Reading by Colin Barrett at UCC, 16th January 2015.

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UCC School of English, the Munster Literature Centre and UCC Library have come together, guided by Writer-in-Residence Leanne O’Sullivan, to create a truly exciting series of readings. It began yesterday with Colin Barrett, still fresh from his crowning as winner of The Guardian First Book award.

In fact, in the introduction to the reading given by Mary Morrissey of UCC’s Creative Writing department, she described 2014 as Colin Barrett’s annus mirabilis. As well as the aforementioned award, he was honoured with the Rooney prize for fiction and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story award, of which he is only the second Irish winner (following Edna O’Brien).

The Guardian first book award celebrates the best literary debuts in any genre. His collection of short stories Young Skins was a deserving winner and he now joins the ranks of such previous winners as Zadie Smith (also reading at UCC as part of this series) and Robert Macfarlane. As if the achievement of receiving such prestigious awards wasn’t enough, the high praise going along with them would be enough to make anyone proud beyond measure. Guardian Review editor Lisa Allardice was effusive: “Colin Barrett has already been hailed as a ‘new, young genius’ – and you can’t get much better than that. It was a particularly strong shortlist and each of the titles was ardently debated, but in the end we had to go with the book that, in the words of one of the judges, was ‘simply the best written’ – and it is true that Barrett barely hits a false note throughout the collection.”

A native of Mayo, he worked for a mobile phone company in Dublin before returning to college to study creative writing, graduating with an MA in 2009. The Stinging Fly was eager to feature his stories and his collection followed four years later. He is currently studying a Master in Fine Arts in UCD as well as working on a highly anticipated novel which he informs us will be set in much the same terrain as the fictional world of his short stories which he called Glanbeigh. The imaginary town is a reservoir of recovering addicts, night clubs, and violence. Morrissey described his writing as “startling, sinewy and salty” which is fitting for the gritty landscape he describes and the characters that mooch through it.

He read a story from Young Skins titled ‘The Moon’ and followed it with his most recent story, ‘The Ways’ which was published in the New Yorker. A link is available here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/05/ways-2

UCC also saw Kevin Barry make an appearance last term. It is unavoidable to draw parallels between in the two as both of their fictional worlds seem to be preoccupied by young men, small towns and transgressions. Crudeness and honesty are combined in both which makes for entertaining reading but which is not devoid of an insistent analysis of the modern psyche.

3a085fb0-093c-4014-892d-5962f05c8850-1360x2040The pros and cons of Creative Writing programmes are much debated but Barrett points to the benefit to him of the structure the MA provided, and the luxury it afforded him to write. When the danger of homogenous writing is brought up, Barrett is quick to observe that publishing itself is in danger of that. Like every writer, he suffers periods where he says his writing is “grey, arid, and flat”, but he reads to haul himself back from that, finding inspiration in “nearly a new writer every week”.

Barrett was keen to point out that there is no ‘on or off’ switch for writers, “[y]ou don’t magically turn into one if you weren’t one before”. Stamina is required to work through the slow processes of writing and he maintains that he would not be able to write if he wasn’t continually reading and being infused with new writing.

For more information on the series of readings being hosted by UCC School of English and Munster Literature Centre, have a look here: http://www.ucc.ie/en/english/news/fullstory-520254-en.html

Works Cited:

– Barrett, Colin. “Reading by Colin Barrett.” A Season of Readings. UCC: Learning Zone of the Boole Library, Cork. 16 Jan. 2015. Reading.

– Colin Barrett. Digital image. De Bezige Bij. Web. 17 Jan. 2015. http://www.debezigebij.nl/web/Nieuws/Artikelpagina/Derde-prijs-op-rij-voor-jonge-Ier-Colin-Barrett.htm

– Lea, Richard. “Guardian First Book Award 2014 Goes to Irish Writer ‘who Can Go the Distance’.” The Guardian. 26 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 Jan. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/26/guardian-first-book-award-2014-colin-barrett-short-stories

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