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

Jaki McCarrick A Q & A Session with the author of The Shattering

March 1 to April 7
A Question and Answer Session 
Jaki McCarrick

ISSM3 has been extended until April 7 in order to accommodate all the exciting things in the works.   There is still plenty of time for new participants so please e mail me if you are interested.  

I first became acquainted with Jaki McCarrick by reading of her wonderful activities rescuing stray animals.  As soon as I became aware that she has recently published a collection of short stories set in Ireland I began to read it and as was amazed by the quality of her wonderful stories.  (My post on The Scattering is here.)  Here is what I said in my opening remarks on the book.

 The Scattering - A Collection of Short Stories by Jaki McCarrick is an amazing body of work, with shimmering and incredibly entertaining stories that go deep into the heart of many of the issues facing contemporary Ireland.  This book deserves tremendous success and a very wide readership.  It both confirms and rises above the common elements of the Irish short story I have spoken about this month;; the weak or missing father, the presence of the stage Irishmen, the uneasiness of the relationships of men and women,  the heavy reliance on alcohol, the temptation toward arrogance as a way of dealing with the humiliating consequences of colonialism, the obsession with death, and the false rebellions of posers of all sorts.  

Needless to say I am very honored that she has agreed to do a Q and A Session for ISSM3.

Author Data

Jaki McCarrick

Jaki McCarrick lives in Dundalk and studied at Trinity College, Dublin, gaining a Master of Philosophy Degree, Creative Writing – Distinction. Before this Jaki gained a BA Performing Arts, First Class Honours Degree at Middlesex University. She has also completed an RNT Directors Course, 2001.
Jaki is a playwright and short story writer who is also working on a novel. She has won many awards for her work including: Winner of the 2005 SCDA National Playwriting Competition for The Mushroom Pickers; Shortlisted for the Sphinx Playwriting Award 2006, Bruntwood Prize 2006, Kings Cross Award 2007 for The Moth-Hour; Shortlisted for the 2009 Adrienne Benham Award for Leopoldville and the 2009 Asham Award for short fiction for The Congo – in this collection. Most recently her short story The Visit, included in the Badlands collection, won the Wasafiri Prize for New Writing in October 2010 and Jaki was declared the first ever winner of the Liverpool Lennon Paper Poetry competition, which she was awarded by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Another story from the collection, Hellbores, was recently shortlisted for both the Fish Short Story award and Bridge House Publishing's World Stopping Event writing prize. Bridge House want to publish that story in a new anthology and it has also appeared in the Irish Pages journal.
Jaki McCarrick's blog

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?

One of my favourite short story collections is Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace. This is not necessarily because DFW is an amazing short story writer – he sometimes falls far short of this – but because in all of his stories (and novels and essays) I detect a voice, a writer who is trying to be as truthful as he can be, who is trying to put on the page what it means to be alive, to be human at all. DFW was also a Philosophy major - and a deeply analytical approach to the human condition is at the core of all his writing. So what I like about short story writing is really just what I like about writing itself; what comes first for me in a piece of writing is a sense (from the writer) of open-heartedness, humanity. Another favourite writer of mine, for the same reason, is E.M. Forster.

In terms of the short story specifically though – I admire so many writers, and for different reasons. Claire Keegan for her depth and precision, Flannery O’Connor for her musicality and devilish humour, William Gay for his beautiful, intoxicating prose. I also love the stories of Katherine Mansfield, Miranda July, John Burnside, Joyce Carol Oates, William Trevor, Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, John McGahern, Colm Toibin, Eugene McCabe, Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne du Maurier, Desmond Hogan and a host of others. Two of my favourite short stories are ‘A Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner and ‘An Honest Thief’ by Dostoyevsky – both, again, stories that are full of a great sense of humanity.

The three best ever short story writers? A very tough question – but in my very humble opinion, I would say – Flannery O’Connor, Chekhov, John McGahern.

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 plays a big part in several of your stories.

