March 1 to April 7
Q & A Session
Guy le Jeune, author of "Jamesy"
If you want to participate in ISSM3, you can. Please e-mail me if you are interested.
I first became acquainted with the writings of Guy le Jeune after we became mutual Twitter followers. I studied his webpage and I found it fascinating so I asked him if he had a story I could feature on my blog. This story, "Jamesy" turned out to be among the most moving stories I have read so far this month and it also perfectly exemplies some of the very basic themes of Irish literature. (I tried to talk about it in my post here which contains a link where you can read the story. I highly recommend "Jamesy".)
Guy grew up in the midlands of England, the adopted son of an Irish father and an English mother. He moved to Ireland 24 years ago and lives in County Donegal, although he spends a great deal of time in County Leitrim where he is restoring an 18th Century cottage.
He has worked most of his life in professional theatre, involved in design, production, sound and lighting. He started writing 10 years ago in response to the death of his father and meeting his birth mother for the first time. In 2011 he started a Creative Writing degree with the Open College of the Arts. His second assignment was the short story "Jamesy", which was a runner up in the 2011 Sean O'Faolain Short Story Competition and which he read at the Irish Writers' Centre.
Last year he wrote Small Town Removal after witnessing the events of a removal one afternoon in Ballinamore, Leitrim. Small Town Removal was placed third in the inaugural Costa Book Awards, Short Story Competition.
Guy is currently curating a reminiscence theatre project, A Sense of Memory. He has just completed the script for the theatre phase of the project entitled 'On the Camel's Hump', a reference to the old bridge connecting Strabane in Tyrone with Lifford in Donegal. More information about the project can be found here http://www.
Guy is also working on a novel, based on his experiences of living in London in the 1980's, entitled Essex Road.
Guy is a member of the North West Writers in Donegal, keeps bees and plays the guitar when nobody is listening.
Guy le Jeune
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 read so widely that admiration is difficult to place without a list as long as the page. If I had to choose three, then it would be David Constantine for his poetic brilliance, Ray Bradbury for his constant ability to surprise and John McGahern for his language and effortless storytelling.
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.Alcohol is part of our culture there is no doubt about that. Social gatherings inevitably involve a drink, whether it’s to wet the baby’s head or to toast the recently deceased. The pub was and still is the central gathering point for some rural communities, where the publican was often the grocer and the undertaker. Alcoholism is also a significant problem within Ireland but we also rail against the portrayal of the drunken Irish stereotype. I know from my own family that alcohol abuse can have a devastating effect and I recognise the pervasive nature of drink within our society. I do feel however that as a society we are beginning to address our sometime troubled relationship with alcohol. Our attitudes towards drink, mental health and suicide are changing, with a more mature debate and acknowledgement of the issues.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 suspect he has a point and certainly my own experience reflects that view. I don’t doubt that it feeds into my writing but it is not always conscious decision. I tend to have a period of active non-writing prior to putting words on paper. I let my mind wander and allow the sub-conscious to do the heavy lifting before I write. After that, the stories tend to arrive fully formed and ready for the page. It’s not surprising that any parental issues I might have surface into my work.4. Why did the death of your father give you the impetus to write? if it is not to personal, tell us a bit of your emotions on meeting your birth mother for the first time, please.My father was not a very nice individual. There wasn’t any physical or sexual abuse but he was a bully. He was always the loudest person in the room and things were always done his way. He was devout catholic and he was gay and he never came to terms with his sexuality. I had a very troubled relationship with him, not least because I was adopted. When my children were born he became very jealous of me. He wasn’t able to have kids and I think he saw that as his greatest failure. He suffered for four years from leukemia and his last years were spent trying to control everything, myself included. I won’t say I didn’t love him, but I didn’t like him very much for most of my adult life. Two weeks after I buried him I spoke to my birth-mother for the first time. I haven’t the words to describe that moment, there are none that would allow you to appreciate that overload of emotions. It was a great thing, a coming home, a resurrection, a heartbreak, a sadness, a terrible thing—all of that in one moment.My birth-mother and I now have a wonderful relationship and I wouldn’t change anything but both of these events have left me with a legacy of emotional and mental health problems. I see writing as just a cheap form of therapy and a great way to explore my feelings.5. My brother and I will be making our first trip to Ireland in May and we will be spending two days in Donegal. What are some of the cannot miss spots? best place to get fish and chips? to hear traditional music. best place for a splurge dinner at a fish house?Well you’ll be very welcome.Glenveagh Castle and the National Park is astounding. http://www.
