Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down is a lush, frenetic love letter to the early days of hip hop. The show is the most expensive in Netflix’s history, costing a whopping $10 million per episode. The soundtrack is incredible as is the young, talented and diverse cast but Luhrmann’s directorial flourishes are likely to divide audiences. You can hear my fully review of The Get Down here.
“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Do you have a soft spot for the children’s classic The Little Prince? It’s one of the bestselling books of all time, so its quite likely that you, or someone close to you, does. The good news is that a gorgeous new animation based on the book has come to Netflix. It’s a little gem for the young and the young at heart. You can listen back to my chat about the book and its latest incarnation on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena here.
I’m just gonna come right out and say that this memoir, by longtime music journalist Sylvia Patterson, is one of my books of the year. Patterson has had an incredible career, spanning over thirty years and some of the most influential music magazines of all time. Whether writing about Bros, Britpop or her tough childhood, she is never less than witty, compassionate and engaging. The woman has a way with a killer sentence and a bonanza of wild experiences. You can listen back to my review on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena here.
The photograph above is one of many from John Carder Bush’s new book ‘Kate: Inside the Rainbow’ published by Sphere. It’s taken from the Hounds of Love album cover shoot. The ‘hounds’ featured actually belonged to John and Kate’s Irish mother. The book – a gorgeous coffee table tome – is full of such details and stunning images taken by John, Kate’s brother, over a twenty-year period. It was a pleasure to review and solidifies Kate’s reputation as a ground-breaking creative force to be reckoned with.
You can listen back to my Arena review here. For more details on the book, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When not casting a long eye over the internets for work, I’ve been reading for Arena, RTÉ Radio One’s flagship arts programme, so if you’re heading for the sun (we had it here in Ireland, once) and are wondering what to read as you chill, these might help.
Lisa Jewell’s The House We Grew Up In has a very pretty cover but the actual story – an interweaving tale of a family with a hoarder matriarch and a host of dark secrets – was much more than the cover image suggested. Fans of Jewell (and she has many, this is her 11th novel, a sure-fire bestseller like the rest) will find a lot to love between these pages. Click below to listen.
I read Alison Jameson’s debut This Man and Me many moons ago and it really stayed with me so I was thrilled to be asked to read her latest, the gorgeous and heartbreaking Little Beauty, which tells the tale of Laura Quinn, an eccentric native of the Atlantic-bruised Whale Island. Laura’s struggles with love, motherhood and small-minded society are beautifully evoked by Jameson, making for a great read and leaky eyes. You can listen to my full review with the lovely Seán Rocks below:
If you are a fiction fan and like your short stories, the kind folk at Dublin online literary journal The Bohemyth published a story of mine ( Pandora453 ) recently, which you can read here. While you’re there be sure to check out the rest of the site. Lots of great writing and photography, all for free, so what’s not to love, am I right? I’m also very happy to have a story featured in the latest edition of Wordlegs, which should be out soon.
Apparently the summer is fast approaching although you wouldn’t know it on the Western seaboard of the Emerald Isle – plus ca change and all that. As I type the sky is a moody grey, threatening rain or worse. I know there are downsides to a heatwave but right now a dash of one would be most welcome, which brings us to Ms. O’Farrell’s rather wonderful book.
Firstly, I must confess that Instructions for a Heatwave is – to my shame – the first Maggie O’Farrell book I have ever read. I say ‘shame’ because O’Farrell is one helluva novelist. If you love Anne Tyler – and really, how could you not? – you must check out O’Farrell’s work post haste. Her writing is spare but perfectly stitched together, the portraits she paints of individuals, families and places are flawless. They live and breath on the page. Did I mention how gifted she is?
We meet in the Riordan family in July 1976, as a tremendous heatwave grips London. Recent retiree Robert leaves the family home to ‘get the paper’ but when he doesn’t return matriarch Gretta rallies her children, drawing her fractured family together: Monica the eldest, an unhappy divorcee, Michael Francis the middle child, a frustrated history teacher, and Aoife, the youngest and the wild child. What follows is a masterful exploration of family dynamics and the consequences of secrets that are on the verge of boiling point.
If commercial fiction leaves you underwhelmed Instructions for a Heatwave matches fine writing with an equally finely woven story, making perfect beach reading material. Now, all we need is some sun. Any ideas? For your listening pleasure, here I am reviewing Instructions for a Heatwave with Sean Rocks on RTÉ Radio One’s Arena:
We have to wait until June 5th to find out if Gillian Flynn’s wildly enjoyable Gone Girl pips the all-conquering Bringing Up the Bodiesby Hilary Mantel to the literary post in this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize).
Thus far, Gone Girl has been snubbed by major awards in the US, supposedly because the book is strictly speaking a thriller and therefore less than literary, a stance I wholly disagree with. A win for Glynn in June would be entirely deserved. She has managed to create a book that combines and transcends traditional genres and is packed with the type of blistering prose any author would be proud of, literary or otherwise.
Luckily for me, I was asked to review Gone Girl for Arena, RTÉ Radio One’s nightly arts and culture show presented by Sean Rocks, the fruits of which you can enjoy below or above by clicking on the speaker icon.