By Helen Cluxton.
Photos : jbsphotos kilkenny
During the ‘Covid lockdown’ I attended many writing workshops via the magic of zoom. One such sitting was in the company of ‘The Involvement Centre’ writing group with author Roddy Doyle speaking on his life as a writer. The author of such books as ‘Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha,’ ‘A star called Henry’ and ‘The Barrytown Trilogy’ , Doyle was in great form and delivered an inspiring chat to aspiring writers.
Roddy described writing like being on a continuous journey, and that sometimes you just need to let the pen take over and let the words flow.
I was reminded of these words last weekend when I sat down to chat with Niamh Mulvey, who has just published her debut book of short stories.
Prior to meeting the author, I had the pleasure of reading her book ‘Heart and Bones’, one hundred and sixty pages of pure joy and exciting stories.
Niamh has had work published in ‘The Stinging Fly’, ‘Banshee’ ‘‘Little Atoms’ and ‘Southward’. Prior to her new book, Niamh was shortlisted for the Seán Ó Faoláin Prize for short fiction in 2020.
Niamh explains that her family moved to Kilkenny from Carlow when she was eight years old. “We lived in Kilkenny City from then on, apart from a move to Cork for a year when I was ten. I left Kilkenny to go to university and then went on to live in London for around twelve years. I have just moved back to Kilkenny City to live for the first time in many years. It’s good to be back.”
It was when I asked what the deciding factor in the short stories being centred on love that the words of Roddy Doyle came back to me.
Niamh takes up the story.
“I didn’t decide that at all. It just emerged from the situations within the stories. For each story, I imagined a situation between two people, a situation in which longing and misunderstanding was present. Love – of all kinds, not just romantic – usually goes along with those feelings.”
Before the meeting concluded, I wondered if she had any writer who would have been an influence.
“Many! While writing this book, I was reading a lot of Alice Munor, and Chekhov. Also the Chinese writer Yiyun Li. I also began to think of the whole project as an album and in that respect I felt I was trying to capture the intensity of a great pop song in each story. Pop songs are usually about a tension between an “I” and a “you” – I tried to get that tension in these stories too. I wrote the book mostly during lockdown in 2020 and I was listening to Fiona Apple’s then new album Fetch the Boltcutters on repeat at the time. I think that worked its way into the atmosphere of the book too”.
The collection is a book about relationships and explores what love does to us and how we survive it.
First-time lovers make mistakes, brothers and sisters try to forgive one another, and parents struggle and fail and struggle again. Teenage souls are swayed by euphoric faith in a higher power and then by devotion to desire, trapped between different notions of what might be true. Quiet revolutions happen in living rooms, on river banks, in packed pubs and empty churches, and years later we wonder why we ever did the things we did.
Khan Kiely from Khans bookshop raved about this publication and is adamant to spread the word about Mulvey’s work.
Speaking to the Kilkenny Observer Khan had this to say: “It is a beautiful publication and a wonderful read”.
Khan, who runs her bookshop on James’ Street in Kilkenny was glowing in her praise for Niamh Mulvey’s book. “I don’t mince my words, and if I like something I will do everything in my power to promote it,” said Khan.
“This book is a cross between Sally Rooney and Claire Keegan. It is set in Kilkenny, London and the south of France, and in my opinion it should be fiction book of the year”, continued Khan.
As I said goodbye to Niamh I got that feeling that she is an author who will be appearing on bookshelves quite a lot in the future.
As I had availed of the generosity of Khan Kiely to hold my interview at her bookshop, I thought it mannerly to purchase a book before I left. The mention by Niamh Mulvey of Chekov, inspired me to pick up one of his works. His play ‘The Cherry Orchard’ was on display which I purchased.
It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the cover quote from the Russian author which read “It’s not a matter of old or new forms; a person writes without thinking about any forms, he writes because it flows freely from his soul.”
Given the interview I had just conducted, I thought it apt to say the least.
Hearts & Bones (160 pages) is available at Khans and all bookshops.