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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Top 102 Albums Minus 15 - Broken English


Top 102 Albums Minus 15
Broken English - Marianne Faithfull

A few weeks back, watching Later with Jools Holland I was delighted to see Marianne Faithfull appear and since then I have been listening regularly to Broken English, her coruscating and quite brilliant album from 1979. It brings together her sixties credentials with songs from John Lennon (Working Class Hero) and a song from underground provocateur Heathcote Williams (Why'd Ya Do It) and a sound that owes more to Giorgio Moroder than the folk and country stylings of her earlier work.

Essay published on the Thresholds International Short Story Forum.


Essay published on the Thresholds International Short Story Forum.

The blog post previously known as Four Stories and Me, which I had written for a competition on the Thresholds International Short Story Forum has been edited to Three Stories and Me and published on Thresholds.

The site is hosted by The University of Chichester and has a number of interesting essays and links for lovers and authors of short stories everywhere.

Pay them a visit - THRESHOLDS


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Sudden Times


The Goats are Singing
Sudden Times - Dermot Healy

"The regrets come with a vengeance. The want of revenge comes with a vengeance."

Sudden Times seems to me to be the most concentrated and controlled of Healy's books. The narrative voice is carefully and shaped and the structure is that of a thriller, with details being drip fed to us to let us know that there will be a revelation by the end. For a long time we are not sure what that revelation will be, and it leaves us feeling unsure as to how to judge the narrator. Is he suffering from grief or guilt? Or both.

The book comprise of a series of very short chapters titled rathered than numbered. Some are no more than a sentence. The titles are sometimes gnomic, often comic and always in dialogue with their respective 'chapters'. Healy's skills as a poet and playwright are in evidence throughout.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fourteenth Floor - The Drays

Fourteenth Floor - The Drays

When I heard that Stephen Ryan (ex Stars of Heaven and The Revenants) was releasing new material I was excited. A year or so after hearing about it I finally heard it when the actor Aidan Gillen played a song on the radio when he was standing in for Tom Dunne. He linked it up with an Alex Chilton cover of a Seeds song - I Can't Seem to Make You Mine.


The Goats are Singing - The Bend for Home


The Goats are Singing
The Bend for Home - Dermot Healy

My enjoyment of re-reading Healy's sparkling and generous memoirs has been enhanced by reading it alongside his other books. It is possible to see how many of the incidents outlined here have metamorphosed into parts of his fiction.

The forces that create the writer are at the very heart of this book, with even Healy's birth connected umbilically to the well of fiction. The book opens with the story of his birth, or at least the story he long believed was of his birth. The mix of humour and contrariness reminded me of Laurence Sterne, and also of Monty Python.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Great Christmas Carve Up! December Readalong.


The Great Christmas Carve Up! 
December Readalong of Jonathan Coe's What a Carve Up!

This post on Jonathan Coe's Expo 58 has led to a proposed readalong of Coe's eighties satire What a Carve Up! which has the reputation of being great fun and one of the most successful satires of recent times. (It was published in the US as The Winshaw Legacy)

It seems somehow appropriate following the stir caused by Hilary Mantel's The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher to take another baleful look at the acquisitive and divisive eighties when Thatcher and Reagan did their level best to reintroduce feudalism.

Committed readers already include star bloggers Guy at His Futile Preoccupations or The Years of Reading Aimlessly…; Jacqui at JacquiWine's Journal and Kim at Reading Matters , and me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Goats Are Singing - A Goat's Song


The Goats Are Singing
A Goat's Song - Dermot Healy

They say that character is fate and that that is the key to great tragedy. A Goat's Song has a character damaged by sobriety and one damaged by drink. The real tragedy, though, is not to be found in character but in a country, divided.

If you want to see a character fall you have to walk him over the edge and Jack Ferris, playwright, fisherman, drunk and lover does just that. Healy, who lived where Jack lives, on the western edge of Mayo, seems to have had an instinctive understanding that the marginal sees clearest, and while Jack feels the pull of Belfast and Dublin, it is the sea that hauls hardest and he always returns to the peninsula and the fishing boats.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Fighting with Shadows

The Goats are Singing 
Fighting with Shadows, or Sciamachy - Dermot Healy

Fighting with Shadows, published in 1984, was Dermot Healy's first novel. It would be ten years before his second, A Goat's Song, hit the shelves. In many ways Fighting With Shadows has the mark of a first novel. It covers a huge amount of ground and seems almost overcome by all the things it has to say. However, it does say a lot and Healy's talent, already clear from his short stories, was confirmed by this novel.

