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, April 3, 2013

A Question and Answer Session with Patrick Semple

March 1 to April 14

Patrick Semple

Patrick is a former Church of Ireland clergyman and the author of two volumes of memoir, a novel, travel book and two collections of poems. You can find out more on his website:
Patrick’s books can be purchased directly from his publishers Code Green, or from the usual online outlets. 

Patrick Sample

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?

  1. Alice Munro, Edna O’Brien, especially her recent collection ‘Saints and Sinners’.
The three best ever? Chekhov, James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ and de Maupassant.

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.   I am reading The Dublin One City One Book Selection Strumpet City and it almost seems whiskey is the life blood of the city.

  1. The abuse of alcohol is more often than not an escape from difficult or painful reality. Tribal identity and allegiance are fundamental to and very deep in the human condition. Because colonisation diminished and even ridiculed Irish identity for so long, compounded by poverty for the majority, the abuse of alcohol became the escape from the humiliation of this painful reality. Alcohol became deeply embedded in the Irish psyche and is considered acceptable for recreational purposes on every conceivable occasion. At two recent book launches of mine I purposely arranged for tea, coffee and sparkling water to be served. As far as I know nobody walked out!  

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.

  1. It rings true to me, though I don’t know enough about the breath of modern Irish literature to be sure. I think you will find in my work a number of passive fathers where they are present and dominant mothers. A number of my fathers are absent by death. I think that weak or absent fathers and strong or dominant mothers are a factor, not a simple cause, in homosexual sons. A study in the Church of Scotland in the 1970s showed that over 70% of clergy lost emotional contact or physical contact by death or desertion, with their fathers by the age of fourteen.

4. Why did you end your career with the Church of Ireland?

  1. Quite simply I found that I could no longer believe the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Church.

5  The Fall of Celtic Tiger, the Irish Economy,has caused a lot of pain and misery.  Is there a positive side to this?  what lessons for the future can writers take to their work?  has it in any sense brought people closer to values other than consumerism?  Is it just another day in the life of the Irish?

  1. The pain and misery caused for many people is too tragic to be just another day in the life of the Irish. Young people who were brought up during the ‘good’ times are finding it difficult to adjust to austerity. I think it will take time for this to lead to values other than consumerism. Older people who were brought up in harder times adjust better to austerity and feel prosperity was great while it lasted.’ I imagine that all of this will be reflected in Irish writing.

6You indicated you have a Coleridge volume on your nightstand-what do you relish in his work besides the two basic poems? Who is the greater poet, he or Wordsworth?

  1. His reflections on what influenced him from his early years as a writer and insights into the times in which he lived. I don’t know about greatness, but I prefer Coleridge.

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

  1. I left school aged 15 in 1955, when Ireland was economically bereft. I worked for eighteen months counting spare parts in the store of a car assembly plant. I then worked in an insurance company for six years before going to university. After ordination in 1967 I went as curate to a parish in Belfast and was there for the first six months of the troubles. A year at the Divinity School, University of Chicago, eleven years in a country parish, six years as a Church Adult Education Officer, eight years in a country parish, followed by two and a half years in a small Dublin inner city parish with which went chaplaincies to Mountjoy Prison and three hospitals. Then I retired. I enjoyed every minute of my time in the Ministry and have no regrets. I loved working with people in parishes creating community and being present with people in their sorrows and in their joys. I found I simply could not believe any longer.

8When you are outside of Ireland, besides friends or family, what do you miss the most and what are you glad to be away from?

  1. We spend a holiday in Italy every year and after about three days of pasta I crave ‘the spud’! I am glad to be away from fatuous political debate.

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

A.I simply don’t know. I’m sure there are a number of standard theories on why this is, but I don’t know what they are.

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."

A. I am both an atheist and an afairyist. Some people find it good fun to pretend.

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?

  1. That’s beyond me. I haven’t the remotest idea.

12. Has the Church of Ireland been at all impacted by the sort of scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland? How debased is the church by this?

  1. No it hasn’t been impacted in the same way. However I’m certain that there is the potential for all of the scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church to rock the other churches as well.

13 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?

  1. I think that Aosdana is a good use of Government money.

14. What are the biggest challenges in teaching creative writing?

       A, To convince students that it is not just a matter of ‘letting it flow’. It is important to
            learn the craft of creative writing.

