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


Interview with author Frank Delaney (Instant Replay)


Happy St Patrick’s Day, all. As promised, here’s a re-post of an interview with another of my favorite Irish writers.


Much health and happiness.



Interview: Frank Delaney – March 16, 2012


“The Most Eloquent Man in the World.” – NPR


“Every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there’s no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one’s own. So if we’re to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story. In a good way.”
– from ‘The Last Storyteller’


Irish-American novelist Frank Delaney has been telling the story of his native country through historical fiction for decades. A writer, broadcaster and James Joyce scholar, Delaney has been called by NPR “The Most Eloquent Man In the World.”


His most recent novel, ‘The Last Storyteller,’ is the final installment in his Venetia Kelly trilogy. A mixture of ancient Irish folklore, eerily similar modern recreations of these stories and the beginnings of the Irish Republican Army, the intertwining plot lines revolve around main character Ben MacCarthy, the latest in a long line of seanchis, traveling collectors of folktales. His predecessor, John Jacob O’Neill, realizes he has grown too old to carry on. He is ready to pass the torch on to Ben, teaching him what he will need to know in order to carry on the tradition for posterity.

Venetia Kelly, Ben’s former wife, still holds his heart in her hands, though they’ve been separated for decades. He struggles with the feelings he still holds for her, though she’s married to another man, raising Ben’s twin children. Learning her new husband treats her violently, Ben must decide what action to take, his fiery temper threatening to lead him into committing an act of violence against the man he despises, while at the same time violence in Ireland itself is unfolding.

‘The Last Storyteller’ is a deeply felt, moving tale of ancient tradition colliding with the onset of The Troubles, a period in which Ireland engaged in a long, bloody civil war. Hatred and love, coupled with tradition and a land torn apart, ‘The Last Storyteller’ is an epic historical novel of Ireland told by one of its finest writers.


Mr. Delaney very kindly granted me an interview, taking time out of his busy schedule, for which I am incredibly grateful:

1). Could The Storyteller be set anywhere but Ireland? Would any other setting compare in intensity of history, wealth of folklore?

Naturally, chauvinistically, I’d like to think that it could not be set anywhere but Ireland! But, let me be Irish, and contradict myself immediately. First of all, I try to write for a universal audience. If the definition of the novel is “a prose account of the human condition” then we might as well make it global, might we not? Secondly, years of reading mythology from all around the world, and from time immemorial, has taught me that “people are people are people” and that the story of mankind, as reflected in mythology, has shared long, wide, and colorful strands everywhere. As I say in the Author’s Note to The Last Storyteller, “mythology was a bible ever before there was a bible.” So, the answer to your question has to be that this is a story you could find in Alaska, India, Canada, Sri Lanka, Norway – whereever we have placed our feet.

2). How has Ireland changed in your lifetime, or has it? Can The Troubles ever be relegated to history?

Ireland has changed beyond recognition in my lifetime. It has changed politically, socially, spiritually, and culturally. I’ve always believed that the change began in earnest with the 1963 visit of President Kennedy. His youth, his vigor, his godlike glory showed my generation (I was 20) what was possible. Soon after, Ireland’s politicians began to reach out to the world to invite companies in on tax holidays and we began to grow an economy. Next came the contraceptive pill, which loosened social behavior as never before. Shortly after this, scandals hit the Catholic Church like rockets – scandals of embezzlement and child abuse; at the same time, Northern Ireland and the civil rights issue exploded. Now we had a melting-pot to be sure. And how it boiled! For 30 years people fought each other in the streets of that part of the country still under British rule, and only when President Clinton came to power was the matter settled, if somewhat uneasily. By then, the full disgrace of the Catholic Church was underway and people quit worship in droves. To cap it all, an era of unprecedented wealth, the famed Celtic Tiger, began to collapse, and the country is now fighting its way out of bankruptcy. At the moment, there is no violence in the politics; it rumbles from time to time, but given my own personal experiences as a reporter during the worst of the Troubles, I’m grateful for even an afternoon of quiescence.

3). What drives you? What ignites your passion?

Good question – easy to answer! 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.

4). Should we fear technology replacing books? Are you a fan of the digital era?

