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

Friday, April 12, 2013

Henrietta McKervey A Question and Answer Session with the author of "Between the Lines"

Irish Short Story Month Year III
March 1 to April 21

Henrietta McKervey

Author Data

Once an advertising copywriter, I am now a student on the MFA in Creative Writing in UCD.  I've won a few short story prizes and am now writing my second novel. My first, 'What Becomes Of Us' was awarded a literature bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland for 2012.

1.Who are some of the contemporary writers you admire? If you could hear reading by three famous dead poets, who would you prefer?

Kate Atkinson for the breadth and moral compass of her novels, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne for her wonderful use of language, David Lodge for his ability to make complex ideas (particularly in relation to literature and literary criticism) eminently understandable in fiction.

If I could hear Dylan Thomas reading aloud, I would go home happy!

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 does play a part in our writing it's true, but less and less so, particularly with many young writers. Irish culture is very social and this tradition is at the heart of our story-telling heritage.

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.

For me it's about mothers. Irish writing has a lot of mammies....

4. when did you start writing?

As  a child, but just bits and pieces. A friend and I used to write our own comic books. My first ever published piece was in the 'Mandy' comic when I was ten.

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?

It's been so much more than just a day in the life, if only it were over that quickly. We have to look for some positive aspects, though they are hard to find. One of the end results is an upswing in creativity and creative outlets. Partly I think because people stop focusing on chasing money, and partly because artists' and creative spaces (studios etc) become available at reasonable rates again.

6.   Your bio indicates you were once a copy writer-are you at all into the TV series about copy writers, Mad Men?

Mad Men is very entertaining, but quite unlike the day to day work of copy writing unfortunately.

7. Tell us a bit about your non-academic non literary work experience please. What besides copy writing have you done?

All the usual suspects in my late teens and early twenties: waitressing, working in Top Shop, assistant in a bookshop (an antiquarian bookshop in Oxford, and I loved it). I have also worked at the BBC; several design or advertising agencies; and most recently was a director and head of copy at an agency in Dublin.

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

Because we can't stop telling stories maybe? It may not make the majority of writers' rich, but writing is valued here.

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 myself, no. But I do believe in the power they held in the collective imagination. My grandmother travelled all over the west of Ireland in the 1920s as a poultry instructress and she had plenty of stories about wronged fairies doing harm to livestock. She believed in hungry grass (féar gortach, in Irish). This was grass which was cursed and would cause an unnatural and insatiable hunger in anyone who trod on it. 

12. When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write?

I start by just writing. I do try at some point to imagine the audience, but it doesn't massively impact on where the story goes.

13.  Besides giving you money to write or me to blog about Irish writers, what are some of the additional things the Irish government could do in today's world to promote the arts and literature different from its current actions?

The arts organisations and funding bodies are doing their best in a terrible climate. However I think the funding bodies need to respond to the changes in publishing and writing; there is still a tendency to think that a novel (for example) has to get published through the traditional channels in order to 'count'.

16.   Do you see short stories as practice for novels? is one form harder than another to write or read.  I think one reason short stories are not nearly as popular is that they are harder to read, they require more concentration.

I do use short stories as practice, often as a way of taking a character for a test drive to see how we get on with each other. Short stories are harder to read, but they also are, in my experience, harder to write than novels.

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.

The equality legislation of the last fifteen years went some way to making up lost ground for the Traveller community, but there is a long way still to go. The mortality and literacy rates are far behind those of the settled population. It mystifies me that the Irish, who have been on the receiving end of so much racism in the UK and USA particularly, can be so racist ourselves. 

20.  You are attending the University College of Dublin MA in creative writing program-what do you like best about the program (the next time we do a Q and A together you will have graduated and then I will ask you what you like least about it) the program-do the instructors seem to have particular authors they urge students to read? 

The reading is wide-ranging and through the programme I have come into contact with writers I wouldn't have either encountered or wanted to read otherwise. It's a very enjoyable and challenging course.

21.   some people say an MA in creative writing, even more common in America, will soon become a must to be published-is this going to lead to a stagnation in literature and will it lock out large segments of the public from being taken seriously as potential writers?

A good book is a good book. An MA might help one's manuscript get to the top of the submissions pile, but after that the book stands or falls on its own merits.

22. Do  you prefer ereading or traditional books?

Traditional. I love the artwork too, the smell of ink, the off-white pages. All of it.

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

Sweden maybe, or Scotland. Somewhere cold, mountainous.

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

See the last answer!

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

Very few. I tried one about 15 years ago and hated it. It was over ten years before I went to another, a weekend course at the Killaloe Hedge School, which was great. Last year I did the Faber Academy 'Writing A Novel' course, which had excellent tutors.

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?

It's contributing to it certainly. There's no reason plays should be a certain length any more than novels should be 80,000 words.

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

In Ireland, you never forget you're on an island. The sea features hugely in our literary heritage. Less so in contemporary writing I think, though the sense of us as an island people is buried within us still.

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 do like escaping the urge Irish people have to establish any connection through relatives or friends when they meet someone for the first time. That and the insistence on giving road directions using only pubs for references.

29. Quick Pick Questions
a. John Synge or Beckett-? Beckett.
b. dogs or cats. Neither.
c.  best city to inspire a writer-London or Dublin. London.
d.  favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner? Dinner.
e. RTE or BBC. BBC.
f. Yeats or Whitman. Yeats.
g.  Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC-great for a quick break or American corruption? The latter.
h. night or day. Night.


I give my great thanks to Henrietta McKervey for taking the time and thought to provide us with such interesting answers.   

I hope to read more of her work soon and hopefully do another Q and A Session with her during ISSM4 in March 2014.

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