Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

Posts Tagged ‘Irish Writing

Press Release: “Rebellious Worms Aim To Reclaim The Old Head of Kinsale”

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A colourful new children’s book, entitled The Worms That Saved The World, is set to focus renewed attention on the controversy surrounding the Old Head of Kinsale in Co Cork. Written by Kevin Doyle and beautifully illustrated by artist, Spark Deeley, The Worms That Saved The World will be launched at Cork’s City Hall on May 5th by writer and dramatist Conal Creedon.

Access to the scenic Old Head of Kinsale – a landmark site on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – has been restricted since 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Old Head Golf Links who had applied for exclusive rights to control who could walk on the headland. In The Worms That Saved The World a group of earthworms living on an imaginary headland begin to suffer when a golf course takes up residence around their home. The worms attempt to tell the new owners about their concerns but they are dismissed. In response they organise and join with the other birds and animals on the headland. Eventually they reclaim the headland for everyone.

“The book was inspired by the Free The Old Head campaign,’ said Kevin Doyle, ‘but it is about a lot more than just that. It is also about the environment and the need to stand up for your rights while celebrating community and solidarity in our lives. It’s a feel-good book that kids and parents together can enjoy and learn from.”

He continued,

‘The illustrations are works of art in their own right. Children will love these rebellious worms. Let’s face it, earthworms get a lot of bad press but these worms have something to tell us about the need to share the planet and respect the environment.”

The illustrations in the book have already garnered praise.

“There are thirty-five original illustrations,” said Spark Deeley. “First, I sketched the images onto watercolour paper. The drawings were then inked in using a fine liner drawing pen. Finally, I coloured the drawings by hand using watercolour paint. The larger images took between 4 – 5 days each from start to finish.”

Spark Deeley and Kevin Doyle (2)She added, “The expressions on the faces of the worms change throughout the book. Their faces convey the emotions that they experience as the story unfolds. We see concern, confusion, surprise, fear, outrage, concentration, questioning, determination, compassion and pure joy. That is what this story is all about.”

The Worms That Saved The World is published by Chispa Publishing, Cork and will retail at €10. Copies can be ordered online via Facebook or Twitter. The book will be available in Cork at Vibes and Scribes (Lavitt’s Quay) and Liam Ruiséal (Oliver Plunkett Street).

Further Information:

Kevin Doyle and Spark Deeley

For background history about the Old Head dispute see Free Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History (includes more links.)

For more about the storybook and its development see About “The Worms That Saved The World”

 

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Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors (The CAP Awards)

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cap-indieThe emergence of low-priced electronic publishing has been a big challenge to the book industry. The cost of publishing has dropped, eBook readers are much improved and as a result there is a huge increase in the number of independently published works available to the public. Many people have bemoaned this development but there is no denying that eBooks are here to stay. They will never replace hardcopy books – and that’s a good thing – but they are now a significant part of the book market.

As a creative writing teacher, I’ve always encouraged people to write. A lot of people wonder if they should write. Generally, I say ‘Give it a go’. Lack of confidence can be a barrier but writing as a medium for self-expression is a lot more accessible and natural than some of us are led to believe. To date I’ve never come across anyone who didn’t benefit in some way from writing about something that mattered to them.

The rise in interest in writing has dovetailed nicely with new, less expensive options with the result that there are large numbers of new books entering the marketplace every week. Some of these new writers are aiming to compete in the traditional book market while others are more experimental and not too interested in sales. Others again are just happy to record a memoir or a family saga or a person’s struggle against adversity. The beauty of eBooks is that anyone can join in and it doesn’t cost the earth.

But it’s tough out there, make no mistake. There’s a massive of amount of good reading material available now. Plenty is available online and lots of people, even writers, give away their work for free. Meanwhile all of us are competing against the reality of social media which voraciously soaks up a lot of spare time.

