St Patrick’s Day Gift: interviews with three great Irish writers


Irish countryside – 2014


Happy St. Patrick’s Day, y’all! I do have a bit of genuine Irish in me, but the bulk of my heritage is English, Scottish and Dutch. What Irish I do have I magnify on March 17th, as one does.

My daughter and I toured Ireland together back in 2014. She was finishing up a semester in Swansea, Wales, so I made the sacrifice and flew into Dublin at the tail end of her time there. I ferried her over for a week or so in Ireland, then we popped back to Wales. I proceeded to take her on a trip around the perimeter, to areas in the north she hadn’t seen during her semester. After dropping her back in Swansea, I took the ferry back to Ireland, spending three more days wandering lovely Dublin.


Trinity College Library


In Ireland I bought a claddagh ring I haven’t taken off to this day. I fell in love with the country. It’s as magical as you’d think, and then some.

My appreciation for the staggering literary tradition of Ireland is boundless. I’ve read a good deal of writing by Irish authors, though not yet the great Ulysses. I’m going to give that a stab over the summer, starting in June, natch, as Bloomsday is the 16th of June. I’ve tried stabbing it a couple times before.

It’s never ended well.

But hope springs.

To celebrate St. Patrick’s day – on which I’ll be sober as a judge, thanks for asking, because old and no longer interested in alcohol – I’m posting three interviews from the Bluestalking Archives, with three huge Irish writers kind enough to indulge me:


An Interview with Colm Tóibín

We had no symphonies, no great paintings, but slowly writing began to matter. Paper was cheap; literacy was the only way out of poverty; London was close and London publishers were interested in stories about strange places. The traditional music survived mainly in the west, and partly because of poverty. The language – Irish – did not survive as well because parents became aware that you would need English to go to England or America, as so many did.



An Interview with Sebastian Barry

The strange thing is, my family was full of both stories and silence. Pregnant with silence.



An Interview with Frank Delaney


Writing drives me. Writing ignites my passion. The challenge of telling a good story clearly and, I hope, in excellent and vivacious language, across a cultural arc that is as wide as I can make it – that gets me out of bed with delight every morning of my life. Just think of it – the very notion of providing a reader with a book that they find enriching and rewarding is a privilege that I try to service every day.


Enjoy the interviews and the day. Have a stout for me.

sláinte mhaith


Everything You Wanted to Know About Colm Toibin but Were Afraid to Ask




I’m perilously close to having my Irish genes revoked. Not only did I have the wrong pronunciation of the man’s name streaming in my head, I’ve also been accenting the wrong vowels in his name in writing:


‘Atsa way you spell it! Accents are on the “o” and second “i,” not both “i”s. I am ashamed, abashed, chastened and humbled, all at once. It’s a wonder I’m able to walk upright.

If anyone should be highly sensitive to how a last name is spelled, it should be me. I am the only person in the world with my exact name, one of not many at all with my married surname. It’s one hell of a puzzler to most people, more challenging than my maiden Collins. Suggest a possible mispronunciation of Guidarini and I’ve heard it, despite the fact it is perfectly phonetical. To be fair, I should have allowed Mr. Tóibín to give its pronunciation a shot, considering how I butchered his own.

What’s the correct pronunciation of his name? Well, the one I heard last night was (making this crystal clear, using American English phonetics):

Column Toe-BEAN

Not Colm Toy-bin. Colm Toy-been but:

Column Toe- BEAN

To be fair, I don’t speak Irish. I know how to say “Cheers” and “Kiss my Ass,” which is enough vocabulary to get me welcomed into, then thrown out of, a pub. When I arrive in Dublin next month it’s probably best I shut my gob, though I would be fine talking about COLM TóIBíN. So that’s one thing. If his name crops up in conversation, Colm’s my uncle.




