Friday, 13 October 2017

In Conversation With... John Arden

In late 2009 I paid a visit to the Galway home of Man Booker Prize runner-up, John Arden. Less than three years before his sad passing, he was good enough to spare some time to speak with me about what turned out to be his last collection of stories Gallows - Tales of Suspicion and Obsession.  
There’s a man with a Palestinian flag on Shop Street. He’s 60 if he’s a day and when the rain falls on the happy shoppers of Galway, he usually gets wet. There are men and women who spend each weekend at Shannon Airport, counting airplanes as they traffic in and out and engage in uneasy staring-matches with guards through iron fences.
They are people who are placed, or place themselves, on the edge of what most people see as ‘normal’ society. People who sooner or later will pay some price for that placement.
For the last four decades, John Arden has lived in relative obscurity on Ireland’s west coast. After exploding onto the literary scene in the late 1950s, Arden was quickly hailed as one of the visionary playwrights of that era and was even christened Britain’s Brecht.
But all truths must eventually out and Arden’s unwillingness to keep quiet about his opposition to the British military machine and their presence in Ireland soon brought about a number of high profile falling-outs with the British theatre establishment. And that, as they say, was that.
Now, as he prepares to turn 80, he is about to release his most substantial collection of work in years. Set in Galway, London and Yorkshire, Gallows is a  collection of short stories that attempt to lift the carpet of polite society and peer at the goings-on in the underbelly of life.
“It’s not deliberate, you know. It’s just what happens when you write short stories over a period of years. The themes really are subconscious. It’s only after [the story] is written that I realise what the underlying theme might be,” he says.

Click HERE to read this interview in full as well as other interviews with Ann Enright, Kevin Barry, Colm Tóibin, Julian Gough, Donal Ryan, Colin Barrett, Catherine O'Flynn and Danielle McLaughlin.

Friday, 8 September 2017

In conversation with... Catherine O'Flynn

Way back in 2008 I spoke with Birmingham Irish author, Catherine O'Flynn, about her debut novel 'What Was Lost'. The novel, which won a Costa Prize that year and was longlisted for the Booker Prize, took a fascinating look and the birth of modern consumer culture in the 1980 - if consumer culture isn't an oxymoron. The novel was published right at the peak of the economic boom/bubble in Ireland and much of the world - and as such provides an interesting insight into the consumer driven excesses and loss of community that many of us are looking at today. Anyway, its been on my mind lately.

“It was never really my intention to play the old ways off against the new. I was growing up in the ‘80s and it just felt natural to include some of these things. I tried to avoid having rose-tinted spectacles about the past, but there was something that I wanted to say about these huge shopping centres and the impact they’ve had on lives and on the landscape. But at the same time, I didn’t want to idealise the idea of the local shops, because some local shops are rubbish.
“What really started me off writing the book was working in a shopping centre and seeing how many people seemed totally lost there. People came thinking they were going to find something but they just seemed to hang out for an inordinate amount of time, hoping that whatever it was would appear. I was never really quite sure what they were looking for, but I’m pretty confident nobody ever found it there.”

Click HERE to read this interview in full as well as other interviews with Ann Enright, Kevin Barry, Colm Tóibin, Julian Gough, Donal Ryan, Colin Barrett and Danielle McLaughlin.

Friday, 3 March 2017

In conversation with... Anne Enright

Irish literature was rocked earlier this month by the news that multi-award winner, Donal Ryan, was to return to his civil service job to enable him to make ends meet. It was a blow to many aspiring writers - if Donal Ryan can’t pay the rent through his writing, what hope is there for anybody else? Ahead of her appearance at the Ennis Book Club Festival, Andrew Hamilton speaks with Ireland’s first Laureate of Fiction, Anne Enright, about Donal Ryan’s latest novel, ‘All We Shall Know’, the finances of writing in Ireland and the surfing trip to Lahinch which provided the foundation for building ‘The Green Road’.
More than any other writer, Donal Ryan can lay claim to recession-time Ireland. His first three book, each of which are directly or tangentially played out against the background of boom and bust, are a window into normal Irish society and a time of gross abnormality.
Laureate of Irish Fiction, Anne Enright, believes that it is Ryan’s attention to the details of normal life which help him bring these stories of modern Ireland into full focus.
“All three books are very socially aware, very socially astute. I think Donal is distinctive for having a really strong idea and accurate sense of how people live their lives - and the differences between the city, the town and the country,” she said.

Click HERE to read this interview in full and other interviews with Kevin Barry, Colm Tóibin, Julian Gough, Donal Ryan, Colin Barrett and Danielle McLaughlin.

