Saturday, 23 April 2016

5 ways to connect with modern Irish culture from abroad

5 ways to make a new connection to your Irish Heritage
5 new ways to connect with your Irish Heritage

For anyone with an links to Ireland, whether you're a native, you're an ex-pat, you're part of the diaspora, or just a welcome visitor to our shores for whatever reason, the Irish culture you're familiar with might not be what you always imagined. 

People have a very definite idea on how Irish music is supposed to sound, on what Irish food tastes like, how the Irish films play and how Irish Books should read. But, like any culture, Irish culture has evolved into a fluid and dynamic heritage, connecting what people think of as Irish with the myriad influences to which Ireland has been exposed over the years. Modern Ireland is careful to preserve its identity, the identity it struggled for so long to gain ownership of, but is also keen to fit that into how people think and live now. Here are 5 ways you can connect with your Irish heritage in modern Ireland, whether you're Irish, Irish-American, British-Irish or from anywhere else.

Irish Beer Heritage

1. Drink an Irish beer, but not a Guinness.

You'll see it on St. Patrick's day, you'll see it in every Irish movie, you'll see it on Friday and Saturday nights up and down the country, men and women standing in pubs drinking a pint of the black stuff. And why wouldn't they?  Guinness has been incredibly successful in branding itself not just the Irish national drink, but as a very real part of our culture and how we see ourselves. But Guinness is by now means the only Irish beer people drink in Ireland. In fact, increasingly, Irish drinkers have expanded their horizons to include a much more varied bar tab.  If you're looking for an alternative to the most famous stout, then both Murphy's and Beamish have long brewing traditions in Ireland and are the first choice for many drinkers outside of Dublin. O'Hara's is a great little brewing company down in County Carlow and they've come up with a really nice stout of their own too. 

Cider has become a hugely popular drink in Ireland over the last 5 years too. If you're visiting, especially suring the summer months, you can expect to see large groups of drinkers with pint bottles of Bulmers cider out in beer gardens the length and breadth of the nation. Orchard Thieves is a cider which is been widely publicised more recently around the country too, and is really growing in popularity among younger drinkers.

If lager is your preference, then Guinness have recently hit the craft lager market with Hophouse 13, a refreshing, full bodied lager very different to the Danish brands people are familiar with here. Tom Crean fresh Irish lager, is another of the craft Irish beers which have cropped up in the last while. A little stronger and slightly harder to find might be Finn McCools, which is brewed up in Northern Ireland.  Once again, O'Hara's have a nice, smooth tasting lager called Helles style, which might be a little easier to find.

Irish Cinema Heritage

2. Watch these Irish films that aren't Derby O'Gill and the little people. 

Irish cinema has really matured. Drawing on a pretty strong cinematic tradition, we've been seeing a very strong crop of young film makers and actors gaining a large amount of international attention of late. None moreso than the list of nominees at the 2016 Oscars ceremony. While I haven't included any of those films on this particular list, a simple google, or glance at IMDB will gain you a far more in-depth insight with what's happening currently in the Irish movie scene.

In Bruges

In Bruges stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, in a tale of an Irish gangland assassin sent to Bruges for a final trip after having committed a mistaken execution, where he must await his fate. What sounds like a grim and violent plot is actually a hilarious and human tale from the pen of Martin McDonagh. It hits 84% in Rotten Tomatoes and provides more than one memorable moment and a whole heap of memorable quotes. And, perhaps most of all, it may actually convince you to visit Bruges.


Frank is a funny and fascinating film from Lenny Abrahamson, probably the best Irish film director of the moment. It stars Irish / German actor Michael Fassbender as the eponymous hero, Frank Sidebottom, losely based on the musician from england in the 80s but transposed to modern day California. Frank wears a giant papier mache head over his own head, on and off stage. It's tender, funny, quirky in a non-annoying way and actually boasts some pretty good music.

 Disco Pigs

Disco Pigs stars Cillian Murphy and tells the story of two star-crossed lovers who have grown up in houses beside one another and both indulged their crippling social misfit status to form and unbreakable bond. Adapted from teh Enda Walsh play, when faced with separation, dark and crazy things happen in a pair of virtuoso performances by then young Irish actors. 

