Is Derry leading the way in the literary world? Garbhan Downey explores this and more in his regular update for City of Culture year, 2013
Far be it from me to say that Derry is the most literary city in Europe, but if you fired a gun randomly on any city street, it is odds-on you will shoot two writers – a budding novelist and the poet tapping him for loose change. From Colmcille to Claire Allan, writing is in the blood here.
And okay, I may have used the same line before about musicians (in which case you have the bass player tapping the lead singer), but in terms of books published-per capita, this city has a serious case to put.
In the past week alone, this columnist has been hearing of seven new books by Derry authors which are currently either spinning hot off the presses or which will be on our shelves in the very near future.
Four of these titles are the work of the city’s most prodigious non-fiction writer, Sean McMahon – including the just-published ‘A Brief History of Northern Ireland’ (Brehon Press), an excellent, and definitive, pocket-sized synopsis of the last century.
McMahon, who already has more than 70 histories, compendia, anthologies and children’s books under his belt, will also be publishing ‘A Brief History of Derry’ in the months to come.
Early next year, the former St Columb’s College teacher will be rolling out ‘Blood Brothers’, his history of the parallel lives of Edward Carson and James Craig.
But before then, he, and the archivist Trevor Temple, will launch ‘Derry Day by Day’, a fascinating year in the life of the city accrued from newspapers dating back to 1840. The two men are still completing this project but intend to have it in the shops to meet the Christmas rush.
Also due out this winter is Richie Kelly’s long-awaited and much anticipated history of sport in the Northwest - ‘Playing into the Wind’. Packed with hundreds of old photographs and scores of stories of triumph, tragedy, agony and hilarity, the book will be a perfect coffee-table companion to Guildhall Press’s 2009 ‘City of Music: Derry’s Music Heritage’.
The ever-industrious Guildhall Press are also launching Professor Bill Rolston’s ‘Children of the Revolution’ at the Gasyard Feile tonight. The book, which contains the stories of twenty people who had a parent politically active in the North’s recent conflict, features a testimony from the illustrious US writer Noam Chomsky. He comments: “This sensitive and thoughtful account of their memories in times of trouble is a powerful call for non-violence and sympathetic understanding, given special resonance by the hopeful outcome, a lesson that others should take to heart.” Sounds quite special indeed.
And finally, on this week’s ‘shortlist’ of seven, it’s back to the Derry Journal’s own bestselling authoress Claire Allan, whose latest book ‘If Only You Knew’ will be released in early autumn, possibly September 30. Allan enjoys (and is a very successful practitioner of) pushing out the boundaries of traditional chick lit, and this book will prove no different. One thread of the book is set in the 1970s against the backdrop of the Troubles and, the author reveals, involves examination of our bleaker past. Allan is a very talented comedic writer and is getting better and better with each outing, so this reader (and fan) fully expects this to be the breakthrough book which will project her right to the top.
It would be remiss not to point out that in the last six weeks or so, a glut of other books have been launched by local authors including Brian McGilloway’s latest thriller ‘Little Girl Lost’; Felicity McCall’s short story collection ‘A Pitying of Doves’; Stephen Price’s raunchy history of Frederick Hervey, ‘The Earl Bishop’; and Dick MacGabhann’s Irish language joke book, ‘Jócleabhar Beag Bídeach na Gaeilge’.
It’s tremendous to see such activity in the local publishing sector – and bodes very well for our City of Culture year, which, as you would expect, will have a very strong literary element. International luminaries such as Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Field Day are already exploring potential projects for 2013, while city-based authors Brian McGilloway and Claire Allan are hoping to host the world’s first crime-writers meets chick lit gathering – the Guys and Dolls Convention.
Only problem now is, how will we get time to read all these new books?