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

John Duffy A Question and Answer Session With the author of "Death Road"

March 1 to April 14
John Duffy
County Mayo

If you are interested in participating in ISSM3, please contact me.

My Post on John Duffy and his new  short story

The first time I read a story by John Duffy it was during my read through of Abandoned Darlings, a collection of writings by the 2011 and 2012 MA in Creative Writing classes at the National University of Ireland at Galway. His story was about a very dangerous bus trip through the Andes in Bolivia.  You can read my post on the story here.  These words sum up how I felt about Duffy's really well done story.

You might have seen a National Geographic Channel program about the terribly dangerous road through the Andes in Bolivia that the narrator in this story crosses in a bus ride sure to scare anyone out of their wits who is not from there.   The first person speaker in this story is an Irishman out for an adventure in the wilds of South America and he happens to hook up with a beautiful and delightful sounding "French girl of Lebanese extraction".   Some cynics say the reason the English conquered India was because they could do things and have adventures there that they could never do at home.   I think that is part of the deeper theme of this very interesting marvelously cinematic story.    

Author Data

John Duffy grew up in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland.  He graduated from the National University of Ireland Galway in 2011 with a Bachelor's degree.  His writing career has included poems, short  fiction and travel writing.  He draws his inspiration from the landscape and people of West Ireland.  He is currently working on a collection of short stories.

John Duffy

Question and Answer Session

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?

Kevin Barry is the man. His words have a lyrical flow and I find myself thinking about images he has described in his stories long after I have put the book down. He is a very talented writer.

I recently read ‘Fireproof and other stories’ by Celeste Auge. This short fiction collection is well crafted and leaves you wanting to know more about the characters. I will be keeping an eye out for her next release. Her poetry is also well worth reading.

I have two short story collections from Mike McCormack, ‘Getting it in the head’ and his latest collection ‘Forensic Songs’. His work is darkly inventive and appealing.

My top three short story writers of all time,
Anton Chekhov (RIP),

Frank O’Connor (RIP) and

James Aloysius Joyce (RIP)

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.  

The consumption of alcohol in different forms is a common practice in Ireland. We like to drink. There is something unique about the traditional Irish pub and some bars can be enjoyable places to hear traditional music, socialise and gather material for writing stories. I live in Canada now and I hardly ever go to the pub. It’s just not the same. My granduncle used say,
“The curse of drink broke up more homes and families.”
And he was probably right. There’s always a price to pay for excess.

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.

It’s a sad statement and there is probably truth in it. I don’t think the weak or missing father reveals itself to a great deal in my own work; at least I have not focused on this form of patriarchal figure.

4. When did you start writing?

I took a writing course at Langara College, Vancouver in 2008 and continued writing poetry and fiction during my years at NUI Galway.

5. Tell us about some of the places you have visited out side of Ireland-"Death Road" is set in the Bolivian Andes-was that story inspired by a visit? (John, say what ever works for you here)

I have always enjoyed travelling. I lived and worked in Holland, Sweden, Norway, Australia, America, Canada, and the UK. It’s a great education. While I worked I saved my money to travel to more far flung locations like South East Asia, New Zealand, Africa, Fiji and South America. Death Road is entirely based on my experiences in South America. I’ve been told my travel writing is worth developing so I am working on more travel stories these days. I’m like Bilbo Baggins!  I travelled to the North Cape in Norway during the summer of 2007. The sun dipped below the horizon and then rose again fifteen minutes later.  I may have caught the travel bug from reading Dervla Murphy’s books in the local library when I was young. She has been an inspiration.        

6.   when outside of Ireland what besides friends and family do you miss the most? what are you glad to be away from for a while?

I miss the craic with Irish people. I also miss the landscape of Ireland, the lakes, the bog, the river in my home town and the Atlantic Ocean. Ireland’s beauty is unsurpassed, especially when the sun makes an appearance. I also crave a good pint of Guinness when I’m not at home. I don’t miss listening to Irish politicians and the national news broadcasts.  

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

I trained as an electrician when I finished secondary school and completed my apprenticeship in 1998. I went on to work in a ship yard, a gas refinery and construction projects in various different countries. The electrical trade is interesting because there is always something new to learn in the field.     

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

As a people we have a rich and fluent imagination. We learn about Celtic mythology from an early age in school and we appreciate a good story. The arts are supported and given a stage in Ireland and the country’s traditions and practices, along with her people leave a strong impression on a writer and give him or her ample material to write about.

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 enjoy stories from the supernatural world and the idea of the existence of life above and beyond the laws of nature. Ireland has a wealth of stories from this realm. We used to watch Darby O’Gill and the Little People every Saint Patrick’s Day, but to answer your question no, I don’t believe in 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?

The Neolithic remains are visible reminders of our ancient past. It is clear there has always been a reverence for the dead in Ireland. There are dolmens, cairns and ring forts scattered all over the country. Near my home there is a field system that dates back over five thousand years. I don’t know if the relics of a living community from Neolithic times has shaped the literature of the country but it may well affect the psyche of the people.