This is where the new CAP Awards come in. Launched this year by Carolann Copeland of Carousel Writers’ Centre, the Carousel Aware Prize for Independent Authors (The CAP Awards) is innovative and timely. Focused on the ‘indie’ book market in Ireland, it has five distinct award categories: Best Junior Book, Best Young Adult Book, Best Short Story Anthology, Best Non-Fiction Book and Best Novel. As you can see the categories cover a broad range of interests and in all twenty-five books have been shortlisted for the 2016 CAP Awards.

The CAP Awards are not the last word – far from it – in terms of what is good or great out there in the world of indie book publishing but they are a very welcome effort to identity the fact that there is a lot of talent in this new area and it deserves to be taken seriously. I have been shortlisted in the Short Story Category for my collection Do You Like Oranges?

The judge in the Best Young Adult Book category, Claire Hennessy, in writing about the CAP Awards pointed out there are different and varied reasons why authors choose to go down the indie publishing route. For me it was in part to do with the particular stories in my collection. All the stories in Do You Like Oranges? had been previously published in recognised journals and the title story had won a runners-up prize in a prestigious award in the UK, but from the outset I found I had difficulty selling the stories to an Irish publisher. Some of this was timing: my stories were about a difficult time in Irish political life when the police had engaged in ‘heavy-handed’ tactics against dissent in the country. As the Troubles came to an end publishers were leaning more towards forgetting about that time rather than dwelling on it.

Layout 1I decided to publish the stories in eBook format in part to move on. Having one’s writing published is often, in a way, a means of parting with that particular work, and so it was for me. From my perspective as a writer, it was a good move to published Do You Like Oranges? The revolution in electronic publishing facilitated that and has made these stories available to a big audience around the world.

My thanks to Carolann Copeland and the CAP Awards committee, the charity AWARE and all the judges for taking the time to get this award up and running. While I can only guess at the amount of work involved, I have no doubt that it must have been considerable. I wish all the other writers shortlisted in the different categories the very best of luck on the night. Whatever happens these inaugural awards will be a big success for indie publishing in Ireland.

 

Reading at Over The Edge, Galway

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Written by Kevin Doyle

May 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Q & A on the Worms That Saved The World…

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Mutual Aid

A: For as long as anyone can remember there’s been a walk out along the headland to the Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse in Cork.  It’s actually a very well known walk and remarked upon in many tourist guides to the area – there’s fantastic scenery right along the entire route.  But in the late 90s some developers purchased the headland itself and announced plans to put a luxury golf course on the area that they owned.   They blocked off access to the walk and declared that a walking path and their plans for a golf links were not compatible. To be blunt about it, they wanted it all for themselves and their clients.

A: A campaign got underway to defend the public’s right of way and the public’s right to access.  It was called the Free The Old Head Of Kinsale Campaign.  It organised some large public trespass demonstrations.  These were tremendous and inspiring and I was on a number of them.  But the developers had the Gardaí [G: Guards] on their side.  And, as it turned out, the courts too.  For a while it seemed like we might be able to regain access to the walk but in the end a High Court ruling broke the resolve of the campaign and access was lost. For the present, anyway.

A: While this was going on I had two young daughters to mind.  I was aware that there were few enough children’s picture books around that were any bit different.  There are lots of good books that look at the natural world in a respectful and sympathetic way, but there is lots of material around too about kings and queens, and princes and princesses and all that stuff.  The big problem is the imbalance in books available to a parent or a reader.  A lot of material out there simply reinforces quite traditional values – there is no question about that.

A: I am not sure how exactly the idea of the worms story came to me.  But it could’ve been the fact that one of my daughters had a real grá [G: love] for making these elaborate homes for worms out in the garden.  She would gather lots of worms and put them in lunch boxes with earth and leaves and all sorts of things.  Probably rough enough for the worms but I did noticed that they never really hung around for long!  When she returned to check on them, the worms were always long gone.  I also read at one stage about the problems on some golf course with the chemicals they use to keep weeds down.  And then I had this picture in my mind too of seeing a water feature on a golf course in the States once – the water was a strange ultra blue colour!   Looked bizarre, to me.  All these things set me thinking.  So I got a rough idea for a story.  But that was all it was for a long time: this community of worms having to suddenly contend with a golf course and all that involves.

