Female writers in the spotlight at book fest

Ahead of Cork World Book Fest next week, COLETTE SHERIDAN looks at some of the highlights of the event, featuring many female authors. She also interviews American writer Lisa Carey, about Trump, fairies and why an Irish island is home from home
Female writers in the spotlight at book fest
Author Lisa Carey

AMERICAN author, Lisa Carey, who will read from her latest novel, The Stolen Child, at the Cork World Book Festival, is raging about Donald Trump’s attitude towards the arts — but finds solace in her home from home on Inishbofin, off the west coast of Ireland.

She is appalled that the American President plans to stop funding the National Endowment for the Arts (to save a relatively small amount of money) and thinks the climate in this country is much more supportive of artistic endeavour.

Ireland is important to Lisa, who lives for most of the year in Maine and has Irish ancestry. She first came to this country in the 1990s to research a novel and ended up staying, on and off, for five years.

“I met some cousins in Tullycross in Connemara. I had been to Ireland before that and loved it so much that I wanted to come back. My cousins told me about Inishturk and Inishbofin. I fell in love with Inishbofin and have been coming back to it for the past 22 years.

“I’ve lived on Inishbofin in all seasons. It can be very bleak but it can be stunningly beautiful when the sun is shining. It’s very different during the summer months.

“There’s always music and the pubs are open late. But it’s the peace that I like. It allows my mind to focus on creative things. I write better here than I do anywhere else,” says Lisa, on the phone from Inishbofin.

The Stolen Child, Lisa’s fifth novel, was inspired by the documentary, Death of an Island by Kieran Concannon. It’s about the evacuation of Inishbofin’s neighbouring island, Inishark, which was once home to hundreds of families. But the combined factors of the Famine, two world wars and Irish emigration depleted the population down to just 23 residents by 1960. Inishark had no electricity, no phone lines or doctor and was very much on its own in an emergency.

“When I saw the documentary, I wanted to write something about the last year before the people leave an island. But I didn’t want it to be realistic. I had been reading about changelings and also about St Brigid. I wanted to put those things together. I came up with twin sisters; Emer who is desperate to leave the island and Rose who wants to stay. Having lived on Inishbofin in different weather, I could really see both points of view. When I started to write the book, I knew I wanted to have something about a stolen child, known as a changeling.

“The idea of the stolen child really refers to many themes in the book. There’s Emer who herself half wants to be stolen and an American woman, Brigid, whose mother was originally from the island.

“A changeling is a child stolen by the fairies. It can also refer to a stolen adult. The fairies take the child or the adult and leave a fairy in its place that looks like the original person. Sometimes, you can tell that they’re fairies because they can be very strange. Sometimes, you can’t really tell. So there’s the story. Someone is replaced by someone else and you don’t necessarily know it.

“In the book, Emer is an angry person, although a lot of people said they can relate to her even though her anger leads her to do things that you might think are unforgiveable.

“Rose is a maternal type who takes people under her wing. She loves Emer and wants to help her. Emer often resents her but relies on her as well.”

While Lisa hasn’t met anyone who believes in fairies, she points out that they are very much woven into the fabric of Irish storytelling.

“I’ve met people who won’t go to a fairy ring or road. They don’t talk about it but there are some who wouldn’t risk angering the fairies.”

Lisa has always loved writing. At university, she majored in literature. She then worked in a bookshop, a job she loved. But she disliked her various other jobs including stints in a bank and a hospital.

“I couldn’t see any job that I wanted to do. I just wanted to be a writer.”

So, Lisa signed up for an MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) in fiction and wrote her first novel, The Mermaid Singing.

She is a big fan of Irish writers including Claire Keegan, Anne Enright, Nuala O’Connor, Michelle Forbes and Colum McCann. US and Canadian writers that she reads include Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich and Ann Patchett.

“I read much more than I write. Then I get these periods where I write very intensely. It’s usually in places like here in Inishbofin or in the States where I go to writing residencies or take a weekend away. I just write, write and write. I don’t wait to be inspired any more. You could be waiting your whole life for that. I just put myself in a situation where I can’t do anything else but write.”

Lisa used to make a better living out of her writing in the ’90s. Now, she subsidises it “with other things” and is grateful that her husband has a reliable job. He runs a website, librarything.com which is a forum for literature lovers to talk about their books.

Her husband also runs programmes for libraries all over the world. He can work from anywhere.

“We were in Turkey from last October until February and we took my son (11-year-old Liam) out of school and we’ve been home-schooling him.”

Right now, Lisa is working on a young adult book set in the west of Ireland.

“The next adult book will be set somewhere else” she adds.

She says the artistic community in the US is protesting over Trump’s treatment of the arts.

“There are a lot of prizes and places you can get into for writing in the US. But the government should fund the arts. It’s extremely important and it costs very little compared to the money the government spends on everything else.”

Ultimately, Lisa would love to live in Ireland full-time.

“Maybe when my son is older and out of school. But I come here every year without fail and will always do that.”

Lisa Carey’s latest novel, The Stolen Child’will be introduced by documentary maker and author, Peadar King on April 20 at Cork City Library at 7pm.

Anne Sebba Author
Anne Sebba Author


Sally Phipps, author of her mother, Molly Keane’s biography, Molly Keane: A Life will be in conversation with poet Thomas McCarthy at Cork City Library on April 18 at 7.15pm.

Journalist and writer, Mary Kenny, will introduce Alannah Hopkin’s collection of stories, The Dogs of Inishere at Cork City Library on April 18 at 8.30pm.

A Celebration of Poetry, Old and New will see two new poetry chapbooks, by John Fitzgerald and Aidan Matthews, launched by Patrick Cotter, director of the Munster literature Centre at Cork City Library on April 19 at 7pm. This will be followed by poet Bernard O’Donoghue launching a poetry anthology, Deep Heart’s Core, co-edited by Eugene O’Connell.

Lisa Carey’s latest novel, The Stolen Child and Ed O’Loughlin’s third novel, Minds of Winter, will be introduced by documentary maker and author, Peadar King on April 20 at Cork City Library at 7pm.

A reading and discussion with Anne Sebba, author of Les Parisiennes, will take place at Triskel Christchurch facilitated by Dr Mary Noonan at Triskel Christchurch on April 20 at 8.30pm. As the French Presidential election draws near (April 23), Anne Sebba, biographer, lecturer and journalist, discusses women in France — past and present — in conversation with Dr Mary Noonan, of UCC French Department. Anne’s Les Parisiennes is the first in-depth account of the everyday lives of women and young girls in Paris and the aftershock of the Second World War.

Author Alex Barclay
Author Alex Barclay

Crime writers, Alex Barclay, Sam Blake and William Ryan will be in conversation with Des Breen from the Evening Echo on April 21 at Cork City Library at 7pm.

‘Writers and Critics’ will see critic and author of Teethmarks on my Tongue, Eileen Battersby in conversation with writer and UCC academic, Eibhear Walshe, at Triskel Christchurch on April 22 at 2.30pm.

Paul Howard’s (aka Ross O’Carroll-Kelly) will read from Game Of Throw-Ins at Triskel Christchurch on midday on April 22 at 4pm.

A celebration of first novels will be introduced by writer, William Wall, marking the publication of Billy O’Callaghan’s novel, The Dead House, and Alan McMonagle’s novel, Ithaca on April 22 at 8pm.

Triskel events can be booked online at http:/triskelartscentre.ie or by calling 021 4272022. Library events are not ticketed. Workshops can be booked by calling 021 4924900.

More in this section

Sponsored Content