It’s official: Fallen has been chosen for next year’s Dublin: One City One Book festival (April 2016). For the first time, two cities are involved and it becomes Two Cities One Book: Dublin and Belfast. There’s more information about the festival here. Huge thanks to everyone who cheered for the selection, online or in person. I couldn’t respond until after the official announcement yesterday at the Mansion House. Here’s a radio essay I wrote for Arena on RTÉ Radio One.
My grandparents and their parents were not the sort of people history remembers. That’s likely the way they wanted it, they were of the whatever you say, say nothing persuasion. I’d be their idea of the worst kind of nightmare, telling tales into microphones, asking awkward questions, putting unmentionable things in writing.
They lived inner-city Dublin lives, northside and south: Parnell Street & the Moore Street markets, Merrion Row, Camden Street. They laid no claim to having been among the impossible thousands who say they were in the GPO in 1916. I thought they had no connection to the Rising. But one day on Parnell Street it struck me that they were right there in the thick of it, stuck in the middle of the shooting, the looting and the fires, with babies in the house and hundreds of soldiers on their doorstep. And I wondered – what was that like, then? – if you didn’t know what was happening; before anyone knew what the eventual outcome would be.
Sometimes a simple question will stop you in your tracks and send your life in a new direction. That one led to another and then another, and eventually to the publication of a historical novel, Fallen, last year.
The finished novel is nothing like the one I thought I’d write. It took so long that someone else had to point out to me that the centenary was on its way; it wasn’t even on the horizon when I started.
I discovered that I couldn’t write about the Rising without writing about the War that surrounded it, or thinking about people I’d never really thought about before.
I thought: this time, for sure, I’ll have to leave the country.
Instead, Fallen is the Dublin: One City One Book selection for April 2016. Not only that, but for the first time we’ll have Two Cities One Book: Dublin and Belfast. The festival is part of the Decades of Commemorations programme.
One City One Book encourages everyone to read a chosen book connected with Dublin in the month of April. It began in 2006 with Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds. Since then it has looked as far back as Swift, as deep as Oscar Wilde and as wild as Bram Stoker. Its wonderfully appropriate choice for 2013 was Strumpet City. It has featured novels by contemporary writers Sebastian Barry, Joseph O’Connor and – last year – Roddy Doyle, before that the anthology If Ever You Go, a Map of Dublin in Poetry and Song (edited by Pat Boran and Gerard Smyth). And, oh, did I mention the obvious? Dubliners by Somebody Joyce.
I’m stunned that a novel of mine has been included on such a list. Anyone would be. But the festival is about far more than the selected book in any given year. It’s a celebration of reading and of the fact that we live on an island that celebrates reading. It’s about cities full of readers finding new ways to think about and enjoy books. It celebrates libraries and librarians, the unsung heroes of the book world.
Thanks to everyone involved in selection and programming: to Lord Mayor of Dublin Críona Ni Dhalaigh; Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys; Dublin City Libraries and Dublin City Council and Margaret Hayes, Dublin City Librarian; Libraries Northern Ireland and Irene Knox, CEO; and the 1916 Commemoration Committee, especially John Concannon.
Very special thanks to Jane Alger, Liz Cuddy and Jackie Lynam of the UNESCO City of Literature office.
http://www.rte.ie/radio1/arena/podcasts/ 14th October, 2015