 Adam and Paul

Adam and Paul draws on everything from Samuel Beckett to John Steinbeck to tell the tale of two down-and-out junkies wandering Dublin city aimlessly trying to get by. For the most part an exercise is some pretty bleak but really smart gallows humour. You'll find yourself in turns laughing and shocked by the outcome.


Including a who's who cast of Irish actors of the last few years (Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Colm Meaney to name the main stars), Intermission tells the tale of a young lover's (Murphy) brush with a crazy gangland hood (Farrell) all in the name of love. Colm Meaney's turn as a hard as nails Dublin gangland cop obsessed with Clannad is worth the viewing price alone.

Irish Music
Modern Irish Music

3. Listen to these Irish musicians that aren't U2.

Hailing from Cork, Simple Kid, actually packed in the music business after 2 CDs but there are haunting rumours of a return to the stage after a few years off. When we was gigging he was one of the most innovative, smart and likeable musicians in the country. 

Straight out of Cavan. Lisa O'Neill plays smart, personal, melancholy and quirky songs in a style smudging between folksy and indie. Involved, challenging and moreish. A really singular voice if you're interest in what's happening in Irish music right now. 

Nothing wrong with old fashioned good tunes and Bell X1 have hit upon using these to tell intricate, personal stories far beyond the boy meets girl. Awkward and dinky, but swelling with some really beautiful moments, Bell X1 have been at it a while now but are still one of the biggest draws in the country. 


Darlings of the Irish indie scene (and indie press), Villagers have been putting songs out a while since their hugely critically acclaimed debut CD a couple of years back. I wouldn't be a massive fan personally, but it's hard to overlook their very individual vibe and the charismatic vulnerability of their lead Conor J. O'Brien.

Aphex Twin

What, you didn't know he was Irish? Hailing from Co. Limerick no less, Richard D James is one of the most original DJs and musicians of the last fifteen odd years, with chilling, overwhelming tracks you can't help but return to no matter how unpleasant.

Irish heritage Television
Irish TV shows

4. Watch these Irish TV Shows that reflect a different side to the country. 

Father Ted

Although not technically made by an Irish company (it was filmed by Channel 4 in the UK), Father Ted stars all Irish actors, was shot in Ireland and was written and directed by Irish staff. As soon as you take a look you'll understand the shw simply couldn't be more Irish. Telling the story of three Cathlic priests posted on a lonely island in the middle of nowhere, the farcical set-ups, repetitive characterisations and shoddy production values shouldn't work, but so do. A must-see cultural reference point for what's Irish today.

Pure Mule

Small town Ireland is just like your small town, wherever you are. Kids and adults alike are bored and disenfranchised and there's nothing to do but drink copiously, take a whole lot of pills and sleep around with people you shouldn't. It's easy to get caught up in the melodrama of the plotlines while missing the point being made about the myth of a rural idyll.

Love / Hate

A million miles away from The Wire and The Sopranos, the Dublin gangland scene was so successfully portrayed in this show HBO bought up the rights and are making an American version. Glamour-free, filled with big characters and gut-wrenching tension, Love / Hate tells the small time gangster tale in gritty, ugly and cold terms.

The Fall

A Co-Production with the BBC, The Fall stars Gillian Anderson as a tough London Detective out to catch the horrific murderer played by Jamie Dornan across a fraught Belfast backdrop rebuilding itself after the troubles. Not that easy to watch, there's a lot being said here about women and social roles in a shifting landscape that would ruin the show to simply state.

Moone Boy

Purportedly based on actor Chris O'Dowd's own childhood, Moone Boy is a crazy, coming of age sitcom based in a tiny, grey little town in the 1980s in Ireland, where everyone smoked, women were fighting for a voice and weirdos seemed to flood every nook and cranny. Very funny stuff.

Best Irish books to read

5. Read these Irish Books that aren't Ulysses. What Irish books should you read?

The Spinning Heart 
Donal Ryan

Telling the tale of a small Irish down during the market crash in Ireland in the years following 2008, The Spinning Heart sets out to tell a number of smaller tales, each one dedicated to an individual character in the town and intertwined with events in other stories. A simple idea, but cleanly done, measured and relevant and memorable.

