March 1 to March 31
"Last Orders" and "Great Expectations"
"Last Orders" and "Great Expectations"
and Founder and Editor of
Number Eleven Magazine
and Founder and Editor of
Number Eleven Magazine
Your participation is invited for ISSM3. If you are interested, please e mail me.
I first encounter the work of Graham Connors in November last year when I was reading and posting on all of the short stories in 30 Under 30- Stories by Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy. I read and found hilarious his account of a young man's first sort of romantic encounter in his "Great Expectations". (My post on this really well done story is here.)
During this years ISSM3 I read and posted on a story which was published in The Bohemyth - A Literary Journal, "Last Orders" about college friends and the parting of the ways, among other things. (My post on it is here)
Today I am very happy to be able to share with my readers his Q and A Session.
Graham Connors is thirty years old and has previously been published in wordlegs magazine, 30 Under 30 (both e-book and paperback editions), Allegory magazine, Under Thirty magazine, The Bohemyth, The Lit Garden, Link magazine and long-listed for the Doire Press International Chapbook competition. He is the founder and editor of Number Eleven Magazine as well as contributing editor for the Dublin Informer newspaper. He successfully staged his first play, ‘The Mortal Pitch’, in both Wexford and Dublin. He is from Gorey, in Co. Wexford but has lived in Dublin for the last ten years. Someday he’ll find his way back home.
Q & A Session with Graham Connors
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?
At the moment I think short stories are in a really strong place, probably stronger than ever actually. Kevin Barry and Claire Keegan and Claire Kilroy are three that jump to mind immediately, Kevin Barry especially as he is not afraid to tackle language and create something new and exciting (City of Bohane, his debut novel I will admit, displayed a fantastic use of language). One of the best short story collections I have read over the last few years was from Billy Roche; his short story collection ‘Tales From Rainwater Pond’ is a really beautiful read and well worth looking in to. For me Colm Toibin, John McGahern and Stephen King are the three best short story writers that I have read.
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. Hanging out in Pubs is a big factor in your short story.
It can’t be denied that the pub plays a huge part in Irish life and so it signs on that this is reflected in our fiction. Every culture has a social focal point, the home, coffee shops, restaurant etc and it just happens to be that the pub plays a major part in the Irish identity but also in how other people and cultures perceive the Irish. Part of it could be that readers almost expect a pub to feature in our fiction at some point due to the fact that alcohol and Ireland’s association with it are so interconnected.
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 know from my own writing that the father figure plays a very strong role, a structural role to most of the stories that I tell. I guess this is down to the fact that I have a really strong relationship with my Dad and that just reflects itself in my work. Traditionally, the Mother is the focal point of Irish life and Irish writing so it may not be necessarily that the Father figure is missing or weak, it is just over shadowed by the Mother
.4. When did you start writing?
I have written since I was a child, since I was able to write. My parents often tell me that I never went anywhere without a notepad and a pen. I have dozens of jotters filled with ideas and stories that I wrote all the way through my primary school years. My sister was a big influence on me as she devoured books when she was a child, still does actually, so there was never a shortage of books around the house.
5. Tell us a bit, please about your educational background and your non-writing work experiences?
I studied journalism for a time and then moved and took a degree in Media and Communications. I followed this up with an MA in Film and Screen Culture. All the way through this I worked in sales roles or customer service roles
.6. 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.
Haha, I haven’t a clue as I’ve never considered it. It could be that our climate is so miserable for most of the year that all we can do is stay indoors. If we were distracted with warm weather and sunshine then may be we wouldn’t have the time to write.
7. 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?
Not really. Well, the short story, for me anyway, is a form that is so accessible; you can read short stories on your phone, your tablet, your laptop or an actual paper book. I find that a short story, by its very nature, is something to revel in, something that is almost carefree in terms of its form as a short story is something that can be read in one sitting. A novel on the other hand is something that you need to invest in – I wouldn’t call it an old whore though
.8. Who do you regard as the first modern Irish short story writer?
This is a hard question to answer. Sheridan LeFanu wrote great horror stories in the 1800’s but if I had to say who I thought the first modern short story writer was then I’d have to say James Joyce with The Dubiners
.9. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?
Emm, we’re an island of saints and scholars, or so the old saying goes. I think our culture of storytelling and being storytellers has had a major impact on our place in the literary world. We have always felt compelled to tell the world things, to spread the word and maybe that comes from our religious background, we think in terms of trying to make sense of the world around us. Irish history has been peppered with war and oppression and it is always, when you put someone down, that they strive for greater things - maybe we have always felt, that we had something to prove.