“Colm Tóibín and The Irish Renaissance.” That’s the presentation I had the honor of attending last evening at Elmhurst College and, I have to tell you, enlightening and entertaining it was. I’ve not properly studied Irish literature, aside from book group discussions of works like The Picture of Dorian Gray, which centered not on Wilde’s Irishness but the themes of beauty and vanity and morality and all that’s associated with that particular novel. Likewise, I’ve “attended” some of Frank Delaney’s Ulysses podcasts, which, if I’d have seen that through, would likely have taught me much more about the history and culture of Ireland. I’ve read other Irish-associated books, novels mostly and bits of nonfiction here and there, but I am in no way formally schooled in Irish anything. Except, of course, “Cheers” and “Kiss my ass:” the drinking of Guinness a side specialty.

But it’s the 1890s/early 1900s era that’s at the heart of the Irish Literary Renaissance: the resurgence in Irish language and culture brought about largely by Lady Augusta Gregory, who, along with W.B. Yeats, scoured old country Ireland gathering – and translating into modern day Irish dialect English – all the lovely stories handed down for generations via oral tradition. Long story short (pun unintended), they were instrumental in bringing the tales to the stage, creating a new/old Irish literary heritage. In the process, they managed to establish the first state-funded theatre, The Abbey, still operating in Dublin.





While you’d think all that sounds inarguably laudable, nothing in life is ever that simple. James Joyce was Professor Tóibín’s example of the modern Irish writer who’d rather not identify with the old Ireland that was. Rather, I don’t think it will shock anyone to say the man was of a mind to do his own thing. Joyce was forward-thinking, anxious to distance himself from the earthy, unsophisticated, bog dwelling, stereotypical Irish of generations past. Which is why he chose to flee his native country for Europe. And, while many who’ve knocked their heads against Ulysses may say “good riddance,” his wasn’t the only dissenting voice, nor the only to take this resurgence in a way different from its intention. For there was the little matter of a growing storm brewing between the Irish and the English, a complicated mixture of new-found Irish pride and whatever you would describe the British factor to be, because I don’t really want to wander far into political territory. It would soon get very, very ugly, forcing a lot of Irish – including my own ancestors – to leave Ireland for the States and other destinations, out of concern they’d be executed for having been on the wrong side at the wrong time.

SEE: The Troubles

Poor Lady Gregory could have had no idea the impact her good intentions would have on the course of Irish history. Inevitably, there would have been another cathartic event precipitating Irish/British conflict but there’s no doubt she and her cohorts brought it about much earlier. All because she wanted to save a culture: a perfect example of real life irony if ever there was one.

With that, I’ve nutshelled it for you, if you will, and you are welcome. I hope you’ll consider reading up on it, if you have an interest in Irish culture and literary history. There is so much more to it than this; I barely scratched the surface.

I intend to learn more about M’lady Gregory, certainly. She was also a writer, by the way, a writer who unfortunately slipped and fell under Joyce’s skilled critical knife, the worst fate any lesser-known, contemporary writer could have had. Much as I may dislike what he did, I do understand the impulse. Taking the high road hurts sometimes; Joyce just chose to avoid that hurt. Goliath pulverized David with his mighty fist. Well, I hope he was proud of himself.


Joyce’s review started with the idea of childish wonder becoming middle-aged speculation and finally the wisdom of old age. However, he claimed to find only senility place of wisdom in the old age of Gregory’s book, and he dismissed the herbal folk remedies, and the rambling, repetitive stories of the locals. Joyce claimed that while Yeats had presented similar folk material in The Celtic Twilight, Yeats at least had presented it with a certain amount of scepticism. Lady Gregory, however, presented this particular class of mind “in the fullness of its senility.”



Fortunately, Lady Gregory was not silenced and we all know Joyce went on to achieve a certain amount of fame.

All in all, another lovely encounter with a lovely writer. Ah, I am spoiled. I could have listened to him talk for hours: such a brilliant, occasionally devilish and twinkly-eyed Irishman. I’d have brought him home, only law frowns upon it. In lieu of that, there is YouTube.

“YouTube: Your alternative to kidnapping adorable people”

Has a ring to it.

For more about the thrice Booker-nominated, literary superstar-of-many-genres Colm Tóibín, visit his website. And if you should ever have the honor of meeting him, remember:

Column Toe-BEAN

 Blessings on his beautiful soul.





