Link to Catherine Dunne’s interview about the Arlen Classic Literature Series edition of Another Alice

(We have exchanged interviews because Catherine’s second novel, A Name for Himself, is also part of the Arlen Classic Literature series. Other titles include Marian Thérèse Keyes (Ed) A Life of No Light Toil:An Anna Maria Hall Reader; Carmen Cavanagh by Annie Smithson (with a Foreword by Alan Hayes); and Kate O’Brien’s Pray for the Wanderer, (with a Foreword by Caitríona Clear).

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Interview with Catherine Dunne (3rd May 2022)

This interview marks the publication of a new edition of Catherine Dunne’s second novel, A Name for Himself (first published in 1998) as part of the Arlen Classic Literature series. The new edition features a Foreword by Mia Gallagher. Because my first novel, Another Alice, also features in that series (with a Foreword by Paula McGrath), we arranged to swap interviews on each other’s websites. Other titles in the series include Marian Thérèse Keyes (ed) A Life of No Light Toil: An Anna Maria Hall Reader, Kate O’Brien’s Pray for the Wanderer (with an Introduction by Caitriona Clear) and Carmen Cavanagh by Annie Smithson (with an Introduction by Alan Hayes).

Catherine, Thanks for talking to me and congratulations on the re-issue of A Name for Himself. It was your second novel and marks a distinct change from your first. Who were your influences, if any?

As soon as I finished writing In the Beginning, I knew that I wanted to write something that was completely different from that first novel. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed, didn’t want to set up any expectation that ‘more of the same’ was about to follow.

I was lucky, in that the story that became A Name for Himself presented itself to me – chose me, in a way: I didn’t need to go looking for it. It settled itself into some internal space and wouldn’t go away.

I think it’s probably one of the stories that has exerted the strongest, most obsessive, grip on my imagination. Part of that, I think, is that I was terrified by the old adage that ‘everybody has a book in them’. Just one! I wanted to make sure I had at least two.

Was it hard to stay within Farrell’s point-of-view?

That was one of the spooky parts of the writing experience. I felt as though I was looking over his shoulder the whole time. I felt a degree of empathy with him that was, at times, disconcerting. He was with me during the days of writing, and also at night, when I had some very disturbing dreams.

We slowly diverged, of course: and I looked on, sometimes in horror, at the way the story was developing. In many ways, it felt inevitable, right from the beginning. It was – and I know other writers will argue with this – as if Farrell was in charge. Of course I could have made him behave differently: but then the story would not have felt authentic. I followed him, right to the end.

A Name for Himself was first published in 1998. Do you think things have changed much for women in Ireland since then?

In many ways, Ireland has changed so much in the intervening years that it’s unrecognisable. Walls of silence have been breached: the authority of the Catholic church has all but disappeared; we have had the economic highs and lows of the Celtic Tiger and its aftermath; emigration is no longer a central feature of our society, and we have instead become much more multi-cultural.

For women, many things have changed for the better. EU legislation regarding equality has pushed Ireland – sometimes unwillingly – into a new era. Divorce is legal; gay marriage is legal; abortion is legal, albeit in a restrictive form.

However – and it is a very significant ‘however’ – there still exists in this country a ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women. That has not changed in the intervening years. From daily humiliations on the street to threats in person and on social media, to assault and rape, women do not feel safe.

It is important that the conversation is now a public one, and that the veil of secrecy around this kind of violence has at last been lifted.

At what point in your writing career were you able to give up teaching and write full-time? (I’m asking because I have an idea it might have been around the time of publication of this, your second, novel – although I could be wrong?)

Catherine Dunne
(Photo: Noel Hillis)

I took a career break to finish my first novel, In the Beginning. The moment I finished it in the summer of 1995, I immediately began writing A Name for Himself, because the story had come to me almost fully formed, and it haunted me.

But during those early years of my break, I didn’t think of myself as a writer: I used to describe myself as ‘a teacher on career break’. I knew I was writing on borrowed time. I wanted to use every precious minute, in case I didn’t get the opportunity again.

By 2000, I knew without any doubt that writing was what I wanted to do full time, and with publication and teaching and facilitating – all the extra strings that writers have to their bows – I’m still at my desk, more than a quarter of a century later…what a scary thought!