The Butcher Boy
Patrick McCabe

The monologue of a deranged young boy in a small town. Hang on, could this be a theme in modern Irish culture? Well yes, and this is where it started. Yet to be bettered, the butcher boy is a harrowing tale of a young boy in a dreary town, riven with the demons of his imagination and driven to monstrous acts.

Emma Donoghue

Now a global hit film made by the aforementioned Lenny Abrahamson, Room tells of a mother and daughter held captive, told through the eyes of a 10 year old boy. Both a harrowing thriller and uplifting tale of maternal love, Room is a unique and unforgettable reading experience before you ever go near the screen version.

City of Bohane
Kevin Barry

Tribal gang warfare in Smoketown, a crazy, distant and grim region beyond the beyond. Told in Kevin Barry's singular voice, Bohane's old enemy is back in town and blood is about to flow.

Alan  Walsh
And finally, you can always try my own book, Sour tells the story of an old Irish myth as a modern murder mystery, full of the heroes and monsters of the old Irish stories recast as local wild characters.

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Saturday, 30 January 2016

Conor Harrington: Ireland's Baroque Graffiti Master

All sound and fury

The only issue of Irish Arts Review magazine I ever bought was the one with a Conor Harrington on the cover. Not that I have anything against the magazine, I was just thrilled they were finally recognising the guy. Turns out they weren't, but it was still as arresting a cover I'd seen of theirs. I first encountered Harrington's work when a guy I worked with in London appeared after lunch one day having just bought a print of his looking fairly pleased with himself. Right after work I shot straight over to the gallery in Soho where there were the conor harrington prints for sale. It was just one of those especially pleasant moments when you discover an artist in any field and it really connects with you. I was arrested right away by the insanely vivid colours in the graphic-design feel mixing with the old school comfort of  someone's sheer technical ability in rendering a vintage style figurative piece. I'm not saying Maser couldn't reel off something like this (in fact they recently collaborated) but the part of me that likes looking at Caravaggio met the part of me that likes Stefan Sagmeister and for the first time the two of them sat down and shared a beer. 

What Harrington does so well is hit you with the visual equivalent of comfort food, old nineteenth century style dramatic figurative portraits, and distress them, tangling them in exaggerated smears, wipes, colour blends and striking fraphic-design style layout techniques now pretty common in urban graffiti. He takes the road originally tread by Caravaggio, in laying down black as the base from which everything spreads, heightening massively the visual contrast, the to overlay an urban palette of eye-searing primary colours, contrasting the bold, flat line of what would be considered pretty traditional graffiti fare, with the subtle, blended chiaroscuro and sfumato more modern graffiti artists are using almost casually. Which is a fancy pants way of saying he does shading pretty well and it looks nice next to black and flat colours. It's the scale and drama of the pieces that take your breath away though. Those two guys having a rumble are giants, like fucking Gulliver, stumbling around that side street wall. It's not unusual to see large pieces now, but it still feels strange to see an image you'd expect to come across in a museum or national gallery collection, smeared over off-grey spackling and let drip so the whole thing looks like damaged film.

What I like about the images is what I think they mean, at least what they mean to me. Anyone who's read John Berger's Ways of seeing or anything influenced by it, will be pretty familiar with the idea that traditionally, art was a weapon used to maintain the social status quo, by lauding images which enforced an idea that the wealthy and powerful were somehow, well, better, than regular shmoes like us, something to be aspired to, to dream about becoming, rather than question. Kind of like episodes of the Kardashians. Conor Harrington takes the language of this kind of social hegemony, always considered the paragon of refinement and unimpeachable quality, but in actual fact brutal and calculating, and marries it with an art form traditionally  associated with social protest on behalf of the voiceless working class masses. He's not the first to do it. he won't be the last, but the way he does it is just so fucking cool. It kind of reminds me of that old war movie 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', by Tony Richardson, which uses every visual trick in the book, down to costume, grain of film, lighting and colour to convey a feel of an established biopic of wartime heroics, only to absolutely lampoon and tear down every character on screen as an idiot. And all of it looking just gorgeous. Dead Meat and When we were kinds are especially good examples. Finding an original conor harrington for sale would be phenomenal, as would being able to afford it. 

