An Independent Author

August 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Literary Fiction | 2 Comments

‘Independent People’ Halldor Laxness Vintage Books 1946

I was inspired to read Halldor Laxness’s ‘Independent People ‘ because of its similarity to Rose Tremain’s most wonderful novel ‘The Colour’ which dealt with the mid 19th Century New Zealand gold rush. In ‘The Colour’ the characters pursuit of  dreams of gold become for them in tandem a source of all-consuming hope and madness.

  ‘Independent People ‘ deals with the struggles of early 20th Century Icelandic sheep farmer Guðbjartur Jónsson who pursues a dream for independence above all things in the social reality of  capitalism and materialism of his time. Very like Tremain’s characters  Guðbjartur is stubborn and often brutal in his pursuit of his dream in the middle of which World War 1 breaks out and becomes for Guðbjartur a financial asset as the price and demand for his mutton soars.

After working for eighteen years for a wealthy landowner Guðbjartur earns enough money to buy a piece of land to live off and marries the beautiful but tragic Rosa whom he frequently leaves alone in winter in dogged pursuit of familial independence.

Rich in scope and emotion this is a rewarding novel that earned the author a Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. It’s capitalist and materialist  indictments are balanced by the characters involvement in Icelandic folklore culture in particular the poetry of rural Iceland that survived and blossomed during these times.

Not an easy read but the most rewarding novel’s are often demanding of their readers. As rich and eloquent as a novel should be and its economic theme is  not lost in our current climate.

Click here to view this book in DLR Library Catalogue. 

Interview with Irish author Steven Callaghan

July 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Literary Academy | 2 Comments

1. How would you describe your latest novel ‘Fishing in Beirut’

       Fishing in Beirut is a novel about five characters who have come to Paris for different reasons. I intended it broadly as a story of desire, and more specifically as being about these five people trying to come to terms with themselves and their pasts. When I lived in Paris I felt intoxicated by the city pretty much on a daily basis. I wanted to really convey a sense of modern, day to day Paris to the reader also.


2. How would you describe your writing style in ‘Fishing in Beirut’?

       I think the writing style changes slightly depending on which character we are with. However, I wanted it to be quite sensual throughout. It is relatively plain in terms of language but the focus is very much on sights, sounds, smells, and physical and mental feelings. Also, exactly where in Paris a scene is taking place is always described.


3. Your novel takes place between European destinations what do these locations lend to the story?

        I would hope they lend the story a strong sense of place. They also help the reader get a fuller grasp of the characters by being able to associate them with particular cities.


4. What authors have inspired you?

I’ve certainly been inspired by authors as diverse as Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Natsuo Kirino, Fyodor Dostoyevsky  and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. However, I’ve been inspired equally, if not more so, by filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara and Michael Mann, and musicians like Tom Waits, Kurt Wagner and Vic Chesnutt, in how I approach storytelling.


5. Do you have plans for a second novel?

       I’ve just completed my second novel. It’s set in Paris once again and I’m currently looking for a publisher!


6. What advice would you give a debutant Irish author?

       I don’t think authors tend to need advice from other authors on writing itself. The helpful advice is that which relates to the industry, regarding finding an agent, submitting to the right people etc. The whole process is quite trial and error, and I suppose my advice would be if you believe in your work, don’t give up. Do your research, keep submitting, and don’t lose heart if it seems to entire mainstream publishing industry is one big closed shop. Increasingly these days, there are all kinds of ways and means to get your stuff out there. I serialised Fishing in Beirut online before it ever came out in hardcopy.

This is not a dream………..

June 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, Sex and Stravinsky | 1 Comment
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Sex and Stravinsky’ Barbara Trapido, Bloomsbury, May 2010

Not unlike Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Barbara Trapido’s new novel is a  story of demented romantic and filial love but unlike Shakespeare’s comedy for Trapido’s characters none of it is a dream.

The choices of two sets of couples are compounded by impulse and coincidence. Caroline a beautiful and brilliant tall Australian falls under the charm of Josh a Jewish South African who both in pursuits of their careers come to live in England. Meanwhile Hattie and Herman make a life for themselves in South Africa unaware of the momentous connection they have with Caroline and Josh.

The story is set between Trapido’s native South Africa and England during the late 1970’s gracing the story with scope and bathed in the historical half-light of South Africa coming out of apartheid. The geography of the two locations allows the idea of serendipity to filter through as the story’s tenant. No matter how far these characters diverge from the paths they were meant to go down fate will find them and realign things to how they should be. This in an oridnary novel could be bland but Trapido is under the wing of Bloomsbury publishers who never publish anything but inventive writing.