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?

I don’t think about an audience when I write. I become engrossed in the story itself and stay with its development. I prefer to write poems and short fiction as opposed to plays.     

13.  What could be done to improve the teaching of creative writing at NUI Galway?

Not a lot. The MA in Writing at NUI Galway is a first class taught programme and the creative writing classes at BA level are an excellent springboard for writers who want to develop their work.  

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?  

To a certain extent he does, but most Irish people get bored pretty quickly with someone they’ve already met and didn’t particularly like. There are plenty of fascinating and witty characters in Ireland and you don’t always have to go to a bar to meet them.

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?

Yeats himself helped immortalise old Irish republicans in his poetry. We have not had too many victories on the battlefield to celebrate, but it’s not like we ever went looking for a fight. The history of Europe is soaked in savagery and conquest. Ireland was not immune to it. If they left us alone we might have had more to celebrate.        

16.   On our tour of Ireland we will also stop for about 24 hours in County Mayo which your bio indicates is your home.
a. best prehistoric structures
b. best literary tourist experience-any famous writers from Mayo?
c. what are must see sights of Mayo?
d. best splurge restaurant?
e. best fish and chips (yes I do like fish and chips!)

a) The Ceide Fields near Ballycastle is a prehistoric landscape, over five thousand years old. There is an interpretive centre on site. The cliffs in the area are spectacular and you could also stop at Down Patrick head nearby. The scenery is outstanding.    

b) The Jackie Clarke Collection is housed in a museum in Ballina. It contains a priceless collection of Irish historical documents and items spanning 400 years.

Fr. Brendan Hoban is one of our best writers.

c)  Ballina, Moyne Abbey, Rosserk Abbey, Westport, The river Moy, Achill Island, Lough Conn, Blacksod Bay, Kilcummin Strand, Down Patrick Head.   

d) The Market Kitchen in Ballina is one of the best restaurants in Mayo.

e) Blue Dolpin, Market Square, Ballina for quality fish and chips.

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?

Some poets could have a social role to play and others could write for themselves. It is easy to forget half hearted poetry but if you read and appreciate a poet’s work you can be influenced by that person, sometimes without even being aware of it.               

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).

He is right to an extent but I don’t see any reason why old wounds should be picked at. It is good to get along with your neighbours and the relationship between the two countries these days is as positive as I can remember it ever been.    

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.

Travellers should be listened to and assisted in certain ways, but I don’t know if giving them special status would help them help themselves. They have a particular way of life and have long been supported by the Irish state.

20.  City in Ireland with the biggest literary ego? Dublin, Galway, or Cork-city that is best for new writers?

Among the older generations Dublin is the place for classic works of literature and some of our most successful and famous writers have called it home. But Galway has youth on its side. Dublin needs to fire up the printing press again because the West is quickly catching up.

21.   why do you think the literary productivity of Galway is so high?

I credit the people. They have warmth about them and they welcome people from all corners.

A Galwegian once said to me “Galway is the grave yard of ambition.” I did not understand what he meant so I asked him to elaborate. He continued, “People come here and they don’t want to leave.”
There is a buzzing social life with music, dance and literature events. When you have an environment like this it is easy to expand your creative consciousness.

22. My brother and I will be in Ireland for the first time ever in May so I have some questions.

a. best place in Galway for a fairly priced pint in a pub we will enjoy?
b. best book store?
c. best traditional Irish breakfast?
d. best fish and chips?

a)  I recommend Richardson’s, for a reliable, quiet pint looking out on the bustle of life in Eyre Square or Tig Neachtain’s on Shop street.

b) Charlie Byrne’s or Easons book stores.

c) Galway Bay Café (GBC) has good quality food.  

d) McDonagh’s for fish and chips.

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

British Columbia, Canada.

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

I would visit the Holy Land during the time of Christ. I would like to see how accurate the Biblical stories were, and if they needed any help writing additional material I would offer my services.

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

I attended a creative writing class at Langara College in Vancouver and another at NUI Galway.  It is one of the best ways of developing your writing. When you listen to other people and observe different styles of writing it can enhance your own creativity through association.  

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 don’t know much about Flash Fiction or Twitter.   

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

We are very fortunate to have such a valuable natural resource nearby. It is used for recreation and transportation to the smaller islands off the coast. I grew up near the ocean and it is important to my own writing. The alterations which occur with tides and storms can make the experience different each time you go there.

29. Quick Pick Questions

a. John Synge or Beckett-?
b. dogs or cats
c.  best city to inspire a writer-London or Dublin
d.  favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner?
e. RTE or BBC

a) Beckett

b) Dogs

c) Dublin

d) Dinner

e) RTE

30. OK let us close out on this note-what is your reaction to 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

Get over it.


I offer my great thanks to John Duffy for taking the time to provide such interesting and well considered answers. I will follow his career as best I can I hope to catch up with him during ISSM4, March 2014.

Mel u

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