Conor Harrinton Painting

He doesn't necessarily mock the characters within his pieces either. In fact, I'd say he's pretty much revelling in the high dramatics this old baroque style of painting can yield up, and the contrast they offer to how an artist can tag an urban street wall (down to the effects of a badly handled can of spray paint).  Our whole concept of what is beautiful in art has been absolutely defined by this traditional, salon, academic style of painting since before even guys like Giotto were accepting commissions. We have a contemporary art world struggling to redefine what we think of  as aesthetically pleasing on either a visual or intellectual level, freeing itself from pictures of gallant rich guys and their possessions and dramas. I like Conor Harrington;s work because it challenges how I relate to it. I like the comfort-food, mashed potatoes and gravy, of the salon style portraits rendered with expert care. I can't help it. But I love how new it feels. I love how cheeky it is. I don't feel angry or full of class warfare or even challenged politically at all very much. Maybe there's something to be said here about the Bullingdon Club feel to a lot of the characters, the way the upper class is portrayed as violent, blood soaked, armed. Something to fear. 

Conor Harrinton Painting

But the pictures are visceral, steeped in the counter reformation feel of high-drama, rich colours you could almost want to eat, laid down against the cold electric pinks, blues and burning oranges in razor sharp straight lines, or muddied in and out of  what look like layers of wall tags going back years. Walls in public spaces used to belong to these depicted characters, now they belong to us. The revisionist feel of taking something old and worthy and turning it on its head is something that appeals especially to me. I've recently had a book published which takes the old Irish myth Deirdre of the Sorrows and retells it as an absurdist modern murder mystery. I'm currently working up a story drawing in everything from Gatsby to Great Expectations to the Matrix. I think this is where things are now. We're only now beginning to understand aesthetics and what they've always meant. we're starting to look at pretty things which have always been accepted from a social perspective. You couldn't be blamed for fostering some hope based on this kind of an outlook.

Conor Harrington Graffiti

Alan Walsh

If you're interested in re-visioning old pretty things, my novel, Sour, retells an old Irish myth as a modern absurdist murder story.

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Saturday, 9 January 2016

New Goodreads giveaway!

I'm thrilled to be starting a new giveaway on Goodreads. A free copy of the book could be yours!
Enter for a chance to win one of five Author-signed copies of 'Sour', the latest, most unusual mythological thriller from Pillar Publishing. 

A re-telling of ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’, updated to the modern day, re-imagined with bizarre local characters and set in a fictional Irish countryside. In a desolate Irish town a local paper boy goes missing. Conall, a beetroot-faced, mule of a man, makes it his business to find the boy. What starts out a small undertaking, unfolds into a journey of strange rural experience, bizarre natural occurrences and warped small-town morality, revealing the shocking tale of a young girl horribly imprisoned and two boys fixed on rescuing her.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sour by Alan Walsh


by Alan Walsh

Giveaway ends January 20, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

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Saturday, 12 December 2015

Here are the first five pages of my book. If you like them, why not go ahead and buy it?

The first five pages of my book free, if you like them, why not buy it!

    Conall Donoghue sours his porridge with at least two lemons. I know it because I can see into his kitchen from my kitchen, and I can see him pounding away with that spoon, eating his oul porridge under his light-bulb of a morning, or plunging his sink for teabags, or trying to make that dog bring him slippers without chewing through them for holes. You’d want to see him sitting there behind his paper each breakfast, and his wife Molly, driven twelve fifteenths demented with him ranting about the exchange rate on the yen. Make you sick so, he would.

