My debut novel Inch Levels was published this month by Head of Zeus. Very happy to see it in the flesh!
Quite a year. I completed Frost: That Was the Life That Was in the summer - and what a remarkable journey it proved to be. It was endlessly fascinating to have access to the landscapes and hinterlands of a life, to get under the skin of a public figure - and to discover the complex private individual. I’m grateful to the Frost family and to David Frost’s wide circle of friends and collaborators - for agreeing to speak with me, and for trusting me with their memories.
The result is an honourable book - which was launched by Joan Bakewell at London’s National Theatre in September.
Now I’m putting the finishing touches to my debut novel, Inch Levels, which will be published by Head of Zeus in 2016. Inch Levels is the story of two generations of an Irish family: of secrets maintained - and the devastating repercussions of keeping silent.
I’m delighted to announce that I have been asked to write the authorised biography of Sir David Frost. Frost’s remarkable career in television began with the satirical and groundbreaking That Was The Week That Was in 1962, and ran uninterrupted for five decades until his untimely death last year. Frost is best remembered, of course, for his interview with the disgraced President Richard Nixon in 1977 - but I suspect there will be many more stories to tell. My biography will be published by WH Allen in September 2014.
Coming to the end of the year…and taking stock. My essay ‘Gallet’ was published in the Dublin Review a while back: a beautiful edition, and good to see my piece in such good company! Meanwhile, the paperback edition of The Secret History of our Streets has just been published by BBC Books - and very handsome it is too. And on this note, more congratulations to the team behind the TV series, which won twice at the Grierson Awards, held on London’s South Bank. The first was for best historical documentary, which the judges praised for “pulling off a really tough trick, blending the past with the present to give viewers a thought-provoking view of our future”. The series also won the Radio Times Reader’s Choice award: terrific.
And I’m happy to imagine the December 2013 edition of Cara magazine now making its way all over the world, courtesy of Aer Lingus. Cara despatched me to the Burren in County Clare this year to write a piece on that magical limestone landscape and the people who live and work there. Look out for the piece if you’re travelling home for Christmas - or jetting off to warmer climes. Merry Christmas.
Congratulations to the producers of The Secret History of our Streets, which won the best history programme category in the Royal Television Society Awards in London this week. The BBC has commissioned a new series, to be broadcast later this year. At the same time, a new paperback edition of my book is forthcoming from BBC Books - which is brilliant news.
And congratulations to the Dublin Review, which celebrates fifty issues this month with pieces by Rachel Cusk, Anne Enright, Selina Guinness and many others. The Review has come to play a crucial role in Irish writing; and I’m very glad to report that my essay ‘Gallet’ appears in a forthcoming issue.
The Secret History of our Streets is now published; and the series has begun its transmission on BBC2. The first films, on Deptford High Street, Camberwell Grove and Caledonian Road, have received a chorus of praise - and deservedly so: this is remarkable television; and a brilliant example of history witnessed from the grassroots.
The Secret History project in general - in both its book and television incarnations - has received a good deal of attention, with widespread coverage on radio and television, in the press and online. It suggests to me an ongoing demand for history: the kind that enables (extra)ordinary voices to be heard and (extra)ordinary stories to be told. I’m very glad to be associated with this project.
The North American edition of The Story of Ireland has now been published: a fine edition, beautifully produced by the team at Thomas Dunne Books. I was delighted with the advance notices and delighted with the first reviews too - see my Press page for more details - and in general I hope the book added to the St Patrick’s Day festivities on the other side of the pond! I also enjoyed helping the book along: by, for example, blogging for the Huffington Post and taking part in an hour-long interview with National Public Radio.
In other news, I’ve completed work on The Secret History of Our Streets - and as usual, am startled by the speed at which finished files can morph into printed books! I’ve received an advance copy of the book already - and it’s a beautiful edition, complete with elegant unwaxed cover and gorgeous endpapers. I’m very happy with the final text: I think it will make a real contribution to knowledge of the British capital when it hits the shelves in May. Thanks to everyone at BBC Books.
Hard at work on a wonderful new project for BBC Books: The Secret History of our Streets is a social history of twentieth-century London, taking as its starting point the famous surveys of the city undertaken by Charles Booth at the end of the Victorian era. The Secret History of our Streets traces the story of six of Booth’s streets through the course of the twentieth century, setting them against the dramatic social and cultural changes that have swept London in this period. The book will accompany a new documentary series to be broadcast in spring 2012 on BBC2, as part of its pre-Olympic Games season of programming on London.
