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 20, 2013

Paul McCarrick A Question and Answer Session with the author of "Oh Such A Perfect Day"

March 1 to March 31
A Q & A Session
Paul McCarrick
author of
"Oh Such A Perfect Day"

I first became acquainted with the work of Paul McCarrick when I read his superb short story "Oh Such A Perfect Day".  (You can read my post on it here).  

Paul McCarrick's answers show a great deal of thought and serious reflection and I strongly urge every one to read this wide ranging Q and A.

I count any day I discover a new to me writer whose career I want to follow a good day and "Oh Such A Perfect Day" by Paul McCarrick has made my day.  It also, in its amazing entry into the consciousness of a homeless man on the streets of Ireland, should make us all fortunate for what we have.  That being said, the literary world is full of stories about the down and out but few force us to see life from their perspective as well as this story.   The man, some would call him a bum or a tramp, is very reflectively self-conscious.   His life style, we do not know how he got there and it does not seem that he especially hates it, has deprived him a bit of what those who fancy themselves as without issues call sanity.

Author Data

Paul McCarrick is a writer from Athlone, Co. Westmeath.

In 2012, he completed the MA in Writing at NUI, Galway. In March of the same year, his play ‘Third Time Lucky’ was part of the Jerome Hynes One Act Play Series and won Best Production and Best Director (Mary Conroy). It was also featured in the Galway Fringe Festival that summer and also played in Corcadorca’s Festival Nights as part of Cork’s Midsummer Festival.

His short fiction, “Oh, What a  Perfect Day”, and his poem, “You’ve Done It Again, Athlone” appeared in “Abandoned Darlings”, an anthology of work from the MA in Writing 2011/12 class collection.
Another poem, “Make Mine A Double Turn Swing Dip Thing Hey!”, will appear in ROPES Literary Journal later in 2013.

He bases himself around Galway, working through short stories, poetry and theatrical pieces, as well as touching up his novel with the working title of “Happy-Cry With My Brilliant Life.”

Q and A with Paul McCarick

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?

Well, Nuala Ni Choncuir is a very complete writer, everything seems to be right in all her short stories as well as her poetry, Mike McCormack has very fresh and unique works of fiction, Kevin Barry always makes me smile and muse which is always a good thing, and I’ve also only gotten into Kazuo Ishiguro now but I’m really enjoying “Nocturnes”, but the best ever? O’Connor, a genuine genius, her work is the stuff to envy and aim near. Edgar Allen Poe, with his ability to build atmosphere and suspense. Raymond Carver would be there too, without doubt, a real crafter, a wordsmith, a real easy joy to 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. Pubs are a big factor in your short story.

It’s simple really, the pub and the drink, no matter how bad a thing it is, is intertwined to Irish culture. Historically, I don’t think it’s as important as colonization or the Catholic Church’s influence that can be seen in stuff like Dubliners or The Dark, but it has been as prominent a theme as those other ones throughout Irish literature, which says it all really. It’s being shown in a negative light through most of Irish literature so it’s obvious writer’s want to make it clear this is a bad thing we are not happy with.

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 think he’s right to some extent, but I wouldn’t say it’s over-powering in any way. Identity I think is a if not the major theme, there is always an idea of trying to find out who we are, what “Irishness” is and as part of finding out about your identity, you do need a father figure. It wouldn’t be a particular idea I would try to force home but, having looked over my fiction, the missing father figure does appear, but I don’t think it’s very important to the story itself. The lead character simply doesn’t know his father but rings random phone numbers, thinking he is at the other end, using radar or sonar to fight in a war because the lead has seen other men fight wars on television. If anything, that situation might be a kind of analysis on the idea of the missing father.

4. when did you start writing?

I started writing when I was 16, 17. Myself and my friends started an independent theatre group and we wrote and produced and acted in the plays. I wrote one play but it wasn’t performed, but I kept working along with it. Then I bought a collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s work, poetry, fiction, essays and was totally sucked into his life and work and tried writing different genres and styles after that.

6. Tell us a bit about your thoughts about the Masters Program at NUI Galway please? What do you like best, what could be cut, what improvements could be made?