Like magic, although Trapido’s novel makes confusing and rapid choices if you believe in her, the incredible becomes completely credible.




A charming and skillful story

April 29, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Award winners, Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, The Housekeeper and The Professor | 6 Comments

‘The Housekeeper and the


Yoko Ogawa April 2009

A brilliant old mathematician lives alone in his run down two roomed house in Japan on his sister-in-law’s property. Due to an accident in 1975 he has lost his power to create new memories. He cannot remember anything for longer than eighty minutes and so still believes it is 1975. But he does remember the mathematics he studied prior to the accident and living in this abstract manner comes to be his saving grace.

A housekeeper is dispatched by her agency to work for the old man taking care of his home and meals. She is a single parent to a young boy and the trio come to share a deep and tender relationship within the limits of the old man’s disability. The tenderness and empathy the housekeeper and her son develop towards the old man quickly surpass the boundaries of their professional relationship with him and as with many a good novel there are consequences to this.

In this beautifully evocative novel empathy finds its place between each of the characters own fragility. The writing allows the plot to develop naturally and the abstract nature of number theory creates another depth to the story. The evocation of Japan and it’s food is very moving as is the story’s natural flow showing Yoko Ogawa’s skill as a writer.

This was originally published in Japan under the title The Professor’s Beloved Equation (博士の愛した数式 and sold four million copies. It is a charming jewel of a read.

Click here to reserve this book from a DLR Library

Haiku; Maths and memories, create a tender novel, all readers it will please

Fishing in Beirut now available in The Exchange Bookshop Dalkey

April 29, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Literary Academy | 1 Comment

Fans of up and coming Irish author Steven Callaghan will be pleased to know that the Exchange Bookshop in Dalkey is now stocking his debut novel ‘Fishing in Beirut’. Check out both the author’s blog and the bookshop website in the ‘why not check out’ section on the right.

Jonathan Franzen’s rules for writing

April 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Posted in Literary Academy | Leave a comment

“Rules for Writing”

In February 2010, Franzen (along with writers including Richard Ford, Zadie Smith and Anne Enright) was asked by The Guardian to contribute what he believed were ten serious rules to abide by for aspiring writers.[36] Franzen’s rules ran as follows:

  1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
  2. Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
  3. Never use the word “then” as a ­conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
  4. Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.
  5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
  6. The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than “The Metamorphosis“.
  7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.
  8. It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction (the TIME magazine cover story detailed how Franzen physically disables the Net portal on his writing laptop).
  9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
  10. You have to love before you can be relentless.[36]

Freedom comes in Time

April 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Posted in Award Nominated, Freedom, Great for Book Clubs, Literary Fiction | Leave a comment
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Jonathan Franzen ‘Freedom’ Macmillan, August 2010

The American middle class has been deconstructed and it is fantastic. Believe what you hear about this book Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom’ is a truly great state-of-the-nation, deconstruction of our times,  polemic epic of a novel.

The story explores the public and private life of a middle class american family ‘the Berglunds’ and is electrified with Franzen’s own interest in socio cultural issues such as the post 9/11 economy, nature conservation and overpopulation. This gives the novel it’s serious literary value and the reason why I believe it is becoming so acclaimed.

When the novel opens the parents in this family saga aren’t doing well. She is drinking, he is working for a corrupt coal company and they have greatly drifted apart.  Each family member has ideas of reality, entitlement, love, morality and general life expectations that mostly are disappointed. A lot of novels look at these ideas too but Franzen couples them with global issues, hot american topics and ethical conflicts (at one stage father and son, Frank and Joey, become embroiled with a Haliburten like company in a very ill-advised financial pursuit) and these coupled ideas are the tools Franzen uses to dig at and explore middle america with. The socio-cultural aspects of this novel work to create a swinging pendulum of doom that moves in time with the family’s own demise gaining weight with every swing it is a fantastic literary technique reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’.

This family are written in 3D every dimension of them is soaked in detail and their humanity lend’s the story its page turning compulsion. Between them they are vain, self-pitying, passive aggressive, disloyal, unfaithful, uncommunicative, hungry for love, sexually promiscuous, mercenary, angry and vulnerable.  Franzen is a natural writer in showing how they are all these things only in their struggle to find meaning in a cheapened world and the reason that readers like them so much is because they are struggling. They know something is very wrong the world which they don’t accept and all of them are on the quest for transcendence in their own individual ways.

