Kevin Barry public interview for Limerick’s Make A Move festival

It’s hard to dislike Kevin Barry though, believe me, I’ve tried.  He’s an annoyingly-good writer.  He’s successful. He’s won lucrative prizes. Each of these reasons would be sufficient on its own to hate Kevin Barry, but what makes him even more irritating is his complete lack of arrogance.  He laughs at himself, he scoffs at his own eejitness, he freely acknowledges the random, arbitrary, serendipitous nature of his creative process.

kevin barry make a move festival limerick

If this man had any decency, he’d at least dress like a literary  clown, talk through his nose and patronise us with random quotes from German philosophers we’ve never heard of, but he doesn’t.  Instead of saying praxis and zeitgeist, he tells us about writing as work. About discipline. About tearing up blank sheets of paper.  He tells us about getting it wrong more often than getting it right.  Along the way, he tells us about his tragic adolescence as a red-haired Goth, his brief and sordid career as a dodgy impresario and his general approach to life as a man surrounded by a bubble, much like the notorious reality distortion field of Steve Jobs, but with a lot more bewilderment.

This man doesn’t take himself seriously.

How do I know this?

He said, I don’t take myself seriously.

What he does take seriously, however, is The Work.  He cares what he churns out, which is why he doesn’t churn stuff out.  He goes through three, four, even five drafts, with his digestive system becoming increasingly disturbed as he approaches the end.  He might spend four years on a short novel of 50,000 words, as he did with his latest : Beatle Bones (hat-tip to Captain Beefheart), exploring the absurdities of John Lennon’s interactions with Mayo County Council.

Who knows how long his sequel to Bohane will take?  Maybe not long at all, if we’re to believe him about the sounds and the cadences of the thing.  I suspect he already has it all sketched in his head and maybe even already spoken out loud to make certain it runs as it should with the rhythms correct and the words where they belong.

He sees himself as a Limerick-bred writer, but by no means a parochial one.  He recognises his influences, far less highbrow than the average successful author might admit, but more appropriate to the modern era. The WireThe Sopranos. Deadwood.  He listens to music all the time as he writes.  The soundtrack to Beatle Bones was the Double White album. He’s disturbingly honest (another reason to hate him) about the amount of inspiration he stole from contemporary television. He describes such near-mythological Limerick creatures as Michael Curtin, who had published six novels in Britain when Barry was a lad and he speaks of the great change that relieves writers of the need to live in London or New York.  Curtin, for his own part, is a fervent admirer of Kevin Barry’s work, though the two have never met.

Acknowledging the mix of Cork and Limerick, stirred about with some dub reggae and a little voudou, that became the city of Bohane, Barry speaks of the unique language patterns and vowel sounds that place this novel in a unique place, even though that place doesn’t exist.   Echoing Flann O Brien’s absurd and hilariously sinister Corkadorcha of The Poor Mouth, he describes Bohane as a place somewhere between Limerick and Cork:  A sort of spiritual Charleville. When I read the book, for the first fifty pages I thought it was New Orleans or maybe Hell’s Kitchen before the truth dawned on me, but there you are. I’ve always been a bit slow.

Bohane is Limerick and the obvious conclusion is this.  Surely if we can trundle credulous Japanese tourists around Limerick on the rain-sodden, misery-laced Frank McCourt trail, we can do it even better with City of Bohane tours. A lot less po-faced solemnity and a lot more dub reggae.

There’s talk of a TV version of Bohane, though he recoils in horror at the suggestion that the accents might not be genuine Limerick but instead the new synthetic, generic, robotic Roadwatch drone.  Aargh no!

How will the sequel work out?

He won’t say, apart from a hint. Bohane is gone to fuck altogether.

As I said, it’s hard to dislike Kevin Barry.



City of Bohane. Mad Max meets The Poor Mouth

Limerick Make A Move Festival


Favourites Writing

Hunter S Thompson’s Tenth Anniversary

It’s a full ten years since Dr Raoul Duke bade us a buckshot goodbye.   Can you believe it?  Ten years since the God of Gonzo checked out in the manner of his own choosing, with extreme violence and no doubt prodigious amounts of drugs, drink and artillery.

Hunter S Thompson

I hope he’s over there now in some giant Hunter S Thompson Hell-Heaven complex with a pint of tequila, a pint of rum and a pint of raw ether.  A dozen amyls.  Uppers, downers, screamers and poppers.  A bag of grass.  100 pellets of mescaline and a blotter of the finest Heaven-Hell acid.

