ARLEN HOUSE warmly invites you to celebrate the launch of my new short fiction collection HELLKITE on Wednesday 4 December at 6.00pm Venue: Dublin City Library and Archive 138-144 Pearse Street Dublin 2
‘Bring me back great stories,’ Andrew’s sister says. She is sitting up
in bed her arms clasped around her knees, blue eyes
waiting for him to sweep them clean of any dreams. ‘Bring me back a big slice of the city in your
‘With or without pepperoni,’ he jokes. Then he
leans over, kisses her cheek and picks up his keys. He files away the tall
order she has presented him with and head out the door, pulling his parka more
tightly around him as he hits the cutting air. He makes his way along the
street. People are already moving in and out of the day. He heads towards the
shops, walks by the square where the homeless are
scavenging the bins of the homed. They pull out chicken bones, empty pockets of
pita bread; upend a can of coke to see if it still has a dreg of sugar left
inside. He burrows his way through the aisles of the supermarket; buys what’s
needed to keep flesh under their skin and heads back to where she is waiting
for him. How thin his sister, how very sad her eyes.
‘What have you brought me?’ she enquires.
‘A bowl of fresh morning air.’
He curves his
hands and holds them to her face. She feels the cold of the new day on his
fingers and caresses them before she secrets her own back under the duvet.
He sets up a tray for her, cheese from the new
cheesemongers, bread still smelling of the oven it was saved from, some wild
acacia honey. He takes out a fresh napkin depicting a scene of girls and
bridges and blue weeping willow, tucks it under her chin.
‘My very own restaurant,’ she says, as she
plays with dripping bee sweetness onto the bread, moves it around the plate he
has placed before her. Stocks and shares fall on the other side of the city.
Mortgages default. Businesses fold in on themselves while she cuts the bread
into little cubes; stacks them into columns three squares high, playing with
them like a child; pretends she doesn’t see his frown, his threats if she
doesn’t eat. She knows that she is pushing her luck with him
Finally she takes a mouse-bite out of the
‘Where are my stories?’ she demands, lifting
the napkin to brush crumbs from her mouth. So he tells her, embellishes the
things he has seen on his domestic expedition. How there were archaeologists excavating ruins near the top of the square. A woman in a high-vis
jacket was sweeping soil from the bones of an ancient bird with a small paint
brush while a man numbered shards of plates that still held a tracery of leaves
and vines. Another turned to a collection of battered drinking vessels with the
memory of some magic potion. Some day it would teach the world to sing.
‘All those things you can see in a single
trip,’ she says.
‘It’s simple,’ he replies. ‘All you have to do
Extract from forthcoming short story collection: Hellkite
As part of The Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering, which
this year is celebrating Irish Women Writers, Hedy Gibbons-Lynott and Iareperforming a kitchen reading of Me
and Nu by Anne Gregory, as well as our own work tomorrow, Sunday 6th
October. Many thanks to Marion Cox for
inviting us. A day that is packed with inspiring events, times and venues are
10.30 The End of the Cycle: Lady Gregory and Yeats ‘A Vision’ Prof. Meg
Harper, Glucksman Chair in Contemporary Writing in English, University of Limerick.
Venue: Coole Park
11.15 Coffee Coole
Park Visitor Centre
11.45 Strange Encounters – Interactive Ghost Stories & Strange Tales
from Lady Gregory’s ‘Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland’
Dr. Cecily O’Neill, Author and International
Authority on Drama and Arts Education
Coole Park Visitor Centre
12.30 Coole Connections- a personal encounter with Lady Gregory and Coole
Hedy Gibbons-Lynott, Award-winning
Venue: Coole Park
14.30 Me & Nu – A Kitchen Reading
Hedy Gibbons-Lynott and Geraldine Mills
The Gate Lodge, Coole Park
15.30 Out of Old Stories
Geraldine Mills, Poet & Short-story
The Gate Lodge, Coole Park
20.00 Lady Gregory’s Ingredients
A three woman play depicting the life
of Lady Gregory
The Wild Swan Theatre Group
The Town Hall, Gort
7th October 2013
10.00 Creative Writing Think Tank (2 hrs) Gort Public Library
He followed all her actions on Facebook. The whole
world knew about her white-water rafting and the cycling, as well as driving
her truck into great hills of snow. She was smiling out at him, holding up a
snow rake that had precipitated a roof avalanche on top of her. Covered in
white and laughing. He could imagine the snow that found its way down behind
her scarf, melting as it touched the heat of her neck. She was pontificating
about frost heaves as if she had never heard of potholes. She hadn’t realised,
until she was where other people were, that this was where she wanted to be,
she told anyone and everyone who bothered to read what she wrote.