So interesting to hear that! I hadn’t realised drinking featured so prominently in my stories! I guess as I’m writing stories (mostly) about where I live (the Irish border) drink is going to figure in them. Drinking is a massive part of Irish culture – there’s just no getting away from that. I was raised by two non-drinkers and I don’t drink much myself, so, perhaps I am a good (sober!) observer of drinking in the culture. I think the ‘drink culture’ in Ireland has a lot to do with the weather. Café society took off in Europe because people could spend time outside. In Ireland social interaction happens mostly inside. Throw into the pot the psychological scars of colonisation, the domination of the Catholic church (and all of its abuses), emigration, a constant sense that the Republic has failed - and you have a ‘drink + melancholy’ scenario which is not a healthy mix. When I lived in London people would often comment on the sense of fun ‘us Irish’ have whereas I always saw a lot of Irish ‘drink culture’ as part of a much deeper, sadder thing – a release from the sense of shame, repression and all those other darknesses we’ve been burdened with as a race, perhaps.

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 in my post on your work that some of your stories are text book cases of this theme. Why do you think this came to play so strongly in your work?

Great question! I know a lot of Irish people with a ‘weak’ or missing father – so I am not at all surprised by Declan Kiberd’s opinion that this is a dominant theme in Modern Irish Literature! This question alone, I imagine, could easily form the basis of a PhD thesis. Sean O’Casey’s Joxer Daly might be a stereotype of the drunken ‘dreamer’ Irishman – but I would say it’s a rare Irish family that doesn’t know a Joxer (stereotypes are there for a reason, after all).  James Joyce mourned his father, a man who as a result of drinking and gambling had plunged the family into poverty, far more than his long-suffering mother.

My own mother died quite young which is why I think I write a lot of father-daughter stories (and plays).

4. when did you start writing?

I’ve been at it all my life! As a child I won an essay competition at my school in Hampstead Heath in London and then when I moved to Ireland (aged twelve) I had poems published in the Sunday World Newspaper and won some local short story competitions. I didn’t really know how to go about being a ‘book’ writer though – so I combined writing with my interest in music and went to London and got a job as a music journalist. I did that for a few years before studying for my degree.

5. I went to graduate school back in the stone ages before the internet. We did our research in the library. Is almost all research now internet based? (Jaki-just if you will talk a bit about how much grad school research in the humanities is now internet based)

I studied for a PhD as recently as 2008 and my supervisor urged me to do properly recorded research in a library as opposed to the internet. I have to say I am very ‘old school’ with regards to this. I love books, the smell and the feel of books. I study better from books and dislike looking at a screen for too long. I have a theory that information is retained much more from reading a hard-copy page than a screen! Having said that – there’s definitely a place for both the internet (great for speedy quick references) - and books in a library. The internet is also a brilliant place to catalogue book lists and point a prospective researcher towards the right library etc. In this respect, the internet and ‘book’ research are complementary.

6. In the Trinity University Master's in creative writing program, who were some of the classic and contemporary authors most focused on?

Well, the MPhil at Trinity is non-prescriptive in terms of what classic/contemporary authors are studied by the creative writing students etc. I chose to do a lot of other modules in my year, including as many taught modules from the Anglo-Irish Literature course as I could manage. The novel course (with Eve Patten) looked at Glen Patterson’s work, Mary Morrissey’s brilliant novel, Mother of Pearl, and also Colm Toibin’s first novel, The Heather Blazing. On my poetry course I was fascinated most by Patrick Kavanagh – and chose to study him for my PhD.

7. Tell us a bit about your non-academic non-literary work experience please

I have worked as a music journalist (interviewed lots of rock stars); I have written and still write songs and work with an electronic band called Choice, I’ve also acted - and choreographed short pieces of contemporary dance (which, admittedly, I mixed with text). I have – and still work – for the Pushkin Trust, an organisation in Northern Ireland established by the Duchess of Abercorn to develop creative learning in children.

  1. Some people say Shakespeare killed the English theater-did Beckett does some similar to the Irish?

I suspect you mean ‘killed’ in the sense that no one else can surpass them – which is possibly correct for both men.

