Listen: Arena Review of Patti Smith’s ‘M Train’

Patti Smith

Poet, musician, author, artist, trailblazer: Patti Smith is all these things but labels alone cannot do justice to the ambition and breath of her creative work. M Train, her latest book, is a memoir but it is a different beast than Smith’s much-loved Just Kids (2010), which focused on her early career and relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. In M Train Smith is struggling to write, wading through the ghosts of times past, telling killer anecdotes and drinking a lot of coffee. For anyone interested in creativity, in writing or in just hanging out with one of the most interesting artists at work today, M Train is a book to savour.

You can listen to my review of it for RTÉ Radio One’s Arena by clicking here.

Listen: The Enduring Appeal of Madame Bovary on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena

Madame BovaryAlmost 160 years after it was first published, Gustave Flaubert’s groundbreaking French masterpiece Madame Bovary continues to inspire artists, writers, filmmakers and audiences. The last year alone has seen two new screen adaptations: Madame Bovary directed by Sophie Barthes and starring Mia Wasikowska and Gemma Bovery, based on the popular graphic novel by Posy Simmons. I discussed the book’s enduring appeal with Sean Rocks and you can listen back to our chat here.

Reviewing Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’ for RTÉ Radio One’s Arena

Go Set a Watchman image

Last night I had the pleasure of reviewing Harper Lee’s hotly-anticipated ‘Go Set a Watchman’ with Sean Rocks on RTÉ radio’s nightly arts show Arena. Like generations of Irish school kids, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ holds a special place in my heart and I’ll admit that I was concerned the publication of ‘Watchman’ would tarnish it somehow. While ‘Mockingbird’ is still the superior story, ‘Watchman’ is more nuanced, more complex, and, I would say, a fascinating accompaniment to Lee’s masterpiece. Twenty-four hours after I finished reading it, I’m still thinking about ‘Watchman’, not something you experience very often. You can listen back to my review here.

On Academia & Climbing A Tidal Wave: The Sibéal Conference 2014

Gender & Met pic

“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”

John Williams, Stoner 

Over a reader’s lifetime there are a handful of books that linger in the mind forever. Often these titles are consumed in the blaze of youth, when life’s possibilities – actual and intellectual – spill forth like a psychedelic tapestry. For many of us, as we age, life becomes less about the highest highs and more about the eternal questions of what life is for and what constitutes living well. To this end, John Williams’ reclaimed classic Stoner blew me away in a manner I associate with the usual literary suspects of youth (The Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, etc. both of which I still love, without apology).

William Stoner is possibly the greatest literary hero many people have never heard of and perhaps that’s the point. Williams’ exquisite reflection on life and living is a gentle antidote to the 21st century’s obsession with a specific type of bombastic, materialistic version of success. In Stoner we see the quiet majesty of a life well-lived. It is not perfect, it is not constructed with technicolour and jump-cuts but it is imbued with purpose and passion.

Stoner is also in many ways a love letter to academia, the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and those who create and share it. Williams’ insight about the art of learning came to mind this weekend as I presented my own work and delightedly binged on gender and feminist research at the Sibéal Network’s annual conference for early career and postgraduate researchers. To say that it was a pleasure to listen and absorb the wealth of thought and research that comprised the programme is an understatement, not to mention the excellent, equally invigorating chats over wine and coffee. The theme ‘Gender and Metamorphosis’ was brilliantly chosen as so much gender research is concerned with transformations of society and the self. The papers I enjoyed are too numerous to list here but among the issues tackled were performing masculinities, intersectionality and international human rights law and the gendered construction of perpetrators and victims in sexual assault cases (the full programme is available here).

As Williams observed, our lives are short and there is so much to know and sometimes, for me at least, it feels like trying to climb a tidal wave. As a scholar it’s so good, so important to be reminded that you’re not alone and also to see the fantastic work being done to address and give voice to the myriad of inequalities sheltering under the umbrella of gender and feminist research.

To read more about the great work Sibéal do, to get involved and see their slick new website click here. And if you’re thinking of getting the fiction fan in your life a book that will warm their hearts while simultaneously breaking them (in a good way, I promise, it’s what all the best books do) then I recommend Stoner a thousand times.

