The Literary Bucket List (Or How I Plan to Read Every Author Ever Published)

Like many fans of books, I’m a sucker for books on literature. Years ago, I bought a little book called Literature: A Crash Course. That book has pride of place on my bookshelf. It’s an overview of 3,000 years of writing from Homer to Cormac McCarthy, all in 130 pages. But – most importantly – it’s written in a gloriously subjective, biased voice. The author tells us who’s good and who’s rubbish and why this is so. What is it that makes them so good? Or bad? It’s nice to read someone writing about literature who’s calling out the naked Emperor.

Because that’s the elephant in the room when it comes to talking about great literature – some of the so-called “classics” are just unreadable tripe. For instance, I’ve always imagined that I wouldn’t be a fan of Henry James, that he’d be too long-winded and ponderous for me. And in the A-Z of English Literature, the entry on James says that he is a “great novelist only marginally diminished by being unreadable”, and that his style is “wordy, diffuse, full of double negatives, and packed with complex imagery”. Even his friend, Edith Wharton, said there were passages of his prose that were almost incomprehensible. So, I think that will do it for me on Henry James; I can safely mark him off the list.

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Henry James: Looks like a right barrel of laughs, eh?

Another book is Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce. I glanced through it again in a bookshop recently and I realised that it would take months to read. And there’s absolutely no guarantee that a word of it would make sense. Even armed with a library of reference books. And, let’s face it, being armed with a library of reference books and having to stop every sentence to look up a word is not an ideal way to read a book. Of course, advocates of the book would probably say that that’s not the way to read Finnegan’s Wake; that we should simply let the language wash over us. But, the fact remains, from what little I’ve read of the book, it’s just too much hard work. I can admire the sheer colossal achievement that the book is; I can admire Joyce’s resolve, spending ten years – years beset by illness and financial troubles – working painstakingly on the book. I can admire all these things but I still can’t read the book.

James Joyce http://judyweightman.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/reading-to-write-blind-and-visually-impaired-authors/
The author wondering how many people have *actually* read his books

But there are a lot of books and authors that I DO want to read. I realised some years ago – as most people do – that I was probably never going to get around to reading the entire canon of English Literature. You have to be selective. The problem is, how do you know which ones will be to your taste? I really don’t want to trudge through something just for the sake of reading it. I’ve had to do that on occasion on Literature or Philosophy courses and it’s no fun. So, what to do?

I conceived a cunning plan.

I started compiling a list of all the authors mentioned. Now, this list would be a similar one to most great author lists, with perhaps a few exceptions. But, generally, it’s got the usual suspects from Homer to Milton to Joyce. And I decided that I would read at least one thing by each author, to hopefully give me a flavour as to their style, and help me decide if I’d like to read more of their stuff. A short story, perhaps, or a poem. A snippet. A taster, if you will. A literary hors d’oeuvre. (Okay. I’ll stop now).

Now, reading one story by a writer may not seem like a fair way to judge their entire oeuvre – after all, someone like Balzac alone left behind ninety novels. But the fact of the matter is, I’m never going to read those ninety novels, and, realistically, the only other option is not reading Balzac at all.

So, in the interests of humankind and the progress of our race, I shall be undertaking this task and reporting back at frequent intervals.

Pray for me.

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“Broken Falls” – The Ireland/Newfoundland Connection

My debut novel Broken Falls is set in a fictional village in Newfoundland populated by people of Irish descent. In the course of my research, I realised that there is a very strong link between Ireland and Newfoundland. According to Wikipedia:

In modern Newfoundland, many Newfoundlanders are of Irish descent. According to the Statistics Canada 2006 census, 21.5% of Newfoundlanders claim Irish ancestry. The family names, the features and colouring, the predominance of Catholics in some areas (particularly on the southeast portion of the Avalon Peninsula), the prevalence of Irish music, even the accents of the people in these areas, are so reminiscent of rural Ireland that Irish author Tim Pat Coogan has described Newfoundland as “the most Irish place in the world outside of Ireland”. Newfoundland has been called “the other Ireland”.