The focus of the novel is on the Allen family, three generations of whom are featured. They are from the town of Fanacross, situated on the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The influence of the border is referred to on the first page: "The lorry-loads of watchful pigs descending the mountains by night to a slaughter house in the South. How the cattle get dizzy crossing the border for the grants in the North and back again for the grants in the South."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Goats Are Singing - Banished Misfortune (5)


The Goats Are Singing 
Banished Misfortune (5) - Dermot Healy

I've been stumbling slowly through the works of Dermot Healy for the past month, my reading somewhat ahead of my writing, but not too far.

I have been getting very tired, something which may be somewhat down to increasing myopia, which has led me to finally start wearing the glasses which made so little difference when I got them a couple of years back.

Here are some thoughts on the final five stories in Banish Misfortune.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

1984 Playlist

1984 Playlist

I am going to my thirty year school reunion this weekend and I put together this playlist of music from 1984 for atmosphere...

Hope you enjoy it.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Banished Misfortune (4)


The Goats are Singing
Banished Misfortune (4) - Dermot Healy

Further thoughts on Dermot Healy's debut collection of short stories.

Blake's Column
Mr Blake is a "well known" newspaper columnist who is also a dramatist. He has moved into the country with his wife and son but they have since left and he is isolated and somewhat bitter. It is near the place where he was born but he has been living in Dublin for a long time. In many ways he prefigures the narrator of A Goat's Song, who is similarly a rural dramatist separated from his ex-partner and living in isolation.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Banished Misfortune (3)


The Goats are Singing 
Banished Misfortune (3) - Dermot Healy

The third story in Banished Misfortune is The Island and the Calves, a story that I found it harder to find my feet in than the first two.

It takes place in England during Easter Week to the soundtrack of Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ and is suffused with religious imagery. The world seems not yet to have solidified, and there is a sense that what is important are the things that can't be pinned down - "History became the studying of disappearing softness, for hardness always remained, the most accessible material of man."

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Ice Age


The Ice Age - Margaret Drabble

"there was no rational explanation for the sense of alarm, panic and despondency which seemed to flow loose in the atmosphere of England.`'

It's a while since I read The Ice Age but with one thing and another I haven't been able to get around to writing anything about it. Not that there isn't a lot to say. It is a very interesting novel and I enjoyed it a lot and will be reading more Drabble. I read this partly to take the temperature of the mid-seventies which the book does very well, integrating big social and economic issues with the character's stories.

The book opens with a scene which reminded me strongly of The Sopranos: "On a Wednesday in the second half of November, a pheasant, flying over Anthony Keating's pond, died of a heart attack, as birds sometimes do.."

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Banished Misfortune (2)

The Goats are Singing - 
Banished Misfortune (2) - Dermot Healy

Thoughts on the second story in Banished Misfortune, Dermot Healy's book of short stories published in 1982  and featuring stories from the preceding decade.

A Family and a Future
This is an odd story which is redolent of the sexual repression and abuse which overshadows Ireland's recent past. Set in the sixties, its main character is a woman called June who blithely satisfies her sexual desires with many men, and boys. The narrator is somewhat involved in the action early on, having an early (and somewhat traumatic) sexual experience with June, who is three years older.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Goats are Singing - Banished Misfortune (1)

The Goats are Singing  -
Banished Misfortune (1) - Dermot Healy

My intention to read all of Dermot Healy's fiction this month and write about it is ambitious considering the current speed of my reading and the rate at which I post. However  I will complete the project, even if I have to stretch the idea of August. You can read my introductory post on this project here, which aims to act as my own reader's memorial to the Irish master who died in June.

I have started with reading Healy's first published book of fiction, the short story collection Banished Misfortune and I am finding it a rewarding if somewhat resistant collection. The stories demand an immersion without, in many cases, a simple revelation of plot or character.