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."
I don’t believe in fairies but I do believe in their legacy. I believe that they are real enough to write about them, to watch out for fairy rings and fairy forts and not to piss them off. Most people would call it superstition – I guess they could be right
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?
Emm, again I’m not sure. I think that every era will leave a mark on the eras that follow. All kids of school going age know of Newgrange and other sites around Ireland, it is part of our history so I can’t see why the shadows of the past wouldn’t have some bearing on how we write and what we write about.
12. When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write?
I just write. The story dictates to me how it wants to be written and for what audience
13. How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche?
The Great Hunger that hit Ireland in the 1840’s and 50’s left a deep scar, a scar that I feel has never really healed. Students of Irish history will understand how the famine shaped Ireland and still affects the country to this day. Ireland had a population of 7 million in 1845. At present we have approximately 4.5 million people. Our population never recovered from losing over a million people to starvation and another million people to emigration. Up until 40 years ago there were people still alive whose parent’s or grandparents had lived through the famine, it was still a very fresh and very real thing, not just illustrations in a history book.
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?
Yes, unfortunately it does.
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 natioonal 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
There is a great saying in Ireland that goes something like this, ‘All our wars are happy, all our songs are sad.’ We fought for independence for centuries against the English, through the 1798 Rebellion, the IRB, the Fenian movement, the Easter Rising of 1916, the Civil War of 1921 etc. These all ended in defeat but the men of those rebellion, the Theobald Wolf Tone’s, the Padraig Pearse’s, the Roger Casement’s and the Father Murphy’s of Irish resistence to English rule all died in the fight. They became martyrs who were honoured because they gave the most important thing they had so others could live without the fear of tyranny – their lives. These men deserve to have songs sang about them and poems written about them. So, to answer the question – I did go on a bit of a rant there – yes, I think that the struggle for Irish identity and freedom has left an indelible mark on Irish literature.
16. In "Last Orders", what did you have in mind or why did you make David from Trinidad. It almost seems like he needed to be from outside Ireland to be admired or to not have negative issues.
The world is such a small place now; it is so accessible I wanted the distance between David and Laura to be so great that maybe it might never be bridged. I know so many people that have travelled to Australia or South America or Africa that those places just did not feel right, they didn’t create that sense of loss that Laura felt. It wouldn’t seem like an ordeal or such a monumental gesture to return to Ireland from any of those places or for Laura to travel to Australia or America. David needed to be from outside of Ireland as, if he were from some county in Ireland or even the UK, it wouldn’t make the break so hard. Laura was the only thing that tied him to Ireland, a tie that he had to sever and sever completely, but always with the hope that they may see each other again. So, if that reunion ever happens, it will be all the sweeter and far more special.
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?
Oh, this is a really tricky question for me as while I love poetry I honestly don’t feel like I have any authority in this area as I don’t write poetry. I think poetry should only ever be used to explain something, to dismantle an idea or emotion and explore it in an effort to make sense of it. If you are writing about anything else, something saccharine or writing just for the sake of writing then it’s a pop song you are undertaking. One thing I will say is that there is a new generation of Irish poets who are totally fearless in tackling the changing face of what it means to be Irish and all the staid conventions of Irishness. Stephen James Smith, Kerrie O’Brien, Neil Joseph Burns and Phil Lynch are a few poets that I know personally, poets whose work and view on things I really admire.
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).
- I have no idea how to answer this question so I’m not going to, sorry Mel.
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.
Oh, this is a tricky question to answer. I, for one, am not in favour of any form of discrimination. The Irish Traveller is a part of Irish culture and heritage and their way of life should never be lost, the government and modern society should do everything it can to accommodate the Traveller culture. But, at the same time, the members of the Traveller community have got to make a greater effort at integrating into modern Irish society. Popular culture is, at present, reaching out to the Traveller community through several television shows in both Ireland and England that feature Travellers as the focal point. If you don’t adapt or evolve then you are lost, the Traveller culture will be lost to us all and that should not and cannot be allowed happen
20. Tell us a bit about your plans for the literary journal are starting. What kind of works do seek to publish what are the biggest challenges in getting it off to a successful launch?
Number Eleven Magazine is a little project that a good friend of mine, James Keane, and myself are undertaking. Our first issue is currently under production and will be released early in April. Look us up on Facebook, Number Eleven Magazine, for all our submission details. Number Eleven, eventually, will be a magazine for the arts community as a whole, showcasing short and flash fiction, interviews, illustrations, artwork, graphic design and much more. We have great plans for developing it down the line but right now we are looking for strong, fresh pieces. Every journal asks for original or edgy prose. Of course, we want to read really interesting pieces but our emphasis is quality. We want well-written pieces, clear imagery and strong characters. If you are an artist, designer or illustrator then show us that you know your craft, that you can command the skills you possess. Submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
21. Best place in Dublin near Trinity University to get breakfast, fish and chips, have a fairly priced pint and hear some traditional music?