A: Although I knew Spark Deeley, it wasn’t until I saw her book, Into the Serpent’s Jaw, on sale at Solidarity Books in Cork that I thought to approach her about working on the idea.  Into the Serpent’s Jaws is a beautiful book with really engaging illustrations in it.  So Spark agreed to take a look and went off with the bones of the story.  When we met up again, she had these wonderful illustrations done.  They were really brilliant and I knew from that point on that this was going in the right track.  We began working on more illustrations and then on finalising the story line.

Connie arrives at worm school

A: That’s where we are at now.  Spark has completed about eight or so illustrations for the book.  They have transformed how the story looks and feels.  In the meantime I have worked on finalising the story line.  There’s a good bit to do still, but we have started to approach publishers with samples.  Truthfully, we need a sympathetic publisher because the ideas at the centre of this story are different and, you know in their own way. they are subversive too.

A: Publishing is unbelievably conservative  – what I’ve seen of it anyway.   Whereas this story is outside the box.  Why, you ask?  Well the story really is about solidarity and community – that’s a big part of it.  It’s also about why sometimes we have to stand up for ourselves, and why sometimes when we do, it is best if we do it collectively.   I think  the ideas in Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid have also managed to get to the story, which is wonderful.  Oops, now I’ve really give the game away!

Before the struggle - rivals

[Note:the above are photos of illustrations by Spark Deeley.]

Written by Kevin Doyle

April 8, 2011 at 8:49 am

Don’t Mention The War at Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival

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2003 invasion of Iraq

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes the best way to get your hands on the cream of short story writing for the year is to get along to the Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival, held in Cork.  This year the short list of six writer (see below) for what is regarded by many as the most prestigious prize for the short story in the world, included five writers from the United States.

There is no doubt that the short story is a valued form in the States.  Publications such as the New Yorker have in particular promoted the discipline and must be credited for their support for the short story over the years.  Frank O’Connor himself benefited enormously from US patronage when he struggled to make a living here in Ireland all those years ago.  Furthermore we cannot easily dismiss writers of the caliber of Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Jane Anne Philips and Annie Proulx – to name just a few of the accomplished writers who have penned stories from over in the States.

But – and here’s the thing – it stuck me forcefully this year, with the US having such a strong presence in the final shortlist, that there is something wrong.  The United States after all is at war.  Actually it is fighting not just one war but two – in Iraq and Afghanistan.   These wars, it must be underlined, are major conflicts.

In 2003 the United States led coalition invaded Iraq. It deposed the regime there and installed another one.  Massive civilian casualties were suffered and many atrocities occurred.  It was discovered that torture and the ill-treatment of prisoner by US forces was rife – recall the Abu Ghraib revelations.  In sum Iraq has been bombed into a relic of what it was once by the US war machine for dubious and long discredited objectives.  Then there is the war in Afghanistan.  Attacked in 2001 it has been in a state of crisis for nearly 9 years.  Again the casualties have been massive.  Torture has been rife and there is the ongoing plague of drone bombings which have in fact escalated in intensity since the Barak Obama’s election.  Significant numbers of civilians have been massacred.  We are talking here of outrages as serious as what Guernica represents to modern warfare.  Now however it seems as if atrocities of the scale of Guernica have become so commonplace that they are hardly commented on any more.  But they are still outrages and they are still happening.

What has all this got to do with the short story?   Well, for me, it is this.  Here, on this occasion in Cork, we have five US short story writers shortlisted for a prestigious international award.  These are very good writers – some are new and have produced debut collections while others like TC Boyle and Ron Rash are established.   But is there one significant story about the above wars in the collective output from these writers?  Well, so far, if it is there, I haven’t been able to find it.  And by the way if someone does find such a story, then do let me know.

