Kate O'Riordan: Visions of Ireland - A writer's view
A Londoner by adoption, Kate O’Riordan grew up in the small city of Bantry on the west coast of Ireland. With Le Garçon dans la lune, published in 2008 and Pierres de mémoire, in 2009, O’Riordan signed two new remarkable opuses in which she questions family relationships. A novelist and short-story writer, Kate O’Riordan also writes for the cinema and continues to confirm her legitimate place among Irish authors who count. She came to the Villa Gillet to take part in a discussion on 'Ireland by Irish writers'.
I looked at the screen and that throbbing, accusative cursor that every writer knows and dreads so well – and thought – what should I be writing? Should this be about Ireland in general? Writing in general? Irish writers and Irish writing in general? Where to begin, which novelists to reference, (as it’s a forum on the novel at least I don’t have to worry about the poets and playwrights) this small island is awash with writers! Why? What’s the matter with us? As a pastime it’s not tremendous fun an awful lot of the time and the rest of the time it’s hell. I’m sure my distinguished panelists would agree.
I thought about referencing Joyce and the birth of the modern novel all the way to the late, lamented Maeve Binchy, original ‘Chick Lit’ creator. Yes, that unbelievably successful genre also owes its birthplace to a little rainy island shaped like the number three. Profound respect and admiration on my part should make mention of our wonderful Ms. O’Brien. The fresh approach she brought not only to the Irish novel but to literature in general. ‘The Country Girls’ was every bit as intoxicating and evocative on my recent re-read as it had been so many years ago. Mr Hamilton’s ‘The Speckled People’ has raised the bar in the memoir genre in his very funny and searingly honest book. So where do I begin and where could I possibly end..?
And then I remembered my daughter’s maxim for moments of doubt…KISS…Keep it simple stupid. I’ve been asked to write about my own personal links to Ireland as a writer so that is what I’ll do…
I live in London. Over the years, like so many Irish emigrants, I’ve wrestled with the idea of returning to Ireland. Went so far as to build a house. And sold it the day the builders’ left. I still have family there and both my husband and I come from the same small town. We know absolutely everybody and they know us. Every few months we slip into that town and feel it surround us like a comforting blanket. The landscape is in our bones. We fill ourselves up like cars with petrol, we walk endlessly, talk until we’re hoarse – and then we leave…but I’ll get back to that.
In my adopted home, the English have a reputation for being quite reserved but I have rarely found that to be the case. People chat in shops, nod to one another in the park, will mention the weather just as they do in Ireland. When I’m back in London I tell myself that, really, there isn’t that much difference. And every time my plane lands and I head west from Cork Airport – I’m struck all over again by this difference that I deny. Even the hedgerows seem more relaxed. As I pass other cars and cyclists and people walking the roads, I cannot get over how much ‘talk’ there is in my homeland. Go into a house and if there isn’t a radio on, it’ll mean somebody’s died. Walk into a pub and it takes a while to adjust to the din. We are a nosy nation, I don’t mean that in a bad way necessarily, but we want your information and we want it fast if we’re going to invest time in you. We also have an incredible history of converting that talk into writing if only to give us moments away from the talk every now and then. Of course it has to do with the darker innate loneliness of the Irish psyche as well but trust me – a lot of it has to do with the talk.
Mr Hamilton’s father says ‘your language is your home and your country is your language and your language is your flag.’ Well put. There are still ancient echoes of our own original Gaelic in an Irish person’s usage of English to this day. We switch sentences around and put things back to front sometimes. I recently heard an Irish friend respond about the whereabouts of someone…’He’s above below in the other house.’ And we all understood exactly where she meant. We play with English and loosen it up. I think that’s what a critic means when I read the dreaded word ‘lyrical’ in a review.
My girlhood Ireland was very similar to Ms. O’Brien’s. My father was a butcher and we lived over the shop. Sawdust all over the house, the smell of raw meat, black clad granny reading her prayers every night – until she had a stroke and turned to Mills and Boon romantic novels. Porridge each morning with a man who worked in the shop. Sadistic nuns, mass on Sundays, fish on Fridays. It was a childhood of smells, creamy milk collected directly from the milk churn, wood smoke in Winter, the chemical tang of boiled sweets. It was a childhood of watching. Watching other people. Watching cows in fields and wondering how did they get so fat if they only ate grass? Watching television in the window of the town’s one electrical shop and trying to lip read the continuity announcer. I don’t know why we bothered – there was rarely anything on other than The News. By the time we actually got our own television they had added a News in Irish and a News for the deaf. So you got to hear the News all over again but with sign language. Watching rain. There are more types of rain in Ireland than the Innuits boast of snow.
It was still a rural country when I left. In those days everybody left. You were educated to leave. Now that the Celtic Tiger has turned into the Celtic Donkey – the diaspora has started all over again. I like to think of well educated young Irish people spreading their Irishness and their talk all across the globe. I’ve watched the changes but at a distance. It’s taken me decades to come to terms with the fact that I need that distance. I go home to fuel up and then I leave in order to write. It’s not that I can’t write there, I often do, but my country overwhelms me – sometimes with a primal, elemental love for the people and the landscapes – sometimes with a sense of claustrophobia. I’ve realized that in order to stay close there needs to be distance.
Perhaps I wouldn’t feel that way if I’d grown up in a city but the history of a small provincial town can quicken your breath and cloud your thoughts on occasion. I know I will never go back on a permanent basis and while it’s a relief to have finally made that decision, there is sadness in that knowledge too. A bit like rejecting your own mother. And like an ungrateful child I have been punished too. My novels usually sell well in Ireland. The last book which did so well in France – was the only book not to feature Ireland in any way. I think it sold about ten copies in Ireland. Quite right too!
Pour citer cette ressource :
Kate O'riordan, "Kate O'Riordan: Visions of Ireland - A writer's view", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), septembre 2013. Consulté le 02/12/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/kate-o-riordan-visions-of-ireland-a-writer-s-view