Now here we go. Right, the best pints in Dublin in or around the Trinity area can be found in Bowes on Fleet Street, The Lord Edward on Christchurch Place or The Dawson Lounge on Dawson Street (just to say, I am judging this on Guinness, none of this larger nonsense). Fish and chips, there is only one place and that is Leo Burdocks, also on Christchurch Place, although, if you’re in Dublin you should be looking for stew and coddle. If that is what you fancy give O’Neills or The Auld Dubliner in Temple Bar a shout. A good breakfast depends on what you want for breakfast, if it’s a full Irish fry up then you should look toward The Larder on Parliament Street. Good music spots are ten-a-penny in Dublin but try The Dame Tavern, Peadar Kearneys, The Stags Head, Donohue’s or, if you want to cross over the Liffey, MacNeill’s on Capel Street.
22. Do you prefer ereading or traditional books?
Traditional books – you can’t smell paper off of an e-reader
.23. If you were to be given the option of living anywhere besides Ireland where would you live?
New Zealand. I spent a summer there when I finished school and it is just the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The people are something to be celebrated, really rich and warm in terms of their personality and outlook.
24. If you could time travel for 30 days (and be rich and safe) where would you go and why?
This might sound like a strange use of time travel but I’ve always had a love affair with the old west. I would love to see America in the 1800’s when there was a frontier to see. I blame the double whammy of Dances With Wolves and Last of the Mohicans as the inspiration for this. Does the America that Lt. Dunbar saw still exist? If it does then we can forget about time travel, I just want to see that.
25. Reading 30 Under 30-A Selection of Short Stories by Young Irish Writers edited by Elizabeth Reapy gave me a great feeling of confidence for the Irish short story. Is there any sense of unity among the 30 Under authors? Do you see any thought of follow up anthologies. To me it could be a great test lab for following the development of young writers.
Absolutely. I think that 30 Under 30 should be a regular thing (I don’t know how much Elizabeth will like to hear me saying that as I know the mammoth task she had in organising and coordinating the project).
26. Have you attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please.
I have. I am a member of a writers group here in Dublin and we meet nearly every week to critique each others work but also to sit down and try our hands at a creative exercise. I find the creative exercises to be great fun. That’s the first point and most important for me; it has to be fun. There’s no point trying to do something that you hate. But it takes work, you have to concentrate and be prepared to invest yourself into the process. It’s much like running or exercise, before you do it you try talk yourself out of it but once you’re started you can’t imagine why you were so slow to get going
27. Best Literary Festival you have so far attended?
I don’t have too much experience as I have not been to too many but the best I have been to was ‘Shore’ in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo. The Market Festival in Gorey, Co. Wexford was also another great one.
28. Flash Fiction-how driven is the popularity of this form by social media like Twitter and its word limits?
Emm, I’m not sure. I think maybe flash fiction’s popularity has increased in part due to the decrease in a lot of people’s attention span. Everything has to be fast, fast, fast and now, now, now and social media really plays to this. Because of the proliferation of social media outlets it seems increasingly harder for people to focus on one thing at one time. If you are watching television then more often than not you have the tablet or the mobile phone on as well, surfing the net, updating Facebook or tweeting about the very thing you are watching. It’s the same with fiction, readers seem to want smaller, more bite-sized chapters or stories so I think that one thing feeds into the other, social media has allowed our concentration to drop but then also opened the door to flash fiction, which has reaped the rewards.
29. How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?
Very, I feel. I come from a small town in Co. Wexford, where I grew up only a few miles from the sea. Liam Griffin, a famous Hotelier and GAA sports personality in Ireland once said that Ireland has a fractured sense of itself due to the fact that the country is so small and surrounded by water and lined with mountain ranges, which naturally isolates certain parts of the country. This creates a unique personality or identity for all those area’s and this is very much reflected in our literature.
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
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.
Ouch, that is my first reaction to these lines. This is a very angry poet, angry at being Irish and at what being Irish is, the straightjacket of culture and expectation. I also read it as someone who sees the Irish fight for freedom as being central to who we, as Irish people, are.
End of Q and A
I offer my great thanks to Graham Connors for taking the time to provide such interesting and well reasoned responses to my questions. I hope to read more of his work soon.