Some stories are like incantations, passages of startling clarity resolving into an impressionist blur of time, place and character. Others are far more straightforward.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Sound of Things Falling

The Sound of Things Falling - Juan Gabriel Vásquez

"Then I realized no one wants to hear heroic stories, but everyone likes to be told about someone else's misery."

I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of this Impac Dublin Literary Award winning novel on Twitter, just in time for #spanishlitmonth. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago but it has, like some other posts languished in my drafts folder since then. However, in a final effort to post on some Spanish Lit for #spanishlitmonth, I am returning to it, grinding through the gears of my memory.

The book opens with the shooting of one of the hippopotami that took to the Columbian countryside fro the huge outdoor zoo presided over by Pablo Escobar before his death in 1993. This reminds the narrator, Antonio Yammara, of his own memories that are tied up with the zoo and the Columbia represented by it, a Columbia where the drug cartel seemed untouchable, able to bribe, intimidate or kill anyone who stood against it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To the Bone


To the Bone - Jones

Regular readers will be aware of Mr Trevor Jones, who often stops by to comment and who, both as a solo artist and as part of Miracle Mile, has been producing excellent work since the eighties. Despite many critical plaudits and a small band of fanatics, this music has still to find its way to a wider audience. You can find my review of Miracle Mile's last album, In Cassidy's Care here.

His songs are carefully considered, mature reflections on the passing of time; friendship and its passing; disappointment; relationships; becoming and/or retreating from the self etc. The stuff of the considered life. My plan here (if you can call it a plan) is to listen to the album and respond track by track, somewhat fancifully imagining the album as a narrative and concentrating more on the lyrics than the music.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sniffin' Glue


Sniffin' Glue - The Essential Punk Accessory - Mark Perry, Danny Baker et al

"Now I wanna sniff some glue"

It feels ironic to be reading something as essentially ephemeral as Sniffin' Glue almost forty years after its xeroxed DIY appearance as the throwaway taste setter of the punk vanguard. However, it does provide a vibrant glimpse of the time, with humour and openness and enthusiasm making up for the occasional crudity of the opinions expressed. That's crude as in roughly sketched rather than crude as in rude, by the way. I don't mind a bit of fuckin' rudity.

In the introduction Mark Perry talks about looking for a magazine about punk at the Rock On record stall at the Soho market and being told he should do it himself. When he did a movement was born, even if the appearance of Blue Oyster Cult on the cover of Issue 1 isn't quite punk kosher.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

When the Lights Went Out

When the Lights Went Out - Andy Beckett

I have read and reviewed almost no non-fiction over the lifetime of this blog. However, I continue to buy non-fiction in my all too frequent forays into charity shops, and even the odd one online, like this. I bought it at a time when I was researching a possible documentary project (long since dropped) and I finally got around to reading it as a result of taking up a challenge to present a paper at a conference on The Clash held in Belfast last month.

I really enjoyed it and hope that it kickstarts more non-fiction reading over the next few years. This book, subtitled "What Really Happened to Britain in the Seventies" filled in a lot of detail missing in the faint impression of current affairs in Britain at the outer fringes of my memory - I turned three in 1970 and grew up in Ireland, exposed to British news and television channels but not quite immersed in it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Goats are Singing - for Dermot Healy.

photo courtesy of Steve Pyke: http://www.pyke-eye.com

The Goats are Singing - for Dermot Healy.

The news filtered in yesterday on Facebook and Twitter of the tragically early death of one of Ireland's greatest writers, the inspirational Dermot Healy. Séamus Heaney called him the heir to Patrick Kavanagh. Roddy Doyle called him Ireland's greatest living writer. My thoughts are with his family and friends, whose loss is immeasurably greater than the loss to readers, but the loss to readers is great too, as he was a master.

As a reader I have been savouring the fact that his most recent novel, Long Time, No See is on my shelves, waiting for me. I had also been thinking of re-reading his classic novel A Goat's Song, the title of which comes from the etymology of tragedy (from the Greek - tragos ‘goat’ + ōidē ‘song). And if his early death is a tragedy, he has left great work to remember him by. I have read two of his novels, A Goat's Song and Sudden Times, and his absolutely masterful memoir The Bend for Home. He also wrote short stories; the screenplay for Cathal Black's hard hitting docudrama, Our Boys; four collections of poetry and a number of plays.