In person, associate professor and librarian Seamus Scanlon is a mild mannered, soft-spoken human being who, you suspect, wouldn’t harm a fly. He is a vegan after all. But put his MacBook Air in front of him and let him loose on writing fiction – then a different Seamus emerges.
Originally from Old Mervue in Galway city, but is now based in New York, Seamus is the author of As Close As You’ll Ever Be, a collection of short stories firmly located in the crime fiction genre.
The stories, which have been highly praised since As Close As You’ll Ever Be was published in the US last year, are lyrical, frequently funny and often stomach-churningly violent. What’s really clever about the way Seamus writes is that the violence suddenly sneaks up on you. If you are squeamish, read with care! But do read, especially if you are from Galway, because he writes wonderfully about the city and has fictionalised many colourful events from the recent past.
Reading and education were always highly valued in the Scanlon home in Emmett Avenue. Seamus remembers that his father used to buy a newspaper every day, laying it out on the kitchen floor, where Seamus, his two sisters and brother would crawl on it, while learning new words and looking at cartoons.
But it was his English teacher at St Joseph’s, ‘The Bish’, who really developed Seamus’s love of literature. Donal Taheny – also a highly regarded local historian – used to recite poetry for the class, as well as excerpts from works of fiction, he recalls.
“I was transfixed. I had never had exposure to that kind of stuff before.”
Although Seamus developed a love of reading back then, he never imagined he would write. His brother, who was five years younger, was regarded by teachers as brilliant, and his work was regularly shown to other pupils as an example of good writing. Seamus wasn’t jealous – that was just the way it was, he says.
“I decided not to compete, so after my Leaving Cert I opted for science – something practical. I was good at it but I didn’t like it that much.”
After graduating from UCG he moved to the UK, working in universities in Cambridge and Southampton and studying to become a librarian while in Cambridge.
Seamus remained an avid reader, whose particular passion was crime fiction, but it was after moving to Belfast to work that he began to get the urge to write.
“There was such deep enmity there, I felt I had to express it,” he explains. However, he didn’t know how to.
Eventually, he returned to Galway and took a writing workshop.
“I wrote a paragraph . . . and it was so difficult,” he says with a laugh. But his tutor told him to press on and write a short story, having completed his paragraph. He did and that paragraph became the final paragraph of the story. Seamus was on his way.
For more on this story see this week’s Tribune.
Galway poet’s new chapter as debut novel hits the shops
“I hated school so much I thought if I could be a teacher, I could make it a bit better,” says novelist and poet Elaine Feeney about her day-job as an English and History teacher at St Jarlath’s College in Tuam.
The Athenry woman certainly has made it livelier and more relevant. Her students who were studying Hamlet for this year’s Leaving Cert departed from the text to give the troubled prince psychotherapy sessions, with different boys taking on the roles of Hamlet and the therapist as they explored the plot. Elaine laughs as she recalls how they got totally caught up in it. There’s always an entry point to good writing, she says, adding that she loves Shakespeare – in part because of the soap opera element to his drama.
“You can compare it to the latest episode of EastEnders”.
The Handmaid’s Tale by contemporary Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood is also on the curriculum. Her novel might seem more relevant to the boys, especially given its global success since being adapted for television. When Elaine learned that Atwood would be visiting Galway in early March this year for a Galway 2020 event, she asked the organisers if it would be possible for the class to meet her and discuss her work. That’s what happened and 25 young men in their school blazers spent three hours discussing the novel with Atwood.
Elaine lectures in Creative Writing at NUIG and has been involved in the university’s project archiving the stories of the survivors of Tuam’s Mother and Baby home. So, watching her students engage with a woman whose books deal with the misuse of power and oppression of women was a great moment.
It’s an example of how far she’ll go to give the students the best preparation for exams and for life. Elaine has a great relationship with them, something she’ll miss next year as she takes a career break to promote her own novel, As You Were, published by UK company Harvill Secker.
Read the full interview with Elaine Feeney in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Arts Festival is still giving it socks!
“This is not a July festival as people know it, moved forward. It’s a different creature” says Artistic Director of Galway Arts Festival Paul Fahy about the organisation’s ‘Autumn Edition’ which is being held in reality and virtually in September and October following the cancellation of the July 2020 Festival due to Covid-19.
The aim is to bring live audiences into performances in a safe way, “to re-ignite that spark between live art and audience”, while also using digital platforms to reach those who might not be able to attend live events due to Covid-19.
He’s understandably excited about Mirror Pavilion, a major installation by artist John Gerrard commissioned by the Festival for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture.
It will launch in Galway City’s Claddagh Quay on September 3, and will also be in Derrigimlagh Bog in North Connemara for October.
Gerrard is known for spectacular, large scale outdoor works such as Western Flag in California’s Coachella Desert and this work will be one of the largest outdoor installations ever in Ireland.
It will consist of three walls and a roof made of reflective glass while the fourth wall is an LED screen.
Two new artworks will be presented in the Pavilion; Corn Work at Claddagh Quay and Leaf Work at Derrigimlagh.
These connect with their specific setting, with Corn Work reflecting the power of the River Corrib and the many mills and industries it powered in bygone days.
Leaf Work, in the vast spaces of Derrigimlagh is a lament for the environmental damage that’s been caused to the world in the past century.
See full line-up and story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
‘Home’ is theme of diverse Clifden Arts Festival
‘Home’ is the theme of year’s annual Clifden Arts Festival, which runs from September 12-23.
The event will explore the concept of home, as well as showcasing Ireland’s diverse arts community with a wide variety of shows and performances,
“The physical place of birth holds a special place within us, while for others it isn’t physical but rather the feelings, the emotion, the character, the people and the culture, that shape it and make it,” explains Festival Director Brendan Flynn of the decision to focus on home. “We hope to capture that feeling and explore a sense of home and how it is unique for each of us.”
The strong line-up at this year’s Festival includes headline names, some familiar and others new to Clifden.
The RTÉ Concert Orchestra and RTÉs ConTempo Quartet will both make the journey West, as will other big names in Irish music including Aslan, Máirtín O’Connor, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Martin Hayes, Bill Whelan, Lisa Hannigan, Declan Nerney, Frankie Gavin and Fiachra O’Regan, Seán Keane, Charlie McGettigan, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Paddy Glackin.
Poets and Aosdána members, Paul Durcan and Rita Ann Higgins will also take part, while Mayo novelist, EM Reapy, whose novel Red Dirt, set in Australia, which won the 2017 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, will read with Sligo-born Galway-based poet, Michael Gorman.
There’s a one-man play, Padraig Potts, by Séamus O’Rourke and a drama about Constance Markievicz, written by journalist Mary Kenny and performed by Jeananne Crowley.
On the comedy front, award-winning Danny O’Brien will bring brings his Lock In show fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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