In her remarkable Foreword, Mia Gallagher links Farrell’s insecurities and possessiveness to the difference in social class between Farrell and Grace and – crucially – Grace’s wealthy father. Gallagher writes that Farrell succeeds ‘in crashing, albeit temporarily, through the unspeakable barriers to entry on this island.’ Was this part of your thinking when you wrote the novel? Could you say a little more about that?

By the time I came to invent the character of Farrell, I’d spent almost twenty years working in a school in a disadvantaged area. Those years were crucial in forming my understanding of class barriers in Ireland.

I’d watched, for example, as students filled out application forms for jobs, or courses, only to be passed over, time and again, because of their home address. When the same students applied, using a different, more ‘respectable’ address, the response was invariable positive.

My students taught me many things, among them how to recognise and acknowledge the bias that is built into so many areas of Irish society.

Farrell is acutely conscious of this, and it is part, but only part, of his insecurities and possessiveness around Grace. His need for control stems also from a complicated past and his reluctance to face his own fears.

Another of your earlier titles, An Unconsidered People (2003) has also been published in a recent new edition (New Island, 2021) Can you say something about how that came about?

As with so many aspects of the publishing industry, the new edition of An Unconsidered People came about in an unexpected way. The publisher contacted me just as we were emerging from the last of the lockdowns, to say that there had been a marked uptick in interest in the title during the pandemic.

I think for so many people, that strange time of isolation and fear also became one of reflection, or revisiting old interests, or developing new ones.

The publisher thought the time was right for a new chapter, exploring the nature of emigration from this country in the decades that followed An Unconsidered People’s first publication. The original edition dealt with the half a million or more people who left this country for Britain in the dismal 1950s.

Diarmaid Ferriter very kindly wrote a new Foreword, and so the new edition was born.

I think stories of emigration/immigration are universal: they are woven into the texture of our lives, particularly in this country. Understanding the challenges and loneliness of immigrants as they seek to make a new life for themselves in another country is something we all need to nurture – even more so today as we try to support and welcome Ukrainian people as they flee the devastation that has been visited on their country.

What are you working on now?

I’m just completing a new novel with the working title of A Good Enough Mother.

Using the voices of several characters, I’m exploring the experience of motherhood in Ireland.  From the ‘unmarried mothers’ who fled to London in 1950s to have their babies in secret, to the young girls and women incarcerated in our mother and baby homes, to the challenges of motherhood in the present day: this novel has kept me in its grip for four years now.

During the lockdowns, it was the project that kept me engaged and curious – and writing. I’m very grateful to it.

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Interview: Marian Therèse Keyes on Anna Maria Hall (1800-1881)

This interview marks the publication of A Life of No Light Toil: The Anna Maria Fielding Hall Reader Edited and Introduced by Marian Thérèse Keyes, one of the 2022 Arlen Classic Literature Series.

Is this your first book, Marian?

This is actually my 5th book! Over the last few years I was involved in 3 publications that tied in with the Decade of Centenaries at dlr Libraries – 2 of those with New Island Books. People on the Pier celebrated the bicentenary of the pier in 2018 and Betty Stenson and I worked on that. Then Divine Illumination in 2019 marked the centenary of Sr Concepta Lynch’s astonishing Oratory in the grounds of the Dominican Convent, Dún Laoghaire. I worked with Librarian Nigel Curtin and Archivist David Gunning on the latter and we also produced What’s in a Name: Dunleary, Kingstown Dún Laoghaire in 2020, marking 100 years since the name change back to Dún Laoghaire during the War of Independence. My first book was Politics and Ideology in Children’s Literature (Four Courts Press, 2014) co-edited with Dr Áine McGillicuddy.

Did it feel strange to cross over from being a librarian to writing and editing?

