DESIGNER Louise Kennedy, who grew up in Midleton, is one of the contributors to a new book marking the 40th anniversary of the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA).
Voices is a collection of short stories and essays by 27 Irish authors, launched for adults who find reading difficult.
It is edited by one of Ireland’s best-known authors, Patricia Scanlan, and published as part of the New Island Open Door series.
The stories are written in plain English and designed to encourage adults who do not read often, or find reading difficult, to discover the joy of books.
The Department of Rural and Community Development has funded copies of books so they are available to loan in every library in Ireland. The Department of Further and Higher Education and SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority have funded copies of books for adult literacy students in 120 ETB adult literacy centres.
An Post, a long-time supporter of NALA and adult literacy initiatives, is broadcasting virtual readings by some of the authors on their social media.
NALA Communications Manager Claire McNally said: “Since we were set up in 1980, we have supported many people’s return to education to improve their reading and writing skills. This has life-changing benefits; not only do people learn the technical skills of reading and writing, but they gain much needed confidence in themselves, and it has a positive ripple effect in their family, community and society.
“We are very grateful to Patricia Scanlan, the authors and both departments for making this new book of short stories available for emerging readers. We would encourage anyone who hasn’t picked up a book in a long time or is nervous about reading a novel and wants to, to contact us for information on free courses nationwide.”
Voices features writing from Graham Norton, Roddy Doyle, Blindboy Boatclub, Carlo Gébler, Christine Dwyer Hickey, Ciara Geraghty, Colm O’Regan, Deirdre Purcell, Dermot Bolger, Donal Ryan, Emily Hourican, Louise Kennedy, Martina Devlin, Melatu Uche Okorie, Nuala O’Connor, Patricia Scanlan, Patrick Freyne, Paul Perry, Rachael English, Roisín O’Donnell, Ruth Gilligan, Sheila O’Flanagan, Sinead Crowley, Sinead Moriarty, Úna-Minh Kavanagh, Yan Ge and Marita Conlon-McKenna.
It is also available to buy online and in all good bookshops.
Here is a short story which features in Voices, called Victoria, written by Louise Kennedy
I KNOW him before he speaks. I know him by the hunch of his shoulders, by the way he tilts his glass and lowers his black and tan. He ordered it because he cannot bear to taste what they do to the Guinness here. I know before he pats his breast pocket that he will take out a packet of No. 6. They are the nearest you can get in this place to Carroll’s No.1. I know he will light the cigarette with a Swan Vesta. A box of safety matches lasts no time in a damp bedsit.
Beside me, the man sits up straight. I hope he does not want to talk to me. I turn and look through the window. It is cloudy from fumes and fly spray.
There are National Express coaches pulling in and out of the station, slowly. My coach is at the front with HOLYHEAD written in big letters. Around the Victoria pub there are people waiting with bags. A couple in the corner, kissing. An old woman alone at a table, frowning at the paper tag of a Lipton’s teabag. Four boys with long hair and guitar cases and pints of lager.
The man orders another drink. He points at my glass. ‘Will you have one yourself?’ he says.
‘Jesus, no. I’d never make it to motorway services in Birmingham without a toilet,’ I say. ‘Thanks, though.’ His face goes red. I feel bad for him. I say the thing all us Irish in London say when we meet.
‘Are you long over?’ ‘1954.’ ‘Wow. That is a long time.’ As soon as it is out I regret saying wow.
‘Thirty-four years. It went quick at the start.
Slower now though,’ he says. He takes a drink.
I know him because I have seen him in a pub in Kilburn. I went there with my friends for a laugh, to see the real bog Irish in action. Not like us, with our degrees and bottles of Mexican beer. I have seen him in the dole office in Archway. He was sitting on an orange plastic seat because the room was warm and dry. The only person in the room who did not pull a number tag out of the machine. I know him from Kentish Town tube station where he asked me for a smoke one night. There were tears streaming down his face. I know him because there are thousands of Irish men like him in London.
‘Yourself?’ he says.
‘I am here a year,’ I say.
‘What line of work are you in?’ he says.
‘I work in an office in the City.’
‘Good girl yourself. You did well.’
I want to tell him I have the most boring job in the world. That my parents are annoyed I am not using my education. That I am finding it hard to settle in London. That I want to go home for good.
‘It is not too bad,’ I say.
‘I worked on the roads,’ he says.
‘Do you get home often?’ I say.
‘1978 was the last time. For the mother’s funeral. The brother’s funeral this time.’
‘I am the last. There is a small farm.’
‘Are you going home for good?’ I say.
He does not answer. I open my handbag and find my ticket. I finish my drink and stand to go. I am worried he will come with me. His jacket smells of rasher grease and mould. I don’t want to sit beside him all the way to Holyhead. The last time I went home a middle-aged man from Cork pressed me against the window of the coach. He was sweating and trembling and talking to himself.
‘I am heading over,’ I say.
The man takes a slow sup of his pint.
‘I will follow you shortly,’ he says. It comes out like ‘folly’.
I cross the road and stand in the queue for the coach. There are Irish people of all ages. Students, women with small children. Men like the man in the pub, in hats and old suits, too warm for a summer day. Everyone is carrying a canvas sausage bag. I find a seat beside a girl my own age. I squash my bag into the overhead rack. The driver walks the length of the aisle, counting passengers.
‘There is a man coming shortly,’ I say. I look out the window and wait for him to come onto the street. After a couple of minutes, the driver holds out his hands at me.
‘He said he was coming,’ I say.
‘Sorry, love. I cannot wait for him,’ he says.
The door gasps closed. I know the set of his shoulders when he comes out of the pub. Inside, he seemed taller. From up here I can see how sparse his hair is. The mottling on his scalp from working outside. He must know this is the coach he was meant to take but he does not look up. He lifts his canvas bag over his shoulder. There is a piece of paper in his hand. He looks at it for a moment and begins to tear it up. The coach swings onto the street. I watch him sprinkle the confetti he has made of his ticket home into the bin.
About the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA)
The National Adult Literacy Agency is a charity that works to ensure people with literacy and numeracy difficulties can fully take part in society and have access to educational opportunities that meet their needs.
Since set up in 1980, we have been involved with tutor training, developing teaching materials, education services, policy making, research and campaigns to raise awareness of adult literacy issues and services in Ireland.
Many individuals and organisations have contributed to adult literacy work in Ireland. For our part, we have put literacy on the political agenda and secured funding for adult literacy services. Currently there are 60,000 adults attending ETB adult literacy courses nationwide.