Strength to the Strong Hand : A Tale of Ireland

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I arranged to go over on this boat on a day when the boat could come in to the mainland, take us out and bring us back that evening. I said to myself, if you are ever going to write this story now, you must remember everything about this day. Have any of your completed novels ever stopped you halfway through their composition? As an experienced writer what are your feelings towards the present market for novels?

Publishing today is in a state of crisis. There is a smaller, not a greater market for serious work than there was 18 years ago when I first started writing. Publishers, particularly in the US, only push what are called the superbooks. Subsidiary rights, paperbacks, book clubs, those are everything to the hard cover publisher today. You know, you see people whose books absolutely never sell starting to disappear from sight. Because in a way it is frightening for people to realise they have no audience.

As far as the public is concerned, as far as librarians are concerned, his book just disappeared into the woodwork. And so many books do that. There is less interest in prestige writers and fewer foreign writers. Who do you remember reading most fervently? I remember being very impressed by Madame Bovary, but then reading and not liking his others. I was terribly impressed by Joyce, of course, and by poetry when I was young. Poetry is something no one discusses any more. I read poems and would have liked to write like Isaac Rosenberg an English poet of my generation, and like Auden.

Those people had more influence on me and the way I wanted to write than any prose writers of their generation.

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And Wallace Stevens? That was much later and was a different type of interest. Yet it is funny, if you read Waugh over again, if you liked Waugh, it is just as funny, the fourth or fifth time round.

You begin to spot his bigotries, his snobberies and various things like that, but he still stands up remarkably well. You just sort of know that they write in some way that will hold your attention, which is getting back to the thing we were discussing. They all have a deep and abiding sense of what is funny, what is plot. I wonder if you prefer writers like Waugh and Greene partly because their keen sense of observation and their clean style of perception combines the best of journalism and fiction? Like what was playing at the Gaiety on a certain day.

It seemed ridiculous, but he needed all that bumph to create that one day, Bloomsday, and give it that absolute feeling of reality. It gives Ulysses a marvellous solidity. The book is a classic of realism despite its irreality. When he goes into doing parodies of different English prose styles or parodies of mathematics, somehow the book, for me anyway, loses the magic of the early sequences, even in the sequences where he tried to write to a pattern-like musical sequence with the barmaids Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy and he tried to write about the viceregal carriage passing through Dublin and all the people it met and here is Bloom coming up one street and Boylan coming up another.

All that stuff written to a musical scale was a piece of madness, but because he concentrates so terrifically hard on keeping that realistic pattern alive behind this experiment, the book still comes to life. All the others are bad. They may be all right, but they are not what you dreamed they could be. Do you still trust your own taste? Well, I fear my taste because my taste often tends to make me destroy things rather than finish them.

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Anyone who has written eight novels and found that the critics liked one novel better than another, hated novel A and liked novel B, it makes you wonder. Ultimately, you have to rely on your own taste. What would you look for in the students you will be teaching in your seminar at UCLA this fall? What attributes should a budding writer today possess?


The first thing I would look for is an omnivorous reader who got excited about what he read. The second requirement would be a willingness to face criticism and work. Some people are incorrigibly lazy once they have written something. Which means they believe everything they write is marvellous. Nobody who is any good has any confidence.

No one who is any good cannot be shattered by criticism because one of the secrets of writing is that you are writing for a reader, for an audience, for someone whom you must make understand you.

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You have to make it really happen to the other person and to do that you must be willing to do a lot of rewriting. I believe in novels, and this is the one thing I have never wavered in, beginnings and endings are all, and in the beginning, particularly in this day and age, you may have to rewrite, as I often do, your first few pages 50 or 60 times to make them look absolutely simple, to make them look as if there is no strain in them.

If I disagreed I might take it to be published elsewhere, but if I did, I would at least listen to him. Take the Productivity Challenge Want to help combat climate change? To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber. Please subscribe to sign in to comment. Tony Kilgallin. More from The Irish Times Books. TV, Radio, Web. Sponsored Need a more efficient business? Take the Productivity Challenge. Want to help combat climate change? Start by planting a tree. Electric vehicles are gathering pace.

The Project Gutenberg eBook of Gods And Fighting Men:, by Augusta Gregory.

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Now it happened that Robin had a dream himself, and young Philip Ronayne appeared to him in it, at the dead hour of the night. Robin thought he saw the boy mounted upon a beautiful white horse, and that he told him how he was made a page to the giant Mahon Mac Mahon, who had carried him off, and who held his court in the hard heart of the rock. He found himself in bed, but he had the mark of the blow, the regular print of a horse-shoe upon his forehead as red as blood; and Robin Kelly, who never before found himself puzzled at the dream of any other person, did not know what to think of his own.

Robin was well acquainted with the Giant's Stairs—as, indeed, who is not that knows the harbour? They consist of great masses of rock, which, piled one above another, rise like a flight of steps from very deep water, against the bold cliff of Carrigmahon. Nor are they badly suited for stairs to those who have legs of sufficient length to stride over a moderate-sized house, or to enable them to clear the space of a mile in a hop, step, and jump. Both these feats the giant Mac Mahon was said to have performed in the days of Finnian glory; and the common tradition of the country placed his dwelling within the cliff up whose side the stairs led.

Such was the impression which the dream made on Robin, that he determined to put its truth to the test. It occurred to him, however, before setting out on this adventure, that a plough-iron may be no bad companion, as, from experience, he knew it was an excellent knockdown argument, having on more occasions than one settled a little disagreement very quietly; so, putting one on his shoulder, off he marched, in the cool of the evening, through Glaun a Thowk the Hawk's Glen to Monkstown. Here an old gossip of his Tom Clancey by name lived, who, on hearing Robin's dream, promised him the use of his skiff, and moreover offered to assist it rowing it to the Giant's Stairs.

After a supper which was of the best, they embarked. It was a beautiful still night, and the little boat glided swiftly along. The regular dip of the oars, the distant song of the sailor, and sometimes the voice of a belated traveller at the ferry of Carrigaloe, alone broke the quietness of the land and sea and sky. The tide was in their favour, and in a few minutes Robin and his gossip rested on their oars under the shadow of the Giant's Stairs. Robin looked anxiously for the entrance to the Giant's palace, which, it was said, may be found by any one seeking it at midnight; but no such entrance could he see.

His impatience had hurried him there before that time, and after waiting a considerable space in a state of suspense not to be described, Robin, with pure vexation, could not help exclaiming to his companion, " 'Tis a pair of fools we are, Tom Clancey, for coming here at all on the strength of a dream. So she named the night, and he went gladly, for he was filled with curiosity.

And when he arrived there was a beautiful supper laid, and plenty of wine to drink and he ate and drank, but was cautious about the wine, and spilled it on the ground from his glass when her head was turned away. He down there on the bench and sleep, for the night is far spent, and you are far from your home. So he lay down as if he were quite dead with sleep, and closed his eyes, but watched her all the time. And she came over in a little while and looked at him steadily, but he never stirred, only breathed the more heavily.