Sebastian Barry in Conversation with Joseph O’Connor

Laureate for Irish fiction, Sebastian Barry, visited UL last Thursday. He spoke in conversation with head of Creative Writing MA and bestselling author, Joseph O’Connor, at the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance.

The evening involved a reading from Barry’s novel, Days Without End; a historical book full of lyrical language that won the Costa Book of the Year award and was inspired in many ways by his Grandfather. This reading was an intense theatrical performance as he brought the words to life for the audience.

Sebastian Barry has written many novels with the powerful first-person voice, including The Secret Scripture. In adapting or finding a strong voice, he spoke of the importance of listening to the stories of those around us, and noticing how one story can often be told with different perceptions; this divides character.

Barry and O’Connor spoke about how their personal lives can inform but also disturb their writing. According to Barry:

“The first rule of a novel is to be beautiful”.

He claimed knowing too much about something can often be dangerous or limiting with fiction writing as it’s important to also break beyond what we know. Both O’Connor and Barry spoke about the ‘impossible freedom of the theater’ and recalled on their own experiences visiting the Abbey Theater. Growing up, the theater was a dominant part of Barry’s life and thus impacted his style of writing largely. 

Alongside his writing, they discussed all he has done in the community since being appointed ‘Laureate for Irish Fiction’ by President Higgins. He spoke of his involvement with migrant communities, as his aim is to bring his stories and book clubs to those who can’t come to him.

He described his experience working with prisoners in Mountjoy, and those in mental hospitals in Dublin. The saddening heartfelt words he heard from one lady were:

“No one knows we’re here.”

This sparked conversation about refugees in direct provision centers, communities Barry aims to share his book clubs with. As discussed, it’s important to know and have access to marginal groups so even if we can’t make a difference, we can have a better understanding.

Melatu Uchu Okorie, author of ‘This Hostel Life’, spent seven years in direct provision and spoke of this on a podcast with Sebastian Barry.  Melatu’s book was chosen for UL’s 2019 ‘One Campus, One Book’ and she’ll be visiting the University this Wednesday the 13th of March.

The evening drew to a close pondering today’s young generation and how unique styles and themes are emerging from successful young authors. Both O’Connor and Barry agreed that young people in Ireland have set a high standard for first novels. The discussion ended on the concern that burdens many writers of financial struggle, on which Barry commented:

“How do artists survive their poverty? Mysteriously, mysteriously.”  

 

 

 

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Ryan Molloy Collaborates With Martin Dyar

Buaine na Gaoithe takes place in the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance this Wednesday, the 10th of October, at 6 p.m. Composer, Ryan Molloy, will collaborate his new song cycle for soprano, flute and harp with a collection of poetry from UL’s writer in residence, Martin Dyar.

Martin Dyar is welcomed to the faculty of the 2018 Creative Writing MA; where he will work closely with many of the students involved in the production of the Ogham Stone throughout the year. Dyar is particularly known for his well – received collection of poems, Maiden Names.

Ryan Molloy talks to The Irish Times about what aspect of Dyar’s work appealed to this project:

“I also found in his poems an identity and a use of imagery that connected with me strongly in musical terms. When the opportunity to write a song cycle arose via an Arts Council commission award through the singer Francesca Placanica, Martin was a natural choice to collaborate with.”

Ryan Molloy has adapted many poems to music in the past; he finds a text that resonates with him then begins to “unpick it musically, the text gradually revealing the music inherent within it and, somehow, within myself”.

Molloy and Dyar met a number of times before they began writing in the summer of 2017. They explored common grounds that could be found in both of their art work, then used Molloy’s music to “amplify” Dyar’s writing. Common themes both discovered, which will be illustrated in Buaine na Gaoithe, include “heritage, family, nature, landscape and light”. 

The performance, including five songs/poems, invites the audience to immerse themselves in the world of both words and music. As noted by Molloy, “It’ll be peaceful and tumultuous at once. And that’s the purpose”.

Click on the link below to read Ryan Molloy’s interview in full.

 

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/flight-of-fancy-composer-ryan-molloy-on-collaborating-with-poet-martin-dyar-1.3647680

 

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Why Stories Give Life Meaning

once-upon-a-time1As my two-year-old daughter begs me for another story, it makes me think about the power of stories in our lives.

The child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, maintained that children’s fairy tales speak directly to the human subconscious, helping children to make sense of a chaotic world. This is because fairy tales and folklore have essentially been distilled in the telling, from one generation to the next. The verbal aspect of telling stories to children being of huge importance as each story is tweaked according to the immediate reaction of the child.

However, fiction is important to adults too. The universal importance of fiction to human beings can’t be denied.

We are immersed in stories in our daily lives. There are the anecdotes we share with each other every day, our favourite novels, TV shows and songs, not to mention daily news feeds through social media and increasingly the creation of fictional worlds in gaming. It’s something marketers have noticed some time ago – selling their products with a story is hugely effective. Even when we sleep, our brains are creating dream stories.

However, it is not simply a matter of entertainment or escapism. Modern studies in evolutionary psychology show that humans depend on the construction of narrative to exist. We narrate to create order in a chaotic world. Our ability to ‘spin a yarn’ is not some accidental by-product of evolution. It is essential to our survival. In the race for the ‘survival of the fittest’, the tale-telling humans won. It’s more than the educational aspect of sharing vital information; our ability to imagine that something might be painful or a bad ‘idea’ protects us from danger. Imagining what the future will be like keeps us moving forward. What would we be doing right now, if we couldn’t conjure up a fictional tomorrow?

In this digital age, the rise of clubs such as The Moth Club proves that there’s still an appetite for the old fashioned art of verbal storytelling. The gathering together of a group to share stories is much more than a social event. It is well known that the sharing of stories (and even the writing of stories that no one may ever read) is therapeutic. The cathartic effect of group storytelling is already well known. Many Arts therapists use a method called ‘the six-part story’, to facilitate a sort of indirect and nonintrusive communication of experience. Narrative therapy helps people to write – and if necessary redefine – their own life story and to defend their personal story rights. The story we believe about ourselves has a huge impact on our mental health.

The global organisation, Narrative4, believes that sharing stories has the potential to be life changing. I plan to learn more about it Wednesday, November 5th here in UL. In the meantime, I’m off to read my little girl another story.

~Linda Fennelly