Meanwhile some Irish related stuff here.
- Iain Banks: Approaching the End of an Era with Wit (theculturetrip.wordpress.com)
Meanwhile some Irish related stuff here.
I love book covers, as some of you may know (pop over here to see why). I especially love what some pseudo-intellectuals pigeon-hole as “genre” fiction. That’s Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror to you and me (though a lot of other stuff is lumped in there too).
The wonderful website, “Good Show, Sir”, collects some of the best – or rather, worse – book covers out there. Many are very American in style and feel thanks to that nation’s fine tradition in pulp art. One of my joys is taking the same book title from the US and European markets and comparing their frequently quite divergent cover illustrations. Unfortunately, in these increasingly bland and homogeneous times, more and more jacket art is becoming identical, with only details of language and currency to tell works apart.
I’ve always been a bit of a Sherlock Homes fan (or the much more impressive Irish form, Searbhlach de Hoilm!), especially since he was born of the imagination and pen of an Irish-Scots writer, one Artúr Iognáid Conán Ó Dúill or Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. Doyle’s relationship with his ancestral homeland was problematic, to say the least, and there is a strong argument that he tapped into the anti-Irish prejudices of his day for the Sherlock Home’s stories, most tellingly in the Irish surnames he choose for Holmes’ two chief protagonists: Moran and Moriarty. He himself veered in his politics over the span of a lifetime from un-apologetic British Imperialist and Unionist to possessing somewhat more nuanced and socially liberal views of the world and Ireland in particular (by 1911 Doyle was convinced of the need for Home Rule or limited autonomy for Ireland within the so-called United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, though that is as far as he could bring himself to go).
Arthur Conan Doyle’s interests in Irish revolutionary movements and the covert (and at times not so covert) war between them and the British colonial state in Ireland clearly influenced his writing. The Fenians in particular, both the Irish and Irish-American arms of the movement, were a major concern to him and at times he allowed himself to be caught up in the hysteria of the late Victorian age and its obsession with “Irish secret societies” (the surnames of Moran and Moriarty were regularly identified in British newspaper reports with alleged Fenian officers operating in Britain in the late 1800s). In some ways the “Irish question” became central to the Sherlock Holmes canon, always implied though rarely stated.
Scholar Catherine Wynne details the Irish influences in the works of Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes’ tales in particular with her short study Mollies, Fenians, and Arthur Conan Doyle, which I highly recommend for any enquiring Sherlockian – or indeed anyone interested in how British society and culture viewed (and feared) the Irish people in the late 19th century. You can also read a full account of all this in her excellent book The Colonial Conan Doyle: British Imperialism, Irish Nationalism and the Gothic, especially the section Imperial War and Colonial Sedition (preview via Google Books).
All this has helped me in my own writing (with a nod to Kim Newman), in particular my subversion of the Sherlock Holmes tales by turning them on their head and writing them from the point of view of Professor Moriarty, or rather Séamas Ó Muircheartaigh, 19th century Irish famine-child and exile turned revolutionary (and the efforts of his arch-nemesis to thwart him: the conflicted British Imperial agent Sherlock Holmes, and his baleful older brother Mycroft). Whether those tales of mine will ever see the light of day is, of course, another matter
But for now, a slight twist, as I turn to the Guardian and an excellent article on the late great Jeremy Brett, the British actor who for many of us was Sherlock Holmes. A true thespian (and a genuinely courageous person who overcame many personal problems and tragedies in his life until his untimely death), he defined what Holmes should look like, sound like and act like for a whole generation of television viewers (and still does). From the retrospective by Natalie Haynes:
“You can keep Basil Rathbone, fond as I am of him. You can keep Robert Downey, Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Cushing. You can even keep Michael Caine in Without A Clue (my secret favourite portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on the big screen). You know why you can keep them? Because, in exchange, I get Jeremy Brett, the Sherlock for the connoisseurs.
Jeremy Brett is the Sherlock Holmes of my childhood, and perhaps (as with the Doctor or James Bond) we simply attach ourselves to the first one we see. But I don’t think so. In the ITV series which began in 1984, and ran until a year before Brett’s early death in 1995, Sherlock Holmes was as close to his literary roots as he has ever been on screen.