An aside: while researching reviews of The Testament of Mary I came across an article in a hardline evangelical “Christian” newspaper, addressing Meryl Streep’s reading of the Audio CD. It tore Mr. Tóibín to shreds: “He’s a disgusting homosexual!”; “He’s a blasphemer who is going to hell!” Even “Meryl Streep is going to hell!” “She’s old and ugly and has an ugly voice!” Frothy-mouthed with venom, they were.

Normally I’d bypass commenting on an evangelical site from sheer disdain but this time I didn’t. I stood up to the bullies, reminding them their God loves Meryl Streep and Colm Tóibín every bit as much as he does them (more, if he has a bias against in-bred ignorants)(as do I, mea culpa). Their Christ, likewise, most clearly admonished his people: “Love One Another.” I haven’t read the Bible but I’m fairly certain Christ did not say “Love one another, except people you hate.”

I didn’t stick around to read the rebuttals, if you’re wondering. Arguing with ignorants is fruitless, a complete waste of time. If they’d wanted me they could certainly have found me easily enough. Benefit them, on the rarity of my name, and I don’t use a pseudonym save my blog’s name. Again, easily found. If they are correct, and God is a twat, I’d much rather spend eternity in the same hell as Meryl Streep and Colm Tóibín anyway thanks. Save your breath, my dears. You’ll need it for your next blast of hot air.

Oh, and:



An interview with Colm Toibin

Colm Tóibín will be speaking at Elmhurst College this evening, on the topic of “The Irish Renaissance.” I am thrilled to say I’ll be in attendance.

Mr. Tóibín was kind enough to grant me an interview and here it is:


LG:  The term “Irish Renaissance” suggests there was ever a time Irish storytelling and culture was not appropriately respected. Why do you feel there has been an upsurge in “Irishness” and how recent was the shift?

CT:  The time that interests me most is about 1900. Up to then Irish playwrights – such as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw – had gone to London and lived there and written for an English audience. In around 1900 the movement began for Irish writers to live in Ireland and write for an Irish audience. This would have political as well as cultural implications.

LG:  What’s at the heart of this shift? Was there a single catalyst or do you see it as more of a progression?

CT:  I think the poet W.B. Yeats and his friend Lady Gregory were important, but it was also part of the time, a time when the periphery seemed to be moving towards the centre, when composers were interested in folk music, painters in primitive art and writers in folk tales.

LG:  On the flip side, for what reasons do you feel the Irish were formerly neglected, or even dismissed, as a culture capable of producing fine art?

CT:  Name an Irish novel of the nineteenth century. We had no Jane Austen, no Dickens, no Trollope, no George Eliot. Conditions in Ireland were not ripe for the novel; there was too much poverty and dispossession, not enough choices and chances.

LG:  Ireland is a singular country. It has a distinctive spirit immediately recognizable in its music, language and literature. What about the country lends itself so naturally to the telling of tales?

CT:  We had no symphonies, no great paintings, but slowly writing began to matter. Paper was cheap; literacy was the only way out of poverty; London was close and London publishers were interested in stories about strange places. The traditional music survived mainly in the west, and partly because of poverty. The language – Irish – did not survive as well because parents became aware that you would need English to go to England or America, as so many did.

LG:   We’ve just passed St. Patrick’s Day when, here in the United States at least, everyone’s Irish for the day. Is that offensive to you, that Americans (of Irish descent or not) drink green beer and glorify what’s become an Irish stereotype?

CT:   It’s funny and sweet and should be taken lightly.

LG:  I’ve asked this question of Frank Delaney, also, by the way, another very literary Irishman. His response was he took it in good humor, that it was a sort of tribute to Ireland in its way. But can it be seen as a negative?

CT:  No. It does no harm. There is a great connections between Ireland and America and there needs to be some way of honoring it.

LG:   I compare the feel of Ireland as a main character in literature to that of the American South. In fact, many Irish immigrated to that region, where the culture still echoes. Are you familiar with southern literature and do you see comparisons between the two?

CT:   Yes, I think so. There is a lovely strangeness about Irish writing, an unpredictability, and a way of handling solitude and dark themes. You also find this in the American South.