glenveaghnationalpark.ie/The Rosses out on the west coast are strange in a good way. Glencolmcille is worth a visit. Fort Dunree is fascinating. The top of Inishowen is very different. An Grianán Aileach is extraordi
nary. You have to visit one of the islands, whether it be Tory or Aranmore. And a final shout out for Liam McCormack and his ecclesiastical architecture. Well worth googling.The county is big and each area has its own flavour, from the beaches to the mountains… as the tourist board used to say ‘Up here, it’s different.’Fish and Chips? That would be Salt and Batter in Rathmullan.Trad Music? Has to be Leo’s Tavern http://www.leostavern.com/Splurge dinner? My favourite would be The Lobster Pot in Burtonport.http://www.lobsterpot.ie/6. Tell us a bit about restoring an 18th Century cottage inCounty Leitrim, please. What is your goal? Are you trying to make it a near exact recreation? will you live there upon completion? How exacting are you in your requirements for authenticity.Not so much restoring it as just making dry and warm. I will spend a lot more time there this summer. It isn’t an authentic restoration at the moment. I plan to build an eco-house next to it and return the cottage to its traditional construction. It is a holiday cottage for the most part, though my bees live there. I am planting fruit trees and taming the rushes and one day I hope to live down there. We bought the place a few years back and it is my escape, a place to forget about deadlines, work and the real world. Time slows and you find yourself rising with the sun and living a different life. The views are soft and far and the silence sometimes wakes you in the night.7. Tell us a bit about your non-academic non literary work experience pleaseI’ve worked in professional theatre for over twenty-five years, mostly in production roles. I’ve been a stage-manager, production manager, designer, set-builder, prop-maker, lighting and sound designer and occasionally an actor and musician.8. Like Bram Stoker, you have worked much of your life in the non-acting side of the theater. It seems your work combines artistic and technical aspects. Can you tell us a bit about what some of the biggest challenges in this work might be?It has to be there at 8 o’clock on that particular evening. It is not optional. You can’t take another week or set up an expert working group to examine the situation… there are 300 people who have paid good money to see it and it had better be ready. I think theatre could teach a lot of industries and government departments about time management and deadlines.9. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?Probably because we can talk the legs of any equine beast of your choice. Storytelling, telling a good yarn, that is part of our culture. I think it is as simple as that.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 will quote Douglas Adams… ‘Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?’That said I would never touch the fairy hawthorn in the big field in Leitrim… so figure that one out your self…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?History is heavy in Ireland, it is a weight we bear, sometimes reluctantly. It is inescapable, whether it be relics of the Troubles, Independence, The Famine, Cromwell, the Dark Age monasteries, the Normans and Vikings or the Iron age settlements and forts. The upland blanket bogs of Donegal and the West are man-made landscapes, created when bronze-age peoples cleared the forests after the ice receded. We can no more ignore the landscape and history than the Tuareg can ignore the desert or the Lakota can ignore the Great Plains.12. 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 as or before you write it?I just write and hope that whoever reads my words can enjoy or at least understand them.13. Tell us a bit if there are any tension from having an Irish father and an English mother? In your mind do you see yourself as purely Irish?No tension, but always an identity crisis. I’m a second generation Irishman, but parts of me will always remain very English. There were no GAA clubs and no Irish speakers where I grew up. I’ve been living Ireland over half my life and this is home for me, but there are times when I do feel like a foreign national. (The terminology the government and the media give to those not born here)I feel as though I live somewhere in the middle of the Irish Sea on occasion but I’m sure of my citizenship.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?Sadly yes he does, but often because he is such a great character to write about. Exploring the darker side of humanity is far more interesting than a happily married, sober and conscientious individual.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 literatureWe are the eternal underdog, the eternally enslaved, even now, with the IMF in town. There is a streak of victimhood and begrudgery in our national character and also a celebration of death and the attendant rights. I explore that in Small Town Removal. It is hardly surprising that we tend to celebrate the defeated and the valiant deaths of our ancestors, whether that be the rebellion of the United Irishmen in 1798, the Easter 1916 Commemorations or the 1981 Hunger Strike Memorials.16. This is a longish question and it quotes from "Jamesey"-I know you did not consciously try to encompass the basic themes of the Irish short story in your work but I claimed in my post that you did-can you respond a bit to this--"He had been a drinker years before, when he’d lived in England, when he’d had the legs to hold it. He’d spent his days pushing barrows of muck up steep scaffolding planks and tipping the muck into skips. He’d carried blocks and pipes and clamps, up and down ladders and up and down buildings. His nights were spent with all the other lads from Leitrim and Roscommon, talking about the old place, the Connacht football championship and the day’s winnings and losings on the horses. Jamesy was a Corvagh man and the Aughnasheelin boys would always have a wager with him when the two sides met. He’d not meant to end up in London, but after she’d told him her news, he knew he’d not be welcome in the village.She’d been sent away to Liverpool to deliver and Father Michael had told Jamesy that he’d be wise to go to England too. "Let's look at the phrases I