Friday, 25 November 2016

In conversation with ... Danielle McLaughlin

It took an sudden illness to divert Danielle McLaughlin away from a career in the law and toward creative writing and the short story. It was a change work making however, as in a few short years she has become one of rising stars of the short story - not just in Ireland but throughout the English speaking world. Andrew Hamilton find out more.
Danielle McLaughlin is the new It-Girl of the Irish short story. She has emerged as if from nowhere, and in a relatively short period of time has produced a body of work worthy of publications she has graced and the many awards she has won.
Usually, behind every literary rags-to-riches story, there lies an untold tale of a decades worth of unseen labour. Danielle however, served her literary apprenticeship as a solicitor, learning about the language from the surprisingly creative vantage of the legal profession. 
"Books were always part of life, I was always a big reader. Books were always there but writing was a more recent development. I'm not sure why this happened for me now and not earlier. I would have tried, I attempted stories at different times over the years but it never took off. I didn't have the same obsession to write that I do now. I am totally in to writing these days - it is a really big part of my life," she says.
"I think, maybe, it has something to do with the fact that I was practicing as a solicitor for a long time and I find the two jobs quite similar. I found law to be a very creative profession - it was giving me the drama, it was giving me the stories and it was giving me the working with language In great detail.
Click HERE to read this interview in full.

Friday, 20 May 2016

The One Hour Story Challenge [OHSC]

Welcome to the One Hour Story Challenge [OHSC] - a new element on Fighting Talk. Every so often a handful of writers will come together and attempt to write a short story or piece of flash fiction, based loosely on a particular topic or prompt, in just one hour. The OHSC is a bit of a call to action, more about getting stuck in and writing something interesting than spending too much time thinking about it. It's at least as much about the writing process as it is about the finished product.
The first OHSC features works from Alíona Hamilton [aged 13] and Andy Hamilton who created stories based around the title 'Freckles'. 

You can read the stories HERE

Thursday, 5 May 2016

In Conversation With Dave Lordon

Cork poet, Dave Lordan, arrived in the Burren last week with an unexpected appraisal of the future of the poetry – in short, it doesn’t have one. Lordan, who has just been appointed as Doolin’s first ever Writer-in-Resident, believes that poetry, the like that is thought in school at least, has long ago lost any real resonance and must be replaced with something altogether new. The poet is dead, long live the… In conversation with Andy Hamilton.

Picture robbed without permission from
AH: As a poet, does spending time in a place like the Burren tend to inspire you to be creative?  
Dave: I’ve written three books of poetry and they’ve all done very well. I was the first guy to win all three of Ireland’s national prizes for young poets, I’d be quite popular at festivals and things like that. But I’ve had enough of poetry to be honest with you. I’ve done it for ten years, I’ve three books out, the world doesn’t need any more straight forward sorts of poems. So I’m moving into other forms now at the moment. I’m interested in teaching, in multi-media than I am in other forms of poetry. So inspired, I am absolutely, I’m using my new tablet to make little film, little postcards and that sort of thing. So I am engaging creatively in the local area, but not necessarily in what we think of as poetry. I see poetry as making meaning out of symbols, it doesn’t have to be words even, in can be pictures, it can be anything.