    Now, from here I can’t see what goes on in the other rooms. I can only see the kitchen, the back porch, the hall, the guest bedroom, a third of the back garden, through the side passage and into the driveway. And when the shed light is on, part of that too, but I’m sure I can pretty much bet the house he’s on about the same kind of crap in all of those places as well. He spends an ungodly portion of his time in that kitchen, though. Behind that paper, ranting and yammering about the Middle East and Kate Beckinsale’s overbite, eating his oul stews. My heart goes out to that poor unfortunate woman in there, with him since he retired. Man lost his mind soon after that, you ask me. Ask anyone. He was coming home, see, one night from Brady’s, late, with the dog Red Bob, when he witnessed a fatal accident. I think that changed him. It was steady stout and whiskey since a horse of his came in good the three o’clock at Chester, and that dog was like a guide dog to him on the unlit roads that run in this part of the world. He fumbled to hold tight on to its ears the full four mile limp home after closing up, and if he fell or wandered out onto the road or stopped behind a tree, which he did, the thing roared mad barks at him till he was back on true purpose once more. Well, this one horse-winning night, Conall was the halfway back home but he’d wandered out through some gate into a soft part of a field full of weeds, and thought to himself that it might just make a good enough bed for him, with the dog losing the mind across the road for growls and barks. There was a moment of stillness, then these wild white beams shot to life out of nowhere, only burning yellow the whole road. A second later and they shrunk down smaller and smaller and then a tiny wee car only tore along the tar macadam right at them, full speed, and the driver screaming to clear out the way, calling them all the foul names he could muster in his imagination till the car only jolted, swerved, rolled and finished upside down in three odd foot of ditchwater, wheels still spinning and the fella inside killed.

    Thing about it was, Conall was wearing his green jumper with the orange stripe at the time.

    The boy that went and got himself killed was Billy McKinley. He was a piano tuner from two towns over, and he was racing his way to urgently tune a piano, so the story went. Conall didn’t expect to witness Billy McKinley’s death at 4.17am off the North Road, but that he did. A whole party load of people were waiting in a room one town over the other direction with an out of tune piano, trying to keep safe some whiskey for Billy as a means of payment, but in the end it went drunk. People only found out the truth the next day. Billy’s car rolled four times. Billy inside bit out his tongue and spilled the leavings of his can and hit the dashboard at the same speed as the car was travelling, eighty eight miles per hour. What I’m getting at here is Billy’s blood-curdling revenge. Conall is willing to swear on any religious book you set before him that Billy McKinley, the speeding piano-tuner, haunts his green sweater with the orange stripe even today. Whenever he puts it on, he can feel Billy in the room, sitting in some chair with his empty spilled can, raging at him. More than once he claims to have heard a piano go playing out of tune at him. This is what happens when a man retires. He loses perspective. I put it down to this, what happened when Conall’s morning newspaper didn’t arrive one morning. 

    He was sitting at his table with the dog Red Bob at his heel, shovelling his porridge like an old plough.

    “Sure isn’t yesterday evening’s paper as good?” his wife said. “What can have happened since last night? I’ll go fetch that for you.”
    “Arragh, don’t stir. The boy will be along now. He came off his bike by Barrow’s field when that bored daughter they’ve got on their porch morning till night tried out catching him in the head with stones, or he stopped and talked another boy into splitting his round on account of the headwind bad enough to stop birds taking off, and how far up the hill we are. I’ll give him some talking to when he arrives, count on that much.”
Conall made it to his tea and toast, and then to another slice with marmalade, then a yoghurt, then some watermelon.
    “Will you not stop eating breakfast just to have the paper with it? You’ll boil the guts out of yourself with indigestion,” his wife said. And that he did. Conall came from a long line of Donoghue men who ought really to have stuck to a diet of lettuce, carrots, beetroot and water on account of their acidic constitution, but instead saw nights spent bedridden, rolling in reflux agony lived out as some type of war declared between their body and themselves, and how they would no way be first to flinch. Pints, pastry, cigarettes and olive oil all went into the arsenal. Whiskey, sherbet, cream cheese, the kind of things to scald through a man’s guts and echo through the whole room doing it, all of that went down as an out and out act of war. His wife Molly, bolt awake beside him in the sheets listening to the thing seethe and froth and the swearing out of him, wild enough to churn butter.
    “Look,” she said to him, “the racing isn’t on till three. Why not head down to Dannagher’s and ask what happened to the paper? Better yet, buy one.”
    “Not the point, is it? I mean, we had a trusted agreement. It isn’t about me having to go down there and get it myself. It’s about them bringing it me. Anyroad, it’s already the afternoon. The morning press is out of date. Goes out of date soon as you finish your toast and anyone knows it.”
    “Well, I’ll not have you moping and sulking around this house ‘till your horses arrive on screen at three. I’ve things to do. I’m meeting the girls. You need to go down there and kick up a little. I mean, what if the paper doesn’t arrive tomorrow?”
This hadn’t occurred to Conall.
    “You’re right. If they think I’ll take this lying down, they’re only odds on to pull it again. And me paying the subscription at last year’s rate. I’ll wreck that little fecker, so I will.”

