In keeping with the zeitgeist, I put the literary diary into quarantine last month. Much was cancelled. I was disappointed to miss my maiden voyage at the Mountains to Sea Festival, where I was due to interview Louise Doughty, of Apple Tree Yard fame. However, I can highly recommend her new novel Platform Seven, an absorbing study of coercive control.
I was also scheduled to talk at the end of this month as part of DLR LexIcon's Library Voices series to Maggie O'Farrell (whose writing I've long admired) about her latest work, Hamnet. Her story of Shakespeare's only son is a captivating wonder and I concur with every word of Anne Cunningham's joyous appraisal above.
If you're on the lookout for finely wrought fiction, I can commend too A Talented Man by Henrietta McKervey and one I came late to: Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls.
For those of you struggling to concentrate, try short fiction. Two collections from Doire Press recently landed on my desk: Galway Stories: 2020, edited by Alan McMonagle and Lisa Frank, and Almost the Same Blue and other stories by poet and barrister John O'Donnell.
There is much to look forward to. I was happy to hear my colleague Emily Hourican has signed a two-book deal with Hachette Books Ireland for The Glorious Guinness Girls. Her fictional account of the lives and loves of glamorous siblings Aileen, Oonagh and Maureen is due in September.
Another star of this parish, Estelle Birdy (beside me today reviewing dazzling newcomer Naoise Dolan), signed with Lilliput for her debut novel Ravelling, which has been described as "fast-paced, funny and eye-popping, descending from Trainspotting, White Teeth and Milkman in its portrayal of urban life in the 21st Century". Agent Marianne Gunn O'Connor will broker international rights at Frankfurt this autumn and it will be published in the spring of next year.
It's strange to think this time last year I was preparing for Listowel Writers' Week where, among others, I interviewed novelist Kit de Waal. Along with author Paul McVeigh she's just launched the search for 16 new writers from Irish working-class backgrounds. Intended as a sister publication to her acclaimed Common People anthology in the UK, it will also feature established names like Roddy Doyle, Kevin Barry, Lisa McInerney, the late Lyra McKee and Senator Lynne Ruane among 16 Irish writers who were commissioned to contribute.
Kit and Paul have promised that new writers will be given every opportunity to submit. More info at unbound.com
Pandemic times have produced much in the way of heartening quotes and healing poetry. I loved Seamus Heaney's much vaunted line, "if we winter this one out we can summer anywhere" and I for one intend to do just that.
I was also moved and inspired by the words of novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford. In an interview for The Guardian this week, asked how she coped with the death four months ago of her much-loved husband (they were married for 55 years), this doughty, hugely successful Yorkshire woman remarked: "There's only so many tears in the end, you've just got to get on. You've got to gather your sword, stand up and go out and fight."
A woman of substance, indeed.
Sunday Indo Living