Sitting naked on the verandah with a constantly-loaded Colt .44 Magnum, shooting at passing Richard Nixons and swigging Wild Turkey.

Samoan attorneys to get him off whenever he kills a random Nixon and prim English cartoonists to record the moment in demented unchristian sketches  of decadence and depravity.

Whatever I learned about writing, I learned  from  the likes of Thompson.

He had no respect for authority figures.  He gave us permission to break the rules, to be crazy if we felt like being crazy, but always to be passionate and committed, and if possible, to be funny.  From Sonny Barger’s Hell’s Angels  stomping him almost dead to Nixon arguing with him about football, from mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby to cocktail-dressed lizards gnawing on the necks of their companions in a revolving sky-scraper bar, Thompson was always a trail-blazer, a man who defined the rules instead of following them.

If anyone wanted to learn how English should be written in an insane world, Hunter S Thompson was the man to show them.

Pump up those tyres to 500 psi, Dr Duke.  Crack another amyl.  Tear off a corner of the blotter, let loose a volley of .44 slugs, rev up that rumbling V8 and floor that pedal.

May the ride never end.


Limerick Literary Festival 2015

Limerick Literary Festival starts next Friday, the 20th.

limerick literary festival

It will be opened by TAFKAJ, the artist formerly known as Joe,  now Joseph O’Connor.  We used to call it writing but when it becomes literature, a strange alchemy takes place.   Literary stuff does that to you.  It makes everyone use your Mammy-name, including you.  How many Joes out there — even today — quiver like guilty urchins when someone shouts at them.

Joseph! Come here now!

Oh God.  I didn’t do it.  I’m 47.  I run my own company.  I employ fourteen people.  I have a beer-belly and a huge overdraft.

I said now, Joseph!

Sometimes, it’s even worse.  Literartiness makes some people  put a little initial up there in front of their  names, like T Coraghessan Boyle, though of course, I’m well aware he made up the  name to take the piss out of the literarty tendency.  We can forgive JK Rowling doing the initials thing, for commercial considerations not entirely unconnected with casual sexism against female authors, but WB Yeats and TS Eliot were a pair of pompous, self-important clods, as anyone who ever listened to Yeats reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree will immediately recognise.

This, of course, is drifting a long way from the Limerick Literary Festival, which starts next Friday, 20th February.

It starts at 10am with The Literature of Loss Conference at Mary I.

  • Keynote: Dr Caroline Magennis
  • Reading: TAFKAJ
  • Keynote: Dr Eugene O’Brien

At 7pm, TAFKAJ will officially open the thing at the Belltable, followed by the slightly tautological Music and Splendour Music Event, featuring the sublime Sarah Dolan.  Even an unlettered clod like me will be attending this operatic feast since, like most Limerick people, I grew up with opera in the home, even if my loutish adolescent self didn’t appreciate it.

Saturday and Sunday see all sorts of interesting characters doing Q&A sessions.

For all the details, check out the website here.  Get your lazy arse along to one or two of them, as I will myself.



Arts Writing

University of Limerick MA in Creative Writing

Joe  — sorry, Joseph — O’Connor was on the radio this morning talking about his new novel and his appointment as Frank McCourt Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick.

Joe  — sorry, Joseph is a funny guy and a talented writer who’s kept us all chuckling over the years with his dry delivery on radio and his deadpan reporting of events like the 1990 World Cup.  I laughed myself sick at his account of the fans’ Disney visit to the World’s Biggest Self-Supporting Mickey, but of course he wrote that when he was still Joe, or Grasshopper, as Vincent Browne called him.

Since he morphed or maybe reverted to Joseph, young Grasshopper has gone over to the Dark Side, or at least to the Grey Side with a slight hint of taupe, and fair play to him for that.  After all, Joseph is not your average Joe and he knows it, having  rolled  out a series of fine novels.  This  boy is able to sit down and write, which is probably the hardest thing he’ll be trying to teach his students.  Sit down!  Write!  Every day!

Here’s what the UL on-line prospectus says about the course:

This one-year programme enables students to develop their skills in creative writing through careful consideration of the work of established writers; through study of the elements and formal structures of a piece of creative writing; through assignments that enable students to employ and master strategies for revision and refinement of their work; and through an understanding of the requirements of the submission and publication process. Through coursework students will consider the role of plot, characterization, dialogue, and point-of- view in crafting compelling fiction and drama; they will consider how figurative language, syntax, rhythm and imagery contribute to a poem’s meaning; they will learn the different conventions associated with non-fictional forms.