I think it’s a fantastic program, I’ve recommended it to people time and time again. I never felt out of my depth and the atmosphere was so comfortable to be in. That coupled with the great mood of Galway being such a natural literary city itself, it’s as near a perfect setting as you will get. To be with a group of other people who were in the same boat as you were, who you could pick the brains of, who you could learn from, who you could just talk about the art itself without feeling insecurity was something I am very grateful for.

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? You also write plays-how does a play fit in this metaphor?

Well, that’s a new one. I think it makes sense, but I wouldn’t totally agree with it.
The play might be a steady but unnervingly talkative girlfriend? That’s one to tease out

8. The Galway Fringe Festival Sounds like a fascinating event-tell us something about it-how does it differ from most other literary and artistic festivals?

The Fringe itself was very much an independent amateur production, but amateur in the loosest term possible because the quality of shows on offer were incredible. Given the creative courses in the surrounding colleges a lot of shows were made up of students trying to ply their trade with the know-how they got from their education. It was a youthful festival but held itself with great maturity and the attendance figures show, there were great turnouts. Rather than people dismiss it, they embraced it, a wonderful experience I hope to repeat this summer.

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

There has always been a story-telling history in Ireland, even back with the Celts and in early medieval Ireland, when laws were written in the form of stories so people would remember them better. There’s a story in talking about the weather, I’ve heard about seven so far this week alone.

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 no way on this green and blue earth would I chop down a fairy fort, it’s one of those things you don’t mess with!

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?

Maybe, I can’t pick out any hard examples but they could very well be an influence on writers, without question.

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?

Whenever I write it just comes in waves, there may be an idea, a word that sets it off and you just go find out what will happen, and see what it turns out to be, a poem, a story, a play. Even that can change - I was unhappy with one recently finished short story when I realized it made far better as a theatrical piece. With me that’s how it goes. While it may not be the most clean-cut method of doing things, it’s how it starts for me and it’s important to use that inspiration as quickly as possible and to it’s fullest degree. When something is obviously a play, I would have people in mind yes, but I prefer to stay away from that process, as a writer your job by that stage is done, you’ve done all you can with the script, it’s up to the director and actors to interpret them and do your work justice.

13. 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?

The stage Irishman may not be as heavily present as he once was, but without doubt he ghosts about everything that is written nowadays, more as a pastiche to the way he was once presented. He is normally always shown as the very bottom of a novel’s or short story’s social spectrum, no one wants to be around him. If he is there he is to be ridiculed and laughed at and not play the role he originally did.

14. 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

The way things are phrased are wonderful too, WWII being simply called the Emergency, and the term the Troubles seem to trivialise in some way the atrocities that actually occurred in Northern Ireland. But the idea of the heroic failure can be seen through all Irish works, yes, and by extension I think it’s lead to a focus on the failure of the human condition itself and characters’ attempts at redeeming themselves.

15. As playwright, who among Synge, Beckett and O'Casey most influenced your style and the style of other authors producing new "fringe" style work.?

Beckett without a shadow of a doubt, the man has nearly ruined me because he’s done everything that’s worth doing. If there’s an afterlife, I definitely owe him a few pints. There’s a little resurgence in Commedia dell'Arte recently and that definitely came over with different absurd pieces. Beckett is often put with the absurd, though he tends to speak the most sense, so I would vouch, even with all my fan boy-bias, Beckett is the major influence on recent works.
Apart from “Playboy” I had never read anything of Synge but one day I came across a great quote, “When I write my next play I will make sure I annoy them.” and I thought, that is a grand young lad I could get on with.

16. 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?

It can go each way I suppose, I myself am not too sure. Poets without doubt have a responsibility to play a social role in Ireland but given that poetry’s importance to the everyday person is quite small, apart from affection held for Seamus Heaney or Rita Ann Higgins, what can they really do? Even if they did write as a social commentator they would be left unheard by the people they are writing for.

17. "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).

No, I don’t think so, unless I can be a creative historian. If so, then yes, I am on that like a boss.

18. 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’m all for equality, I’m all for good things and I think if there are problems then a clear, constructive forum of debate is needed to bring about a fair judgement to the situation, but it would be impossible for me to give any opinion on it as I am uninformed on the matter.

