Pursued by a Bear »

  • Vann makes the headlines

    January 31, 2011 @ 8:22 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    There was an excellent article in Sunday’s Observer newspaper that is well worth clicking the link to read. It focuses on the youngest Britons to climb Everest, Rob Gauntlett and James Hooper. Gauntlett died while climbing in the Alps, at the age of 21, and Hooper found himself in debt and struggling to deal with the death of his climbing partner and close friend. So far, so quality Sunday newspaper story. And the author of the article? None other than writer David Vann. (more…)

  • If you only do one thing this weekend . . .

    January 21, 2011 @ 12:01 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    Listen: Gigs are few and far between on the ground this weekend – damn you January and your lethargy, but there are two intriguing nights out. Feminist icon, folk firebrand and radical thinker Ani DiFranco will be on unfamiliar territory on Saturday night, when she takes to the National Concert Hall stage. Expect this to be slightly less, ahem, polite than the average recital (or at least that’s what we are hoping for). And tonight, Nouvelle Vague will be bringing their Frenchy arty explosive-y live show to Tripod. Reconditioned covers with a twist? Mais bien sûr.

    Read: Last week we wrote here about how good Kristin Hersh’s diary of her teenage years is. This evening she’ll be reading from it at Waterstones on Dublin’s Dawson Street, as well as playing a few tunes, maybe from her Throwing Muses back catalogue, although sadly the very limited number of tickets is sold out. Who knows though, you might be able to cadge one at the door, eh? If not, then settle yourself in of an evening with said book, Paradoxical Undressing. Teenagers have never seemed so smart and innocent (although we don’t believe for a moment that a decent bit of editing and rewriting didn’t go into this one. Sorry Kristin.)

    See: Miroslaw Balka is a formidable artist. His key work is full of the meditative quality that comes with the territory of Central and Eastern Europe – his work has been featured here in Imma and the Douglas Hyde, but in recent years he may be more familiar to readers as the man who built a terrifying black hole at the heart of the Tate Modern in London, as part of the Unilever series. Balka put a giant steel structure on stilts into the enormous Turbine Hall, which was filled with utter darkness. Beautifully though out, elegantly executed, and terrifying in its all-encompassing, bleak simplicity – vintage Balka then. This exhibition at the Douglas Hyde in Trinity College Dublin consists of video work and a selection of other pieces by SI Witkiewicz, who died on the day that Russia invaded Poland in 1939. The works are photographs, focusing on self portraits and landscapes, and reflect Witkiewicz’s deeply troubled mindset. And just in case you can’t get the thought of that Tate commission out of your head, here’s a rather good video all about it. That ought to cheer you up.

    That’s our little selection for the weekend. We’re off for a week so normal service will resume at the same bat time, same bat blog in about a quarter of a month.

  • Festivals should get nationalised

    January 19, 2011 @ 7:30 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    News galloped over the horizon this week of not one but two books festivals taking place in spring (by galloped we mean emailed, and by horizon we mean press release, but you get the mechanics of the thing).

    The larger of the two, we assume, is the Dublin Book Festival, which is taking place from March 2nd to 6th (which should not be confused with the Dublin Writers Festival, which is scheduled for May). We say assume, because other than the dates, we have not a jot more information about it – not one single name has been announced, but watch this space. You can read (not much) more here at the festival’s website.

    The Ennis Bookclub Festival has been much more forthcoming with the goods. Among those making an appearance will be Tom Conaty, John Curran, Nancy Dowd,
    Anne Enright, Vona Groarke, Pauline McLynn, Eamon Sweeney, Peter Sheridan, Blake Morrison and Paul Murray. You can read more here. And when is it on? March 4th to 6th.

    So two books festivals on the same weekend then? At first glance, that might seem a touch foolhardy, but on reflection it makes sense. How many people are effectively going to travel from Ennis to the Dublin festival and vice versa? Probably very few, so the point of the two clashing is probably moot.

    It also raises an intriguing option for festivals, especially in Ireland’s particular circumstances. Getting a big-name draw here for festivals is relatively expensive, be it for books, arts or music. Bands, for example, can make a decent living touring in England because they can fly in and do a substantial tour, and get more bang for their travelling bucks around the country. Similarly, once you hit mainland Europe, everything else is a bus or train journey away. In Ireland, though, bands tend to fly in, play Dublin, and fly out again, and it makes the whole exercise relatively costly, which leads to increased ticket prices.

    But back to the festivals – perhaps promoters for festivals that target niche areas are being a bit short-sighted in focusing on one geographical location. Imagine, for example, a books festival that took in three cities: Dublin, Cork and Galway. A writer could fly into Dublin for a reading on Friday, and head for either of the other two towns over the weekend. The extra costs would be minimal, and fans would not have to make the trek away from their home (or would at least have a choice of venues in different parts of the country). Also, you could considerably increase your potential market. For example, you might be a fan of Jonathan Franzen, but not so much so that you would go to the extra expense and effort of travelling to another city to see him read. If he was just down the road, though, it’s a no brainer.