    Conall walked the four odd mile road into town with the dog Red Bob at heel and his stick heard a good acre in every direction smacking off tarmac, shocking crows out of trees and disturbing field mice in the long rushes. Going the lazy way you veer leftward and cut across Foyle’s rested field to save following the long curve, designed for haulage trucks only and to no other man’s benefit, so Conall and the dog Red Bob kept their heads low on account of Dan Foyle being a vile, desperate daytime drunk and conjuring jealousies in his head, about his wife and men in the town. You’d often as not see squad-cars parked on his land, called out under the lie that his farm was under attack by robbers, just so the guards would arrive and look the place over and who knew, turn up a man in his underpants hiding out under hay bale or low between the ditches with electric pink lipstick all over his frozen white body.
“He bought that lipstick himself, specially in Gray’s pharmacy,” Conall told the dog Red Bob. “Bought up all nineteen sticks. So he’d know if he seen it on a local man, what it meant. Gray’s never got any more in for how god awful ugly it is.” Sure enough, there was a squad car at the porch.

    Conall knew the land better than any man in the town. Forty two years he worked as grounds man at the Clonliffe Estate. He had dragged that place up out of raw wilderness with his own hands, sunburnt and rained on and frozen, sober and drunk. He knew well every thicket, every stray weed-patch, and had named all the deer, the grouse, the horses and the waterfowl, and they weren’t always polite names either. There was one deer he just called Bastard. It was a gold brown buck, and whenever he saw Conall he charged him, head on full-tilt, and there were chewing noises out of his mouth like he was trying to talk. First time out, Conall figured him for possessed. He got to know the buck though, and how he had named him well. His father, Conn, had been grounds man before him too, but had kept the flora nice and thick and wild and good for hiding in for local hoodlums, rebels, robbers and any folks hunted by the realm. He had taught young Conall what it is to trap an animal, how to foster a certain tree or flower in just this place, which ones like rivers and which hate them. Which ones hate people too, and intentionally cause them to sneeze. He claimed there was only a Puca hiding in there too, deep into the gorse.
“True wilderness attracts true wildlife,” he said. He claimed the Puca liked to drink local poitin with him and smoke oul cheap tobacco, and rate the women in the town out of ten. He had a roving eye. Tell ye the truth, the conversation out of the Puca was a little coarse for Conn, especially after enough to drink, which was saying something, so Conn had to learn the local area that little bit better to be sure of avoiding him on the harder moonshine nights. Conall never did find that Puca when the job fell to him, and he cleared all of the gorse away. Fact was, he doubted its existence.      

Dannagher’s was a post office, a newsagent, a hardware store, a certain kind of bank, a certain kind of bookies, a pub and an undertaker. Paul Dannagher sat on a high chair behind his counter all day, smoking and reading the newspapers cover to cover from off the shelf. All he had to watch for were the schoolboys robbing out of his sweet jars, and the animals that from time to time made it in for shelter out of fierce weather. The only animal allowed in was the dog Red Bob, on account of how he seemed to possess that one true pure charisma. Everyone in the town said it, and he could get away with what he liked. He put this to the test, too. He chewed duvet covers off Mrs. Gallagher’s washing-line two weeks straight, he fouled up the Eire Óg pitch something wild after ruining the orchard out the back of Lacey’s field. Anyway, it was things like this. So, on that morning, the dog Red Bob arrived in the front door through the hung beads and Paul Dannagher set down his cigarette and newspaper.
    “Well if it isn’t the high king,” he said. He fetched out a tin plate and a piece of the oul sandwich he was finished with anyhow, and laid it down by the dog Red Bob.

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Thursday, 29 October 2015

Do you know what happened to Deirdre?

Do you know what happened to Deirdre of The Sorrows?