The pat explanation of course is that stories or literature (and art), if you want, are above these base matters.  Or another generous explanation might be that the material for stories about these wars has yet to filter down through the great sponge that is contemporary life and civilisation.  In other words, with regard to US output these stories will come in time – as indeed they did when we look back at the invasion of Vietnam by the US.

The above points are indeed reasonable.  Or are they?  Do they explain the avoidance of these US wars – that’s the question? Or maybe avoidance is too strong a word – is it?   ‘Omission’ perhaps?  Lack of interest perhaps?  Well what then?  Why silence about such important and vital events?

I accept that this blog observation of mine is not a scientifically valid study of contemporary US fiction and it’s engagement with war.  Fair enough. Nor is it intended to be of course!  And perhaps there is an explanation, or part of one, in the process of selection for the Prize – from long list to short list even.  There were, I think, over twenty US writers on the long list so, maybe, along the way the writers of war stories were weeded out.  I don’t know if that is so.  And so maybe I am getting the wrong end of the stick here?

But my main point has been taken up elsewhere too.  The dearth of novels about the current US wars has already been previously noted.  US writer and small press publisher, Tony Christini has pointed out in a number of articles that there is serious lack of material emerging in the States to do with the current wars.  Tony Christini’s points to a number of reasons for the paucity of fiction relating to these wars.  Publishers are business people (as we all know – don’t we?) and as such they are uncomfortable with any rocking of the boat.  And on the writer side, a focus on these wars  can lead to the stigmatization of the writer as ‘political’ or as ‘having an agenda’.  Apparently such qualities are good for your career.  So is the issue censorship or perhaps more worrying still: self censorship?

Returning to the collections at this years prize, something else struck me though.  And this in some ways is the most disturbing thing.  It is not just that the collections concerned here don’t touch on the various wars now being waged by the USA.  Rather there is also the inverse problem: this indeed is even more damning of the state of writing in the US to my mind.  What I mean is: the picture that emerges of the Untied States from the collective output of the shortlisted US writers for this years Prize is of a society NOT at war.   Indeed the concerns of many of the characters is rather of a world not unlike our own.  (Note that Ireland is not currently at war or in the process of invading any other countries – that I know of anyway.) What I mean is that the characters obsess about normal and everyday concerns (mean neighbours; bad parenting and so on and so forth).  And perhaps this is the double injustice of the literary output from the States as exemplified by this shortlist.  In these times the ugly truth of a nation at war and a society driven by a voracious military-industrial complex is not only not being examined, it could even be argued it is being airbrushed from the picture we are being offered to see of that same society.

As a short short writer myself and as someone who has always admired Frank O’Connor’s engagement with the political, I must say I am unsettled by what I’ve read, and by this short list.  But lastly let me say a few words about the worthy winner, Ron Rash.  His stories in this collection are a cut above the others IMHO – going by the US entries anyway.  While I couldn’t find any stories in his collection, Burning Bright, about the current US wars, this in a way is not surprising since his work has a focus on the southern, US Civil War dynamic.  Fair enough I suppose.  Indeed Rash’s collection points out well the problems in what I am attempting to draw attention to here and I accept that. Burning Bright is very good in its own right and indeed all the collections are worthy.  It’s just as I say: how can you, you know… (… THE WAR).  It’s still on everyone, isn’t it?  Right now.

The Short List:

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This (Picador UK, 2010) by Robin Black
Mattaponi Queen (Graywolf Press, 2010) by Belle Boggs
Wild Child (Bloomsbury, 2010) by TC Boyle
The Shieling (Comma Press, 2009) by David Constantine
Burning Bright (HarperCollins, 2010) by Ron Rash
What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books, 2009) by Laura van den Berg

Note: TC Boyle had to withdraw from the final contest due to an his inability to travel to Cork for the Festival.