    Obviously, this is a slightly simplified model, but for festivals looking to make the most from meagre resources, it could be a good idea to see what is around and think about link ups and partnerships, especially for the smaller organisations. Rather than competing, they could cooperate and deliver big names in perhaps more interesting and more intimate venues. Performers would have the chance to potentially make more money from appearances, as well as the added incentive of performing in more colourful venues, while the benefits for punters are obvious. And no one would argue with that.

  • The Irish Times Theatre Awards Shortlist December 2010

    January 15, 2011 @ 9:26 am | by Laurence Mackin

    Here is the shortlist for The Irish Times Theatre Awards 2010. The judging panel saw more than 170 performances in what was, despite the doom and gloom, a particularly strong year for Irish theatre.
    (more…)

  • If you only do one thing this weekend …

    January 13, 2011 @ 5:18 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    Watch: The Project in Dublin is all about things that challenge the viewer and push the theatrical envelope. This can sometimes make a trip there a risky business, but it can also make for a rewarding and adventurous experience. Here’s hoping Void Story, Forced Entertainment’s latest venture, is the latter. In it, two characters struggle through a cityscape on its knees in an intriguing cross between theatre, graphic novels and radio plays, with Tim Etchell calling the shots. It’s on tonight and tomorrow only so blink and you might just miss it. (more…)

  • Kristin Hersh – an inspiring Muse

    January 11, 2011 @ 5:28 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    Never in all its frequent daydreams (What is the point of cats? Where do pond ducks go in winter? Has anyone ever actually seen a Nielsen TV ratings box?) did this blog think it would find itself recommending a teenage girl’s diaries as top-drawer reading material, but we live in strange times, and the girl in question here is Kristin Hersh. (more…)

  • Return to The Grass Arena

    January 10, 2011 @ 3:17 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    Perhaps the greatest trick a writer can ever pull is to write about a familiar subject that has been covered a thousand times before, and bring a fresh insight to it, one that makes readers understand the subject in a profound way. If this is the case, then John Healy is something of a literary genius.

    Healy’s life is as disturbing as it is implausible – he is made of the kind of stuff you couldn’t make up. He is, as Eoin Butler wrote in a short article for this newspaper’s Magazine, a “former boxer, soldier, deserter, wino and mugger” (you can read a longer piece by Eoin on Healy here). A chunk of his life was spent living rough in London, among the beggars and schemers, the addicts and derelicts, the ill and the plain unfortunate. His account of this life, The Grass Arena, is astonishing. It is brutal and unapologetic, and when it was published in 1988, it became something of a sensation. Healy had written about alcoholism, addiction and homelessness in a way that couldn’t fail to impact upon a readership. There are few books or articles that I’ve read that so brilliantly grasp the nettle (though this interview with Paul McGrath does spring to mind).

    Then there is the fact that, while in prison, he replaced alcohol with chess, and rapidly became a tournament champion, beating grandmasters and even writing a book on chess tactics.

    This would be enough for most people, but not Healy. Following a dispute with his publishers he disappeared from the public eye, until a surprise appearance at the Cúirt Literary Festival in 2007, and tomorrow night sees the broadcasting of John Healy: You Have Been Warned, a documentary on this extraordinary man of letters made by Paul Duane (who, incidentally, took the pictures that accompanied Eoin Butler’s article at the weekend). A longer, more in-depth version is due for limited cinema release in the near future.

    Healy is a singular character, as evidenced by Eoin’s interview and this excellent interview with Erwin James (himself a former inmate), and he apparently has a cache of as-yet-unpublished work. Here’s hoping it sees the light of day. In the meantime, we have The Grass Arena and Duane’s documentary to savour.

    John Healy: You Have Been Warned is on RTÉ1 on Tuesday, 10.15pm.

  • If you only do one thing this weekend . . .

    January 6, 2011 @ 7:08 pm | by Laurence Mackin

    January – a time for penitence and belt tightening, while massaging the body, still bruised and swollen from Christmas excesses, and soothing the mind, full of guilt and self pity thanks to December’s over indulgence. Sitting in is the worst thing you can do, though: the guilt will only increase, locked in your sitting room with only your own neuroses for company, and your house will seem a whole lot less bearable with nothing stiff to drink at hand. So here are our selections to get you through the weekend and make the stumble through January that much brighter, until a time when you can take a break from sweeping your doorstep to wink and comment to a passing stranger, that “there’s a fine stretch in the evening”. And we’ve tried to stick to things that are reasonably priced to boot. (more…)


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