Photo Credit: FuturePresent via photopin cc

Read: On Radclyffe Hall, Judith Butler & ‘The Well of Loneliness’



“…we’re all part of nature. Someday the world will recognise this…”

Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness

Recently the universe conspired that I would be reading Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness while preparing to give a lecture on Judith Butler, whose book Gender Trouble revolutionized gender theory when it was published in 1990.  Hall’s novel caused a quasi-revolution of its own upon publication in 1928, albeit for different if not entirely dissimilar reasons. Hall’s frank depiction of lesbian desire had the British chattering classes foaming at the mouth with indignation and the book was subsequently banned.

By today’s standards The Well of Loneliness is a terribly tame affair, far from the obscene and corruptive force early 20th century moral guardians considered it to be. Although Hall’s writing can be sentimental (she does like to ponder, at tedious length, on the wonders of the natural world and religion) there is no denying the bravery in her depiction of protagonist Stephen Gordon and her plight, which cut close to the bone of Hall’s personal experiences.

Throughout The Well of Loneliness, Hall explains Stephen’s predicament – a biological female but manly in appearance, who desires other women – as that of an ‘invert’, a now discarded term coined by sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing to describe a man ‘trapped’ in a woman’s body or vice versa. The reader sees Stephen struggle to find acceptance and purpose in a society which shuns her. Even her own mother, the delicately feminine Anna, ultimately rejects her daughter to whit Stephen replies, ‘…I forgive you, though whatever it is, it is you and my father who made this body – but what I will never forgive is your daring to try to make me ashamed of my love. I’m not ashamed of it, there’s no shame in me.’

Today, thanks to the work of gender theorists like Butler and countless campaigners and activists who refused to accept heteronormativity’s stranglehold, more and more people are waking up to the realisation that gender is not the neat little binary we are socialised to believe it to be.

Butler’s assertions that biological sex is constructed via gender, that gender is a phenomenon, not a fact, which creates what it names and requires constant repetition to maintain its illusion of authority and naturalness, strike at the heart of Stephen’s predicament. Through her, Hall draws our attention to the subtle yet effective ways gender reinforces itself in our lives, regulating and policing our behaviour right under our noses. As Stephen observes while still a child, forced to play with a little girl she despises, ‘Violet was already full of feminine poses; she loved dolls, but not quite so much as she pretended. People said: ‘Look at Violet, she’s like a little mother; it’s so touching to see that instinct in a child!’ Then Violet would become still more touching.’

Stephen’s incredible wealth allows her to relocate to Paris and it is there that she finds true freedom and love. Unfortunately, back in the real world, the types of resources and let’s face it, privilege which allowed Stephen to be her true self were afforded to very few. For example, her governess, the long-serving, long-suffering Puddle, has hidden her own Sapphic desires in order to survive, a fact that makes her hugely sympathetic to Stephen’s struggle perhaps at cost to her own. If The Well of Loneliness reminds us of anything in the present day, it is that while great strides have been made to loosen gender’s grip, for many those strides came much too late and for others across the world, they have yet to come at all.

Culture Night 2014

culture night 2014

‘A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and minds of its people’ – Mahatma Gandhi

Everyone could do with a little bit more culture in their lives. Alas, between the hectic practicalities of living and the sense that many people (unfortunately) have that a) creativity is something they relinquished in childhood and b) cultural spaces and practices are often ‘elitist’ or ‘out there’ somehow, our culture becomes something we underrate or overlook. This is a real shame, given that Irish culture -from the language to the literature to the digital arts – is as vibrant and as vital as it has ever been. If you’ve been meaning to recharge your cultural batteries, Culture Night on Friday September 19th is the perfect opportunity. Since 2006, this fantastic annual event throws open the doors to Ireland’s cultural treasure chest, inviting citizens to experience and enjoy the best culture this country has to offer. There’s so much to see and do across the length and breath of the country – including your own locality – that it makes a must-see site. If you’re a literature fan and Galway-based, I’ll be taking part in an Over the Edge reading at Kenny’s Bookshop and Gallery as part of the festivities. More details of that  here and be sure to sample the delights nearest you.