The Long List is here.  (Scroll to the end.)

Related Articles

Irish short story about Garda brutality online

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I’ve put up an audio (mp3 format) of But Your Mother, the second story from The Heavy Gang triptych of stories I wrote in the late 90s.  The story is about the ‘hidden from view’ intimidation that political activists have to face when they take a stand against injustice.  It is told from the point of view of the activist who arrives home from a protest about unemployment only to find that the Special Branch have been to his house and gone.

Take a listen … and let me know what you think.

Review: Death In El Valle and Franco’s Victims

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I came across Death In El Valle while researching the work of the Association For the Recovery of Historical Memory . The ARMH has been collecting information about the victims of Franco’s Spain since its foundation in 2000.  It has played a major role in identifying many mass execution sites and has instituted legal moves to have these sites excavated and the remains of those found identified and given proper burials.  It is safe to say that their work has gone a long way towards uncovering the real horror that was Franco’s Spain.

Death In El Valle is  a documentary, in Spanish and English, by US photographer CM Hardt about the  particular circumstances of her grandfather’s death.  CM Hardt’s was born in the United States of Spanish parents.  She returned to Spain over the years with her parents to see her grandmother and her wider extended family.  It was via these visits that she heard about the death of her grandfather whom, it seems, was involved in the resistance movement that lived on in Spain well after the Civil War itself had ended.  Intrigued she made inquiries and learned that her grandfather was betrayed by a local villager and died not long after his arrest.  However she wasn’t able to find out much more than that.

The documentary is a record of her journey to uncover the truth.  Gradually she finds out exactly what happened, how and, for the most part, why.  She is particularly interested – naturally enough – in who might have betrayed her grandfather and a share of the documentary focuses on finding out more about this – to no real avail. Fingers are pointed and rumours abound but there is no definitive answer.  Instead, Hardt discovers the name of Guardia Civil officer who was present on the night her grandfather was murdered.  It emerges that it was an extra judicial execution.  Her grandfather was told to run and then shot for trying to escape.

Franco's Victims

Franco’s Spain and present, modern-day Spain collide in the meeting between Hardt and the now retired policeman.   Like many Spaniards this policeman lives in an apartment block in a busy residential area.  He could be any man that you meet anywhere in Spain except that he has an ugly past to hide.  At first, he is forthcoming about the general events of that night.  He is a bit surprised, it must be said, to be confronted by the victim’s granddaughter.   But as Hardt attempts to pry further, to find out more, he clams up.  Subsequently, he refuses to meet her again.

Death In El Valle is let down by its narrow focus.  The context of what was really at stake in Spain during the Civil War is not explored.   True, many people know about the general outline of the Civil War and why it happened, but there is no wider exploration of what forces were at play.  We are left with the very nebulous description – beloved of the middle stream – that the Spanish Civil War was about ‘saving democracy’.  In fact it was a great deal more.  See here for more.  Properly speaking the Civil War and its aftermath was about defeating a revolution – regarded by many as perhaps the most thoroughgoing social revolution ever seen on this planet.   In response Franco and his forces attempted to ‘eradicate’ the left (across the spectrum).  It was a ferocious and unforgiving assault – the after effects of which are still being felt.

Nonetheless Death In El Valle is engaging and provocative.  It is well produced and moving: the fact that it is a record of a real journey of investigation gives it an extra edge.   It is disturbing too though.  As anyone who has attempted this sort of thing will testify, unearthing the past seems like a straightforward quest until one actually goes about it.   The realities of Franco’s Spain adds a whole other dimension of difficulty to Hardt’s endeavour.  As Death In El Valle amply shows, today in Spain, there are many who are fearful of that time and what they did to survive .  There are also plenty of others who just want to forget the period and how awful it was.

For further information on both the documentary and its director, as well as information on how to acquire a copy of the DVD, see the links above.  Promotional clips from Death In El Valle are here

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