The paperback edition of Story of Ireland is now in the shops across Ireland; the hardback version is on sale in Britain; and the accompanying television series has begun its run on BBC2. And news on the North American edition, which appears under a slightly different title: The Story of Ireland: A History of the Irish People will be published by St Martin’s/Thomas Dunne in March 2012.
I’m very happy with the beautiful final product, in all its editions: my thanks and appreciation to all the professionals involved in the editorial, production and publicity process. The book was launched at the Ark in Dublin: I’m grateful to all who came along to join in the celebrations; and to the staff of the Ark and of the Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar.
Story of Ireland is officially completed: I finished the proofing and other loose ends this week - and the book now goes off to be printed. And already the publication date of February 2011 approaches!
Good news flows from my fascinating day with the Wellcome Trust back in March. I applied for a grant in order to help develop my script on genetics - and now I’ve heard that my application has been successful. So, I’ll be busy for the next few months, completing Story of Ireland on the one hand and exploring the mysteries of genetics on the other. Thank you to the many friends who offered comments and suggestions with my application.
The other piece of good news is of course that Derry has been named UK City of Culture, 2013! This is thrilling news: I’m delighted for my city and for everyone who had a hand in what has been a brilliant campaign.
Spring is springing agreeably with news that extracts from Waking Up in Dublin (2004) have been selected for inclusion in city-pick: Dublin, Oxygen Books’ new anthology of writing on the literary culture and heritage of the Irish capital. I’m especially pleased because Waking Up in Dublin was my first published book and retains a favourite place in my heart. Plus, I’m happy to feature on the book’s contents page alongside such greats as Iris Murdoch, Sean O’Casey, Samuel Beckett and Elizabeth Bowen! city-pick: Dublin also features the work of many contemporary authors whose work I’ve admired over the years: William Trevor, Nuala O’Faolain, Anne Enright and Emma Donoghue are just some of them.
I also want to mention (with pride) my home city of Derry’s bid to become UK City of Culture, 2013. The city is now on a shortlist of four, with the winner due to be announced in July. I was in Derry this month and called into the bid’s headquarters in the beautifully restored Northern Counties building on Waterloo Place. Lots of information and excitement, lots of energy in the air, new fountains playing in the square outside - and endorsements from the great and the good, from Seamus Heaney to Snow Patrol.
Find out more about the background of the bid - and also how to back it - on www.cityofculture2013.com
This month, I participated in a reading at the People’s Park, Dun Laoghaire - one in a series of monthly readings organised by Mia Gallagher, the borough’s Writer in Residence. I read from my essay ‘The Slob Lands’, published several months ago in A Wilder Vein. And I was in excellent company: Lia Mills read from her compelling memoir, In Your Face. A stimulating afternoon - and thanks to Mia for the invitation.
Also this month, I participated in an excellent conference organised by the Wellcome Trust at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, Dublin. Wellcome runs such events on a regular basis: the intention is to publicise the grants and funds the Trust makes available to artists. I’m presently working on a script that explores issues to do with genetics and ethics - and I found the event fascinating and very helpful.
A Wilder Vein is now officially published! The anthology was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Excess Baggage programme recently; a second appearance on the programme is scheduled for the New Year; and the first reviews have appeared in, among other publications, the Independent and Scotsman: all good, I’m happy to say. Click on Press to find out more.
In other news: Story of Ireland continues to unfold - so far, from Palladius in the fourth century to Parnell in the nineteenth, and everything in between. Well, nearly everything…
And my short story ‘Oblique’ was shortlisted recently for the Bridport Prize. A good note on which to end the year!
A Wilder Vein is back from the printers; my copies arrived the other day. It’s a beautiful book, full of evocative writing from Britain and Ireland. Over the weekend I read ‘The Road North’, Judith Thurley’s tramp along the Ulster littoral, with its “deafening population of puffins, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes”; and Katharine Macrae’s marvellous ’Humber’, set on the very tip of Spurn Head; other contributors to the anthology include Sara Maitland - whose writing I have admired for many years - and Andrew Greig. A Wilder Vein is published in November; you can order it (at a substantial discount) directly from Two Ravens Press.
The good news for summer 2009 is that I have been commissioned by BBC Books to write The Story of Ireland, which will accompany the BBC-RTE television history of Ireland that is presently in production. Book and series will explore the history of the island of Ireland from the coming of Christianity in the fifth century through to the present day; and both will appear in late 2010. I’m excited to be working on such a wonderful project; further details as the writing progresses.
More news on A Wilder Vein: a superb piece by Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh appeared in the Guardian on 11 July. Shehadeh has explored the Scottish Highlands every summer for the past seventeen years, and this essay explores the unexpected connections between these landscapes and the stony, arid hills of the West Bank. A longer version of this piece will appear in A Wilder Vein; and in the meantime, you can read the Guardian piece here.