Not at all! To be honest, most of my working day at dlr LexIcon was spent writing – whether it was blurb for festival brochures, e-bulletins, press releases, book reviews, promotional event literature or text for exhibition panels. Many of these exhibitions are collaborative ventures working with, for example Anne Makower and Christopher Fitz-Simon for the recent All Right on the Night or with Jennifer Johnston’s family for the exhibition celebrating her 90th birthday in 2020. Online versions of these and other exhibitions can be seen at I would see these exhibitions as ‘mini-publications’ as it’s so important to condense and edit the material into manageable panel lengths to attract and sustain audience interest.

Can you tell us about Anna Maria Hall and her work? 

I first came across Anna Maria’s work when I was cataloguing a major collection of children’s books in London in the mid-1990s. I found out she was Irish (born in Dublin in 1800 and spent her childhood in Wexford until she was fifteen when she went to London) and I wondered why I had never heard of her. Her books were beautifully produced, often had Irish themes, characters and settings and were illustrated by many well-known artists of her day, frequently of Irish extraction. As I delved further, I found out that in addition to over 40 children’s books, she was famous in the 1830s and 40s for her Sketches of Irish Character, novels, plays, gift books, annuals and travel literature – the pre-Famine 3 volume Ireland: its Scenery, Character etc. produced jointly with her husband was highly successful. She worked hard as an editor in the periodical press, her husband said she had produced over 150 books in her lifetime – other commentators have suggested that she produced between 400-500 books including the joint publications – and yet by the time of her death in 1881, most were out of print. I was obsessed by the extraordinary invisibility of someone so fêted and highly regarded in her lifetime.

What do you most admire about her?

I admire Anna Maria Hall’s passion for her work, her zeal to give her readers, especially children good quality books that would prove educational and enjoyable. Through her travel writing, she sought to encourage people to visit Ireland and to sample the unique ‘character’ of the Irish people and she attempted to capture the customs, tales and traditions before they vanished. Many letters exist demonstrating how generous she was to young women writers, newly arrived in London and seeking work writing for the annuals, magazines and journals of the day – she was generous with her many contacts and selflessly nurtured her protegées.

I was also rather envious of her disciplined approach to her daily work routines. Such was the order of her writing room that she boasted that she could go to any of her bookshelves in the dark and lay her hand on what she wanted. Yes I’m a librarian but I can categorically state that I will never have my bookshelves at home in that kind of order!

By all accounts she was quite an activist and philanthropist – can you tell us something about that aspect of her life?

 She played an important role in the setting up of the Hospital for Consumption at Brompton – the Halls lived nearby from 1839-49 and as this was quite a rural part of London in the mid-nineteenth century, the hospital was sorely needed. Throughout her writing life, she was a passionate advocate for the plight of governesses, not only through her writings but also her frequent bazaars and fund-raising activities in support of the Asylum for Aged and Decayed Governesses. She was also tireless in her support of temperance causes and produced Boons and Blessings, a beautifully illustrated volume of cautionary tracts in 1875.

What is your favourite of her books/stories?

I have a particular fondness for the autobiographical Grandmamma’s Pockets (1849) as it features the young Annie Fielder – it sets the scene of her life in Wexford and includes many of the characters that appeared in her earlier Sketches. Marian (1840) is another important book, an early example of a boarding school novel, pre-dating Jane Eyre by a decade and featuring a foundling narrative, an Irish laundress – Katty Macane, a heartless school mistress Arabella Womble, and lots of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. I really enjoyed her popular play The Groves of Blarney, a melodramatic story of disguise, kidnapping and revenge, based on a real incident in Blarney in County Cork in 1812. There’s a lightness of touch in her delineation of her characters and the humour and energy permeates the dialogue keeping a lively pace throughout. She excelled in her portrayal of lovable rogues, romance and farce and this play is, in my opinion on a par with the plays of D.L. Boucicault much later in the century.

Can you give us an example of a passage that gives a sense of her style?

I enjoy how often Anna Maria refers in her later books to what she read as a child in Bannow, Wexford where she had no friends of her own age or siblings but loved her many pet animals and especially her many books. Her favourite books fed her imagination and had a lasting impact on her writing.

She began reading – perhaps for the twentieth time – Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; breathing on the leaves, that they might turn without crackling, and pausing every now and then to contrast some of its passages with the Faery Queen; and when it grew so dim of light that she could not see, she started at the hooting of the owl she had heard from infancy, and fancied the shadows of the copper beech, as they lay upon the snow, men in armour, and the poplar trees to be Knights Templar; and one in particular Goliah himself.

