Published in Verbal Magazine. Got £50.
“A belly laugh or high-class literary pretentious slush, depending on how you look at it. Some people say it is harder on the head than the worst whiskey.”
So said Flann O’Brien of his elaborate debut novel, At Swim-Two-Birds, which is currently being made into a feature film. The project has an estimated $11m budget and is to feature the very best of Irish acting talent including Brendan Gleeson, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Fassbender, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy, a group which is already being dubbed the Pat Pack.
Gleeson is the driving force behind the production, the movie marks his directorial debut and he also took upon himself the unenviable task of adapting the chaotic novel into a screenplay, “The nerve of me,” said Gleeson. “It’s one of the classics, a mad, mayhem book and I’ve been trying to get it done for six years. It’s going to be a big one. There’s massive pressure but it’s where I live and I love what’s at the heart of it, so I can’t wait to get on with it.”
A mad, mayhem book is a perfect description of At Swim, the first novel of Strabane-born Brian O’Nolan, written under his pen name, Flann O’Brien. The novel focuses on the life of an unnamed Dublin student of English, who avoids class to spend his time drinking and engaging in what he calls his ‘spare-time literary activities.’
The student writes about myths and legends, including the Pooka MacPhellimey, Finn McCool and Mad King Sweeney and he also relates the story of Dermot Trellis, a moralising author who aims to write a book about the horror of sin, by filling it with as much sin as possible. Trellis’ characters soon begin to plot against their author while he sleeps so that they might escape his authority and have the freedom to live as they wish. The parallel narratives of the book intertwine, becoming increasingly layered and complex, incorporating plots within plots and exhibiting bizarre ideas, people and events.
Upon its release, At Swim earned high praise from literary giants including Anthony Burgess, Graham Greene, Dylan Thomas, Jorge Luis Borges and James Joyce. It is believed that At Swim was the last book that the near blind Joyce ever read, with the aid of a magnifying glass. Joyce made efforts to promote the book towards the end of his life and gave the novel a glowing review, “That’s a real writer, with the true comic spirit. A really funny book.”
O’Brien, like many Irish writers of his generation often felt that they wrote in the shadow of James Joyce. O’Brien could barely tolerate the fact that his work was constantly compared and contrasted with that of Joyce, so much so that he claimed that “if I hear that word Joyce again, I will surely froth at the gob!”
Published in the Big list and got me some free tickets to see Lisa Hannigan in the Empire.
Dungiven-born Cara Dillon has gone from strength to strength. Her third album, Hill of Thieves, produced in collaboration with her husband Sam Lakeman, won Radio 2 Folk Album of the Year. The pair continue to tour extensively while raising their three young children. The Big List caught up with Cara who is preparing for a gig in Mandela Hall on March 12.
Hill of Thieves was the first album from your own label, Charcoal Records. It has proved to be your greatest success to date, yet did you find cutting loose from established record labels a frightening or liberating experience?
To be honest it wasn’t frightening at all. We’d been with major labels since we were 19 years old and know their ins and outs very well. Sam and I felt great to finally not be beholden to anyone and to be able to decide every facet of the business and music.
Did you enjoy working on Disney’s Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue?
I loved working on that movie. The executives and creative directors they sent over from LA were so professional and we recorded it all in Abbey Road in London which was a real pleasure. To be honest the greatest part of it was taking our twin boys to the cinema to see the movie and to see their faces when they heard their mammy talking and singing on the big screen. That was a moment I will never forget and since then I suppose we have all become big Disney fans.
Looks like TED has lots of good lectures. This one is fantastic, not least because of the little Tom Waits anecdote.