Click HERE to read this piece in full 

Friday, 18 September 2015


Andy Hamilton

He revs the engine, revs it so hard a plume of black smoke erupts from the exhaust and hovers menacingly in the still country air.
   “Come on to fuck…” he mouths at the stalled car up ahead.
Maurice is never late. “Punctuality and organisation,” he would often tell Catherine, “that’s the difference between me and that shower, the dole farmers”.
   He mounts the grass verge and maneuvers free, beeping the horn wildly as his jeep moves past the stranded Ford Fiesta. In the rear view mirror, a young man leaps from the car, waves a fist in the air and gives Maurice the finger.
   “Save it for your wife,” Maurice says out load, working the gears quickly from first to fifth as the young man dissolves into a horizon of hedge and county road.
   “Shite,” says Maurice, catching sight of the digital clock on the dashboard. How has this happened? Where had the morning gone? As the jeep roars past 100 kilometres per hour, he searches his mind, trying to pinpoint where the time had been lost. He had woken on time, a little early even, plenty of time to finish the milking, feed the cattle and then have breakfast himself. That was the morning routine. Milk the cows before you feed them; it concentrates their minds and encourages them to milk quickly. And the cattle always eat first, as an encouragement to himself. He could see his breakfast, laid out as usual on the kitchen table as he removed his wellies and left them to stand in the shadow of the back door. One boiled egg and the heel of a brown loaf, freshly toasted on the griddle of the range.
   “You’ll give him a good price,” Catherine had said, as she got his cap and the good jacket from the front hall. “He’s a neighbour. He’s a good man.”
   A good man, thinks Maurice as, he turns into the mart and brings the jeep to a halt. A good fucking man. He’d have gone under years ago but for the socialists in Brussels. Paid to do nothing, fields left idle with crops of thistle and ragwort and the big cheque in the post from Europe each December.
   The desperate bellow of a frightened heifer brings Maurice back to himself. He looks at his watch.
   “Shite,” he says, unbuckling his seatbelt quickly. “Shite, shite, shite.”
   A vague ache begins to creep across his forehead as he climbs the cast iron stairs, moving as quickly as he dares without seeming to rush. As he reaches the large open doorway, beads of unwelcome sweat have gathered on his temple.
   “Mossy,” nods a dour farmer, smoking in the doorway.
   “How’a’ya,” gasps Maurice.
   “Your spot’s above,” says the farmer, pointing to an empty space in the centre of top terrace with the butt of a half-smoked Major. “We weren’t sure ya were coming.”
   “Good man,” says Maurice, hurrying inside.
   A good man, Maurice thinks, as he makes his way to his spot high in the concrete coliseum. There are no good men here.
Maurice always sits in the same place in the mart, on the highest terrace, directly across from the auctioneer. No one ever sits beside him. From this perch, he can see the other farmers rise and fall with every bid. He can see their worries and fears, when they are ready to sell and when they need just a little bit more. He can see the auctioneer and he makes sure the auctioneer can always see him. Over the years Maurice has bought low and sold high. He has never taken a dud animal from any man, never paid more than was absolutely necessary.
   But now, as he settles onto his familiar patch of grey concrete, something feels different. Squinting, he spies his neighbour on the opposite side of the mart, loitering outside the auctioneers hatch. Best not make eye contact. It would only complicate things. Make things… difficult somehow.
   A good man, the words enter Maurice’s head uninvited. He brings his hand to his forehead and presses softly. Why had Catherine said that? What is it to her what this fake-farmer gets for his one decent animal?
   Over the years, Maurice and Catherine had developed a number of unspoken rules. Breakfast at nine, dinner at three, wellies to the back door, shoes and the good jackets to the front. Things had been better since they moved into separate rooms. With the possibility of children long since gone, he enjoyed the simple convenience that came with the guest bed. There was no more shouting. Nothing unnecessary, nothing difficult.
   A good man. The words revolve in Maurice’s head, pushing his headache one way and then the other. He closes his eye. A good man…a good man… a good man… Has he touched her?
   “Can you not hear me?” a male voice finds Maurice.
   “Wha?” replies Maurice breathlessly. He turns and sees a young man sat beside him on the cold concrete. “What did you say?”
   “Is it yourself?” says the young man.
   “What? Do you know me?”
   “I know you, but I’d bet you don’t know me. You’re Maurice Murphy. Right? A brilliant farmer. Top class. That’s what they say. Top class. King of the mart.”
   “What… how do you…”
   “Sure doesn’t every farmer in here know you. What have you your eye on today?”
   “Sure you’re hardly here for the company and the lively conversation. Not from the likes of us anyway.”
   “I’m just here for a look,” offers Maurice, his head now throbbing freely. “Nothing here today worth buying.”
   “Is that right?” says the young man. He takes a packet of Marlboro Lights from the breast pocket of this jacket. “Smoke?”
   “No,” says Maurice. “And you can’t either. You’ll have to go as far as the door, or at least close to it.”
   “Fuck that,” says the young man. “I’ll do what I like. Who’s gonna stop me? These fuckers? Ha!” He taps the butt of the cigarette against the closed packets and then lights it with an oversized Zippo. He exhales. An impossibly large cloud of smoke fills the air. “That’s what we’re like,” he continues. “Isn’t it? Men like you and me. If we want something, we get it. We just take it.”
   “Listen,” says Maurice, rubbing his temple. “Just quiet down? Will you? And don’t blow any-a that smoke in my direction.”
   “Ha! Would you look at in,” says the young man, pointing as a two-year-old bull is led into the ring. “That’s him. That’s the neighbours bull.”
   “What?” says Maurice. “How do you…”
   A ruffle of noise circles the mart as the auctioneer begins to crackle out over the loud speaker.
   -A fine animal-a fine beast-who will start me at three hundred?-three, three, three, three, three-I’m bid three- who will bid me three fifty, fifty, fifty, fifty…
   The young man leans close to Maurice. “He’s a good man, your neighbour.”
   -We have four fifty-can someone give me five, five, five, five-           
   “Stop it,” snaps Maurice. He searches the crowd for a sight of his neighbour, but the smoke is too thick. He closes his watering eyes and lifts his hand blindly to the auctioneer.
   -Five hundreds-we have five hundred from the top table-can anyone give me five fifty for this beautify animal-five fifty, five fifty, five fifty, fifty, fifty…  
   “I can see why she likes him,” the young man whispers.
   “You shut your mouth,” says Maurice. “Shut your mouth or I’ll box your nose for you. I’ll wipe that smile right off your face.”
   -Six hundred!-we have six hundred-let someone give me six fifty-six fifty, six fifty, six fifty, fifty, fifty, fifty…
   “That’s it! That’s the Maurice Murphy I know. No one takes anything from you. No one.”
   “I don’t want to hear another word from out your mouth, or God help me.” Maurice pulls his fingers together to form a fist. “God help me.”
   -Seven fifty-Holy Moses-can anyone give me eight, eight, eight, eight…
   “You’re right,” says the young man, blowing one last cloud of smoke into the air around Maurice. “You have work to do. Maybe if you buy that animal, maybe then she might love you again.”
   The words strike Maurice. Heavy and dark, the mart begins to circle around him, like leaves caught in a November wind.
   - Nine hundred euro-come on lads-is there anyone will give me nine fifty, anyone?
   Maurice clutches the cold concrete. He closes his eyes. He breathes.