19. Can you tell us a bit about the plot and setting of your novel in process "Happy-Cry With my Brilliant Life"

It’s practically complete now and I think I’m happy with it. The story revolves around what essentially is the very same man from my short story “Oh, What a Perfect Day.” He is homeless and has been so for the previous three years of his life after he suffered a mental breakdown and he has learned to live with. His mind is in no way clear or right though and often puts him into terrible situations he has no power over. It’s a character study of the man, of the society around him and it’s different facets, and hopefully, in some places at least, funny because truth always seems better to take when there’s a laugh involved.

20. I will be in Galway in May with my brother-best book store? Charlie Byrne’s, get happily lost for a while!
best literary reading event? Over The Edge, always a quality line-up and a likewise quality audience.
best traditional full fry breakfast? Riordan’s down Cross Street for a full Irish without a shadow of doubt.
best place for a fairly priced pint? Neachtain’s or McSwiggans. Or the Bierhaus. best fish and chips? McDonagh’s. No competition. They have the awards to prove it!

best place to feel I am where the great of Irish lit have been? 

Any of the scenery should inspire great thoughts, whether it’s Shop Street at dusk, a gorgeous setting sun at Galway Bay, or even in Connemara or Spiddal, when you see that beauty your literary side of your brain will whirl into overdrive and you’ll have no doubt as to why writers love the place so much.

21. Do you prefer ereading or traditional books?

You just can’t beat a traditional book and I am a sucker for sentimentality, but for sheer ease when travelling and even simply an easy-to-use, portable database you can’t beat a Kindle.

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

I have always loved London, how it works, the transport system, a really great city that has so much to offer, but now I have thoughts drifting towards stateside to Texas.  As long as I had a working laptop, I’d live anywhere.

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

I would have too many places to go to. First staging of Godot, Marciano’s last fight, too many. Actually, I would go to the recordings of Dark Side of the Moon, that is my favourite album to listen to and is just a perfect crystalised point of musical excellence and to see that in action would be an honour. Still, I’d probably be too racked with guilt that I didn’t go to the other places so I wouldn’t enjoy it. Those, indeed, are the breaks one takes.

24. Do you sense a bond with other grads of NUI Galway and the Abandoned Darlings Project-would you participate two years from now in an Update anthology?

We certainly had a very strong bond during the year, we managed to gel incredibly well, something that undoubtedly benefited our writing. Not only are there truly great, prolific writers in that group, they’re also wonderful people to be around and to have spent that year with them was something I am very grateful for. If there was an opportunity to have my words beside their ones I would in no way hesitate to help bring that about, that would be an opportunity missed in the worst possible way.

25. Playwrights versus poets versus novelists and short story writers-who wins in an over the top of the ropes battle royal match?

Damn. Tough one. I’d imagine in one corner, the poet and short story writer grapple in a technical submission scrap, wearing each other down, while in the other corner, the playwright and the novelist give heavy blows to each other’s heads, leaving each other groggy as lager. Then, after trapping in an armbar, the short story writer throws the wrecked poet over the ropes only to be bundled over by the falling and increasingly unconscious playwright while the novelist stumbles in the centre of the ring rather confused and completely unsure as to how he got there and even more unsure of who he is.

26. 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 think it’s a practise ground, no more, but then again I am not that technically savvy so I could very well be incorrect! I would hope with slight confidence that this will do nothing to effect the beauty that stage dialogues can give - surely that is one place where the written word has some sort of sanctuary?

27. Quick Pick Questions
a. John Synge or Beckett-? Beckett.
b. Cats or dogs? Dogs
c. Galway or Dublin-which city is best for neophyte writers? Galway.
d. Galway Fringe or Cork Midsummer Festival- Galway Fringe
e. days or nights? Nights

28. 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

Wonderful, I nodded my head through the whole thing. He’s got it in one, hasn’t he? He’s described a generation’s disgust with how things were presented and were simply accepted. He got it so wonderfully and horribly true, but as long as Irish writers can be aware of their past, its misgivings as well as it’s positives, they have every opportunity to direct our future.

End of Q & A

I offer my great thanks to Paul McCarrick-I look forward to reading his novel soon and perhaps one day seeing one of his plays at the Galway Fringe Festival. For sure I will follow his career as best I can from the other side of the world.

Mel u

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