Mrs. S.C. Hall, Grandmamma’s Pockets (1849)

Another favourite passage is one where she shows her sense of fun when describing some of her male characters. She made no secret of the fact that she had a preference for penning her heroines over her heroes and also that she saw herself as addressing predominantly female readers. Nonetheless, despite her protestations, her novels had many well-rounded and complex male characters, but she evidently enjoyed describing some men who were clearly in thrall to their overbearing wives.

Poor Lady Bab had the satisfaction of possessing a singularly tame and gentlemanly-looking husband… Mr. Hesketh was a sort of hanger-on to his wife’s reputation, having no very distinctive attribute of his own, except, indeed, that he played the flute, and frequently formed a sort of soft undulating accompaniment to his wife’s eloquence, which he was ever politely careful not to interrupt.

Mrs. S.C. Hall, Marian; or a Young Maid’s Fortunes (1840)

What are you working on now? Are there more books in the offing?

I always enjoy doing some research – finding out more about lesser-known women artists and writers has been a hobby of mine for years. Since I retired at end of February this year I’m renewing my love of Art History – I used to teach in Limerick School of Art and Design back in the late 1980s and I spent the 90s working in the National Art Library in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. At present I’m researching women book illustrators who were active here in Ireland in the 1930s and 40s but have been side-lined or forgotten. So, who knows, I’ll see what I can discover first!

New Titles in the The Arlen Classic Literature series include: A Name for Himself by Catherine Dunne, Pray for the Wanderer by Kate O’Brien, Another Alice by Lia Mills and Carmen Cavanagh by Annie Smithson.

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Read for Ukraine

At a recent “Dialogues on War” event organised by PEN International, in a conversation between Andreiy Kurkov and Philippe Sands, Kurkov was asked what people could do to support Ukrainian writers. “Read their books”, was his reply.

Sands’ own brilliant East West Street illuminates Ukraine’s extraordinary role in European history and International Human Rights law. Part memoir, part family history, part legal analysis, the book reads like a thriller.

Here is a link to a list of recommended titles by Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian authors, put together by PEN International. The list was edited by Diana Delyurman, Iryna Rodina and Myroslava Mokhnatska.

And here’s a selection from that list, with additions from people who were on that call and later calls:

Applebaum, Anne Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine (History)

Hnatiuk, Ola Courage and Fear (History: Lviv during WWII)

Kurkov, Andreiy Grey Bees (Novel; currently on the Dublin Literature Award 2022 longlist)

Kurkov, Andreiy Jimi Hendrix Live in Lemberg (Lviv) (Novel)

Marynovych, Myroslav The Universe Behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Ukrainian Soviet Dissident

Plokhy, Serhii The Gates of Europe (Historical study of Ukrainian identity and sovereignty)

Sands, Philippe East West Street (History, Memoir, Family History, Human Rights Law)

Shevchenko, Taras (Poetry)

Snyder, Timothy Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning (Non Fiction: History)

Zabuzhko, Oksana Selected Poems (Poetry)

Zabuzhko, Oksana  “One Hundred Years of Solitude, or the Importance of a Story”(Essay: )

Zhadan, Serhiy What We Live For, What We Die For: Selected Poems (poetry)

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The Flowering

Look! It’s a Woman Writer!: Irish Literary Feminisms 1970-2020, edited by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and published by Arlen House is an anthology of essays by 21 Irish women writers who were born in the 1950s. Ní Dhuibhne gave contributors (full disclosure: I am one of them ) an open brief, to write about their literary careers. The result is a fascinating evocation of change at work in Ireland at the end of the twentieth century. Publisher Alan Hayes, has contributed a long essay detailing the history of feminist publishing in Ireland. The book is liberally illustrated with photographs, images of book jackets, etc.

To mark its publication, The Dublin Review of Books has published this interview between me and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne :

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New Theatre New Writing Development Week

The New Theatre are running their New Writing Development Week again.

The event, a series of performed readings on the New Theatre stage, will take place in November or December 2021, actual dates tbc.