I’m a fan of anything that enables and advances reading. Technology holds no fears for me – I have a Kindle and an iPad. I read on both and I also have a stack of books on my bedside table. Since the e-reader first began to appear, I have always taken the view that it was “as well as” and not “instead of.” In any case, the book as beautiful object has always been powerful to me – for instance, I have long been a fan of the Folio Society, that deliciously enriching producer and purveyor of beautiful books and have dozens if not hundreds of their gorgeous titles on my bookshelves.

5). As a native Irishman, how do you feel about the pre-packaged Irish stereotype on St. Patrick’s Day, the declaration everyone’s Irish?

You shouldn’t have asked this question! I admire the parade organizers and the parade marshals, and the participants in the parades, the dancers and the pipers and the marchers, who bring such pleasure and such delight to the notion of being Irish all across the United States and indeed the world. It remains extraordinary to me that an island not more than 33,000 square miles in size should be able to have its own national day once a year – what a size of personality that is! So I like the declaration that everybody is Irish for a day – but here comes the warning. I loathe the idea that to be Irish is to be drunk and vomiting and comatose from eight o’clock in the morning on as many streets across the United States as you can find. That’s racist behavior, stereotyping the Irish as drunk.. The people who do that offer no representation of anything Irish that I know to be the general ethos of our country, and I wish they would go and throw up in their own yards and stay away from the sweet and good-hearted celebrations of our native saint and our culture.

6). Do you have a dedicated writing space and/or set hours you work? (Maybe the question should be, is there any time you aren’t working…)

The second half of the question is the correct perception! I have two desks – one in our Connecticut home and one in our New York office. Insofar as decent social and marital behavior will allow (!) I am at those desks as often as I can be. As to hours of work – I find that I like best the work that I do earliest in the day. Over the years I’ve tried to refine as much as possible what kind of work I do in which period. So I reserve the morning, especially the early morning, for original composition, and try to do the rewriting at other hours of the day. But when a book is nearing an end, all those rules go out the window, and I write all the hours I need, sometimes ten, twelve, fourteen hours at a stretch.

7). Longhand, computer or typewriter? Which is your preference?

I tend to start a book in longhand – I make notes, I filled page after page of notebooks with odd jottings, observations, questions and inquiries. Out of this a general shape and idea seems to arrive somewhere, and I begin to write the first third of the book on the computer. That first section can take four to five times as long as the remaining two sections together.

8). Silly question, but why Joyce? Why devote so much time to lovingly explicate Ulysses, page by page? Thank you, by the way, but why?

Why Joyce? Why not?! Seriously – he remains, for me, one of the greatest writers of all time, and since I discovered him for myself, and began to revel in the joy that I find in him, I felt almost obliged to find a way of spreading that enjoyment. I know, I know, it seems nuts – but since I first started unpacking Ulysses phrase by phrase, with the express intention of leaving not a reference unexplained by the time I’ve finished, I’ve had something else wonderful happen to me. Apart from the hundreds of thousands of downloads of the weekly podcast, and the thrill of the enjoyment that people are good enough to share with me when they write to me, I am learning the most fabulous new raft of knowledge. Joyce had an extraordinary mind – he may have been one of the best read people of all time, and by taking the time and trouble to interrogate his – often very dense – references, I am learning what he knew. And passing it on. I can scarcely imagine a more enjoyable task.

9). How strong is the pulse of literary fiction, criticism and serious examination of literature in the 21st century? Who are today’s shining literary lights?

Great question! People have been saying for generations, “Oh, the novel is dead.” Well, it ain’t – nor is that wonderful American invention, creative nonfiction, nor is biography, nor is political writing. And as well as the books, the commentariat is alive and well. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that it’s healthier than ever, because we now have this wonderful new creature, the Literary Blogger. I’m a massive fan of this gorgeous animal, with all its fur and feathers – for a number of reasons. My main complaint about the general direction of literary criticism over the last century has been – and Joyce is a case in point – that it tended, in its lofty tone and often impenetrable language (not to mention occasional vendetta behavior), to be antidemocratic, to keep certain areas of literature to itself, whereas my own passion is for as many people as possible to be reading as widely as possible. The Literary Bloggers have no axes to grind, they’re not protecting their reputations, they don’t fear being sneered at by other critics, they’re reading what they want to read, writing what they want to write, and they don’t want to keep what they enjoy to themselves. They want to share. They want to expand the constituency of reading. They want to hail and applaud good writing. To my mind this is a very significant development – uneven, I grant, here and there, but, dammit, not as uneven as the generations of formal literary critics, and the blogging intention is so good and so worthy of loud vocal support that you can call it truly a new and, to my mind, incomparably welcome development in the world of reading and writing.