I could be you, Gretta.
That’s some man you’ve got there,
He could see her in the General Store, with its good
old-fashioned charm. She was one of ‘the
communidy’ now. The t softened to
d, letting go of her own tongue to
suck on someone else’s. Boars-head meat beside favourite frozen novelties.
Walking in, being greeted by Barbara behind the counter. How rage boiled up in
him. Lee Saoul playing her guitar over the soft rustle of newspapers as people
turned them over and filled their coffee cups again, called out to her. A pan
in the kitchen being scraped and potatoes mashed while she bought pastrami on
rye, linguica, corned beef hash for her Tom. At least he wasn’t called Bud. Bud
would have killed him entirely. That name opening up to her petal by petal.
Sitting in the front yard on a love seat, a fucking loveseat with his square
jaw and his hair streaked back, a cold beer, full-fitting jeans; blue jays in
She posted up pictures of their sugar house. Night
temperatures cold enough to send the sap rushing back down the bole of the
tree, followed by a warm day that drew it right up again. The two of them in
their big, red ass pick-up as they drove out to the sugar bush, striking it
while the sap was running, boring into the trees, the spigot drip, drip into
the pail, bucket, whatever she called it now. All day and night the stove fed
with kindling as they boiled off the water, reducing it all to sweetness.
Bleeding sweetness out of the sugar bush as if she were born to it. Drinking in
all its sickening sap.
Could she not have waited for his sugar time, good old
promises between her lips, instead of packing up and taking the bus to the
airport, fuck-friend waiting for her at the other end with his Shiloh Sharps.
This is early morning light. I sit at my table
recording those first thoughts that spring from the chink of knowing between
sleep and wake. The sky is a brooding indigo, augury of the shower coming
across the hills, so big it will deluge us in no time. The wind begins to rise
and I watch the shower as it moves in to attack. It beats off the glass as if
trying to get in, so loud its heavy thud is bound to wake my sleeping family as
it rages overhead.
I look out to the left and right and front of me.
There are strings of water beads falling to earth, onthe long grass where the wind rushes the
wintering of things, My cat comesrunning down the field, a tortoiseshell roll in afield of dying grass, finds the one cloche
with an easy access and hides there from the demon overhead. The wind battles
the naked branches of the rowans, the dried-out umbels of angelica. The clouds
shift to pour down over the stone fort on the hill.
All signs indicate we are in for a bad day; but slowly
the slowly begins to lighten from its indigo to something resembling blue and
the storm clouds move off into the other villages, away over the Corrib to beat
upon the islands of the lake. As the sky brightens, the house begins to purr
like a giant cat being stroked by the hand of God. I have written the storm
I have been thinking a lot these dark days about the wolf that played
puck with the three little pigs. How, in a few breathy huffs, he razed to the
ground their ecologically-sound straw house, their sustainable wooden one, before
he met his lupine demise in a boiling pot on the fire. However cautionary a
tale this is meant to be, it didn’t deter my family from making a life-changing
decision to move back to Galway in the late
90s and build a timber home. It was
built in a factory in Sweden
and delivered to us on the back of a lorry on the winter solstice. It was pre-fairytale
Tiger time, and in the long light of the previous summer the children and I
settled into a small cottage close to our chosen site. We decided that my
husband would remain in Dublin
for the time being as he was the designated bringer home of the bacon.
supervised all the ground work. PJ, the digger-man, ‘a tasty worker’ by all
accounts, broke the earth with the metal claw of his machine and soon the
foundations were taking shape. A woman out standing in her own field, I worked
with my two loyal neighbours to get the water pipes in place, organise conduit
for the electricity cables, oversee installation of the septic tank, the
incessant rain seeping through every stitch of clothing while my beloved sat in
a cosy office in Dublin,
his back to the radiator.
