Dublin Book Festival hosted lunchtime readings yesterday from three authors who have recently published short story collections. Irish-Canadian writer Celeste Auge, poet and publisher John Walsh and BBC journalist and literary reviewer Freya McClements each read extracts.
First up, with a shock of white hair and arty-looking was John Walsh. Derry born and now living in Connemara he runs Doire Press with his partner Lisa. John has written three colections of poetry and his most recent publication, Border Lines is his first collection of short stories. They are interconnected stories around a character Ian, and they are strongly dialogue led- a way of writing John told me later, that he prefers.
Reading from "Yesterdays News", it starts with a newspaper story of a drowning woman, a supposed suicide attempt. Ian, the main protagonist, suspects his girlfriend Ellen of infidelity, who having been out all night he is now awaiting her return at breakfast time. All is not alright in their relationship and on arrival her "poor Ian" comment is countered with "cut the pity-crap Ellen". It is a tale of a relationship in breakdown; petty bickering and accusations. Intermittantly interrupted by the banality of the bin lorry activity outside, we as readers are voyeurs into inane kitchen-table arguments. Her lover she reveals to Ian means nothing to her, maybe a five on the scale whereas she tells Ian he is an "eight maybe a nine". But this is no consolation to an insecure man. The appeal in Walsh's story telling is the normalness of the settings, events and dialogues, even if the tale takes a twist, and in this way it is very Carver-esque.
Following John Walsh was Celeste Auge reading "Molly Fawn" from her short story collection Fireproof. I reviewed Celeste's book on this blog earlier this month (see http://dublinduchess.blogspot.ie/2012/11/book-review-fireproof-by-celeste-auge.html ) and it is a very good collection. Reading in her almost mesmeric voice with its still-present soft Canadian accent, she tells of the strange but maybe just not-trying-to-be-normal girl, working on a make-up counter in a department store hoping she'll end up like the seventy year old red lipstick lady dressd inYves Saint Laurent. In her relationship she thinks of how "when you told him you loved him, you meant that you loved having him around" and the honesty of admitting "that you were never really in love with him. You were just trying him out". Sometimes un-nerving but always honest.
Both John Walsh's and Celeste Auge's books are published by Doire Press www.doirepress.com
The final author in this lunchtime event was Freya McClements, reading from her short story collection A Dangerous Edge of Things. She explained, in her appealing soft Derry accent, how the collection was about love in its many forms and how often things aren't quite what they seem. The title she told us, was a quote from the English poet Robert Browning (Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things from "Bishop Bloughram's Apology") and is also cited by Graham Greene, Freya's favourite author, as the epigraph he would chose for his novels. Freya stated how we all live 'on the edge' of many things and this is what she tries to explore.
Reading first an excerpt from "Book Lovers", we join the story in The Bailey pub in Dublin, where a young man presents his girfriend with a first edition of Seamus Heaney's Death of a Naturalist as a gift. Recognising its value, "I caressed the book for a few moments longer" and she then tries to return it. It's too much she protests. His father, he explains, is a publisher and the young man knows that she's a booklover and will appreciate it more than him. They run to catch the bus home and it's just a simple, sweet young love story - love of books and youthful love, set in Dublin City.
Freya's second story was taken from "Homecoming". Set this time in Derry we are following a woman as she returns to her house. She approaches, but no-one is home so she waits instead in the park. Seeing her partner walking along she folows him "like an amateur spy" and without calling out to him after he goes inside, she approaches the house again and peers at him through the window. In fact, she does not re-enter the house, instead dropping her key through the door and leaving. We are left to decide what this means in this enigmatic and also slightly disturbing story.
Chatting later with Freya she talked about the vibrant literary scene in Derry, City of Culture in 2013 and the writers group she is involved with. I look forward to reading more of Freya's work in the future.
A Dangerous Edge of Things is published by Guildhall Press www.ghpress.com