A novel that might never have been


Last Monday was a red-letter day for my novel, The Rising of Bella Casey, published under the Brandon imprint of O’Brien Press. It was one of five Irish novels nominated by libraries for the lucrative International Impac Dublin Literary Award 2015 – and I mean lucrative, €100,000! –  along with Donal Ryan’s The Thing about December, The Guts, Roddy Doyle, Transatlantic by Colum McCann and The Herbalist by Niamh Boyce.

Apart from being in such good company – 142 Irish and international writers – the long-listing is also a vindication of O’Brien Press’s sturdy individualism as a small independent Irish publisher. The Rising of Bella Casey was roundly and generally rejected by many prestigious publishing houses, both in the UK and the US, before Michael O’Brien took a gamble and published it.

What made the Impac announcement a bitter-sweet occasion, however, was that O’Brien Press, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has just had its publishing grant slashed by the Irish Arts Council – from €63,000 last year to €10,000 for 2015. This despite O’Brien’s unchallenged contribution to Irish children’s publishing for several decades, and its re-establishment of the Brandon imprint, which is committed to publishing serious Irish literary fiction.

The Rising of Bella Casey and Frank McGuinness’s Arimathea were the debut novels published by Brandon last year. If either of these two novels were to be submitted to Brandon in 2015, there’s a good chance that neither of them would see the light of day.  The Impac long-listing means that there’s a world stage for a courageous Irish publisher being starved of funding at home. For me, it means vindication for The Rising of Bella Casey, a novel that without O’Brien Press, might never have been.

Teaching creative writing – the Irish solution

cw book

Here’s a first – a collection of essays on the creative writing scene in Ireland by teachers and writers (the roles often overlap). Four Courts Press have put  Imagination in the Classroom  together with a chic New Yorker-style cover and a lively mix of opinions and philosophical musings contained within.  The idea for the book grew out of a conference held in the RHA in October 2012 and is a snapshot of the creative writing teaching scene in Ireland. (I have to declare an interest – I’m in it!)  

Notwithstanding that creative writing has now found a niche in the Irish university curriculum, many writers still find their way into the craft  through community-based workshops and writing groups outside of academe. Happily, this sector is also represented with Roddy Doyle’s account of “Fighting Words” and Nessa O’Mahony’s article on teaching online with the Open University.   But  it would have been nice to have seen contributions from the indefatigable mentor and writer Yvonne Cullen (https://www.facebook.com/…/YvonneCullensWritingTrain/10227850) and poet/teacher Michael  O’Loughlin, who spoke at the RHA conference,  included in the mix.