Deirdre of the Sorrows

 It's one of the most famous tales in Irish mythology, but so many Irish people don't know  anything about it. It's like a cross between Rapunzel and True Romance, Bonny and Clyde and the little mermaid, only it's hundreds of years older and much more bloody.
It's the story of a howl from the belly of a pregnant woman. She was preparing food for her visiting high king, Conchobor, when the unborn baby within her let out a craven screech, unlike anything anyone had ever heard. It was enough to set his soothsayer on his feet.

"This child is cursed," he said, "she will be born too beautiful for this world. She will cause horrors and bloodshed, war and mayhem." He took his seat again at the table. "It's what no one wants to hear, but you need to kill her now, before it's too late." The mother was horrified, letting out a screech of her own and dropping her serving dish onto the tiles, but the king stood by her. He promised to take the child away when she was born, raise her as his own in seclusion from the outside world where she could do harm and, when she was of an age, marry her and make her his queen. It was what no one wanted in particular, but it was the high king's will, he had spoken and so it was decided. 

It was many years later that Deirdre was out in the enclosed yard, in the grounds of the high  king's castle with her handmaid and the conversation had come around to talking about men, once again. In all her years, Deirdre had never seen a man. None had been allowed next or near her by the king, to provide against the horrible prophecy coming true. But still, she had in her mind the kind of man she would have preferred to the king. She pointed out a raven, drinking blood from the snow in a nearby field.
"When I'm of age, I'll have a man with skin as white as that snow, hair as black as that raven's feathers and cheeks as red as that blood, and I'll accept no other."

"You're promised to the king," the handmaid protested, "he's raised you to become a great queen."
"We shall see," Deirdre said. 

It wasn't much longer until she found a man with exactly that appearance. He was working for the king in a nearby field. A young man by the name of Naoise, one of the sons of Uislu. Right away, she ran over to him and jumped on his back, refusing to let go until he agreed to run way with her and protect her from whatever happened. At first, Naoise refused, knowing full well Deirdre was promised to the king, but the more he looked at her, the more he realised he was already falling in love, and was ready to do anything for her. Finally, Naoise agreed to run away and take Deirdre with him. He recruited his brothers and formed a formidable party of warriors, fleeing into hiding from wherever the high king could find them. The king was furious, and dispatched a crew of ferocious trackers and killers to find them, headed up by Fergus, his most prized warrior, who hunted them to the very edges of the land and even as far as Scotland.

Finally, an offer was sent to Deirdre, Naoise and his brothers. The High King would spare their lives if only they would return to his castle with Fergus. Well, they deliberated. It seemed risky, but truly, they had no place left to go really, lest they stray into lands they had no knowledge of. Deirdre agreed and they gang were escorted back to the High King's castle. What awaited them there, however, was not forgiveness and certainly not amnesty. Naoise and his brothers were killed immediately by Fergus and his men, and dumped in a large pit, which was covered over quickly with fresh soil. Deirdre was left a prisoner again, only now it was to get even worse.

The tale ends with Deirdre aboard a chariot with Conchobor, the high king, and his chief warrior, Fergus.
"Deirdre," Conchobor asked, "whom do you hate most in all the world? Is it me?"

"No, sire, it isn't. Not quite."
"Who then?"
"Why, it's Fergus. The man who murdered my beloved and his brothers."

"Very well then. As a punishment for trying to escape, you shall be shared between myself and Fergus for the rest of your days. "

This final horror was too much for Deirdre. She looked ahead and spied a low hanging rock approaching and then, when it arrived, she raised her neck so it would catch her head and take it clean off. This was her final revenge against her king. 

So there you have it. Not the cheeriest of tales, but then this is Ireland. If you were interested enough, I'm launching Sour. my novel based on the myth at a bookshop in Dublin on November 5th. More details here if you're interested.

Or read an Amazon Kindle sample here:

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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

How to tell if you're in a Patricia Highsmith novel.

Patricia Highsmith

How to tell if you're in a Patricia Highsmith novel.

You happen upon someone from an especially wealthy background, much less deserving than you of such luxury. This happens weekly.

Your knowledge of classical culture, from delighting in Leider by Schubert to correct appraisals of 50s American expressionism is shared by your whole social circle.

