No Man’s Land

memento mori

All writing contains an element of memento mori, a trait much easier to detect in the writing of say Dostoevsky than the Yellow Pages but it’s always there if you look and think deep enough. Even the most ridiculous scribblings and advertisements and lists will one day be invested with some unintended unforeseen significance when their author is long dead and time has moved sufficiently along to make our present the foreign country it will one day become. It’s just a question of seeing far enough ahead and then turning to look back – a Lot’s wife view of history. People will sift through the wreckage of our age just as we do the ages that came before us. The monumental will decay and the trash will be elevated into antique. Continue reading

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scoreP‘For a cold lifeless sphere of rock and dust locked in orbit around our planet, the satellite has had many protean identities. It has been a symbol of love and chastity, lucidity and madness, eternity and death. It never changes and it never stops changing. Poets have serenaded its femininity and its solitude and have, in the case of the Chinese poet Li Bai, drowned attempting to embrace its reflection. To the grand-cynic Philip Larkin, it was a “lozenge of love” and a “medallion of art”; its celestial light aiding his stumbling path from the toilet. Above all, it is clear that the moon has and always will be, as long as there are people to observe it, a canvas. Continue reading

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The Hidden Rooms


I’m in Vienna at the moment, exploring the streets and museums as much as old war wounds will allow, searching for the ghosts of Trakl, Schiele and co, as well as buildings (unbuilt or otherwise). Continue reading

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Where the Wild Things Are


The prevalent trend in books, at least on these battered old islands, seems to be for the overnight discovery. It’s a tempting myth for journalists to find some literary Kaspar Hauser out of nowhere (despite the fact there are no nowheres) and display his or her talents before the court. Yet it remains very much a myth and does little to demonstrate how much time and effort the likes of Eimear McBride have put in through the years and how many barriers they faced in trying to get their stories to the public. We like our myths though and the idea of overnight success (holding out the hope we will have our own) prevails even if it was years in the making and came almost in spite of those heralding it. Continue reading

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From Duchamp to where

GENZK56269_ADF_A3 Low

‘There are four types of remains from shipwrecks. Flotsam and jetsam are the wreckage left floating on the sea, the latter having been deliberately jettisoned. Derelict and lagan are those remnants of the vessel and cargo resting on the ocean floor, the latter being recoverable. For the landlocked among us, it’s a useful way of regarding history. There are artefacts, ideas and entities easily identified and salvaged from the surface. Others lurk forgotten or obscured in the depths. This wreckage we call culture.’

On Isa Genzken at the Edinburgh Art Festival.

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Mad King Sweeney

blue pavilion1 I’ve been living and writing for the past few months in this cabin in the woods over the sea. It’s less Thoreau or Bon Iver than Victorian ornamental hermit but it’s been productive and it’s almost impossible for the sound of owls at night or the wind through the trees not to seep into the writing. The recent weather has made it feel like the cabin of a ship on a storm-tossed sea. It’s a world I only imagined existing reading Kidnapped or Moonfleet as a child or The Baron in the Trees much later, a world my fiancée grew up in, and one that becomes more extraordinary the more it’s explored and read about (World War 2 bunkers, the hiding places of medieval ‘witches’, the site of feudal skirmishes). It is a landscape that seems to somehow know secret things. Continue reading

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Gone sailing


Given that it will no doubt stop this wretched old earth from rotating, I thought I’d mention that I’ve resigned from my role as editor of The Honest Ulsterman. I’d like to sincerely thank everyone for their support, especially all the interesting, encouraging people on Twitter and above all to the Verbal Arts Centre in Derry, the very talented Claire Savage and everyone we interviewed and featured. I’m proud of the issues we’ve produced and the success of writers we’ve featured such as Eimear McBride, Rob Doyle, Colin Barrett and Benjamin Myers. It’s a much-needed publication and I hope it long continues. Continue reading

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