LG:  History has not always been kind to the Irish. Their history has been anything but smooth. From the Famine to the Troubles, the Irish have been beset in so many ways. Yet, Celts are a proud people who stubbornly cling to their homeland. The same may be said of other nationalities, yet it certainly seems the Irish are exceptional in this way. Am I being presumptuous in thinking so or is there really something so standout about the Irish?

CT:  I wonder about this. I think small countries in Europe, such as Croatia and Catalonia, the Basque Country and Estonia also have it.

LG:  ‘The Testament of Mary’ is not the only novel written by an Irishman to have been recently nominated for the Booker Prize. Sebastian Barry’s ‘On Canaan’s Side’ was, as well. Is this a part of the “Irish Renaissance,” what you find significant of late?

CT:  Three Irish writers have won the Booker Prize, and a good number of us have been nominated for the Prize– I have been nominated three times. And there are a number of good young writers publishing first novels now. There is a lot of energy in the literary culture. I wish I could say the same about the politics.

LG:  From what I gather, you no longer live in Ireland, but rather here in the U.S. Many Irish find a certain kinship with America, a welcome as it were. Do you feel as moved to create here as in your native Ireland? Is what you have accomplished here rooted in Ireland or inspired, at least partially so, by America?

CT:  I teach here one semester and then I go home. I like the openness of America. I like American manners, and the students I teach at Columbia are serious and hard-working and talented.

LG:  Finally, a bit of lighter tone from what I’ve asked earlier. Were you a bookish child, as is the case with so many writers? Was your home supportive of reading and traditional storytelling or did you pursue this on your own?

CT:  There was no traditional story-telling. There was a lot of silence. But there were books and books mattered. And yes, I was, from about the age of twelve, a very bookish kid.


colmtoibinPhotograph: Kim Haughton

The Year of the Irish. Or the Quarter, at Least.

Known not so much for my timeliness as my obsessive nature, I’ve filled April, May and possibly June with all manner of Irishness. I did not bypass the month of March. Nay, I observed St. Pat’s with the consumption of a full half pint of Guinness and a resounding Slàinte, a tribute to at least a sliver of my ancestry, as well as admiration for the art and literature of Ireland. Plus, Guinness tastes good.

April 10: Colm Tóibín

Booker-nominated, all-round overachieving Irish writer Colm Tóibín is scheduled to speak on ‘The Irish Renaissance’ at Elmhurst College. Has Irish anything ever been out of fashion? To me, no, but I’d attend an event of any sort for the pleasure of hearing Mr. Tóibín hold forth.

BREAKING NEWS! I am in the process of interviewing Colm Tóibín. Watch this space for much, much more on Mr. Tóibín .




May 12: Sebastian Barry

I am attending a reading/signing/pilgrimage with Sebastian Barry, the Bard of Ireland. You may recognize the name from one post out of every dozen or so I have ever posted. Of all the thousands of words I’ve written here, his name may have been mentioned with greatest frequency. Greater even than all articles, prepositions and participles put together.

He is once again gracing our shore on the occasion of the publication of his latest novel, The Temporary Gentleman,  book eight in what’s become a series of novels devoted to ancestors on both sides of his family. Must you read them in order? Not necessarily.



More on that here:




I can’t wait for the May publication of this book, sorry. I’ve pre-ordered the UK edition, as well as grovelled to his publisher (Faber & Faber) for an ebook copy of the ARC. So far no word but I assure you I’ve thrown myself into it with as much vigor as you would expect from me. At worst, the publication of the UK edition is April 3. With international shipping, I should get it roughly a day before publication in the US, because that’s just how things work for me.



In more Sebastian Barry related news, I previously mentioned his novel The Secret Scripture is being adapted for the screen. When I wrote to wish him a Happy New Year the screenwriter on the project had just died, inconveniently enough. However, they found another gentleman to take up the task and it seems filming will begin in June.


Bit more info on the film.

And did I mention Vanessa Redgrave’s one of the stars? Because she is.




