The question was ironic. The questioner was commenting on the subject matter of the three readings at the Cork International Short Story Festival at Cork City Library, one of which was by me. The event was showcasing the Smoke in The Rain Anthology, the 2017 From the Well Short Story Competition, organised by Cork County Libraries and Arts Service and it was very kind of The Munster Literature Centre to do so.
In fairness my story was probably the darkest, but Mary Rose’s wasn’t all sugar and spice either. Anne’s was a bit more uplifting, about a boy coming to terms with his grief after his father’s death – yeah, I know, says a lot about the others doesn’t it?
Well, we answered him as best we could. Happy writes white and all that. And the fact is that in many ways we don’t even choose our own subject matter, it chooses us.
In my case, I wrote Angels having been moved to do so after hearing William Wall read his stunning story The Mountain Road, from his collection Hearing Voices Seeing Things at its launch in Triskel last year. And I left the ending open, maybe the father did not kill his children and himself. The reader can make her or his own decision. I’ve made mine and I’m okay with it.
I didn’t do a Euripides on it. At the end of Medea, the eponymous character displays her and Jason’s two dead young sons – whom she has murdered in revenge for his taking a new wife – to their father and refuses to hand over their bodies for him to bury. That was written 2,500 hundred years ago, so it’s not exactly new subject matter, is it?
And on the blurb of Martin John by Anakana Schofield (a novel told from the point of view of a sexual pervert and his poor mother), Donal Ryan says: “This is literature serving its most essential function: illuminating the darkest recesses; dragging the unspoken and suppressed to the foreground of our consciousness; throwing light across the blackest of humanity’s vistas.”
It’s most essential function. Donal Ryan says so. That’s THE Donal Ryan. Good enough for me. Here it is again, paraphrased, just in case you didn’t get it first time:
“Literature’s most essential function is the illumination of the darkest recesses; dragging the unspoken and suppressed to the foreground of our consciousness; throwing light across the blackest of humanity’s vistas.”
Alright? That okay with you?
We were throwing light, weren’t we? It’s our job.
Epilogue: I found myself in the Maldron Hotel among short story writers on Saturday night at the end of the festival. Writers like David Means, and Claire Keegan. Sean O’Reilly, Nuala O’Connor, Alan McMonagle, Danielle McLaughlin, Tania Hershmann, Camilla Grudova, among others. It was a big thrill. It almost felt right, that I had a right to be there with them. Almost.
Anyway, at one point I looked around at the buzzing room, and there was laughter and chatting left right and centre, smiling faces all over the place, and you know what?
Those writers all looked happy to me. Really happy.
And so was I.
Picture (kindly taken by Danielle McLaughlin) shows me with the two other readers and Billy O’Callaghan (judge and moderator of the reading). From left: Mary Rose McCarthy, Anne O’Leary (winner of the competition), myself, and Billy.