March 1 to March 31
A Question and Answer Session
If you are interested in participating in Irish Short Story Week in any fashion, please contact me.
Mary Healy, a Kilkenny based writer is a graduate of NUI Maynooth course of Creative Writing for Publication. Her work has been published in several anthologies and broadcast on radio. Her work also won prizes in The Irish Writers Centre in 2011 and 2012, and features in their archives. This year she won the UCD Masters Anthology Competition 2012 and will be published in their collection of short stories in December 2012. ‘New Trick with Matches.’ She was highly commended on the short list in the Bryan MacMahon Competition in Listowel Irish Writers week and in the top ten of RTE Guide Penguin/Eason’s Short Stories
Someone once asked me "what I get out of doing Irish Short Story Month?". One of the biggest things is discovering exciting new to me writers near the start of their writing career who I can watch develop. Mary Healy of Kilkenny, Ireland certainly falls into this category. Yesterday I read two of her short stories twice and greatly enjoyed them both.
Both of her stories are in a way about strays, in one case a dog and the other a woman. They are about different forms of love, about nurturing, about the different kind of bonds one can form, about the compromises people sometimes make that change their lives forever.
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?
Impossible to pick three!
1 That’s a Sophie’s choice question! There are so many really good short story writers. The Irish writers Anne Enright. Claire Keegan, William Trevor, Mary Morrissey, Joseph O Connor, Kevin Barry stand out for me. I love collections of short stories and anthologies. The Stinging Fly, Fish and Irish Independent publish great stories from new emerging writers. Narrative on line is a superb source for excellent short stories. I love the work of Anthony Doerr, Alexander MacLeod, Alice Munro of course, Raymond Carver, Chekhov and I love Maupassant for his bizarre and surprising stories2. 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. -In your story "Cookoo Money" the grandmother tells the daughter than the man she should have married, in her mind, does not drink as it that were amazing.
There is no doubt that drink is an issue in our culture. It’s our way of celebrating, of forgetting, our way of escaping. We are a shy race in many ways, drink allows us to be affectionate, open, warm, and fearless, all the things that open us up emotionally. In Braille of Brocade and Cuckoo Money both characters lives are affected indirectly by alcohol
3. When did you start writing?I began writing seriously about four years ago when I began a Creative Writing Course in NUIM.4. 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. If Ireland were located in the south Pacific would the literary output be radically changed?
When you can’t go outside you must go inside! Out door pursuits require movement and energy. Our weather is more conducive to stillness and introspection.5. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?
When your voice is small you have to find other ways of being heard! As an island people with a small population we do so through our music, our writing and art. Historically there were times when our voice was silenced and suppressed, the only way we had of expressing ourselves was through our words and music. We have also suffered as a people and that has to surface and be processed, this can be heard time and again as a theme in our writing.
6. (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 believer that there is another world or dimension, that there is ‘something else’, a kind of spirituality or an essence or energy of others who have lived and gone before us. We all call it different things, fairies, spirits- but the essence is the same.
7. 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?
Without a doubt, we are quite a spiritual race and these Neolithic remains serve as a constant reminder of the past, they makes us wonder, make us aware of the passing of time, of the passing of lives. They remind us how short our lives can be and how insignificant we are in the overall scheme of things.
8. When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write?When I write I don’t think about anything, I just go with the flow of the story, to think is a different process and disrupts the natural flow of creativity.9. How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche?Its no surprise to find that the Irish are one of the highest contributors to charitable causes. Famine and hunger still live on in our stories, its has fashioned our sense of insecurity, explains our attachment to land and houses. It’s a terrible wound on the landscape our memory. On a positive note I think it makes us a kinder race, a more generous people.
10. Does Kilkenny get the literary respect it deserves or it is in the shadows of Dublin and Galway?
Kilkenny is best well known for its tourism and as a medieval city. Francis Mac Manus was a Kilkenny man and his tradition lives on in the form of the national Francis Mac Manus Short Story Competition. In recent years NUIM Kilkenny has been running course on various different aspects of literature, one in particular, run by writers John MacKenna and Suzanne Power has created a small but impressive hub which is rapidly turning out talented graduates. I think in time it will be widely known for its literary contributions. Watch this space!
11. 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?I think people who write poetry and artists in general see the world in a different way, its as if they exist on a different wave length. Their role, if there is such a thing, is simply to be channel for what ever comes to them and through them.12. Do you prefer e reading or traditional books?I love the sensation of a book in my hand, the smell of the paper, the texture of it, the weight of it. As a school child one of the best things about starting back to school in the autumn was the prospect of new books and copies. When I read a book I love, I like to keep it, like passing the book shelf, knowing its there, knowing I can pick it up at any time and revisit it. With e books I’m afraid of being stranded somewhere without power, without batteries, without being able to read!!
13. If you were to be given the option of living anywhere besides Ireland where would you live?
I’ve visited New York on different occasions and I enjoy the energy and life and stimulation of the city. Having said that I’m a real home bird and love where I live, I love the space and freedom of open countryside. My favourite part of travelling is flying back in over Dublin or Cork airport and looking down at the lush green landscape below..14. Best Literary Festival you have so far attended?
Literary festivalsI’m still a relatively new kid on the block so I haven’t visited any literary festival. I hope to do so soon. I was short listed in Galway on a few occasion for Over The Edge and loved the collective creativity that comes with a gathering of like minded people.15. Flash Fiction-how driven is the popularity of this form by social media like Twitter and its word limits?
A wonderful form where the discipline of editing is honed to perfection. It also condenses and distills the use of language and makes it evolve. Of course it’s driven by time and by the use of social media and I phones but all progress is good in that it creates new challenges and ask us to look at things differently.16. My brother and I will be in Ireland, and in Kilkenny in May-what are the literary and historical must sees? any great "real food" restaurants?
Kilkenny, you’re in for treat, the Castle is the obvious starting point, the Design Centre is directly opposite it and food is good there. Rothe House, Canice’s Cathedral and round tower are amazing and well worth a visit. Hole In the Wall is a converted medieval town house which has eclectic performances and sessions, another venue worth visiting-check their website for programme details.
Kilkenny is a tourist destination so we excel at food in general and the standard is quite high everywhere. I hope you have a lovely trip!
End of Q and A
I offer my great thanks to Mary Healy for taking the time to answer my questions in such an insightful and interesting fashion. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
She has kindly given me permission to share her powerful story, "Braile of Brocade" with my readers so look for it soon. There is a link in my post on her work where you can read "Cookoo Money".