Brett understood completely how mercurial Holmes could be. And he could play every variant of him: loyal friend, relentless pursuer, bored logician, avenging angel and mischievous impersonator. Brett’s performance is an astonishing exercise in dynamics: he murmurs advice, whispers hints, bellows irritation, barks laughter. He is also the master of the subtextual glance. When the King of Bohemia (A Scandal in Bohemia, series 1, episode 1) wishes Irene Adler was his social equal, Brett turns to him with every facial sinew screaming contempt, for just a fraction of a second. Then he agrees, with such seeming politeness that the king is impervious to his real meaning, that Adler was indeed on a very different level. No wonder Adler leaves the country, declaring him too formidable an opponent, even though she knows she has beaten him in this encounter.
Even if Brett had not been so ill when filming the series, his Holmes is intrinsically fragile: he really looks like he forgets to eat for days on end, and that he carries the lead weight of ennui between cases.
In re-watching The Red-Headed League last week, I also detected a disdain for poshness that verges on the revolutionary. He describes John Clay (Tim McInnerny) thus: “His grandfather was a royal duke and he himself was educated at Eton and Oxford. So, Watson, bring the gun.” And because he is Jeremy Brett, he slightly rolls the r of “bring”, just so we know Holmes knows that he is funny.”
This weekend I will be indulging my Brettian-Holmes passion by watching the British television drama The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes back-to-back (thanks to a lovely DVD collection grabbed – quite literally – for a ridiculously cheap 10 euros), but here, for the rest of you, is a mere taster:
There’s an interesting site with some fun games for Irish language learners at Digital Dialects. The vocabulary seems correct and so far I’ve not seen any mistakes. It’s all very simple but something for some enterprising gaelgoir to build upon…?
For more online Irish lessons I’d highly recommend the award-winning Talk Irish, a popular new kid on the block that has so far gained nothing but praise (and nearly 12,000 members!). It’s a very comprehensive site largely aimed towards those with little or no Irish, and it utilises the latest technologies to bring Irish language learning to a truly global audience in a fun and easy manner. However, unlike some other online educational courses, there is no lessening in academic quality and the materials on the site are carefully drawn up and vetted. In other words it is a site you can trust. Money well spent!
Another professional site is Ranganna, though one aimed at the slightly more serious online learner with a more academic tone overall. It has courses geared towards second and third level students in Ireland, as well as specialist courses for teachers, civil servants, IT specialists, lawyers, etc. However its general Irish language courses are highly recommended by experts and it has the added advantage of linking to live courses in venues around Ireland run by Gael Chultúr, as well as the Irish language book group Club Leabhar and the online Irish language bookshop Siopa.
A more traditional site is Bitesize Irish Gaelic, which though lacking the glossiness and comprehensive nature of Talk Irish or Ranganna has gained a loyal following. It is run by the same company that hosts the similar Learn Irish Gaelic, the travel group Gaeltacht Travel, and Irish Gaelic Translator. The latter is a well regarded online Irish language forum with over 65,000 members (mostly from Britain, continental Europe, North America and Australasia) though the level of fluency varies greatly. In recent years it has become better known for providing free Irish language translations for tattoos, children’s names and people’s houses though it retains its very active – and at times fractious – message boards. In recent years the site has helped found and drive the collaborative online Irish dictionary, Irishionary.
However the “official” online Irish language dictionary remains Focal, which is funded by the Irish state and is the result of an ongoing academic program. This is the one favoured by most enquirers because of its professionalism and government status. It is also linked to Logainm, the official list of placenames in the Irish language across the island of Ireland (and a hugely popular site for visitors), and Ainm, the national biography of historic figures in the Irish language.
For general enquires and help with the Irish language the now famous online discussion board Daltaí na Gaeilge is second to none. It has been helping people learn Irish since 1981 and was probably one of the first Irish language groups to go online. An incredible feat for an organisation that is in fact based in the United States and Canada and not in Ireland! Its forums are a legendary and any enquirers generally receive a warm welcome. It also has the added advantage of providing information on language courses throughout North America and beyond.
