Thursday, February 26, 2009

In it for the Long Haul!

The Spring 2009 issue of The Stinging Fly is out, and it's a big un!

Decan Meade’s Editorial points out that they've bucked the trend by having their Arts Council grant increased (!) in recognition of achievements to date. So, they've stepped up and have increased their page count to include 16 more pages of the very best in new Irish writing.

I had the rare luxury of an hour to myself yesterday, between work and meeting my good friend AT - down from Drogheda for the day - for a chat and a couple of jars. Settling at the burnished counter of The Long Hall, I cracked the cover for a leisurely porter-accompanied browse.

As always, there's a great roster of talent in this issue. I particularly liked a new feature (making use of those extra pages, I guess) where some familiar names give us their thoughts '...On First Drafts.' These include the venerable Dermot Healy, Colette Bryce (shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award 2009), Mia Gallagher (gave a great reading at the launch of Let's Be Alone Together back in September) , Nuala Ní Chonchúir (regular visitor to this parish), (distinguished and industrious) poet and translator Peter Sirr, and Philip O Ceallaigh, whose 'Notes From A Turkish Whorehouse' was one of my favourite short story collections of recent years. His second collection 'The Pleasant Light of Day' is due for release in March. Looking forward to that!

All shared their particular view of the merits, dangers, processes and even outright jettisoning of the first draft. This is good stuff – straight from the horse’s mouth (…sorry folks – but then, horses are cool beasts too!). Very interesting to those of us whose first drafts still have training wheels!

First impressions were of the usual high standard in prose and reviews, and I found myself well impressed with the poetry I browsed too. Sometimes I find this the weaker leg of the stool with the Fly. Understandable, in a way, seeing as publications such as Cyphers, The SHOp, Poetry Ireland Review and many others cater for the breadth of Irish poetry. Also, the Fly has quite a specific perspective and character, reflected in the editorial choices. I’m not saying poetry selections are in any way weak – quite the opposite. But in some previous issues, I’ve felt the verse overwhelmed a bit by the sheer zest of the short fiction. On first read, that’s not the case here – Paula Meehan’s poem dedicated to Tony Gregory, and Brian McNeil's translation of work by Knut Ødegård both came off the page on first view.

The regular First Passions feature has Joseph O’Connor writing about his relationship with The Catcher In The Rye. How he goes back to it every few years - almost as pilgrimage - only to find a new novel waiting. There’s shades of Holden Caulfield elsewhere too, in the light-fingered and internally mouthy protaganist of one of the new stories here. I think it was the story by Michéal Donnellan, but must admit my reading was a bit curtailed - the issue looked so good, I gave it to AT, for his bus trip home! Not to worry - I've ordered another and look forward to completing my peruse. You should too – order here - at seven euro this issue, in particular, seems exceptional value!

It’s all about the Fly at the mo! Scottish writer James Kelman also has a new story int his issue and will be giving a public reading TONIGHT! In IADT, Baker Corner, Room A019 at 7pm sharp. All welcome. He’s hosted by Writer in Residence with Dun Laoghaire County Council and IADT Sean O' Reilly.

Also, Orlaith O'Sullivan has just been announced the winner of the 2008 Stinging Fly Prize. Orlaith's story 'A Tall Tale' appeared in the Summer 2008 issue. I read it while on holiday in Spain and, despite glorious Iberian aridity, this evocative story I was immersed deep in the story's green, watery chill factor. You can read the judges report here and the story itself here.

Finally, The Stinging Fly also also organises the Davy Byrnes Irish Writing Award 2009. (You can see why the Arts Council were so impressed!) The competition is now closed, entries are in and the shortlist is due late May / early June. Considering the winner of the first Davy Byrnes Award back in 2004 went on to win the Booker Prize, and the runners up on that occasion included (once again) Philip O Ceallaigh, who won the 2006 Rooney Prize, and Kevin Barry, who won the Rooney Prize in 2007, this year’s list should make for (ahem) interesting reading. Phew! Now, I really must fly.