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

  1. ‘History is written by the victors’. This is true. I am not an English Literature graduate, so I would find it impossible to address this.

16.   One of your many publications is
The Parish Guide to Adult Education. Please talk a bit about that concept.

  1. My understanding of Christian adult education was that Church members should grow and develop in their understanding of the faith. They need to do this in order to apply their faith to their evolving life experience. Many adults have a static faith. They grow and develop in other areas of their lives, by simply living in the world but they don’t grow in faith. Adult Christian education is a way of helping people to reflect on their faith the better to apply it to daily living.

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?

A  I believe that the latter is the case. I talk about this very point in Chapter 5 of ‘Being Published’.
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).

  1. The English considered all of people they colonised inferior and barbarous. There was and is a poetic and magical something about the Irish of which the English are envious to this very day. Creative artists contribute an insight into human experience that is unique and not present in other disciplines.

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.

  1. Yes I think Travellers should be granted special status to compensate them for the appalling treatment of them in the past and indeed to some extent in the present. To a large extent it is true to say that the Travellers are to the Irish what the Irish were once to the English.

20How did you get into blogging? what are your goals as a blogger? do you find it an essential for professional writers?

A. I am online naïve. I struggle to keep up. I get good help with my website which a friend said I should have and he had it set up for me. Otherwise it would never have occurred to me to have one. I now find it very useful, I think every writer should have one. I started blogging when the friend who looks after my website made WordPress available to me where I could post myself. My blogs are simply things that interest me and I hope some other people may find them interesting too.

  1. You have said that Irish Nationalism arises from a sense of inferiority-can you elaborate on that a bit-do you mean inferiority to the English? going with this, is being a Church of Ireland cleric in Ireland a bit like being a living symbol of English domination and Irish inferiority?

  1. I think I said something to the effect that obsessive nationalism arises from a sense of inferiority. There is a healthy nationalism. I think that in the nature of things colonisation makes people feel inferior, which paradoxically induces in them a kind of superiority which is a component of nationalism. The answer to your second question is ‘no’. It might have been ‘yes’ seventy or eighty years ago, but not in recent times. The Church of Ireland, her clerics and her people in the South of Ireland are well integrated into Irish life so that this is not an issue.

  1. What are the things that Irish universities need badly to do better, where do they excel?

  1. This is a subject I really don’t know anything about. My involvement with university is mimimal – an adult night class.

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

  1. Probably Italy, but I know I would not be happy living outside Ireland.

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

  1. Renaissance Florence. It is a particular interest of mine, and I would like to experience it first hand especially if I were safe and rich!

  1. You I speculate recall hearing family members talk about the Irish War for Independence. I speculate that your great grand parents by have experienced the famines. How do these ties impact you-do younger people care about these matters at all?

  1. I never heard discussion of the War of Independence in my home or amongst family members. I often wonder how my ancestors fared during the famine, but have no idea and there was nothing in my family to give me a clue.  I don’t think that young people are concerned about these matters; to them they are history.

  1. Do the giants of Irish lit like Joyce, Yeats and Beckett inspire new writers, make them feel inferior to them or are they just remote figures for professors to worry about?
    1. It is hard to believe that these three don’t have some influence on new writers. Influence, however, is nebulous and not always easy to pin down.

  1. How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?
A. I can think of only two pieces of Irish literature that may have been shaped in part by the sea: ‘The Islandman’ by Tomas O’Crohan and ‘Twenty Years A-Growing’ by Maurice O’Sullivan. It’s a long time since I read them and I’m sure there must be more but I cannot bring any to mind.

  1. What is the biggest mistake you made in your writing career?

A. Sending manuscripts to the wrong kind of publishers.

29. Quick Pick Questions
a. John Synge or Beckett-?   - Beckett
b. dogs or cats  - dogs
c.  best city to inspire a writer-London or Dublin - Dublin
d.  favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner?  - lunch
e. RTE or BBC -  RTE
f. Coleridge or Wordsworth  -Coleridge
g. Lord Dunsany-still read by any body or a relic of the past.  – a relic of the past

30. OK let us close out on this note-what is your reaction these lines from a famous Irish poet?

A. Great sadness.

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


I offer my great thanks to Patrick Semple for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and well considered answers. I expect to be reading his books in the second half of this year

Mel u

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