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

I have often thought about this and I think it just might be because of the way Irish society is organised – even today. In Ireland there simply aren’t the amount of art schools, drama schools, music schools etc that there are in the UK or the US – so if you’re creative in Ireland and can’t access an outlet – a theatre, an art school etc - the one thing you can do - or try to do – is write, writing being the last ‘free’ artform etc.

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 like to keep an open mind on ALL things! (My father is from the West of Ireland and knows a whole heap of stories about fairies!)

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?

Mel, I will have to think about this one!

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?

Initially, I don’t think of an audience. I always think that I am the audience or reader. But when I am at editing stage in the work I think about what Allen Ginsberg said about imagining your aunt – or others - reading your work etc. This way you suddenly see the work in a different light and potential blind spots in the story/poem/ piece of writing suddenly manifest themselves. I do that a lot towards the end of the writing process. It’s just a way of giving yourself a new pair of eyes on the material.

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?

I don’t know a lot about Aosdana – but I imagine it’s very nice for artists who have worked at a particular form their whole lives, often with very little reward, to get some kind of steady income. That’s a very nice thing to do for these artists and I would not begrudge them a penny!

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? I would say he seems to live on in several of your stories such as "The Hemingway Papers".

The father in the Hemingway Papers is not exactly like my own father, but there are similarities. I really wouldn’t work with these ‘types’ unless I knew them well myself, I just wouldn’t be able to.

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 literature

There is a sense in Irish plays and poetry that the nation is hopeless – before and after the formation of the Republic. It’s a sense of lost opportunity, a dream turned to dust etc. British poetry, for instance, even very contemporary work, is much more romantic and confidently nature-loving than Irish work – even though Irish writers are known for their ‘lyricism’ (Beckett hated this quality in his work). This would also make a hefty PhD thesis by the way – but yes, ours is a literature of the colonised, of the fractured soul - and there’s not a lot we can do about that!

16. As a director what do you find the biggest challenges in producing a play true to the authors intentions? Would you rather direct King Lear, Waiting for Godot, Playboy of the Western World or a modern musical?

I haven’t directed in a while. The last play I directed was Shakespeare’s Henry V in London. If I had a chance to direct any of the plays you mention here – I think I’d like to have a stab at the Synge. Synge is the most PERFECT playwright. Not a word or measure of rhythm is out of place in any of his plays.

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?

There are many kinds of poets writing in Ireland today. There are some who follow Auden’s wartime credo that poets are about art and not politics, and others who are angry and feel they have to speak out. And then there are writers who do both, are at turns angry and then get sick of the whole thing and write according to their own literary interests. I am probably of the last ilk. I have written political, angry stuff – and then I get fed up and do something else.

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).

Yes, I think this strange relationship does exist between the English and Irish. As someone born and raised in the UK I do see this - and I find it perplexing. It’s also true that (generally speaking) the Irish spend a lot of time concerning themselves with how they are perceived (usually by the English) whereas the English do not. This is telling - indicative of a sense of inferiority, perhaps?

In my writing, though, I try not to get too mired in these ‘Irish vs. English’ arguments; I am much more interested in ‘human’ troubles and concerns etc than in ideas of ‘nationhood’ etc. I’m with Joyce on this one – I don’t really care about the ‘idea’ of Ireland. It’s very messy and divisive – and slightly illusory too. We are all just people – and are pretty much the same wherever you go on this earth.

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 yes – I ADORE Desmond Hogan’s work. Lark’s Eggs is such a great story. I don’t really know a lot about the whole Travellers Rights issue – but I’m (obviously) for equal rights for all and if Travellers want to be seen as distinct ethnic group then that’s cool with me! I happen to think, though, that as human beings all come from the same female genome in Africa we are none of us particularly distinct from each other!

20. Death, natural and otherwise is a central factor in your stories and it seems to me to play a bigger factor in the Irish short story than other cultures-can you talk about this a bit please?

I hadn’t realised Death was such a big factor in the Irish Short Story. That is very interesting. Personally, I think I work with this theme a lot because my own mother died quite young. It dominates my imagination a lot. I really do only work with themes I’m quite connected to.

21. Do you prefer ereading or traditional books?

I’m afraid I’m a book reader and don’t read e-books. I am a very kinaesthetic person I think. I am sensitive to smells and atmospheres and even the ‘engine’ noise of a computer annoys me sometimes.

