March 1 to March 31
A Question and Answer Session
I first read a short story by Elizabeth Reapy (she sometimes writes as EM Reapy) during Irish Story Story Month Year Two in 2012 when I read and posted on her very well done short story, "Statues" which centers around the life of a young Irish woman. After that I made a point of reading any of her short stories I came across. I next read a story I really liked "Fleas" about two young Irish men working in Australia. Next I read "The Guest" a very funny and wise story about what happens when the families favorite son brings his girl friend to dinner. All of the stories deal with the struggles of young people in the face of the issues facing the Irish economy. I also loved the anthology of short stories 30 Under 30 - Short Stories by Young Irish Writers she edited
EM Reapy, 27, is an Irish writer travelling Australia. She received an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast. Her work has been published in Irish, British and American publications. She was shortlisted for 2009’s Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award. She co-founded and edits wordlegs.com .
(www.wordlegs.com/30under30), has been selected for masterclasses, performances and awards; including Tyrone Guthrie’s 2012 Exchange Writer to Varuna Writers’ House Sydney and an Irish Arts Council Travel and Training Award to complete this. Her short film ‘Lunching’ is being produced by Barley Films. She will be featured at the prestigious Dromineer Literary Festival in October 2012. At present, she is redrafting a screenplay and working towards a collection of short stories.
A Question and Answer Session With Elizabeth Reapy
1. Who are some of the contemporary short story writers you admire?. If you had to say, who do you regard as the three best ever short story writers?
Junot Diaz, Claire Keegan, Kevin Barry, Annie Proulx, Roddy Doyle, Yiyun Lee, Dagoberto Gilb, Stuart Dybek.
'The China Factory' by Mary Costello is wonderful. I love love love Denis Johnson.
Three best? Hard to narrow down but maybe Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Anton Chekhov?
2. I have read lots of Indian and American short stories in addition to Irish and alcohol plays a much bigger part in the Irish stories. How should an outsider take this and what does it say about Irish culture.
Alcohol is a big part of Irish culture. Though not every single Irish person drinks or abuses it, I think it would be hard to find an Irish person who hasn't been affected in one way or another by alcoholism. Writers write the society around them and ours is often merry, is often wasted.
3. When did you start writing?
Since I can remember. My mum kept all my old English copies and poems that I wrote as a child. Sometimes I get flashbacks of making little books from halving A4 pages, then staple binding them and then writing my stories as neat as possible inside. I was mesmerized by inverted commas, 66 and 99, the absolute power of them. You could make anyone say anything. I still find that really exciting.
4. I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics. How big a factor do you think the Irish Weather is in shaping the literary output of its writers. I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on a tropical island, for example.
Climate definitely affects writing. I recently went to Buenos Aires and could only write poetry there in the evenings after walking around the scruffy, sunny, elegant streets for the day. Ireland is grey and wet most the time and it's lovely to have a big fire on and chill out with a book or write beside it. We're inside a lot here because of the rain and so have to keep ourselves entertained indoors (probably connects to the alcohol thing a little too). The rain is something I miss a lot if I'm away though. Rain is home for Irish people and I think it gives the writing here that slightly miserable yet refreshing edge.
5. Who do you regard as the first modern Irish short story writer?
6. (OK I know this is big question and OK to not answer it)-why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?
7. (Ok this may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe in Fairies?-this quote from Declain Kiberd sort of explains why I am asking this:
" One 1916 veteran recalled, in old age, his youthful conviction that the rebellion would “put an end to the rule of the fairies in Ireland”. In this it was notably unsuccessful: during the 1920s, a young student named Samuel Beckett reported seeing a fairy-man in the New Square of Trinity College Dublin; and two decades later a Galway woman, when asked by an American anthropologist whether she really believed in the “little people”, replied with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there."
8. Do you think the very large amount of remains from neolithic periods (the highest in the world) in Ireland has shaped in the literature and psyche of the country?
Maybe in that we're people who find it hard to let go of the past.
9. How important are the famines to the modern Irish psyche?
The famines, especially The Great Famine 1845-48, were important and devastating turning points in our history. One of the biggest effects of these was the language changing from Gaelige to English for most Irish people.
10. Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers?
A poet's work, their personal art, their musings on a particular issue, does provide a social commentary on modern Ireland. It is up to a reader though to think about and challenge what a poem says. The social role is in the reading of poetry.
11. Where is the best place in Dublin to get a real Irish breakfast? Fish and Chips and Irish Stew? .
I've only recently moved back to Dublin so couldn't recommend anywhere yet but in Claremorris, Co. Mayo - get your fish and chips in Vals, breakfast in Maxwell's where my cousin Maria will look after ya. For Irish Stew, get an Irish Mammy to make it, home made - always delicious.
12. Do you prefer e-reading or traditional books?
Traditional books. I love the smell and feel of them and I love making notes on them. E-reading is grand too but I found even when I travelled, I was drawn to buying physical books over ebooks, despite the convenience of the Kindle.
13. If you were to be given the option of living anywhere besides Ireland, where would you live?
I'm learning Spanish so I can spend more time in South America in the future. I want to live in Seoul and San Fransisco, also New Zealand, Germany, South East Asia, Canada... I will always live in Ireland but would love a couple of other bases around the world that I could call home too.
14. If you could time travel for 30 days (and be rich and safe) where would you go and why?
Pagan Ireland seemed like good craic.
15. Congratulations on 30 Under 30-just brilliant-all of the writers included grew up with social media and the internet as very big factors in their lives-how do you think this will shape their writings?
Thank you. It's been a great experience. I don't know how the internet will shape their writing but I feel social media is getting close to its expiration date as it's too sold out now. We'll maybe write with nostalgia about liking pictures or status updates like the way we used to ring house phones to chat to friends or meet at a certain time in a certain place and hope the other person would show up.
16. Best Literary Festival you have so far attended?
The Dromineer Festival was lovely, the Australian Young Writers' Festival was so much fun and our Shore Writers' Festival in Enniscrone was a brilliant weekend. Cuirt, Dublin Writers' Festival, Belfast Book Festival, Galway Arts Festival; there's too many to mention.
I am going to attend and perform at Listowel Writers' Week this year and I can't wait.
17. Do you have follow up plans for more collections?
I'm working on a collection of my own short stories at the moment.
End of Q and A
Anyone interesting in reading the best from emerging writers, not just Irish, needs to read the quarterly issues ofWordlegs.com, edited by Reapy.
You can find more information on 30 Under Thirty: A Selection of Short Stories by Thirty Young Irish Writers at the web page of Doire Press.
I offer my great thanks to Elizabeth Reapy for taking the time to answer my questions in such a well thought out fashion.
I hope to follow her work for years to come.