With this novel Franzen is the first author to appear on the cover of Time magazine since Stephen King did ten years ago. This is one of the most hyped novels in a long time. It is a fantastically well crafted story but so is Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘American Wife’ and so is Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’. It is unfortunate that this novel has become a little overshadowed by the hype and a precocious side to the success of this novel is now showing with the New York Times describing Franzen’s own comparisons of ‘Freedom’ to ‘War and Peace’ as ‘laughably conceited’.

An unbelievably well executed novel in good company with Ian McEwan, Don Delillo, Damon Galgut and Curtis Sittenfeld but I haven’t been carried away with the hype to value it as anything more than this.

Haiku; Will ‘Freedom’ now be the new book club selection for Oprah Winfrey?

Bookclubs look at the characters…

March 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Posted in Book Club Ideas | Leave a comment
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Look at the characters


1.       Characterisation- is it done well? The more a reader knows a character the increased chance for success there is for character and plot development.

2.       Many novels now focus on characters rather than plot developments as a literary technique to drive novels – does the novel you’re reading do this?

3.       If a character is underdeveloped the author may lean too heavily on stereotypes and archetypes, this is lazy writing, if a book is not holding your interest there is probably a reason for this, examine the characters.

4.       A rich character can be iconic and by virtue can refer to a different era, location, ideology, way of life, value system etc.

5.       How do you enjoy getting to know a character by being told through the narrative what they are like or seeing how a character behaves and develops in different situations?

Read a bit more into it……..

March 18, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Book Club Ideas | Leave a comment
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Getting started; five things to look for in a book

1.       An original idea.

2.       Always ask yourself if a story is interesting or saying something new.

3.       ‘Show don’t tell writing’. Great authors sentences won’t tell you anything but will evoke, implicate, imply, hint at, stimulate and suggest.

4.       Look at how the plot being moved along. Is it moved by the characters, by the narrative, by the writing style or something else….and does this work?

5.       Is there a central theme? If there is take a look at it and see if it is strong enough to carry the whole story? Is it sufficiently researched?

Unaffected, funny and very cool

March 14, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Posted in Biography | Leave a comment
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Rhoda Janzen, ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ , Atlantic Books January 2011

I would love to meet Rhoda Janzen. When I finished ‘Mennonite in a Little Black Dress’ (which is written with fantastic candidness and panache) I felt like I had been into Rhoda’s life, read her diary, looked at her credit card statements, seen the contents of her fridge, listened in to her phone calls, gone through her wardrobe, looked at her photo albums… and whats worse I want to know more! The more an author lets you in the deeper a reader will want to go into a story. What is even better than her honesty in this story is the fact that as a person and in her writing Rhonda is unaffected and charming and the same can be said for the story itself.

With  fluid humour and light self-deprecation ‘Mennonite in a little Black Dress’ is a super page turner of a book. Rhoda Janzen, a former poet laureate in the University of California, English Lecturer and all round academic, writes her life story so far (she is only forty-three) in this memoir of growing up in and returning to the Mennonite Community in which she was raised. Atlantic Books have been great for quirky accessible human interest stories (‘Cockeyed’ Ryan Knighton, ‘Fortune’s Daughter’s’ Elizabeth Keogh & ‘God is Not Great’ Christopher Hitchens) so it was very easy to make the decision to pick this one up.

Rhoda’s husband of fifteen years leaves her for a man named Bob whom he met on In the same week Rhoda is involved in a terrible car crash. Her physical and emotional injuries send her back home to the Mennonite Community from once she fled where she begins a sabbatical from her lecturing post. Nursing her broken bones and heart Rhoda reflects on her life spent with a bipolar husband who makes insane impulse purchases like a $385 pair of gloves on Rhoda’s credit card she also reflects on the heavy traditions of the Mennonite Community in which she grew up where everything from dancing to convenience food was banned but where love was abundant.

Rhoda’s writing had me sniggering and snorting ungracefully with outbursts of laughter. She is the kind of funny that can only be achieved with candid honesty and an appreciation for the unique problems that simply being human bring.  Many stories are worthy of being told but only a select few make it to the New York Times bestseller list and this book did I think because how much the reader is allowed in. There is nothing more fascinating than reading in delicious detail about someone else’s life decisions, finances and love life.

I highly recommend this wonderful story, it is so uplifting and bright I almost want to fashion a petticoat and bonnet….

Click here to borrow this book from DLR libraries

Haiku; Mennonites flourish, aetheist husband flounders, Rhoda’s true home found.

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