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

I went there when I was fourteen with my mother and I’ve never forgotten it.

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

I would probably just go back to when my mother was alive. I remember that she was very happy when she would stay at my grandmother’s farm in Sligo. So I would like to have 30 days with my mother, just chatting to her, circa one nice summer in the Ox Mountains – say, early 1980s.

24. Have you attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please.

I did the MPhil in Creative Writing at Trinity College 2003/2004.
I loved it there. I had great teachers in Gerald Dawe and Brendan Kennelly. The course at Trinity is not divided into drama, poetry, prose etc – as other CW courses are – and I preferred it like this as one got to work in many different forms. I also made some great friends.

25. 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?

References to Twitter and Facebook have certainly crept into dialogue in contemporary scriptwriting - but I’m not sure it has impacted upon sentence length etc. People still struggle to communicate and sentences are as long or short as they have always been.

I read Dave Eggers’ flash fiction in the past and liked it a lot. Generally, I prefer longer prose forms – but I’m all for whatever gets people to read and to be creative in their thinking.

26. How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?

I think Colm Toibin has written about this in the past. Yes, I think it’s an important factor. The looking outwards (as if inwards), the sense of being hemmed in, trapped, the sense that the answers to the woes of the land must be ‘out there’ somewhere (whereas the answers are most likely not ‘out there’ at all). The sea also figured hugely in the lives of early Irish mystics, the monks and scholars – and perhaps our literature is still connected to that stuff, that sense that life is fleeting and really very simple and the consumerism of the mad and wider world is meaningless etc. There is a real timelessness to some parts of the Irish coast.

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

As someone who is really of dual nationality (I call myself ‘British-born Irish’) I am someone who feels simultaneously at home nowhere and everywhere. But when I’m away from Ireland I miss the land the most. The colours and shapes of my local hills, the ruggedness of the coastline around Carlingford, the beach flowers and smells.

29. Quick Pick Questions

a. John Synge or Beckett-?
Impossible to choose, as they are both so different - but at gunpoint probably Synge.

b. dogs or cats
Love them both – but at gunpoint – cats.

c. best city to inspire a writer-London or Dublin
My mother is from Dublin but to be honest I think London means more to me than Dublin, simply because I was born and raised there and I know it better. My favourite river in the world is the Thames. Having said that there is plenty to inspire writers in Dublin – not just the literary heritage etc. I love the old bars of the city, the Georgian architecture, the various museums and art galleries (all of which are on a more human scale than the galleries of other cities),–the Dublin coastline, Dalkey, Howth, Dun Laoghaire (my mother studied at Dun Laoghaire art school).

d. favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner?

e. RTE or BBC
I am addicted to the dramas on BBC 4 on Saturday nights. The Scandinavian noir dramas like Borgen and The Killing. I also love the French drama, Spiral.

31. Please tell us something about your wonderful animal rescue work.

The animal ‘work’ I do is really just an extension of the Dostoevsky epigraph at the beginning ofThe Scattering. I really do believe we are responsible for everything on this planet – and the more love and care we give out the better the world is. It makes total sense to me to care for the world that I have to live in - because there isn’t any other world to live in! So  I just do what I can - and whenever I can help raise an issue of animal welfare, I do. All I give really is a bit of time. Lots of writers and artists are/were animal lovers. (Certainly the ones I like anyway!) I'm a big fan of Steven Wise the American Animal Rights lawyer who refers to cats, dogs, dolphins and whales - and other animals - as 'non-human persons'. I would agree with this. Of course, the entire 'animal slaughter' trade (meat trade, fur trade) would not like us to think so kindly of animals - which is why we need to keep fighting for their rights. 

32. 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

That’s a brilliant caustic poem.

That’s what Ireland often gives rise to –caustic poems, plays, songs, novels - and in this terrible current climate of economic collapse in this country no doubt there will be more.

I give my great thanks to Jaki McCarrick for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and well reasoned answers.

I completely endorse her powerful collection of short stories, The Scattering, to all lovers of the form.

Mel u

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