Aaaaaand. I may go to Ireland in June. Or May. But probably June.

Must run! Good catching up with you.




Man Booker Shortlist 2013


And then there were six…


  • Eleanor Catton – New Zealand

  • Jhumpa Lahiri – UK/US

  • Colm Toíbín – Ireland

  • Ruth Ozecki – Canada/US

  • Jim Crace – UK

  • NoViolet Bulawayo – Zimbabwe




From The Telegraph:

The Books:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

The only debut novel on the shortlist. The 31-year-old Zimbabwean author tells the story of Darling who lives in a shanty called Paradise.

Judges said: “In the course of our epic readathon we met many, many child narrators, an exhausting number of child narrators, but none stood out quite like Darling.”

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

New Zealander Catton, 27, is the youngest author on the shortlist. Her debut novel, The Rehearsal (2008), was longlisted for the Orange Prize.

The book features Walter Moody, who is drawn into a mystery when he attempts to make his fortune in New Zealand’s goldfields.

Judge Natalie Haynes, a classicist and critic, added: “When an 823-page book turns up in a parcel, a sinking sensation could occur to a person who is trying to read a book a day while doing the things that pay their mortgage, but within about six pages of the book I felt like I’d got into a bath.”

Harvest by Jim Crace

Hertfordshire-born Crace, 67, the oldest author on the shortlist, has been writing fiction since 1974. Quarantine (1997) was previously shortlisted for the Booker.

The book charts, over the course of seven days, the destruction of an English village and its way of life after a trio of outsiders put up camp on its borders.

Crace has said the book will be his last work of fiction.

Judges said Harvest continued to “haunt” them after months of reading, adding: “When you think about the eruption of strangers into this enclosed world, the resentment caused by these outsiders, you begin to get a glimpse of some of the troubling debates in modern life.”

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

London-born Lahiri, 46, lives in the US and holds UK and US citizenship. She has written four works of fiction including The Namesake, which was adapted into the film of the same name.

The Lowland, featuring the lives of two once inseparable children raised in Calcutta, is a novel about entangled family ties.

Judges said: “This is a novel about distance and separation … a novel about the impossibility of leaving certain kinds of past behind.”

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Canadian-American writer Ozeki, 57, was ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest in 2010 and is the author of three novels.

A Tale For The Time Being, which features cyberbullying and a 105-year-old Buddhist nun, centres around a mystery that unfolds when the protagonist, Ruth, discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home.

Judges said: “It’s a Zen novel if such a thing is possible. It’s about dualities at every level – East to West, cruelty and kindness, forgetting and remembering, and releasing and enclosing.” The book is “incredibly clever, incredibly sweet and big-hearted”, they added.

The Testament Of Mary by Colm Toibin

Irish author Toibin, 58, is the author of five novels, including The Blackwater Lightship (1999) and The Master (2004), which were both shortlisted for the Booker.

“A woman from history (is) rendered now as fully human” in the book, which features Mary, “living in exile and fear, and trying to piece together the events that led to her son’s brutal death”.

Judges said the book was a “beautifully crafted, passionate story that most people think they already know”, which the author “turns into something wonderfully fresh and strange”.

Judges admired “the power of Mary’s voice” and said it was a short novel but one that “lives long in the memory” with a narrative that ranges over a lifetime in just over 100 pages.


My take:

I’ve read The Harvest and pronounce it positively masterful. It’s very dark and grim, a sepia-toned portrait of Medieval Britain and the conversion from an agrarian economy to the wool trade. Sound dull? Oh, no. The plot is menacing and riveting. More about the loss of livelihood of former serfs, narrated by one living amongst them but shunned for being born “outside,” it draws a picture of the basic inhumanity of man when faced with impending poverty and homelessness.

It is anything but dull.

I’ve reviewed the book, then interviewed Crace and was impressed with his candor and the cut of his jib. He says this is his last novel of his writing career. Read all his books to understand what a travesty this would be. A Booker win could change that. Part of me pulls very strongly for Crace.