have marked. Alcohol, as seen in the stories I have read, seems the life blood of Ireland. Jamesey is depicted a drinker. To be a drinker in Ireland seems to mean that drinking is central to your life, it almost defines you like my reading almost defines me at times. Exile and the power and draw of England is a big factor in Irish literature. Everyone from Ireland who goes always wants to come home just like Jamesey does when his father dies. He also hangs with the lads. We also see the moral code of the society enforced by the priest, usurping the role of the father. The domination of Irish society by the priest is seen by Kiberd and Ferrier as a cause and symptom of the weak Irish father. Sex out side of marriage is seen as a great sin, a woman who gives birth to an illegitimate child brings shame on her family in a culture where sexually active unmarried women were once looked up as little more than prostitutes or as mentally ill.I can’t say much more than this… Jamesy was inspired by a character I saw in Fenagh, the village where John McGahern lived in his later years. This wire-haired farmer was pushing a bicycle up the hill and I suppose in my own I wondered what McGahern would have known about this fellah. The story fell from that one moment. Yes there are all the elements you alluded to, but it was simply an attempt at an accurate portrayal, albeit fictional, of this character. It would not the veracity it has if I had him sober, married and happy.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?As artists, we are obligated to address all of what makes us human, including social and political commentary. Jamesy’s experience of government intervention is far from positive. The fact that so many men take their own lives in similar circumstances is a national disgrace. It might be a simple tale of a an old man who has had enough, but I hope it highlights the lack of mental health support structures in rural Ireland.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).That would be entirely correct, and coming from someone who has feet on both side of the Irish Sea, that is what I am attempting to do in my novel Essex Road19. 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 don’t doubt that traveller culture has informed and inspired a lot of our music and the verbal arts in particular. As an ethnic group? I know that the Eurpoean Union is putting pressure on our government but I can’t personally say, because any opinion in either direction opens arguments about integration, criminality, social needs and the undercurrents of racism in our society. Travellers are regarded a second class citizens in this Republic and I find that abhorrent. I will also say that I found the recent comments from local politicians in Donegal and the arson attack on a property that was due to be let out to a settled traveller utterly repulsive.20.When you commute from Donegal to Dublin, what route do you take? if you are suggesting a route to my brother and I what would you suggest? where should we stop for lunch on the way?I don’t commute much but if I do, I generally break the journey in Leitrim. As Enniskillen is a half way house I would recommend Blakes in the Hollow, as fine a pub/restaurant as you’ll get.21. What play did you most enjoy designing and constructing the set forFor me it is always the current one, On the Camel’s Hump which is part of the Sense of Memory Project. Although I’m working with a professional designer for a change, as a writer I have my own contributions to make and in this case it is ‘Keep it simple’.22. Do you prefer e-reading or traditional books?Paper, always paper, though my sons Kindle is tempting.23. If you were to be given the option of living anywhere besides Ireland where would you live?I can’t take heat, I’m a confirmed Northern European, so the options are limited though as you can tell from the name, I have French roots so I’d probably opt for Brittany.24. If you could time travel for 30 days (and be rich and safe) where would you go and why?To the founding of the USA. Thomas Paine and John Adams are people I’d like to meet.25. Have you attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please.I spent a week in the Arvon Foundation retreat at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire. The house used to belong to the poet Ted Hughes. I wrote a piece about it forwriting.ie, and rather than repeating I’ll give you a link. http://www.writing.ie/
resources/residential-writing- courses-my-week-at-arvon/26. Would you rather witness opening night for Waiting for Godot, King Lear, Playboy of the Western World or Ubo Roi?Lear, for the brilliance of Shakespeare, whoever he/she was.27. How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?Completely, like the history and the landscape it is simply there.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?I miss the language and the people and the attitude to life and I don’t miss the dark of a Donegal winter… that said the reverse is true, we are so far North that even at midnight the sky is still blue in June.29. Quick Pick Questionsa. John Synge or Beckett-?b. dogs or catsc. best city to inspire a writer-London or Dublind. favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner?e. RTE or BBCBeckettDogsLondonDinnerBBC30. 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 failureAnd the scattered corpse of the real.This is my childhood and country:The cynical knowing smilePlastered onto ignoranceIdeals untarnished and deadlyBecause never translated to actionAnd everywhereThe sick glorification of failure.Our white marble statues were draped in purpleThe bars of the prison were born in our eyesAnd if reality ever existedIt was a rotten toothThat couldn't be removed.Michael O'LoughlinApposite, beautiful words and a truth so hard it pains. But then we are also eternal optimists, with an attitude that says ‘feck it’ even in the hardest of times.
Following Guy le Jeune's recommendation in question 1, I have obtained and have become reading Tea in Midlands by David Constantine. The opening story was amazing and I thank Guy for this as well as his very perceptive, forthright, and very well expressesed responses to my questions.
I hope to read much more of his work in the future and if nothing else I hope we can catch up with him during ISSM4 in March of 2014.