For more learning materials the web-based retailer Litríocht (the “Irish Amazon”) is generally regarded as your “one-stop-shop” for books, CDs, DVDs, etc. with low-cost shipping available to a host of international destinations. You can also try the excellent Udar, another major online shop, or the Irish publishers Futa Fata, Cló Mhaigh Eo, Cló Iar-Chonnacht and Cois Life all of whom sell direct to the public as well as through online retailers and highstreet stores.
For more Irish language resources please try these sites:
Finally, if you want to experience the real thing, then Gael Saoire is the travel service for the Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking regions of Ireland, with a host of information and links for visitors.
My own personal bit of Gaeltacht heaven? Now that would be telling!
The Irish publishing industry has always struggled against the domination of the book market here by overseas English-language publishers, particularly those from Britain. The effective “dumping” of British titles on Irish bookshelves has left little room for native publishing houses and writers to flourish and this has only gotten worse with the steady decline in book sales over recent years.
However one small but shining light in all the doom and gloom has been the performance of Irish-language publishers who have carved out a market of their own that continues to slowly grow. The Irish Times reports on the health of Irish children’s book publishing:
“THIS YEAR, aged 75, Dublin grandmother Catherine Sheridan fulfilled a huge ambition. After a life filled with family commitments and a long-held interest in art, she published her first children’s picture book. What makes the achievement – and the book itself – more intriguing is the fact that it’s published in Irish even though she is not a fluent speaker of the language. Réiltín agus Banríon na Gealaí (Twinkle and the Moon Queen) was inspired by a personal story.
“I was always interested in art,” says Sheridan. “I went to classes and lectures, and whenever I drew, I veered towards toys and witches and fairies. Some years ago I found a photo of my eldest granddaughter, where she was sitting under the Christmas tree. I painted a version of it and it became part of this story.”
The tale concerns a tattered Christmas fairy and Sheridan liked the idea of our connections with the past and how old, well-loved things should be valued, rather than binned.
The book is the first publication by the newly founded Páistí Press, run by Jean Harrington, an experienced publisher.
…crucial to its ethos is the publication of bilingual books. “It wouldn’t dawn on many parents to buy books in Irish. For some it’s because they don’t speak the language, and are embarrassed by that. We’re hoping that it might encourage parents to get back into the language and share that experience with their children who are learning Irish in schools.”
Harrington points out that 80 per cent of the books on Irish bookshop shelves are by UK publishers, and that print runs of Irish language books are small.
“ Réiltín has glitter on the pages, which makes production expensive, so you need higher print runs to bring costs down. But while we’re competing with huge publishers, there is a level playing field for all of us in Irish language publishing and we support each other.”
Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin echoes Harrington’s sentiments, having set up Futa Fata (which means “a buzz or babble of excitement”) in 2005. “There are now more books for children published in Irish than English in this country and because we are working in Irish, we’re more immune to the very challenging competition that Irish publishers working in English face.” He cites publishers such as Móinín, Cló Mhaigh Eo and the oldest Irish language publisher (which is Government run), An Gúm.
Futa Fata published 15 children’s books this year, aimed at babies and readers up to the age of 12. Picture books dominate and in January they will launch a new series of books – Danger Zones – that take a humorous look at history. The fact that picture books fare so well, is not surprising, says David Maybury, editor of Inis children’s books magazine.
“Irish language publishers react faster to market changes and tastes and with more publishers joining the market next year we have some great books to look forward to.” Maybury also cites the long career of Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, who has written several young people’s books in Irish. Ní Dhuibhne, along with authors Úna Ó Boyle and children’s laureate Siobhán Parkinson, was nominated for this year’s Reics Carlo Irish language book prize.”
The article also lists some current best-sellers:
“MAC RÍ ÉIREANN by Caitríona Hastings, illustrated by Andrew Whitson (An tSnáthaid Mhór)
This story about a king who must banish his son was shortlisted for the Reics Carlo 2011 award.
