SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to Irish author MARTIN MALONE about REFUGEES, MEDITATION and why the SHORT STORY is the purest form of writing …
Kildare author Martin Malone is a former Military Policeman with the Irish Army who completed six tours of duty with the United Nations to Lebanon and Iraq. So far in his writing career he has published seven novels, a memoir, three short story collections and several plays for radio, along with numerous works for the stage and television.
Martin’s first novel Us (2000 Poolbeg, 2015 New Island) won the John B. Keane/Sunday Independent Literature Award. His next offering, After Kafra (2001, Poolbeg), was scripted for RTÉ television. The Broken Cedar (Scribner) was nominated for the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Martin has received several Arts Council of Ireland bursaries for Literature and is twice a winner of the Cecil D. Lewis Award. In 2016 he was awarded a residency at Cill Rialaig Arts Centre by the Irish Writers Centre.
Black Rose Days (New Island), Martin’s most recent novel, was published last year to positive reviews. His new book, This Cruel Station, was inspired by his interactions with recently-arrived refugees to Ireland from Iraq and Syria. It has been praised by Patrick McCabe, who said ‘These surgically precise but essentially humane observations represent a collection of stories as strong as you are likely to read all year’.
This Cruel Station (€13.99) is published by Doire Press and available from all good bookshops.
I was reared in Kildare Town. Childhood sounds of Kildare – parents screaming at their kids to get them out to school on time. The stinging rasp of a Nun’s stick across the palm or the back of the hand; her cross swinging from the power of the ‘Hit’. The clickety-clack of trains on the tracks is always sweet music to my ears, for it raises within me daydreams of travel and people heading here and there for a myriad of reasons. I like to imagine and explore what those people are about, their destinations. Listening to the beat of the train is also a tool for masking tinnitus, which is a permanent house guest. I can’t remember the last time I received a charity of silence. Smells. The death stink of the abattoir and paradoxically the beautiful fragrance of freshly baked bread wafting from the bakery ovens off Market Square, a bakery sadly no more. Kildare is a place like anywhere else in the world and at the same time like nowhere else. Home is where we’re forged for better or worse. It was a good town with good people. It is a better town now, with good people. That’s what good people do, I think, make things better for people.
If I reach old age pension and the free travel pass, I intend to tour every bit of rail, on a mega reading tour of railway towns and villages throughout the country.
I occasionally take to a notebook while in a café. I don’t have enough rooms to decide on a preference of a room to abandon my thoughts, so I write in my bedroom on a writing bureau that I bought a decade ago. Currently reading Tim Winton’s landscape memoir Island Home, and dipping into a collection of stories Dog Run Moon by Callan Wink. I’ve got a tower of books to swim my eyes through, and sometimes I’m surprised at what seizes my interest, as it’s not always the lauded and hyped books. Perhaps it’s best to come to a book with no overly inflated sense of expectation. Close to hand on my writing desk is a wooden carving of a pensive Yeshua that a Latvian pal thought I needed. The pensive look to my mind poises the question, ‘Really Dad, you’re putting me through this to save what – like fix the thing – you’re God!’
Dermot Finnegan of Farrells & Nephew Bookshop in Newbridge is a great supporter of Kildare writers and it’s only fair that writers reciprocate that support. Barker & Jones in Naas and Woodbine Books in Kilcullen are stores that also lend much welcome support to Kildare writers. So, in that order…when I’m flush, is where I buy books. I have a Kindle…somewhere.
I like to walk. Meditate, as this grounds me. My bones feel at odds with my skin if I go some days without writing, and it’s become so if I skip on the medication that is meditation. Perhaps this is synonymous with ageing – the realisation that the call to beyond is a loudening whisper. I’m occasionally asked to give classes on Japa meditation, which is a form of sound-based mantra derived from the Sanskrit tradition, but I prefer being a solitary practitioner. I like to drink a little wine or wheat beer – on rare occasions, more than a little. Whiskey, as much as I like it, sets afire the dry gorse in my head.
I’ve traveled to India (twice), The States, Kuwait, and lived for months in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon and many places in Europe. South Lebanon was where I learned what a tank shell does to a human body. That was a wake-up moment and also for a long time, a shut down one. My favourite places are mostly located in Wicklow, although Ballinskelligs in Kerry runs them very close. I like to visit the stone breaths and inscriptions cast for us by our ancestors…
Syrian, Iraqi, Armenian refugees don’t want to be here, in a country where the health system is failing its nation’s citizens. Where the sun is a reluctant guest. But here is better than where they were, for sure. So I see their relief to be somewhere safe with their children, their concern for the future, their worry about loved ones left behind. I see too, the problems that will rise to the surface in time – caused by the ghosts of things lost. Things witnessed that will linger, and will scorch like a hot iron pressed against cut flesh.
The new Irish are aware of the widening fracture lines in their new society and appreciate the hospitality they receive. If Irish people have misconceptions about them and what’s brought these people to our shores, it’s because they haven’t taken time out to examine what’s happening in the Middle East. It wasn’t happening on their doorstep, so it didn’t overly concern them…the Middle East and its conundrums are here to stay. Get used to getting used to it.
On the short story
It’s the purest form of writing, in which more can be quantifiably said without being stated, if that makes sense. Pretentiousness doesn’t have a home in the short story, at least I like to think it hasn’t – or to put it like this, I’ve seen far more crimes of pretentiousness committed in the world of the novel, the stage and in poetry than in the short story form. You get away with nothing in a short story. It’s the real world of the brave.
On current work
Concerning the new story collection – This Cruel Station – the tales concern people caught up in strange situations, as married to the past as they are to the present, sometimes through no fault of their own: four old dears on holiday in Portugal, the 50th anniversary of 1916, a historian is taught the Art of Revenge, a man at a wake sees someone and a circumstance from a fresh perspective – in Isaiah’s Reach, a former assassin’s identity is unveiled with devastating consequences. I think we have a series of stand alone tales – save for the three that make up the novella – which I hope the reader will enjoy reading.
Other recent work doing the rounds include a couple of new stories, and as a challenge I recently wrote an allegory about a man whose mind crumbled from pressure caused by undergoing the State Exam when a teenager, with further expectations along the route of his life heaped onto his shoulders by his parents, himself, his wife, his community, his shrink, and how the pill industry has become a means of lobbing the can down the road. I’ve got a play I quite like, called Guru Sisters. I think it’ll be produced, most likely on stage. It’s about two sisters; one of whom is intent on immersing herself in a new faith, a new way of life. While the other sister witnesses the positives of this on her sibling, she slowly grows aware of the flip side. If there’s a moral to this play, it’s never to fully give yourself over to any creed or religion. God very often has no idea where they’re coming from…
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