Hmm, I said to myself.  Maybe I should do this, but then I realised that they have certain basic entry requirements, none of which cover my diverse and intriguing history of  carousing while pretending to study.

And then it dawned on me that this is a creative writing degree. They won’t care about the time I spent in jail for assassinating a minor central African leader when I was supposed to be doing final-year exams.  My five-year flirtation with Latvian hookers and brown acid will wash off them like Fosters off a Drizabone.

All I need to do is write that letter to Joseph.

Dear Professor,

I examined the Mickey recently and it’s still supporting itself without much difficulty.  How is Sinéad?  Please tell her I also think  John Waters is a tool.

If you could see your way to glossing over my abysmal academic record, I’d be very grateful.  It was Elvis Costello’s  fault.

I wasn’t a complete failure as a student, however.  I laid the groundwork for the discovery of the  Higgs Bison on the Great Plains, I won a  Nobel Prize for Talking in  a Garda Accent and I shot Liberty Valance.

I also climbed Everest with Tensing and I rode a tank, held a General’s rank when the Blitzkrieg raged.

Pleased to meet you,



What do you  think?  That ought to swing it for me.


No.  Me neither.


Dear Bock

Your application was before me.  It is now behind me.

Worst wishes,



Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Favourites Writing

Bad Academic Language

I was enjoying a quiet pint with a friend in our pub of choice, having a quick look over some editing I did for him.  He’s writing a thesis on some shit or other, some sort of academic thing, and I’d been checking the housekeeping: spelling, grammar, punctuation.  You know what I’m like.  It’s not the first time I ever proof-read a thesis, but each one gave me a headache due to the ridiculous, ponderous, turgid language some academics hide behind.

Well? he said.  How did you get on?

Fine, I told him.  I think all the spellings are right, and all the commas are where they should be and I fixed a few small grammatical glitches.  That seems to be that.

So, he said.  What did you think?

Think of what?

The thesis, he said.

Oh.  That.  Right.


Well, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t understand a word of it.


Because it’s full of gobbledygook.

That’s not fair.  I needed to write it like that so that there would be no chance of misunderstanding it.

No chance of it making sense, you mean?

It’s very precise language.

It’s a bad case of science-envy, I told him.  Go up there and order your round, but for God’s sake don’t talk like that to the barman or he’ll pour the pints over your head.

After a brief but grim silence while he seethed at the counter, he came back with two delicious jugs of foaming nectar and slammed them down on the table.

See if you can do any better, he challenged.

All right, I said.  Give me that laptop over here for a minute.  What do you want me to write about?

Let me see.  He tapped his finger against the side of his head for a minute.  Ok.  Write about A world beyond discourse.

Certainly! I chirped and began to type.

If the exteriority of existence is calculable, soon the repetition of the reality of the absolutely unconditioned justification responds to a post-carceral construct, a tokenised route to the superidealism of a Baudrillard, channelling the hubris of heteroglossic introspection while retaining a univocally predicated, almost Kierkegaardian, unconcern for the fetishised reifications of the contested space beyond discourse – beyond the asymoptotic, impossible approach in which the curve and the axis yearn for each other though their desire can never be satisfied.  This is the tragedy of our being and also its triumph.

I could see he was impressed by the way he squinted and leaned closer to the screen.

Hmm, he said.

Such a challenge can be read as the desperate effort to “normalize” formally the disturbance of a discourse of splitting that violates the light itself ex nihilo, by de-predicating the dialectic of obfuscation.

Very interesting, he muttered.

Simply put, the desperation of entelechy is transmuted and mapped onto a tensor-space of almost penumbral Hilbertism, as defined by Dark, McGill and others.

Challenging stuff, he said.

The topology of innerness morphs to a pure cosmology of externality, ultimately leading to the defeat of hermeneutics and the hegemony of hypostasised abstraction.  If Dirac is indistinguishable from classical Deltaism, then we are driven to accept that discourse and understanding are Heisenbergian twins.  This is both the triumph and the tragedy of a movement imbued with its own differential trajectory.

Jesus.  That’s original work.  I never realised you worked in this field.

I’m not finished, I grinned.

Without such deference to nomological emblems, disclosing to ourselves the absentation of actuality from concept, that epistemic fallacy with its ontic dual, a transfigurative rereading of world-lost signifiers, there can be no  space, no discourse and no primordial monovalence to underpin the essential non-essentiality of externality.

