The Winter of The Blackbird

The Winter of The Blackbird

This has been the winter of the blackbird. I haven’t been out and about much for one reason or another but I seem to be seeing and hearing blackbirds wherever I go.

I haven’t seen a redwing or a fieldfare yet, maybe they’re not around, or maybe I need to get out more. Well, that’s definitely true, I do need that. Continue reading “The Winter of The Blackbird”

My First Two Reads of 2018: Autumn and Midwinter Break

My First Two Reads of 2018: Autumn and Midwinter Break


Lucky me, and didn’t I pick well. I’m determined to read more in 2018, and I’ve made a running start. Tús maith and all that…


Autumn by Ali Smith

This is a moving, compassionate and brilliant work. Oblique at time in its writing but very much worth sticking with. It’s set in current-day UK and while it refers to BREXIT and the issues of racism and nationalism appear, it’s not a BREXIT novel at all (don’t believe the press hype), it’s about the deep and life-long friendship between Elisabeth, (from child to adult) and Daniel (a neighbouring gay older man). Continue reading “My First Two Reads of 2018: Autumn and Midwinter Break”

Notes on Conversations With Friends after Donald Barthelme’s Concerning The Bodyguard

Notes on Conversations With Friends after Donald Barthelme’s Concerning The Bodyguard

Was the reader taken aback by his emotional response to Conversations With Friends? Why was the reader so taken aback? Was it because he wasn’t expecting to fully inhabit Frances, the book’s protagonist? Especially given the first person point-of-view throughout? And was that because she is a twenty-one year old woman and he is a fifty-six year old man? Continue reading “Notes on Conversations With Friends after Donald Barthelme’s Concerning The Bodyguard”

The Sad Lot of The Writer

The Sad Lot of The Writer

Inner Writer’s Voice (IWV): this isn’t going to be some kind of a whinge, is it?

Me: well, it is, sort of, but let me do it first before you have a go, right?

IWV (sighs, leans back, hand on big red knob (haha) like Graham Norton when someone’s in the big red chair): alright, begin.


There’s me, right? On Monday? I submits the manuscript to the editor, like, and it’s happy days–– Continue reading “The Sad Lot of The Writer”

Why are Writers So Happy?

Why are Writers So Happy?

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? Continue reading “Why are Writers So Happy?”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shortlisted* or ‘Jealous, Who? Me?’

So You’ve Been Publicly Shortlisted* or ‘Jealous, Who? Me?’

Dealing with rejection is part and parcel of being a writer. The stories are legion.

JK Rowling rejected by 52,000 publishers. Donal Ryan rejected by 230,000 publishers, including Ireland’s Own. James Joyce self-publishing and then buying up all the copies with a loan from his brother and then ‘giving’ them away for glasses of white wine. Yada yada. Continue reading “So You’ve Been Publicly Shortlisted* or ‘Jealous, Who? Me?’”

Henning Mankell made me angry, Henning Mankell made me sad

Henning Mankell made me angry, Henning Mankell made me sad

Illustration by Andrea Ventura for The Guardian

I don’t think that any writer has ever made me as angry as Henning Mankell did, when he callously discarded Kurt Wallander at the end of The Troubled Man.

I still vividly remember my shock and dismay when I read the words on the page. It was in June 2011 and we were on holidays in the south of France. I was in Café Sola, in Collioure, where I’d gone for a pichet of rosé, to savour the final chapters of Mankell’s latest installation of Wallander’s lonely and melancholic police career.

This is what he wrote:

Wallander suddenly felt terrified. His memory had deserted him again. He didn’t know who the girl running toward him was. He knew he’d seen her before, but what her name was or what she was doing in his house he had no idea.

It was as if everything had fallen silent. As if all colors had faded away and all he was left with was black and white.

The shadow grew more intense. And Kurt Wallander slowly descended into darkness that some years later transported him into the empty universe known as Alzheimer’s disease.

After that there is nothing more . . .

It was like a punch in the face. I did feel sad about Wallander, but even more so I was raging at Mankell. I remember wandering back to our little fisherman’s house on Rue de la Fraternité to voice my outrage to Ciara, who had to work that afternoon.

I’d had no idea that he was finishing the series or that this was his last Wallander book. And it was partly that – that would be no more Wallander – but mostly the callous way he did it. For fuck’s sake.

Now I understand better. It turns out that he had wanted to write about Alzheimer’s disease all along. It also turns out that Alzheimer’s was his own biggest fear. He never had to face it. Cancer took him instead, last year.

Reading excerpts from Henning Mankell’s last book: Quicksand: What It Means to Be a Human Being, in the Guardian last night had me close to tears, several times.

And it isn’t just because it is about the death of a man I admired so much. (I think The Kurt Wallander series is the reason I want to write a crime novel of my own.) Nor because it describes his initial cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. My mother died of cancer too and it did remind me of that, but no, that’s not the reason either.

It was because I realised, when reading it, that his writing is so beautiful. And his writing is so beautiful because it is so true. And perhaps that’s why I admire the Wallander books so much. Because they are true.

And that’s why he also wrote about Wallander the way he did, at the end of The Troubled Man. It wasn’t Mankell who was callous, it was the Alzheimer’s. And the writing had to reflect that.

So I forgive you, Henning. And I miss you. And I’ve pre-ordered the book. And I’ll read it with joy.

Here’s a brief extract from the piece in The Guardian. You can read the full article here.

After about two months, when I had reached the middle of the first basic cycle of chemotherapy, I had the feeling one morning that a new sort of normality had entered my life. Nothing would ever be the same as it had been before I received the diagnosis, but nevertheless it was as if life was now taking on a form that in my darkest moments I would never have thought possible.

The days were getting lighter. Not a lot, but mid-winter was past. One morning, all too early, a blackbird started singing from its perch on the television aerial. It occurred to me that this was something I could record on my gravestone.

I have heard the blackbird. I have lived