Over the Edge Reading, Galway, August 28th

August 2014 Over The Edge Open Reading


Roll up, roll up, ye lovers of literature!  On August 28th, I’ll be one of the featured readers at Galway’s Over The Edge open reading in the city library, which I’m thrilled about. Over The Edge is a huge support to writers of all kinds and I’m very grateful to Susan and Kevin for the opportunity. On the night, I’ll be reading with Majella Kelly and Jane Williams. As always, there’ll be an open mic afterwards if you’re brave enough (and you are) plus this year’s Over The Edge new writer competition long list will be revealed. If you entered, you may be on it, so good luck. For more details about the night and the great work Over The Edge do, click here.

Listen: Francis MacManus Award 2014


My short-listed short story The Last Time I Saw Valerie was broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on July 31st as part of their Francis MacManus season. If you like fiction and tales of toxic female friendships born out of necessity rather than choice, you can listen back here. Big ‘thank you’ to actress Aileen Mythen for bringing the story to life so beautifully.

Listen: The Late, Great Molly Keane

molly keane

July 20th marked the 110th anniversary of the birth of Molly Keane, one of the sharpest, funniest novelists Ireland ever produced. Born into an Anglo-Irish family, Keane became a chronicler of the declining fortunes of her class, first under the pseudonym ‘M.J. Farrell’ , then in later life under her own name, with the publication of the wildly successful Good Behaviour. A critical and commercial smash, Good Behaviour  lost out on the 1981 Booker Prize, which went to Salman Rushdie for Midnight’s Children. Keane was undoubtedly a ‘big house’ writer, using the metaphor of crumbling mansions as a symbol of her class’s demise, but she also waded into the complexities of the relationships – sexual and otherwise – of the families who lived in these lavish homes. Her humour is acerbic and savagely funny. She wields it as a device of entertainment and social commentary to exceptional effect. It was a pleasure to chat about Molly’s life and times on Arena to celebrate her birthday. You can listen back here and learn more about Molly’s life and writing here.

Listen: Your Favourite Psychopath on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena

gone girl

Psychopaths, wha? You couldn’t be up to them. To be honest, I love the darker side of popular culture. Thankfully for sickos like me, the past few years have produced a bumper crop of psychopathic characters that can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with Hannibal Lecter and his fava beans. RTÉ’s Arena recently did a feature on psychopaths in fiction, which I contributed to. Narrowing down my list of ‘favourite’ psychopaths was tricky but I got there. It included Frank Underwood (House of Cards) Vee Parker (series two, Orange is the New Black) and Amy Dunne from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl*. From an Irish perspective, I highly recommend Liz Nugent’s brilliant Unravelling Oliver as the Oliver in question is a rotter as Roald Dahl would say. You can listen back to the chat here.

*Every time I see a new still etc. from the Gone Girl film I pray to Gods I don’t believe in that they will do the book justice. I’m probably asking too much but I live in hope.

RTÉ Radio One: Francis MacManus Award

vintage typewriter

Ask most writers why they write and they’ll tell you they have little choice in the matter. It is an urge, a compulsion, to filter life through words, finding new ways to express things that often feel beyond language. If, along the way, you pick up a notice or two for your literary endeavors, all to the good. I always need reminding my writing may not be the worst in the world and to that end, I’m delighted to have been shortlisted for the 2014 Francis MacManus Award. The full short list and dates of broadcast (oh yes, broadcast) are listed on RTÉ Radio One’s website. My thanks to this year’s judges Christine Dwyer Hickey, Julie Parsons and Eoin Purcell, and big congrats to my fellow nominees. Well feckin’ done.

The Bohemyth, May 2014

Amsterdam Books

On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I snapped this outdoor bookshop near Mueseumplein. Ain’t it grand? I could spend hours pottering about an Irish equivalent. Keep a few bin bags to throw over the shelves in case of rain and sure, you’d be away for road. Speaking of things that are grand, the kind folk at The Bohemyth included a story of mine in their May edition. If you like photography and writing, there is much to enjoy.

The South Circular Issue 9


The South Circular is a Dublin-based literary e-journal. Beautifully produced by a team who know their design as well as their writing (really, really well in both respects), I was delighted to be one of the authors featured in their ninth issue, which you can purchase here. Special mention has to go to Dave Comiskey who designed the cover. It’s great to see Irish publishers like The South Circular team developing new formats and new ways of reaching readers while also creating fresh spaces for writers to share their work. Bravo to all and thanks for having me.