Nowhere is the connection between the two countries more evident than in the South East of Ireland. The website “Waterford In Your Pocket” picks up the story:

When the fishing industry started to flourish in Newfoundland, Canada, then the ships started looking for people that were willing and able to work. This all started in the 1700s. Men from the South East of Ireland, many of them farmer’s sons with no experience of fishing, would travel to Newfoundland for the summer fishing season and return home for the winter. The interesting point is that all these men lived where there was easy access to Waterford city and that was along the Three Sisters, the rivers Suir, Nore, and Barrow.

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It has been said that between 1800 and 1830, over 35,000 people from the South East of Ireland, with a radius of about fifty miles around Waterford City, settled in a thinly populated Newfoundland. It was in essence a population transplant from the South East to Newfoundland.

Today the fishing is not what it used to be in Newfoundland but the ties are still there.  If you were walking down a street in St John’s you would think that you were walking through the streets of Waterford or any town in the south east.

Indeed, I witnessed this myself when I took a research trip to Newfoundland for Broken Falls. My trip took me to the Irish Loop (situated on the above-mentioned Avalon Peninsula). In one village in particular, I encountered people who had never left Newfoundland, but who had a stronger Waterford accent than me. This town would become my fictional “Broken Falls”.

The video below will give you some idea of how the Irish accent has endured in Newfoundland.

Broken Falls is on sale now in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon UK and Amazon US

 

“Broken Falls” – Read A Free Excerpt!

My debut novel, Broken Falls, is on sale now. Here’s the blurb:

“Wyoming cop, John Ryan, receives a package of letters from a recently deceased priest addressed to John’s late father begging his forgiveness, for something the priest had done. Unravelling the story behind the letters leads John to the remote fishing village of Broken Falls, Newfoundland, a place filled with strange and colourful characters, whose secrets are as old as the village itself. As he attempts to find out what it was the dead priest did – and how he died – John must confront his own past and the secrets that his father tried so hard to hide.”

Sound interesting? Well now you can read an excerpt from it! Check it out below.

 

Broken Falls is on sale now in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon UK and Amazon US

“Broken Falls” Book Trailer – A Thriller Teaser!

 

BrokenFalls

My debut novel, Broken Falls, is on sale now. Here’s the blurb:

“Wyoming cop, John Ryan, receives a package of letters from a recently deceased priest addressed to John’s late father begging his forgiveness, for something the priest had done. Unravelling the story behind the letters leads John to the remote fishing village of Broken Falls, Newfoundland, a place filled with strange and colourful characters, whose secrets are as old as the village itself. As he attempts to find out what it was the dead priest did – and how he died – John must confront his own past and the secrets that his father tried so hard to hide.”

And it’s got it’s very own book trailer! Check it out below.

 

Broken Falls is on sale now in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon UK and Amazon US

 

 

My Debut Novel “Broken Falls”

BrokenFalls

There’s an old writing maxim that you should always save or jot down any interesting articles or stories that you see. This was certainly true in my case. A news article that I read many years ago became the basis for my debut novel, Broken Falls, which is now on sale.

The article in question was innocuous enough. It was about a town in Nova Scotia that boasts the largest percentage of Irish speakers outside the Gaeltacht in Ireland. For some reason, I found this fascinating. And almost immediately, my writer brain kicked into gear.

What would it be like, I wondered, if an American cop was to visit this town, perhaps investigating a murder? What would he make of these people and their strange tongue? Right then, I had the basis for my story – a stranger in a strange land.

When I sat down to write it, however, I immediately encountered my first problem. I couldn’t have the people in my story actually speaking Irish: it would appeal to a niche market, to say the least. So I started to look elsewhere for my strange land. I found it – not too far from Nova Scotia – on the East coast of Newfoundland, in an area called the Irish Loop. Here were nestled small communities of people descended from the Irish fisherman who left southern Ireland in search of the cod-rich waters off the Newfoundland coast. It was said they still had the Irish brogue.

I visited Newfoundland shortly before I started my book and found that this was indeed the case. In one village in particular, I encountered people who had never left Newfoundland, but who had a stronger Waterford accent than me. This town would become my fictional “Broken Falls”.