Good news from Ullapool, in north-western Scotland, where the innovative and independent Two Ravens Press has its base: my essay ‘The Slob Lands’ has been accepted as part of an upcoming anthology entitled A Wilder Vein, which focuses on the relationship between people and the wild places of Britain and Ireland. The Slob Lands lie on the eastern shore of Lough Foyle, a few miles from Derry: they are a vast area of reclaimed land, with the waters of the lough held back by great concrete sea walls, and are as strange and otherwordly a landscape as can be imagined. A Wilder Vein is edited by Linda Cracknell and introduced by Robert Macfarlane; it is due for publication in November 2009 and you can find out more here.
The new issue of the quarterly Warwick Review is published this month, and it contains a new short story by me: ‘Destroying Angel’, which takes its name from a deadly poisonous variety of mushroom. The Warwick Review is published as part of the Writing Programme at the University of Warwick and edited by poet and translator Michael Hulse: you can find out more about both programme and journal here.
An update on Dublin’s bid to become European City of Science in 2012: the bid has been successful! Congratulations to all involved.
Dublin: A View from the Ground is making a little splash, we hear, in Brussels and Barcelona. The Irish Government - specifically, the office of the Chief Scientific Adviser in Dublin - is currently preparing a bid for Dublin to host the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) European City of Science in 2012. ESOF is Europe’s most important science event and previous host cities include Munich, Turin and Stockholm. Dublin’s only declared rival at the moment is Vienna - but the Irish bid is a strong one, with patrons including former President Mary Robinson and Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney.
The bid was officially launched at the Mansion House in Dublin and at the European Commission in Brussels and was further publicised at ESOF2008 in Barcelona - and I hear on the grapevine that copies of Dublin were being gifted to a few lucky individuals on each occasion. The idea being, of course, to get them reading, get them involved … and get them supporting the Irish bid.
On a slightly different front, I’ve always loved travel writing and I’ve been able to indulge this love lately, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph. Two pieces, on Dublin and on the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein, have appeared in the Telegraph lately: and you can read ‘Dublin’s Classic Quarter’ and ‘History on Two Seas’ here and here.
The publication of Dublin: A View from the Ground was nicely heralded by features in the Irish Times and the Dubliner. I sauntered, bent-double with apparent insouciance, into one of the big Dublin bookshops on the Saturday following publication, and scanned the displays rapidly for a sight of my own book. All the while pretending to be a regular punter, of course, out for an afternoon’s browsing. I doubt if I fooled anyone - self-consciousness was written all over my face - but at least I had the pleasure of seeing Dublin piled prominently just inside the entrance.
Needless to say, I now spend my afternoons sneaking around and rearranging all the displays in bookshops up and down the land, in order maintain my own book’s prominent position.
In the weeks following publication, a series of reviews have appeared - all, I’m happy to say, approving of the book. Click on ‘Press’ to read what they’ve been saying.
As it happened, the Winter 2007-2008 edition of The Stinging Fly appeared in the same week as Dublin: A View from the Ground, featuring all kinds of new writing - including one of my very own short stories. ‘The Fall of Saigon’ is quite a long story, as short stories go. Worth the read, however…
From July to December, 2007, the Irish Publishers’ Association CLE organised a series of Author/Editor evenings. These took place in public libraries in towns across Ireland, with the aim of promoting Irish writing and publishing to new audiences.
I took part in one of these events, which was held at Letterkenny Central Library, Co. Donegal, in October 2007. Aiden O’Reilly and I were joined by Declan Meade, editor and publisher of the Stinging Fly Press. I read a section from ‘The Fall of Saigon’, which appears in the new edition of The Stinging Fly; Aiden read an extract from his story ‘Words Spoken’, taken from the anthology These Are Our Lives. It was an enjoyable night: thanks to everyone who came along; and especially to the staff of the Central Library at Letterkenny.
In June 2007, I was invited to speak at The Dubliner’s week of debates on the present and future of Dublin. These debates are an annual event: the title for 2007 was Old City, New Dreams. The debate took place at the Mill Theatre at Dundrum in Dublin - and the motion, ‘That Dublin’s Best Days Are Over’, was suitably controversial. I was part of a panel that included writer and artist Gerard Mannix Flynn, Senator David Norris and academic and politician Ivana Bacik. The panel was lively, the auditorium full and the free cocktails afterwards were most welcome – and in general, the evening helped to air many useful and pertinent ideas on the future of the city.