News soon spread throughout the
village that it was to be delivered on the shortest day of the year. Another
fairy tale: how could a real house be built on such a light-starved day? However,
that morning the sound of a truck snailing along the low road drew neighbours
from their beds to stand on mounds of earth and marvel with us at the sight of
our home coming from somewhere beyond in Scandinavia.
Berries blazed as solstice rays began to gild
the tops of the trees. Birds flew out for their days gathering whilea mechanical crane manoeuvred
its wheels up our driveway. It grabbed a
panel from the truck and a gable-end with three windows and the main door,
designed to look out onto the burnt sienna of the mountain, swung precariously
above our heads; then expertly lowered into place. Next to be positioned was
the panel that held our son’s bedroom window, our daughter’s, followed by the
large expanse of glass that would be the eye looking into the heart of our home.
Here was a triple-glazed barn-raising that the
Amish would be proud of if they were ever guilty of such a deadly sin. Workmen,
balanced like gymnasts, laboured on top of the now secured walls with not a
whisper of wolf-wind to unsteady them.We watched while panel after panel was slotted into the nextas if it were a child’s block set.
Twilight witnessed the roof-felt being stretched
across joists and beams, sealed from all weathers, and here was our house with
its door open to the dark and the first lights glowing from the windows. In the
shadows I’m sure I saw the slink of wolf. He could save his breath to cool his porridge.
No amount of huffing or puffing would blow this house down.
Thank you to my neighbour and award-winning writer, Celeste Augé, who has
invited me to the on-line blogging chain called The Next Big Thing: a series of
questions about a writer’s forthcoming project. I’m not sure where it started
but the idea is great fun. As well as helping you to focus on work in progress
it is also a way for readers to get a sense of your work. And you get to tag
someone else. A worthwhile New Year’s resolution. My next big thing is my third
short story collection. It's great to be another link in the literary
What is the working title of your book? Hellkite.It encompasses the overall theme of the book as
there are a number of cruel characters in it. It also picks up on the bird
motif which flies in and out through the pages.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
With a minimum of sixteen stories, ideas come from diverse places. They come
unbidden, from an image, a foreign city, a chance encounter with a stranger or
a dream fragment. These images hook into me and will not let go until I start
to put flesh on them; they become a living thing; they take up their beds and
What genre does your book fall under? I don’t think it will be found
on the self-help shelf.More like self-destruct. These are character-driven
stories so they would be in the literary fiction genre.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a
movie rendition? One
of the stories called Frost Heave
which was a winner in the Willesden Short Story Competition 2012 has a dark,
laconic character called Folan. Night
and the bitterness so much in his mouth that Folan could taste his own liver.
I think after watching him in Taken, Liam Neeson would be my man. I
have a really strong image of him holed up in the hen house with his shotgun
cocked waiting for the mink to come slinking by to bloodlet his chickens. Folan
is taking no more.Poor Mink!
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? The hearts of men
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your
This collection has been five years in the making. I published The Weight of Feathers in 2007 and have
published two poetry collections in the meantime: An Urgency of Stars (Arlen House 2009) and my collaboration with Connecticut poet, Lisa C
Taylor, The Other Side of Longing
(Arlen House 2011). It’s time these
birds stretched their wings.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I have no idea. I will leave that up to the
Who or what inspired you to write this book? The characters who keep turning up
and knocking at the door of my imagination. That, and my love of the short story genre.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Because most of the stories are from
the male perspective, where few of the female hellkites end up smelling of roses, it was a particular challenge to write.
When and how will it be published?
Galway County Council has been very supportive of
the collection over the last two years and has awarded me a grant and a
residency to work on the stories to get them to this point. My publisher, Alan
Hayes, one of the best publishers in the land, has been very patient with me
and come hell or high water it will appear at the end of this year from Arlen
I’m delighted to be able to tag
Jacqueline M Loring and Lisa C Taylor who will blog on 16th January.
Jacqueline M. Loringpoet and screenwriter, New Mexico, who was winner of the Doire Press
International Chapbook competition 2012 for her debut poetry collection: The History of Bearing Children.
Lisa C. Taylor, poet and teacher from Connecticut. Shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize and nominated for the L.L. Winship Pen New England Award, Lisa has four collections of poetry, her most recent, Necessary Silence, from Arlen House will be launched in the US in February 2012.