NEXT WEEK, with Galway hosting authors from all over the world as part of Cúirt, the city itself and its own writers are showcased in a fine new anthology from Doire Press, entitled Galway Stories, to be launched during the festival.
Edited by Lisa Frank, the volume contains 20 stories set in the environs of Galway city and county, including stories by Kevin Barry, Julian Gough, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Geraldine Mills, Hugo Kelly, Mike McCormack, and Mary Costello.
Places, personalities, and rituals of Galway life are vividly rendered throughout the stories; student parties, walking the prom, meeting friends in bars or coffee shops, even the road-rivalry between cyclists and motorists on Taylor’s Hill.
As Des Kenny remarks in his preface: “By touching the pulse of some of the highways and byways of the city and county, the authors of these twenty stories bring into sharp relief Galway’s human heart and soul in all its joys and sorrow, in all its aspirations and disappointments, in all its victories and defeats.”
The French connection
This literary celebration of Galway actually had its origins in Paris, specifically from a birthday trip Lisa Frank made there in 2010.
“Before going to Paris, I combed the internet for a book on the city,” she explains. “I didn’t want a typical guide book or one on its general history. I came across an anthology called Paris Tales, which contained stories all set in Paris. I read the book throughout our trip and thought it was a great and intimate way to better get to know the neighbourhoods. After I came home the thought occurred to me, Paris Tales...why not Galway Stories?
“I’ve lived in many cities but Galway is by far the most special to me. It’s a combination of the landscape and people, the strong sense of art and culture, and of course the charm of the city. I thought a city and county as wonderful as Galway, with such an amazing pool of writing talent, deserves a book that would help celebrate how special it is and the talent of its writers.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Frank is one of those many artistic spirits who came to Galway for a visit only to end up making the place home. She first came here for a summer writing course at NUI Galway in 2003 and fell in love with the city immediately. And in her fourth and final week of the course she also met her now-partner, writer John Walsh. The couple live in Indreabhán where they co-founded Doire Press in 2007.
Having come up with the idea of Galway Stories, Frank set about finding her contributors.
“I approached various writers, some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn’t, and I told them the idea of the collection,” she recalls. “I sent them a brief synopsis of what the book was going to be about and that the story should be set in Galway or reflect it. Most of the stories captured Galway pretty well whether that be through a specific detail or the spirit of the place.
“The very first person to send a story was Nuala Ní Chonchúir, whose Cri de Coeur is a fictional account of the time Ted Hughes and Assia Wevill spent in Cashel. It’s a gorgeous and ultimately dark story and Nuala did a wonderful job in her description of Cashel, and so I was beaming, seeing then how amazing the book could be. It was at that point that Galway Stories became real.”
A diversity of talent
There are many memorable stories in the collection. Kevin Barry’s Party at Helen’s gives razor-sharp snapshots of the people and shifting dynamics of a late night student party in the Claddagh; Celeste Auge’s Eternity features a woman trying to nerve herself to make a purchase in a city centre sex shop; Hugo Kelly’s Traffic Lights describes the burgeoning relationship between a labourer and his landlady on a Knocknacarra estate - two people marked by personal disappointment whose coming together is a piquantly ambivalent blend of resignation and tenderness.
Conor Montague’s Eat the Swans offers a grisly post-apocalyptic city scenario of warring gangs and cannibalism; Alan McMonagle’s Women Drivers on Taylor’s Hill gets much comic mileage from the cyclist narrator’s repeated collisions with the eponymous female motorists, yet the comedy is counterpointed by the backdrop of his relationship with his dying father and distant brothers.
“Alan McMonagle’s was one of the very last stories to come in,” says Frank. “It’s a new story and there is a lot of humour in it of course. Conor Montague’s story is very different. To be honest when he first gave it to me I felt rather squeamish about it, I don’t like blood very much so I had to get over that, but it’s a fantastic story, and the very fact it made me squeamish is a testament to the strength of his writing.
“To me what was interesting was the way that writers who were from Galway talked mostly about Galwegians as well as the city, and I was interested in the way Hugo Kelly reflects Knocknacarra for instance. One of the best things of this project was learning more about the neighbourhoods of Galway through reading the stories.
“The other was realising the great variety in the book — from style and content and theme, the stories are completely varied and show the immense talent of Galway and the writers who clearly have a lot of affection for it.”
The stories are grouped according to the locations in which they are set and the book also features photographs and background information on the different districts. Frank also highlights the contribution of Holly Mullarkey who provided the book’s cover art.
“I spoke to Holly about the project, which she had already known about since her husband Jim had a story in the collection (a wonderful piece called Encounter on Buttermilk Lane ). She had done the cover art for Jim’s book And, which we had also published, and so I didn’t have to be convinced of her talent.
“I tried to explain to Holly what I was looking for, though it was difficult to describe. I told her I was looking for the real Galway, not postcard-perfect. When I saw the paintings Holly did, it was clear we were on the same wavelength. She sent about six different paintings for me to chose from but ultimately I used the first. She not only captured Galway perfectly and with striking colours but the image seems to have a thousand stories.”
Galway Stories will be launched on Friday April 26 with a literary walk taking in a number of the locations mentioned in the book. The walk begins at 4pm at Il Vicolo Café & Wine Bar before proceeding to McCambridges, St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church, Neachtains, and Monroe’s.
There will be readings en route by Celeste Augé, Jim Mullarkey, Olaf Tyaransen, and John Walsh, while Sean Leonard will read Julian Gough’s How to Fall in Love Properly. The trail will conclude with the book’s official launch in Monroe’s, where the Galway Advertiser Arts Editor Kernan Andrews will ‘do the honours’.
Galway Stories costs €13.99 and is available from all good bookshoops.