Where the Wild Things Are

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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

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‘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

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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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Paradise Lost

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‘For all the immediate impact of this created space, it is curiously, and perceptively on Richardson’s part, the question of time that justifies the ghostly nature of the exhibition’s title. The size and hyper-real accuracy of the work impress, but left simply at that and Mariner 9 would be a science-centre spectacle or a modern version of the Victorian attraction to camera obscura and magic lanterns. In itself, that would be interesting, of course, but there is real conceptual and philosophical depth to Richardson’s piece. It reveals itself when we notice the age of technology scattered around the landscape. These are future ruins.’ Continue reading

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Beyond good and evil

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There’s a tendency among certain literary critics to misleadingly label certain types of writing as ‘transgressive’. This involves throwing a wide range of books (essentially those which don’t fit a narrow bourgeois remit) in together like cats in a sack. So you get shock for shocks-sake camp mixed in with genuine greatness. Extracting the brilliance from the bullshit can be difficult and the results are invariably subjective; for me Hamsun, Burroughs, Céline, Levy, Nabokov, Quin and Henry Miller are wonderful liberating writers for all their faults. Troochi, Bukowski, Brett Easton Ellis, Derek Raymond and Houellebecq I waver with, book by book. Acker and Palahnuik I’ve little time for, which is more my problem than theirs. This is, however, to accept that there is such a thing as transgressive writing, which feels like a concession too far. It seems another example of the herding impulse of critics, an impulse which is crucial to their existence as gatekeepers to the canon. We should be the barbarians at these gates. Continue reading

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Shape Shifting

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‘Understanding and making shape of the past can surely give us more choice in the present, but I am also fascinated by the concept of ‘hungry ghosts’. I saw my mother become haunted by her past during her long drawn out years of dementia and since then I have felt it really important to feed my own ghosts, in the hope that they will rest in some kind of peace and let me do the same.’ Continue reading

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