This opportunity is open to writers resident in Ireland. Send your script as a PDF with a synopsis and biography to with the subject; ‘New Writing Week 2021’.

Full details here:

Submissions due by 8th July.

New Writing Development Week is funded by funded by The Arts Council, Dublin City of Literature UNESCO and Friends of The New Theatre.

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Brexit Diary

We were in London 2018-2019 for much of the drama surrounding the Brexit debate. The good people at EFACIS (Thank you Hedwig Schwall, Anne Fogarty, Joachim Fischer) have published these extracts from a diary I kept at that time:

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The documentary Seaspiracy is harrowing to watch but you must watch it. Everyone on the planet should see it, urgently, because one of its major impacts is to break the news of how far advanced we are in our reckless rush to destroy our own world. It shows – not carelessness or waste or the effects of things we can’t see but are beginning to recognise (global warming & the melting of ice caps, e.g.) – but deliberate, calculated destruction; indiscriminate slaughter of marine life and the laying waste of oceans.

This film broke something in me. It shattered the glass floor of my mind. A thing I’ve often said about writing is that it’s a way to explore what it is to be human in our time. This documentary showed me what a local, personal level I work on. To realise what it really means to be human in our time is terrifying. The horrendous, wholescale greed, cruelty and destruction our species is capable of left me feeling that as a species we may not be worth saving.

I can’t imagine the courage and distress of making it – and maybe there is hope and a vestige of consolation there, because the urge, ability and bravery to tell a story like this in the best way possible against overwhelming odds is human too­ (Thank you Ali and Lucy Tabrizi for that crumb of hope). There are people who resist what’s happening in our oceans. There are people who put their lives on the line – and lose.  

I’m not going to say more about it. I realise that what I’ve written here is unlikely to send you rushing to the nearest screen, but you must, you really must, watch this. Be warned, brace yourself, but watch it.

There have been arguments against the documentary, moves to debunk it, some of its findings are being criticised. Of course. But you know what you see when you see it. Read George Monbiot. And the big question remains: Why do the big environmental organisations never talk about the issue of overfishing and destruction of the seabeds and coral reefs?

So watch it. Do your own fact checking later. Make up your own mind.

You can watch Seaspiracy on Netflix. See the official trailer here

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Letters With Wings: When Art Meets Activism (Imagine! Belfast Festival)

This event, organised by Letters With Wings, was dedicated to the women artists Chimengul Awut (award-winning Uyghur poet) and Nûdem Durak (a folk-musician of Kurdish origin who is a political prisoner in Turkey).

Participants included: Lia Mills (Chair of Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann), Catherine Dunne, Celia de Fréine, Kate Ennals, Moyra Donaldson, Evgeny Shtorn, Gianluca Costantini (activist, cartoonist and visual artist), Antje Stehn (Rucksack, A Global Poetry Patchwork), Simone Theiss (Westminster and Bayswater Amnesty International Group) and Letters with wings’ poet members Nandi Jola, Csilla Toldy and Viviana Fiorentino.  It was a powerful, inspirational evening and a great privilege to be involved at all.

My contribution was quasi-introductory and was followed by a long line of brilliant insights, ideas and reflections from the other contributors. Look them up and follow them.

There is an account of what I said and read on the Irish PEN/PEN nahÉireann website

(With thanks to the Imagine! Belfast Festival & its production staff: Richard, Emma, Gillian)

Details/Useful sites

Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann:  (Website under revision, please be patient.  Current campaigns are listed under “News”)


PEN International:

Free the Poet (Ilhan Sami Çomak)

Ahmet Altan I Will Never See the World Again (Granta, 2019)

Eva Gore Booth poem: “Comrades” from Broken Glory. Maunsel, 1918.

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School Stuff

I can’t quite believe I’m saying this but: I’m going to a school reunion (on Zoom) tomorrow. I’m surprised by how rattled I am, at the thought of it. And how I’ve been living knee-deep in the past, good and bad, for this whole week leading up to it.

So I thought I may as well post a link to “Boarders“, an essay I wrote several years back about – well, about being a boarder. It was published in The Dublin Review, (Winter 2005-6)

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