Q & A with Michael Gallagher
Links to Q and A Sessions with Irish Writers
Michael Gallagher is the editor of First Cut, the online Journal of the Listowel Writers Group.
Michael Gallagher is the editor of First Cut, the online Journal of the Listowel Writers Group.
ISSM3 will be open until April 14. There are lots of exciting things in the works. You are invited to participate-please
e mail me if you are interested
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?
John MacKenna, Claire Keegan, Colum McCann, Valerie Sirr,
William Trevor, John McGahern. Nuala Ní Chonchúir.
Best ever: Frank O'Connor, Liam O'Flaherty, Gogol, Carver, Mary
Levin, Elizabeth Bowen
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.
Drinking to excess is part of our culture. The industry sponsors nearly every event or festival, cultural or sporting, that takes place in Ireland. Our government promotes consumption by ensuring that important visitors are seen drinking Guinness on State visits. Pubs boost consumption by charging extortionate prices for alternatives such as soft drinks, tea and coffee.
I did not drink until I arrived in London. As an emigrant I soon discovered that the pub was the place to find jobs, friends, fellow-countrymen, and girls. It was also a means of escaping the daily grind of work and going back each night to the room I shared with four others.
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 seems present in several of your stories
I do not find this to be particularity true. Certainly, there is a sense in which women have been portrayed as becoming more assertive but this is surely because of the feminist movement. The most prominent father in modern Irish writing is John McGahern's. He may, indeed, have been missing but he certainly was not weak.My own father was, like most Achill men, a migratory labour. I would only see him for two weeks each year and in those two weeks he would be busy cutting the turf or digging the spuds. Like most Achill fathers, yes, he was missing but this was not out of choice. They emigrated because of the conditions that existed in Ireland at that time. Weak? Not at all. These men (and women) were much stronger characters than the politicians, priests, teachers (and academics) who hung around to live off the fat of the land or sauntered off to cushy sinecures abroad.
4. When did you start writing?
I started writing in 2003. I had returned to Ireland in 1999, having lived in London for forty years. During these forty years I scarcely opened a book. True, I read the Telegraph or the Guardian every day but the Building environment in which I was engaged did not lend itself to bookworming.
I had become interested in stained glass following a chance conversation with someone in London and one day I happened on a man repairing a Harry Clarke window in Clonmel. The outcome of all of this was that I agreed to visit a writing group in which this glazier was involved provided he allowed me to visit his glazing workshop.
The rest, as they say, is cliché.
5. How do you view Aosdana? Is it a great aid to the arts in Ireland or does it perpetuate closed elitism?
I view it as an exclusive club. It is symptomatic of the many elitist, self-serving groups which afflict our clique-ridden society.
I should imagine that climate does influence writers, although not necessarily any more disproportionatily than other factors. Irish writers do spend a lot of their time looking through grey, mist-laden windows.
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?
Not a lot. Some writers are great at both. With writers such as William Trevor and John McGahern, it is often hard to see the join.
8. Who do you regard as the first modern Irish short story writer?
Joyce. Both Frank OConnor and David Marcus would seem to agree with this in their introductions to various anthologies.I also think that Seamus O'Kelly broke new ground in 'The Weaver's Grave'.
9. (OK I know this is big question and OK to not answer it)-why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?
Maybe it's because of the oral tradition we have inherited. There is a great history of 'ceili' houses where neighbours gathered to tell stories, play music or cards. This then got transferred onto the page along with our special twist or blas on the language.
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."
As kids, We were conditioned to believe in fairies. We were surrounded by fairy rings and forts and piseógs. Do I believe? Probably not, although I have had a couple of encounters with ghosts. But that's another tale.
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?
It may have done in the past but I don't see much evidence of its relevance to today's literature or psyche. As a people, we have become much more sceptical and scoffing.
12. Do you like the Stories of an Irish R. M.? either the stories or the TV show? are the stories of Edith Somerville and Martin Ross mocking or celebrating Irish heritage?
I have read some excerpts in anthologies. To be honest, they are not my cup of tea. I was in England during the TV series and found the whole thing mildly embarrassing and lightweight.
13. How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche?
Its signs and effects live on especially along the western seaboard of Ireland. It was the start of the emigration which has shorn us of our young ever since. We still have the old ridges dug into the sides of mountains. We have whole villages peopled by descendants of the original planters. I have dug up famine graves and the graves of the victims of the great fire of London. Things like that leave a deep scar in the psyche.
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?
I don't know. Maybe this is why I do not read many contemporary Irish novels. I do know that they turn up on TV and that Irish people - to their shame - watch these programs.
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
We can't deny facts. England had more victories, we had more defeats. But some victories can be dishonourable and many defeats are honourable. I see no honour in lauding the theory that might is right just as I see little point in writing 'something went wrong' dirges in defeat.