Have you published this?

No, I said.

Well, what’s the underlying thesis?

Dunno, I said.  It’s just a load of shit I mixed up at random with a few mathematical terms thrown in to make it sound scientific.

It might be shit, he said, and it might mean nothing at all, but that’s a doctorate right there in front of you.

Maybe I’ll offer a service, I said.  Pint?




Dancing With Professors

The Sheila Variations

The Bad Writing Contest

When Ideas Get Lost in Bad Writing






Sport Writing

Con Houlihan

I was truly sorry to hear that Con Houlihan has passed away at the age of 86.

A giant, in every sense of the word, he dominated Irish journalism, not only in his sports writing but in his erudition, his wit and his style.  Mulligans erected a plaque to Con far too late — only two years ago — long after he gave up writing, which is a great pity considering the contribution he made to their balance sheet over the years.  If Tommy Cusack had been spared, Con would have had his memorial a while back, even though Tommy was a parsimonious Cavan man and Con was a big-hearted Kerry exile.

Fógra: Tá Con Houlihan tar éis fáil bháis.

Isn’t that how he’d have said it in the Evening Press?

A mighty man, full of humour, learning and humility, he taught all of us a lesson here and there.

Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.


The Problem With Kindles

I love books.  I’d read anything, and I’ve read everything, though not necessarily in a very careful way. I just love books and stories.  I don’t care if your story is high literature or a seedy detective novel.  I’ll read it, and I’ll lie awake until I’ve finished it.  When my shoulder hurts, I’ll turn over to the other shoulder to finish reading it.  If your book is good enough, I won’t sleep.

The last time that happened was when I read a local writer’s book, City of Bohane, by Kevin Barry, but with any luck there will be many more to come.

Enter the Kindle.  What to make of this gadget?

Kindles won’t go away and I don’t want them to.  I’d like a Kindle myself if I could afford one, which I can’t, so please don’t take this as some sort of Luddite assault on the newer forms of delivery, as a media-savvy young lad might say.  I don’t know what the media-savvy young lads actually say, since I’m no longer young and no  longer interested in regurgitating media-friendly buzz-phrases, but still.   Let’s assume the real movers and shakers would utter such nonsense.  For the sake of discussion, so to speak.

One way or another, it’s irrelevant, since mediapromoting unformed youths are, by definition, brash, vainglorious fools, and therefore worthy of being ignored.  Get back in your bedroom, boy!  Finish yo prayers!

This ramble has little to do with the uneducated promo-kids and everything to do with those who actually read books.  and who love the feel of them.   The smell of them.  The heft of them.

You might accuse me of hypocrisy, as one who inhabits the e-sphere, but I also inhabit the real-sphere, and never tire of tying the two together, because by this symbiosis shall we survive.

Though I often recoiled from that old lyric, There is Nothing Like A Dame,  I think there is nothing like a book.  Throughout my childhood and beyond, I could never go to bed without something to read, and even though I’m now incredibly old, the habit has persisted.

Something tangible is always better than something electronic.  This Christmas, I want to be handed a real, genuine, corporeal book.  I want to be given a thing I can hold in my hand and lie there in bed reading, if it grabs me.  I want to lie awake all night waiting to find out what happen, but I want to turn the pages myself, not by swiping a screen.

And I want it to smell of paper and ink.

Is that too much to ask?


Favourites Film Writing









I found this disturbing even though I wrote it.

Intellect Writing

Christopher Hitchens is Dead

Why would you write RIP for a confirmed atheist?  He’s not resting.  He’s not in peace.  He’s dead.

Christopher would not appreciate the idea of resting in peace.

This is an ex-Hitchens.


Mr. Praline: ‘Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(The owner does not respond.)

Mr. Praline: ‘Ello, Miss?

Owner: What do you mean “miss”?

Mr. Praline: I’m sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

Owner: We’re closin’ for lunch.

Mr. Praline: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this Hitchens what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

Owner: Oh yes, the, uh, the Norwegian Blue…What’s,uh…What’s wrong with it?

Mr. Praline: I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. ‘E’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!

Owner: No, no, ‘e’s uh,…he’s resting.

Mr. Praline: Look, matey, I know a dead Hitchens when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.

Owner: No no he’s not dead, he’s, he’s restin’! Remarkable Hitchens, the Norwegian Blue, idn’it, ay? Beautiful plumage!

Mr. Praline: The plumage don’t enter into it. It’s stone dead.