I’m currently reading The Luminaries. It’s a sprawling, many-charactered novel set during the gold rush in Australia. It’s a HUGE tome and it’s difficult keeping the characters straight. Fortunately, Catton knows this and repeats who each one is, from what profession and how s/he relates to the story frequently enough the reader can rest a bit easier. It starts slowly but builds very well. Its Booker potential lies in its entertainment factor, partially. I’m finding parts of it funny, in a low-key way. It has the quality of being a sort of comedy of errors at times. And then there’s the mystery element, who killed whom for gold and how will the whole thing come together? In more than 800 pages.


Knopf/Random sent me a copy of The Lowlanders, bless them! Haven’t had a chance to even open the cover yet but I’m reading as fast as I can…

The others I don’t own but can remedy easily enough. Well, save the $ issue. Can’t take that lightly.


Remember how I said I wasn’t going to get sucked into the Booker race this year? I’ve been sucked into the Booker race this year. ‘Tis a pity she’s a book whore.

Particularly tight race this year. I’m torn between believing the committee wants Jim Crace to keep writing, and the quality of his book is stellar, but competition is fierce. I am pleased by the diversity, though, and happy to see writers of partial US citizenship in the running. Toíbín, The Telegraph fails to say, is currently Mellon Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, right here in the U.S. So I’ll claim him, just a little.

The winner? Still leaning toward Crace. What can I say? But I’ll keep reading.






3 Irish Authors short listed for the
2011 International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award.

The short list will be confirmed by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Gerry Breen at 11.00am on 12th April 2011 in the Mansion House, Dublin

10 novels have been shortlisted for the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award, from a total of 162 novels nominated by 166 public library systems in 126 cities worldwide. For the first time, the shortlist includes novels by three Irish authors; Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Brooklyn by Colm Toibín and Love and Summer by William Trevor. The International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award is worth €100,000 and is the world’s most prestigious literary prize nominated by public libraries world-wide. 
The Lord Mayor of Dublin Gerry Breen, Patron of the Award, officially confirmed the titles on this year’s shortlist, nominated by public libraries in Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, Greece, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland, and the USA.

The short listed titles are:

  1. Galore by Michael Crummey (Canadian). Doubleday Canada
  2. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (American). Faber & Faber, HarperCollins, USA
  3. The Vagrants by Yiyn Li  (Chinese / American) Random House, USA
  4. Ransom by David Malouf  (Australian) Random House Australia
  5. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (Irish) Bloomsbury, UK, Random House, USA
  6. Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates  (American) Ecco Press, USA
  7. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey  (Australian) Allen & Unwin
  8. Brooklyn by Colm Toibín (Irish) Viking UK, Scribner, USA
  9. Love and Summer by William Trevor (Irish) Viking, UK
  10. After the Fire, a Still, Small Voice by Evie Wyld (Australian) Pantheon Books, USA

More about the shortlist

From this list, all I’ve read is Evie Wyld’s After the Fire, a Still, Small Voice. I’d be ecstatic if it won, but then again I have no others to compare it with, which makes that a trifle biased. Not that that’s ever stopped me.

I have a copy of Galore for review, haven’t heard of  The Vagrants, Jasper Jones or Love and Summer, though of course I know of William Trevor. The others I know of but have never read.

So, once again, I’m faced with having no idea  on earth who will win, only that I’ll hope it’s Evie Wyld since her book was positively brilliant.

What’s that you say? Did I hear, “Lisa, why don’t you read the shortlist, then make an informed guess?!”

Are  you trying to kill me, people?!  Yes, it’s a prize generated via the opinions of public librarians, and yes, I’m a public librarian. And, if you offer to fly me to Ireland for the awards ceremony I wouldn’t hesitate to read these novels while standing on my head. (Okay, maybe not standing on my head.)

The award date isn’t until June 15, but I’m already reviewing for two sites, plus for NetGalley at my own pace, and I have half a mind to apply to Kirkus, too. Oh, and the Orange Prize Longlist. I’ve been too eager to wait for the short, plus for whatever completely insane reason thought I should also guess the short…

Oh, hell. Maybe. But keep in mind a ticket to Ireland would positively seal the deal. Ireland in June? Yes, please!