CACA DON RI by Ailbhe Nic Ghiolla Bhrighde illustrated by Steve Simpson (Futa Fata)
A tale of a baker who enlists the help of some mice when he must bake a cake for the king.
FAINIC, A FHIACHRA! by Art Ó Súilleabháin, illustrated by Olivia Golden (Cló Mhaigh Eo)
The tale of a curious boy who can’t stop exploring.
ÉASCA PÉASCA by Áine Ní Ghlinn (O’Brien Press)
One of the most popular titles borrowed in Dublin libraries tells the story of a mysterious babysitter with magical powers.
FUNGIE by Ann Marie McCarthy Ré Ó Laighléis (Móinín)
A fun book aimed at 4-7 year-olds, starring Kerry’s most famous dolphin (comes with a DVD).”
All these titles are available from the publishers or from Litríocht, the “Irish Amazon”, whose bilingual website features a huge range of Irish books, e-Books, CDs, DVDs and many other items, all shipping internationally. Or try Cló Iar-Chonnacht for another large range of Irish materials.
I love books, especially old books (much to the detriment of my bank account). I’ve managed to gather a wide and varied collection of my own, from 19th century Fenian memoirs to mid-20th century Sci-Fi pulps, and lately I’ve started looking around for more Irish language publications (particularly the various Seanchló editions). Happily one can often combine a love for books with an interest in illustration and design (though as any SF fan can tell you, great covers don’t always make for great books. Chris Foss has a lot to answer for!).
So it was great to come across this posting on 50Watts of a series of Irish language books covers from the 1930s. Some really interesting finds here, all of which were published by the Irish state through Oifig An tSoltáthair or Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais (this back in the day when governments cared about culture and learning). It well worth taking a look for anyone with an interest in the Irish writing or graphic design. More can be seen here on Hitone, with a wide variety of Irish publications in Irish and English.
If one wants to hear “good news” stories about the Irish language, or something positive about Irish speakers, it is often better to look to our regional rather than national press. There one finds that the post-colonial mindsets of the many monolingual English speakers who control our national news media is often absent, along with their racist attitudes towards the nation’s Irish speaking community.
“Climbing the timber stairs to the top floor of a converted garage, along a narrow road just outside Spidéal, it doesn’t look like you are entering a publishing empire. And indeed maybe ‘empire’ is an exaggeration. But the small Irish language company Futa Fata, which publishes beautiful picture books for children, is beginning to make its mark internationally.
Two Futa Fata authors Bridget Bhreathnach and Ailbhe Nic Giolla Bhrighde have just had their stories – Lúlú agus an Oíche Ghlórach, and Cáca don Rí translated into Chinese and Korean respectively. Both of these stories are beautifully illustrated by Steve Simpson.
Ailbhe is also reading at this year’s Baboró Arts Festival for Children, as is Patricia Forde, another of Futa Fata’s authors, whose latest book, Binjí – Madra ar Strae has just been published.
Just two weeks ago Futa Fata launched its latest home produced book, An Coileach Codlatach. It was a poignant occasion, as the book’s author Nuala Nic Con Iomaire died last year, but it was also a happy one, explains the founder of Futa Fata, Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin.
“It was a lovely night. Her daughter Iseult Harvey and her cousins read from the book,” he says.
Tadhg’s journey from his birthplace in Mayo to publishing in Connemara was an eventful one, taking in primary teaching, television and music along the way. During the 1990s, he presented RTÉ’s Irish language Cúrsaí Éalaíona. Throughout, he retained a keen interest in his own musical pursuits, releasing two CDs.
When he moved to Connemara over 10 years ago, Tadhg continued his involvement with TV, working on the TG4 series Ros na Rún. More recently he was co-creator of the TV series Aifric, writing several episodes.”
All these books are available from Litríocht, the “Irish Amazon”, with a bilingual website featuring a huge range of Irish books, e-Books, CDs and DVDs, all shipping internationally.
This weekend the Books section of the British Guardian newspaper is devoted to all things Science-Fiction, so pop over for a look. An introduction by Iain M. Banks, reviews of the works of Gene Wolfe, China Miéville, some author favourites and much more.
Follow the link to: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/science-fiction