All the 50s American expressionist paintings are fakes, painted by someone you murdered.
There are certain colours of sweater, hemlines, hats, cuff-links and turns of phrase that people deserve to be murdered for.

At some point you will visit a foreign city and sample its teas and customs with a certain air that these customs are where we have come from, and should never be fallen back upon, though you will have a phase of going native, if only for an afternoon, and if only with some impoverished local who you'll thoughtlessly hurl in the trash as soon as it all stales. 

Conventions in  afternoon alcoholism must be observed at all times. Gin and tonic as an aperitif follows the two beers for lunch and the afternoon Calvados with coffee. 

You might be gay, but it would be boring to actually say so. 

Italians, French, Spanish, British and American waiters all behave completely differently, but each one adheres strictly to their national pattern. The same is true of taxi drivers, receptionists, dogs and people drinking coffee, carefree on sun-drenched patios.

You have an enemy. You may not have had one since primary school and you're fully aware life is plenty tough enough already, but you have one nonetheless. At times it will feel like you have the upper hand, then the reverse will seem true. The whole chess match will invigorate you out of the non-homicidal stupor in which you've been languishing for months.

Identities are boring. Change yours at will by adopting phonetic accents of comic genius.

Wash often, but only as a metaphor.

A visit to your next door neighbour must be preceded by a sealed letter two weeks in advance, inquiring as to their general good health and knowledge of local gossip. This is to be followed up with an afternoon telephone call, between Calvados and gin, where you can verbally dance around your mutual loathing and the plots you're fostering against one another. An invitation will then swiftly arrive by card to dinner at theirs the following night.

Nothing beats socialising with people you hate, especially in the company of people who don't especially care either way. Lace every phrase with codified references to ways you can blackmail them. You struggle to decipher their codified references.

You never derive any pleasure from food. Tinned sardines on dry crackers would do it, and frequently does, served by your maid on the veranda overlooking the tennis court with champagne.

You believe pop music is for children and Jazz is where the line is drawn as far as tolerable musical decline from Monteverdi.

There is probably a wife or girlfriend somewhere  you really ought to be getting back to if only you could be bothered.

If you liked this, you might like my novel, Sour, telling an old Irish myth as a modern murder story:
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Saturday, 5 September 2015

I'm finally getting a book launch and I'm terrified about it!

People do this, right?

They blog about their book launch in a kind of self referential, quasi-narcissistic way  drenched in actual fear that no one will actually show and it'll just be like me, the publicist, my wife and my one month old son sat there, holding a balloon, forcing smiles?

I find this whole thing kind of scary to be honest. For one thing, I hate being that guy who scalds all his social friends into involvement in his own personal project. I don't have a whole lot of friends who do that, they're all gracious enough to have a modicum of class about what they do. But I've just become him, I've lashed the invite all over facebook, tumblr, twitter and everywhere else with a login. Hell, I'm going to copy the link at the end here too.

I guess, as a writer, I'm not really a PR person's dream. I'll happily shy away from the limelight when it involves me actually engaging with humans, especially to ask something, and in particular something like the validation that comes with inviting them to a self-promotional event. Jeez. I can sit and post things and plague everyone with links till the cows come home. Stepping up seems like another thing. I'd imagine other writers are like this about their book launch too. We're reclusive, isolated souls by nature, right? I mean, right?

I've always party suspected the reason writing had such a tight hold on me was the illlusion of control in a situation where I never had to explain myself to anyone. Until I showed it to my wife, and she explained to me she didn't yet care about any of the characters, didn't understand where they were, what the dilemma was and why she should read on. In a multitude of ways I'm blessed to have her, but from a purely writerly way I could not have asked for a harsher critic. Far, far better writers than I have fallen at the hands of this demon reader, but perhaps that's for another post. I guess the upshot is if you want to make it, garner any sales at all and get to write more, you have to actually emerge from your little cave, rub those eyes and try and talk to other humans in the cold light of day.

So that's what I'm trying to do, in Dublin, on November 5th:

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I'm an Irish novelist, author of Sour, a murder mystery based on an Irish myth, web and UI designer and father to a crazy little baby boy!

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