And the story would end up as follows:

“When Wyoming cop, John Ryan, receives a package of letters from a recently deceased priest addressed to John’s late father and begging for his forgiveness, unravelling the story behind them leads John to the remote fishing village of Broken Falls, Newfoundland, a place filled with strange and colourful characters, whose secrets are as old as the village itself. As he attempts to find out what it was the dead priest did – and how he died – John must confront his own past and the secrets that his father tried so hard to hide.”

You can buy Broken Falls on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk

We Are the New Resistance

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In the past twenty-four hours, Bruce Springsteen spoke for the first time about the inauguration of Donald Trump. He said:

“… our hearts and spirits are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday in every city in America … who rallied against hate and division and in support of tolerance, inclusion, reproductive rights, civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, the environment, wage equality, gender equality, healthcare, and immigrant rights. We stand with you. We are the new American resistance.”

Over on this side of the world, we may not be the “American” resistance, but we can still be the resistance.

Since, Trump’s election, we’ve heard a lot about how we should “give him a chance”, to “see what he’s going to do.” Well, it’s now mere days after the election and we’ve already seen what he’s going to do. His administration has removed web pages from the official White House website related to civil rights, climate change, and LGBT issues. Hours after taking office, he signed an executive order beginning the repeal of the Affordable Care Act that will strip millions of Americans of their health insurance. And his press secretary’s first act was to blatantly lie to the American people about the numbers in attendance at the inauguration (a lie that was later described by another Trump lackey as “alternative facts”, adding another terrifying piece of 1984-speak to the language).

We may not have the power of the Presidential office – or of the American Senate and House of Representatives – but we are not powerless.

We can march. Estimates put the number of people who attended the #WomensMarch at three times the amount who attended the inauguration.

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To quote Bruce again, we can “bear witness and testify”. Writing blog posts, sharing information on social media. We can highlight the injustices this administration perpetuates, expose their lies, and disseminate the truth.

We can satirise. As we’ve seen time and again, if there’s one thing Trump (like all demagogues) can’t stand, it’s satire. Write your jokes, spread your memes, expose him for the thin-skinned charlatan that he is.

Marching, speaking out, sharing information, satirising – these are the weapons in our arsenal.

We are the new resistance. And the fight has just begun.

 

BuskAid – What’s It All About, Alfie?

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen me mentioning something called “BuskAid” over the past few weeks. So what is “BuskAid”?

“BuskAid” was the brainchild of Tadhg Williams – musician, activist, and – yes – busker. The problem of homelessness reached crisis point in Ireland in 2016. The most recent figures show that 6,985 people are homeless in Ireland at the moment. Tadhg had just attended a fundraiser for homeless charities in a local Waterford bar and, afterwards, he wondered what more the musicians of Waterford could do.

tadhg

The response was – as they say – overwhelming. Tadhg enlisted my help along with three other poor misfortunates – Anna Jordan, Alan Daly Mulligan, and Meg Walsh – and together we set about organising Ireland’s first citywide busk for charity.

In three weeks!

But we needn’t have worried. The people and businesses of Waterford quickly rowed in behind us. A huge amount of volunteers and buskers signed up, and numerous local businesses offered their support – everything from sponsorship and designing posters, to offering free coffee to everyone involved on the day.

The day itself started out wet and miserable, but nonetheless, the buskers and volunteers got stuck in straight away. And then – around noon – the rain stopped and blue skies appeared. From there on in, more and more buskers and volunteers in yellow sweatshirts popped up in various spots around the city.

The day was hectic, glorious and inspirational. We had set an initial target of €3,000. Even that might have been an optimistic figure, given that this was a makeshift organisation with just three weeks to organise. As it turned out, we exceeded that, raising €4,000. We can’t thank enough our wonderful buskers, volunteers, and the people of Waterford who – once again – showed their generosity.

We’re not kidding ourselves. BuskAid won’t solve the homeless crisis. But, at a time when the Irish Government seems unwilling to do what needs to be done, it is up to the Irish people to take matters into their own hands. A group called “Home Sweet Home” did that in Dublin recently when they occupied a vacant building owned by the State and turned it into a homeless shelter. And #BuskAid did it in Waterford on Friday Dec 23.

And we’ll be doing it again in 2017. Bigger and better. Stay tuned!