16. Who was the first great Irish writer who was not at all Anglo/Irish?
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?
Yes. The poet has a duty to record, to argue, to protest and to reason. Many prefer, however, to gaze at their wretched navels or to struggle very publicly with their tortured conciences. True, a few champagne socialists do raise their voices from time to time but they have little or no effect on the general populace or, indeed, fellow writers outside their immediate circle.
Of course, there are honourable exceptions, poets who are prepared to use their talent for the betterment of others rather than for self promotion.
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).
I lived in England for forty years and never got anywhere near to understanding the thought process of the English.
19. OK to ignore this question- 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.
As a youngster, I visited Traveller's tents when they camped at Kelly's bridge. I ate with them and sang with them. Similarly, I worked alongside the first generation of West Indians to immigrate to England. In my lifetime I have seen both groups move further and further away from mainstream culture. Both groups were discriminated against and eventually a new generation decided to resist that discrimination.
When I went to England in 1960, there were still sign on doors which said 'No Irish and No Blacks'. We were obviously more easily assimilated than they were. Travellers still find doors barred to them, if less blatantly.
Having said all that, I think that all citizens should have equal rights, equal respect for each other and equal responsibilities. That is the only true equality.
20. Where is the best place in Galway to get a real Irish breakfast? Fish and Chips and Irish Stew? .
I don't live in Galway but I can tell you that the best place to eat in Listowel is Katie's Cafe in Charles Street.
21. The literary productivity of Galway is incredible-what is there about Galway's social climate that produces this?
I have worked and read in Galway. It has tremendous energy and is also very good at self-promotion. I also read regularly in Tralee, Cork, Limerick and, of course, Listowel. In all of these venues I meet people with massive commitment to to the promotion of poetry and goodwill towards fellow poets. And Dublin seems to be absolutely teeming with venues, all peopled entirely, it seems, by geniuses.
22. Do you prefer ereading or traditional books?
I don't own a Kindle. I hope someone out there is reading this. Maybe next Christmas?
23. If you were to be given the option of living anywhere besides Ireland, where would you live?
London. Yes, I know I lived there for 40 years. But I never really saw it for what it was until I left it. Like many of my compatriots I loathed it and what it stood for on a daily basis. Only in the weeks before I left did I admit to myself that there were many good things about it. It gave me a family, a good living, good friends, good times and a disdain for begrudgery.
When I go back now, I visit museums, art galleries and poetry readings - things I would never think of doing when I lived there. (I can only imagine the reaction were I to walk into the Castle and announce that I was off to the Tate Modern!)
These treasures were always there but, in my prejudice, I chose not to see them. They are still there - next time around, I would look.
24. If you could time travel for 30 days (and be rich and safe) where would you go and why?
I could murder a few pints with Fionn MacCumail and Oscar and Gol and Caoilte and Diarmuid Donn and the rest of the Fianna. They must have been mighty company!
25. John Synge-is he the second most important 20th century Irish writer?
Synge, Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, O'Faolain, O'Flaherty, O'Connor, O'Brien? A lot of names there. And, anyway, who would deem himself good enough to choose?
26. The Aran Islands-must see authentic experience or just for the tourists?
It depends on what one means by 'authentic'. Stringency is the new authenticity bringing with it the need to take in a few bob from anyone who is prepared to part with it.
27. Best Literary Festival you have so far attended?
I have to say Writer's Week in Listowel, not because I live there, but because it eclipses the others in its expanse and in its vitality. And is there any reading more daunting than the bear pit that is Poet's Corner in the Kindom bar? There, nightly, scores of poets take up the challenge to strut their stuff at the open mic? Not for the faint-hearted!
I also love Feile Beag in Ballyferriter. It is friendly, genteel and gently bi-lingual.
Other great festivals are Féile na Gréine in Waterville and, of course, Eigse Michael Hartnett in Newcastlewest.
28. Flash Fiction-how driven is the popularity of this form by social media like Twitter and its word limits?
Verily and virally. (Sorry! Have I exceeded the word limit?)
29. How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?
We are never very far from it so of course the sea has been a big influence on us, both individually and collectively. Our crossing of it has influenced the literature of continents.
30. Best place to hear traditional music in Galway? Best book store, best literary tourist experience, best "real people's" restaurant.
Best tourist experience? The Atlantic Drive and the decent to Keem Bay.
Skinny-dipping in the Golden Strand. All on Achill Island, County Mayo.
I offer my great thanks to Michael Gallagher for these insightful carefully considered responses.
Thanks, Mel for the opportunity to learn a bit more about Micheal. Interesting about that Harry Clarke stained glass as a way into writing. I was always fascinated by the one in St Joseph's church in Terenure near where I grew up. Big congrats to Micheal on his forthcoming poetry collection 'Stick on Stone'
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