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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 26, 2009 @ 10:35 am

    The Stinging Fly

    Fiona McCann

    I’ve just flicked open the new issue of the Stinging Fly (and am dizzy on the delicious smell of fresh print) to find essays on first drafts by Colette Bryce, Dermot Healy, Philip Ó Ceallaigh and Peter Sirr among others, as well as new fiction by the likes of James Kelman, new poems by Paula Meehan and Sinéad Morrissey and a piece entitled First Passions by Joseph O’Connor. Sixteen extra pages brings it to 128 pages of words that I can’t wait to pore over, and all for less than the price of a paperback.

    Speaking of Kelman, a man greatly loved by the head of the English department of Trinity College during my time there, Thomas Docherty, he (Kelman, not Docherty) is giving a public reading at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology today at 7 p.m. I remember Docherty extolling Kelman’s mastery of voice and the vernacular, illustrated in what appeared to be Docherty’s favourite quotation from the Booker Prize winning author, and one he urged us to visualise – you’ve really got to picture this, apparently – as he bellowed gleefully through the hallowed halls of Trinity College:  “You couldn’t score in a barrel of fannies!” 

    • John Self says:

      I’ve never heard of The Stinging Fly so thanks for the heads-up, Fiona. I wonder if the Kelman story is from his forthcoming collection. It was only a few months ago that I first read Kelman (not sure if you can use HTML tags here so I’ll just brazenly paste the link):


      I’d be interested to see him do the read and talk tonight because as I suggested in the comments of the above blog post, he comes across in interviews etc as pretty hard to handle, and I’d like to know what he’s like ‘in person’. Which raises all sorts of issues about whether we take into account an artist’s personality when judging their work (in short, I think, the answer is we shouldn’t).

    • Fiona says:

      Mr Self: Glad to bring The Stinging Fly to your attention – it’s a cracking publication, with Declan Meade at the helm. Well worth checking out. If you go tonight, let me know what it’s like – I can’t go myself, alas, due to work commitments. And definitely, the answer is we shouldn’t – authors should be judged on their work, not their personal charm. Unless you’re at a party with them, of course.

    • John Self says:

      Thanks Fiona. Ah, but I was only talking hypothetically about wanting to go tonight; it would be a 200-mile round trip, and as soon as I get home from work, I’m on baby duty! But it sure would be good to hear Kelman’s prose in his own voice.

    • clom says:

      It’s interesting how that guardian interview has followed Kelman around.

      The impression Kelman had, that he’s being “set up” by journalists with fixed ideas about “what” he is (subtext: Socialist, Grumpy, Stern, Probably Violent After a Few Drinks, Borderline Sociopath, I Mean Look at His Shoes) and who know little or nothing of Scottish literature has actually served to reinforce that perception due largely to the fact that the journalist didn’t want to listen to what Kelman was saying, preferring to paint him as this ranting old dinosaur. It was unpleasant and unworthy of a really talented, sensitive and humane author as illustrated by Kieron Smith, Boy as well as an inquiring and sophisticated political writer (“You have to be careful in the Land of the Free”).

      The stooshie regarding “How late it was, how late” winning the Booker and the treatment of Kelman (who, in 1994 was, despite being quite obscure was a prolific and experimental writer- Greyhound for Breakfast, A Disaffection and the recently republished debut, An Old Pub near the Angel being personal favourites) as a knuckledragging proletarian interloper characterised a pernicious, institutional snobbery which plagues many Scottish writers who don’t move south.

      Anyway. The long and the short of it is that you should go to the reading! And read pretty much everything by him in print! And then start on Agnes Owens (who is a contemporary of Kelman’s and is criminally underrated!)

    • John Self says:

      Thanks for the recommendations clom. I haven’t read any Agnes Owens but I’ve looked at Lean Tales many times in the bookshop, which as you probably know is a collection of stories by Owens, Kelman and Alasdair Gray (who I’m a fan of: 1982, Janine is my favourite of his books).

      Sadly I didn’t make it to the reading for the reasons mentioned above, but I do have A Disaffection on my TBR pile and will be picking up Kieron Smith, Boy when it comes out in paperback – reliable sources say it’s his best book yet.

    • clom says:

      I got myself a bit worked up about the interview there, sorry about that.

      Owens’ “People like that” is a great place to start. Short, unforgettable fictions.

      I must also confess a weakness for Gray.

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