Frank Delaney’s website



Sunday Salon: March 18, 2012




A big part of me wants to use today's platform to go on a tirade against all the callous people I've dealt with over the past few weeks  but what good would that really do. Eveyone falls into the Deep Pit at one time or other and the fact I live on a ledge far enough down I can barely see a pinpoint of light puts me in a category with loads of other people, therefore unexceptional. It's cool and damp here, like a cave, so could be worse. I hate the heat, and sometimes the sun, so maybe it's here I'm best suited. Dare to poke your head out, expecting others to be compassionate despite the fact I've developed the huge, freakish eyes of those who dwell in the dark, and you'll be used as a stepping-stone for the "above" people who are bigger, therefore better, than you. If you're one of these people, you'll know who you are from the bit of sting you feel, the acknowledgement of your shame. Ah, but that's assuming you have a conscience.

And that's how my life life's been going. Enigmatic, maybe, but a shot back over the bow to a few people who more than deserve it and are fortunate I haven't named them. A pox on you and I will not let you ruin this week as well.

Now, let's talk about books.

First off, the Frank Delaney interview. God that went well! I did a good enough job picking the questions, he blew me away with his answers. It's of course up here on Bluestalking, as well as in the Chicago Tribune Local edition. Hoping Library Journal will pick it up, too. I review for them and have asked pretty please. It may be upcoming.

Funny aside that made that in some ways embarrassing debacle (trust me) a bit less painful, I received an email from a publicist/marketing person re: Mr. Delaney's answer to my question about technology and what impact it will have on book publishing. He went into his feelings on book blogs and how much he loves them. She sent me a note, along with a ton of other bloggers I'm sure, praising him for his stance on literary bloggers. From  my own interview, of course, without her realizing it! Made me laugh. Flattering, too, of course, as she enjoyed the interview.

I'm planning to post separately re: the recently announced Orange Prize Longlist, so I'm not ignoring that but just delaying it a bit. Building the suspense and all that, right?




Received this review copy out of the blue and they couldn't have picked a more willing blogger. I've long struggled with my complete lack of religious belief, though positive views on some things about religion/associated with religious belief, only no one's yet written anything I've found helpful on the topic. Most spew venom (SEE: Hitchens, Christopher – may he rest in peace) or, on the other side, make me want to put my finger down my throat and vomit. But Alain De Boton is, so far, hitting this particular nail right on its very  head. Loving it. He writes so well. I really do enjoy his work.



Another funny coincidence, I'm an advisor to a nonfiction publishing house and the latest author pitch they sent me for evaluation was so similar to De Boton's book it could have been its companion. I really hope they accept it for publication. It's a book I think is sorely needed in this literary genre that's been nothing but abused by those with a slanted agenda.

Still working on The Last Storyteller. A bit hard reading this after the aforementioned negative experience interviewing him (not him, personally, but…) but the beauty of it… Swoon-worthy. Sorry to sound like a broken record but no other nationality writes so well as the Irish. Except the gems of the U.S. South, and many of those authors' ancestors hailed from Ireland. Scotland, as well. And England. But, so far as I can tell yet, mostly Ireland, as did parts of my own family. I had two red-haired, blue-eyed grandfathers of Irish extraction, whose genes somehow hopped over all my other exclusively brown-haired and eyed relations to settle upon me. Statistically improbable but my blue-eyed, auburn-haired daughter is mightily grateful.

Further on genetics, it's my belief one reason the literature of the American South is so astounding owes itself to Irish immigrants settling there. When that light bulb went on I thought, "I am so original! I shall write a book!" #Turns out I'm not the sole soul to have noticed this connection, not that this means another book – from a different viewpoint – would be amiss. I simply wouldn't have the time, despite the inclination. A scholarly paper, perhaps? A long article? I think I have a few hours free in late 2018. I'll throw it in the pot, where a nice stew's already bubbling away.




And I'm not quite sure what to make of this:


A Rap Tribute to James Joyce by Frank Delaney


Otherwise, reading away for review, book clubs I've been asked to run online, prize candidates and a shameful amount of library books I checked out because a review comes under my  nose and I can't NOT pounce.