Owner: Nononono, no, no! ‘E’s resting!

Mr. Praline: All right then, if he’s restin’, I’ll wake him up! (shouting at the cage) ‘Ello, Mister Christopher Hitchens! I’ve got a lovely bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label for you if you  show…

(owner hits the cage)

Owner: There, he moved!

Mr. Praline: No, he didn’t, that was you hitting the cage!

Owner: I never!!

Mr. Praline: Yes, you did!

Owner: I never, never did anything…

Mr. Praline: (yelling and hitting the cage repeatedly) ‘ELLO CHRISTOPHER!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your nine o’clock alarm call!

(Takes essayist out of the cage and thumps its head on the counter. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)

Mr. Praline: Now that’s what I call a dead Hitchens.

Owner: No, no…..No, ‘e’s stunned!

Mr. Praline: STUNNED?!?

Owner: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin’ up! Norwegian Blues stun easily, major.

Mr. Praline: Um…now look…now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That Hitchens is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ‘alf an hour     ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged piss-up.

Owner: Well, he’s…he’s, ah…probably pining for the fjords.

Mr. Praline: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?, look, why did he fall flat on his back the moment I got ‘im home?

Owner: The Norwegian Blue prefers keepin’ on its back! Remarkable Hitchens, id’nit, squire? Lovely plumage!

Mr. Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examining that Hitchens when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.


Owner: Well, o’course it was nailed there! If I hadn’t nailed that Hitchens down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent ’em apart with its beak, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!

Mr. Praline: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this Hitchens wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised!

Owner: No no! ‘E’s pining!

Mr. Praline: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This Hitchens is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-HITCHENS!!


Owner: Well, I’d better replace it, then. (he takes a quick peek behind the counter) Sorry squire, I’ve had a look ’round the back of the shop, and uh, we’re right out of Hitchenses.

Mr. Praline: I see. I see, I get the picture.

Owner: I got a slug.


Mr. Praline: Pray, does it talk?

Owner: Nnnnot really.


Owner: N-no, I guess not. (gets ashamed, looks at his feet)

Mr. Praline: Well.


Owner: (quietly) D’you…. d’you want to come back to my place?

Mr. Praline: (looks around) Yeah, all right, sure.


Science Writing

The Planiverse

Years ago, while idly wandering around the fiction section of some bookshop, I came across a mad little novel called The Planiverse.  It was written by Alexander Dewdney, a Canadian computer scientist, and it speculated on the nature of the beings who might inhabit a two-dimensional universe.

In the novel, Dewdney and his students are working on a theoretical model of a 2-D world.  They construct it on a computer and try to figure out what might be going on as they interact with the crude  little sprites they’ve created.  And crude indeed the graphics are, as you’d expect for a book written in 1984, before dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

But they get a shock when, one morning, they turn up in the lab, to find that one of the little sprites isn’t doing what it should, and they quickly realise that somehow they have made contact with creatures from a real two-dimensional world.  In this reality, when two people meet, one has to lie down and let the other walk over him, but society solves this by digging a hole and tying a rope across it so that groups of people can take turns passing.

The question is, of course, how do you tie a knot in a two-dimensional world?


It’s a fascinating idea and thought-provoking as well.  After all, most people, including myself, would have thought that the hardest thing to imagine might be a four- or five-dimensional universe, yet when we’re removed from our familiar 3-D comfort zone, we have great difficulty envisaging a simpler reality.

Vehicles can’t have wheels.  Why? Because axles don’t exist. Obvious or what?

Yes, when it’s pointed out.  Interestingly, computers are possible as long as wires don’t have to cross over each other, because this can’t happen in a two-dimensional universe.

They have wars just like us, but only the two soldiers at the front can fight each other at any one time.

Throw a rope over your head and you have a balloon.

Houses have to be underground so that people can get past.

What about food?  Well, nobody can have a digestive tract for fear of splitting in two.

Life isn’t easy in a 2-D world, but they get by.  If there are creatures living in a four- or five-dimensional universe, do they have equal difficulty comprehending us?  Who knows?

Oddly enough, the idea is no more than an extension of early undergraduate physics where everything happens in two dimensions, but yet the entire notion has a subtly subversive tinge to it.  After all, if we have difficulty comprehending a construct radically simpler than our existence, how are we supposed to grasp the truly complex? How are we to contend with the nature of the universe or of existence without inventing meaningless, undefined concepts like God to explain away with magic the things we struggle to  imagine, let alone understand?