 1, 2014.

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