Especially dangerous are all those lovely literature blogs listing outstanding books read recently. If they're short I tell myself, "Surely I can fit in this ONE!" Trouble is, it's never just one.

Here's one:




Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith



"After Alison Temple discovers that her husband is cheating on her, she does what any jilted woman would do—she spray paints a nasty message for him on her wedding dress and takes a job with the detective firm that found him out. Being a researcher at the all-female Fitzgerald’s Bureau of Investigation in London is certainly a change of pace from her previous life, especially considering the characters Alison meets in the line of duty. There is her boss, the estimable Mrs. Fitzgerald; Taron, Alison’s eccentric best friend, who claims her mother is a witch; Jeff, her love-struck, poetry-writing neighbor; and last, but not least, her psychic postman.

Clever, quirky, and infused with just a hint of magic, Alison Wonderland is a literary novel about a memorable heroine coping with the everyday complexities of modern life."

I thought you'd agree.





Spurious by Lars Iyer



"A tiny marvel of comically repetitive gloomery…. [A] wonderfully monstrous creation."  
Steven Poole, The Guardian

"Viciously funny."
San Francisco Chronicle

"What could be more fun than laughing at intellectuals? This, Lars Iyer's first book, sprang from his blog, Spurious, which sprang from his career as a philosophy lecturer at Newcastle University. I'm still laughing, and it's days later. But who, exactly, am I laughing at?"
—The Los Angeles Times

"Ought to be unreadable, but manages to be intelligent, wildly entertaining, and unexpectedly moving instead."
The Millions




# How Celtic Culture Invented Southern Literature by  James Cantrell

Happy Birthday, James Joyce!


Today Joyce would have been 130. The prose that's thrilled an elite few, but baffles most, could – and surely would – today be given a pass as the senile ramblings of an ancient man:


"- I am the resurrection and the life. That touches a man's in most heart.
– It does, Mr Bloom said.
Your heart perhaps but what price the fellow in the six feet by two with his toes to the daisies? No touching that. Seat of the affections. Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day it gets bunged up: and there you are. Lots of them lying around here: lungs, hearts, livers. Old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead. That last day idea. Knocking them all up out of their graves. Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. Get up! Last day! Then every fellow mousing around for his liver and his lights and the rest of his traps. Find damn all of himself that morning."





Who was this man and why is so much fuss still made about his writing? Especially if you aren't familiar with Homer, if the references go right past you and it takes reading a concordance longer than the primary work to have a prayer of understanding anything.

Few of us now receive a classical education, at least here in the U.S. I can't speak for other countries. A few generations younger than Joyce, I never had to read Homer, though I earned a B.A. in English literature without it. My education started with Beowulf, continuing forward not far past the Victorians but if I had to read short passages of Homer I've wiped it from my memory.

So, does obscurity make the genius? And what's his significance outside the university if it takes a Doctorate to make heads or tails of his work? One Dubliner friend of mine once told me, "Joyce was a fraud."  I don't recall that she ever elaborated but I know she's not the only one to believe such.

But there is help and I know I've mentioned this before but it being Joyce's birthday a repeat couldn't hurt. Frank Delaney, an Irish writer,  has been going line by line through Ulysses  , since June 14, 2010, recording podcasts to help those of us without benefit of the aforesaid classical education read and appreciate Joyce's most famous work.

And, by the way, he forecasts the whole project will take 25 years.

Interesting the man NPR deemed "The most eloquent man in the world" is translating the most obscure. Ironic, actually, while also most generous of heart.





Delaney is an Irish novelist, broadcaster, BBC host and Booker Prize judge. I'm a bit impressed and hugely humbled by a man of such broad talent and dedication to advancing the spirit of James Joyce to countless others he'll never meet. I suppose his thanks lies in personal satisfaction, knowing what he's doing is appreciated from the feedback of a very few. It's also a damned good exercise for his own brain. Not a slouch, this one.

So, happy birthday to James Joyce. I'll begin my personal wrangle with you on Bloomsday this year, relying on the grace of Frank Delaney to nudge me along, my question being will it take 25 years to read if it's taking Delaney 25 years to produce the guidance?

I feel faint.

Ah, but when I'm done won't I lord it over the rest of the world. Frank Delaney I am not.



"I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality"

– James Joyce, the cheeky monkey